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 Quilting Techniques : Trapunto

The term "trapunto" means "to embroider" in Italian, and "to prick with a needle" in Latin. When speaking of this quilting technique, both meanings apply. Trapunto is a technique which may be done by hand or machine that creates a noticeably raised design. In trapunto, also known as "stuffed work" by American and English quilters, extra padding is slipped behind the quilt top to create the puffed effect. Sometimes, stippling is used in the areas surrounding a trapunto motif to further accentuate the effect.

Trapunto has a long history. It first appeared in Italy around the early 16th century, and in America around the late 1700s. Trapunto was extremely popular up until the Civil War era a century later. Historically, it was done by cutting a small slit in the back through which padding or extra batting was placed. Today, there are a few more options for creating trapunto that can be less labor intensive.

Hand Trapunto Methods

There are many approaches for creating and accenting trapunto. Although each creates the same textural effect, quilters may find one less labor-intensive than an other. Experimentation with these methods is the best way to discover your own trapunto style.

  • With a running stitch, sew lines of stitches through the quilt layers to form the desired motif outline, feathers, flowers, leaves, etc. Place additional batting, cotton or wool, inside the motive as the outline is stitched.

  • Complete the motif stitching first, and turn the quilt over so that the backing is right side up. Using a thin, sharp object, such as a darning needle or toothpick, move aside the threads of baking and push small pieces of stuffing inside. Smooth the threads back into position once enough filling has been added to create the desired effect. In this approach, using a thin muslin backing is best.

  • Finish stitching the desired motif and turn over your quilt. Cut a tiny slit in the backing behind your design and insert small amounts of batting, cotton or wool. For areas of straight lines, such as a vine motif, use yarn or cording as filler instead. Whip stitch the slit closed when stuffing is complete. Add a second backing after all trapunto designs are completed and quilt project normally to secure your layers and accentuate the raised trapunto design.

    Shadow Trapunto

    Modern variations on trapunto have developed over the years. An interesting variation is Shadow Trapunto. In addition to the expected raised effect, this method plays with fabric and color bringing an entirely new dimension to quilted projects.

    To create this effect, cotton batiste is layered and the trapunto motif is outlined with a back or running stitch. The design is then filled with deeply colored yarns. This contrast is visible through the sheer fabric, creating a shadowed appearance.

    The filling stage of Shadow Trapunto echoes the methods outlined earlier. Traditionally, two layers of fabric are used and the stuffing material is gently inserted between separated threads in the backing. Very loosely woven fabric makes the best backing if this method is to be used.

    An alternative method is to cut an X-shaped slit in the backing and add stuffing through it. While this makes inserting your filler material easier, the entry point remains visible from the quilt's back. To remedy this pitfall, an additional backing layer should be placed over the first.

    Machine Trapunto

    It is no surprise that trapunto can be done in less time and with somewhat less work using a sewing machine. Water soluble thread is needed for this approach.

    In this technique, one or more layers of batting are stacked below a layer of fabric. The trapunto motif is stitched onto the fabric using the water soluble thread. Extra batting is trimmed away from the stitching next. A layer of backing is then placed behind the design, and the motif is re-stitched through all the layers.

    Machine-embroidery thread or a decorative rayon, silk or metallic thread works well for the re-stitching. The area is then immersed in water to remove the water soluble thread. If your backing has not been pre-washed, the resulting shrinkage can create an even more pronounced trapunto effect. Remove from the water, block into shape and allow to air dry.

    Related : More Quilting Techniques

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