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Trapunto

Trapunto quilting uses stuffing to create a design from padded areas between two layers of fabric. A top and a backing fabric layer are stitched together; the backing layer is then cut open and the stuffing added between the two fabric layers. The design can be worked with running stitch, backstitch or machine stitch, and stretch and transparent fabrics can be used; however the Basic Method described below is the simplest.

Material and Design Notes

  • Traditionally merino wool tops are used to stuff fine or detailed shapes, but these cannot be washed. Washable polyester stuffing can be used instead, but this is harder to stuff into small areas for detailed designs.
  • Small, detailed designs are very hard to stuff effectively and beginners should use bold, simple shapes with the minimum of narrow lines, points and complex detail.
  • Trapunto works best on plain fabric with a slight sheen (it barely shows on a patterned fabric). Use a tight-weave backing fabric, such as cotton sheeting or other plain-woven fabric, in a similar weight to the top fabric.
  • If working on lightweight or transparent fabrics, use silk organza as the backing fabric.
  • Where the reverse of trapunto might be exposed, such as in a garment, it should always be lined.

Basic method

1). Put the top fabric right side down; place the backing fabric on top, right side up. Pin then tack (baste) the piece around the edges and diagonally across the centre.

Basic method Trapunto A

2). Draw a simple, bold design onto the backing fabric with chalk, vanishing pen or other suitable marker (pencil will show on light colours, so only use this method if the top fabric and thread used are dark).

3). Take a contrasting embroidery thread and fasten the thread in the backing fabric, just outside the stitching line. Work running stitch around the outline, taking care to keep the stitches even on the top fabric.

Basic method Trapunto B

4). When all the outline stitching is complete, remove the tacking (basting); press the top fabric to remove any creases and to set the stitches into the fabric.

5). Each motif is stuffed individually. To create the cut in the backing fabric, separate the top and back layers by pinching the fabrics between finger and thumb. Holding the backing fabric only, make a tiny snip in the fabric and cut to enlarge slightly, cutting along the bias grain of the fabric where possible.

6). Push small amounts of stuffing into the cavity. Use tweezers, scissor points or a knitting needle to poke the stuffing into place. Stuff the edges of the shape first, and then fill the centre (do not overstuff as this  will cause the fabric to pucker around the stitching).

Basic method Trapunto C

7). Sew up the slit by stitching from inside to outside without pulling too hard, again to avoid puckering the fabric.

Basic method Trapunto D

This design is based on a traditional shell patchwork shape. Trapunto is effective when worked on either individual shapes or allover quilting. In an all-over design, some areas could be stuffed and some left unstuffed to create a different texture, but consistency is vital; if stuffing the whole design, do try to keep the level of stuffing the same in all of the shapes to avoid puckering the fabric.

Basic method Trapunto E

Stitching and fabric variations

Backstitch

For very detailed shapes, a solid line of stitching is required to produce a firm line to show the shape effectively. This can be done by machine or by hand using backstitch.

When working with backstitch, the stitching must be worked on the top fabric, not the backing fabric. Use a vanishing pen or other marker to draw the design, then prepare the fabric layers as Basic Method, step 1. Fasten the thread on the back then work around the shape in backstitch. Slash and stuff as the Basic Method, using very tiny pieces of stuffing to fill any awkward shapes.

Backstitch

Backstitch : this sample is worked on lightweight silk satin.

Machine-stitched

A firm line of stitching can also be achieved by using the sewing machine to create the outline. Prepare the fabric layers (see Basic Method) with the design on the backing fabric or the top fabric as you prefer. Use a short stitch length and carefully manipulate the fabric whilst stitching to create the correct shape. Continue as the Basic Method.

Machine-stitched

Medium-weight cotton works well in trapunto with machine stitching.

Appliqué combination

Trapunto can be combined with simple appliqué. To apply the fabric shapes to the main fabric, use stitching around the edge rather than a heat-fix fabric (see Appliqué). The main fabric behind the appliquéd motif is then slashed open and stuffed as the Basic Method.

Appliqué combination

Appliqué combination : a piece of felt has been applied to the main fabric using invisible stitching.

Jersey

Unlike woven fabrics, jersey trapunto can be heavily stuffed to create a dense surface design on either lightweight cotton jersey or heavier knitted fabrics. Work as normal but stuff the shapes solidly, checking on progress and adjusting until the motif is raised but not puckering.

Jersey

Cotton t-shirt jersey using tiny hand running stitches.

Wool/ heavy fabrics

When trapunto is worked on a heavyweight, thick fabric, it requires dense stuffing and simple, bold shapes.

Wool - heavy fabrics

This thick wool felt is stitched with cotton thread in running stitch and heavily stuffed with wool.

Velvet

It is possible to work trapunto on velvet. The same running stitch motif has been worked here with very different effects. To the left, the design is stitched with doubled polyester sewing thread, which is almost invisible. To the right, the design is stitched with two strands of stranded embroidery thread (floss) to create a bolder line and a more obvious motif.

Velvet

Trapunto worked on velvet with running stitch. The left-hand sample is stitched with doubled polyester sewing thread, which is almost invisible. The right-hand sample is stitched with two strands of stranded cotton (floss), which creates a bolder line and a more obvious motif.

Transparent fabric

Interesting effects can be produced using transparent top fabric combined with coloured stuffing. This sample uses silk organza for the top fabric and plain white cotton as the backing fabric. Coloured merino wool is used for the stuffing. Work as Basic Method and stuff carefully as lumps will be very obvious.

Transparent fabric

Trapunto worked on transparent fabric is also known as Shadow Quilting, and could also be worked by machine stitching or using backstitch.

Fabric Manipulation
150 CREATIVE Sewing Techniques

Ruth Singer