Trapunto: Make Your Quilt Pop

Trapunto quilting is a technique used to add another dimension to a quilt. Puffy, raised areas of quilting add a unique texture to a flat piece of art. Italian for embroider, this is also known as the “stuffing technique” because specific parts of the quilt are filled. Interestingly, this method of quilting has been around since the 14th century! Trapunto quilting can be done by hand or by machine. What makes it so special is that trapunto really creates an elegant, sophisticated look. The specific designs and motifs made allow quilts of all kinds to really shine.

trapunto example

Photo via Geta Grama

Trapunto can work on all quilts, though whole cloth quilts are perfect for this technique! These quilts are already made with a specific point in mind: allow the quilting to be the star of the show. The top of a whole cloth quilt is one single, large piece of fabric that tends to be a light color. This is ideal for trapunto because nothing detracts from the quilting. Patterned fabrics and pieced tops can work beautifully as well.

The first step in trapunto quilting is deciding on the type of pattern or design you’d like to use on your quilt, perhaps drawing inspiration from books and blogs online. You can also create your own design! Elements from nature, like flowers, leaves, vines, and feathers are very common patterns found in trapunto quilting.

trapunto example

Photo via Quilt Me Kiwi

Once your designs have been selected, it is time to transfer them onto the fabric. There are many different fabric marking tools that you can use to do this. Fabric mechanical pencils work well and have an eraser on the back to get rid of the excess lines. EZ Quilting washout pencils are another tool, and they are available in different colors and wash out of most fabrics. When using these, always test them out on a fabric scrap first. This will help you see which color shows up best on your quilt, but it will also allow you to find out if the pencil will actually wash out.

Now let’s look at two different great ways to trapunto. The first method is a traditional stuffing technique with embroidery, and the second option utilizes batting and a sewing machine!

trapunto example

Photo via Sam Paguit Quilts

Traditional Trapunto

After the designs are transferred, cut out an underlining fabric. The design will be embroidered through both the quilt top and this fabric, so make sure that it is larger than the design. Muslin makes a great underlining! Please note- this is not the regular quilt back! This is an extra piece of fabric that will be hidden inside of the quilt. After the muslin is cut to size, baste this fabric into place on the wrong side of the quilt top, directly under the markings. Make sure that the underlining covers the design completely.

Now it is time to stitch up your design! Hand stitch along the transferred pattern, on the right side of the quilt. This can be done with a decorative contrasting embroidery thread or something that blends right into the quilt. A running stitch or a back stitch works well here. This can also be done by machine! Once the design is stitched, flip the quilt over to the back. From the wrong side of the quilt top, trim away the excess underlining, leaving about a 1/4″ of the underlining.

trapunto example

Photo via Reanna Lily Designs

Next is stuffing. Choose a part of the pattern, like a leaf or a portion of a feather to start on. Cut a small slit in the underlining, but be extremely careful here! Do not cut through the quilt top, just the underlining. Then you can stuff loose polyfill batting here. Some like to use yarn as their filling. Fill the small space until it looks full from the front. If you overstuff, the stitches will stretch so check the front of the quilt to make sure there is no distortion. When you are happy with the space, sew up the slit in the underlining with a whipstitch.

Repeat these steps on the next section of the design. As you work, continue to check the front of the quilt to make sure the stuffing is uniform. When working on a longer piece like a vine, it is easier to make a couple of slits in the underlining rather than trying to fill the entire long space from one slit. After all of the stuffing is done, remove any of the basting stitches that were holding the underlining in place.

Machine Trapunto

I like to think using a machine is the easier way to trapunto. It is also less intimidating, since there is no fabric being cut, just batting! As with the previous method, transfer the designs onto the right side of the quilt top or fabric. Cut a piece of batting that is larger than the design area that will be quilted, and baste it to the backside of the fabric. Flip the quilt top and batting back over to the right side, and machine quilt along the design.

When all of the quilting is done, turn the project back over to the wrong side. Carefully trim away the excess batting around the stitching. This leaves batting only in the places that you want to be puffy! Take your time and work with care; make sure you don’t cut any stitches or the quilt top! When all of the trimming is finished, baste the quilt top with batting and backing as usual, then quilt. Dense quilting around the trapunto areas really makes the puffy areas pop! If you want your trapunto areas to be especially noticeable, try two layers of batting.

Trapunto quilting can be time consuming, but it truly adds another dimension to quilting! Give it a try on your next project. If a large quilt intimidates you, add it to a pillow top or a baby quilt. It is definitely worth that added effort. If you are looking for some trapunto inspiration, check out patterns here on Craftsy and more amazing pictures on Pinterest.

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