Trapunto 9/05/08

Embroidery has been a time honored craft for many centuries.  When cloth was first available, the first embellishment was probably some sort of thread design.  The first known examples of embroidery were dated 3000 B.C. and done by men.  The first commercial embroidery machines were invented in the mid 1800’s and caused financial devastation for many hand embroiderers.


Trapunto is one of the many methods of embroidery; the word has two meanings.  In Latin, it means to ‘***’ and in Italian, it means to embroider.  During the 1400’s, embroiderers began to do ‘raised’ work which was stuffed with wool, leather and even wood.  Trapunto is the direct result of these early workings. 


Most often done in a ‘tone on tone’ manner, the following designs are in multiple colors making the Trapunto more visible.  The photos and designs below are courtesy of: M. Deans House of Design.  The artistic designs, in 8.75” by 11” size, have a price tag of $75.00 each.  I was so taken by them that I ordered a Queen Size for a mere $2,500.00 (OK, not really. . . .).  While detail is difficult to view in a photo, the backgrounds and larger unstitched areas are all plumped with batting.  The third photo is courtesy of the Smithsonian Museum.  While the Trapunto appears to be a simple linier design, this jacket sells for $148.  



Starting with a top fabric, middle ‘batting’ and backing, Trapunto is done by several different methods:

·         The first is to utilize extra batting in selected areas for a simple raised effect.  Often the design is a flower, leaves or feathers but anything can be made as Trapunto.

·         The second method would be to use a pointed, blunt object such as a toothpick and gently move the fabric threads to the side creating a small opening which can be stuffed and manipulated closed.

·         The last method would be accomplished by cutting a small slit in the back of the fabric, stuffing and use of a whipstitch to close the slit.

In each event, the design can be as simple as a circle or complex as a kaleidoscope style design.  Your imagination is your best guide.  Regardless of method, if a shear fabric is used as the topping, the design may be referred to as “Shadow Trapunto” because the stuffing is more visible.  Shadow style can be filled with color threads for an interesting effect.

With the invention of water soluble threads, Trapunto gained another method.  Using a standard bobbin thread, the (turtle) design is sewn with the soluble thread.  In the design shown, only the outside details were stitched with standard thread.  After removing the soluble thread with a spray of water, the fabric shrank a small amount creating a softer, fuller design.


Design courtesy of Debora Konchinsky, Critter Pattern Works

For my project, I decided to work with standard thread and I created a design for my favorite t-shirt.  I chose a medium blue thread so that it would stand out and am using the ATG Trapunto Hearts Design Pack.  I selected my design from that pack.  I made a single adjustment and downsized it to 4.5” from the 5.0” in the pack.


My “test sew out” had been done with a single layer of medium batting.  I felt it was insufficiently padded and for my sew out, I added a second layer of batting. 

  • Since the layers were so thick, I only hooped my Badgemaster stabilizer. 
  • The shirt was attached to ATG’s Water Soluble Adhesive Stabilizer. 
  • I divided my shirt into quarters and tied up the sleeves and back with some left over ribbon, this helps to keep foreign parts away from the needle. 
  • I then assembled my shirt with two layers of batting and placed them together in the machine. 
  • If you read my blogs regularly, you know that I believe there is no way to “over” stabilize a project but certainly an item can be “under” stabilized.  So, I placed a basting stitch around the design.

The trick of the basting stitch is to remember that it will be last in the order of sewing.  The reason is that you place your design in to your machine first and add the ‘baste’ and adjust it to be a little larger than the design.  So, be sure to remember to baste first, a reverse of the stitch out.

(Refresher:  Basting is accomplished by using the “frame” feature on your machine and the ‘single’– non decorative – stitching in your frame section.)


As you can see, the basting stitch did go astray on the left side.  The adhesive stabilizer is in place correctly, but the batting caused some movement.  To fix that, I clipped the thread in that area as seen in the 2nd photo.  I did have to keep the area manually adjusted somewhat because of the loft of the batting. 


After the stitching is complete and before removing my project from the hoop, I always view the underside of my design.  I do this for several reasons, one of which is to remove the ‘jump’ stitches.  Removing the bottom jump stitches makes the front jump stitches easier to remove and less likely to cause damaged during removal. 

I love my new t-shirt and hope you find a project to do that will please you as well.  Your project is not only unusual but also part of a rich and creative history in embroidery

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Comments (15) -

OOPS!  I forgot to comment the first time around.

What a great blog!  Your pictures are terriffic.  But I don't think I'll do Trapunto anytime soon.  I tried it back in the 70's, hand quilting all the lines and stuffing w/slits on the back and then using cording for the long straight lines.  It wasn't a very sucessful project, as I could never get the puckers out of the long straight lines.  I just don't think I'm up to ME trapunto.  I'm doing good to get a French horn on a Tshirt for my Gr.daughter. But I really keep trying.

Thanks again for another great blog.  I'll keep watching for you.

Everyone keep your eyes out for the next LaRuesews-Quilting.

Stitches to you,


LaRue-All those problems are a thing of the past.  Trapunto is done all in the hoop.  There are no slits or stuffing issues.  

There is a natural puchering to Trapunto because of the stuffing, but that is part of the charm of it.


jalcumbrack 9/5/2008 8:38:53 PM

I do trapunto all the time and it is so easy! It is one of my favorites. They make beautiful and wonderful gifts.



Great blog! I've always admired trapunto, but thought it was way too difficult. I may have to give this a try!


Great blog... great pics too. I have not tried trapunto, altho I have several trapunto designs... I will have to try it now that I "see" how it is done.

Thanks Pat


alssweetheart 9/6/2008 9:34:44 PM


What beautiful work!!!  Now that we have Machine Embroidery this will make it so much easier to complete a project.

Keep up the great work~it's nice to have that history that goes along with the projects that we are doing now.


joancarter 9/7/2008 5:58:43 AM

I love the trapunto designs shown.   I must now

have a go.



What wonderful lesson.  Are there actual trapunto patterns?

Where can I get them???  

Thanks again for all the information on trapunto.  I`m going

to try this.


This looks doable! I have never tried this technique before but this looks like it can be too addictive! I am looking at this and thinking of doing towels without the stuffing. This really can be a very beautiful thing.  Thanks!

Hugs from TX,

Dawn P.

Great story and explanation.  I've seen several ME designs, but never really understood the technique.



serenemachine2 9/7/2008 7:01:06 PM

Dense I may be, but the Trapunto designs for ME, do they require the batting being used?  Not quite sure I get this one!!  Your shirts is gorgeous though!  And I too love the history of crafts.  

Thanks you blog and the wonderful information I get here.  Keep up the good work.


laurgassman 9/8/2008 11:03:26 AM


You make this look very doable....I have always liked the look of Trapunto..Now I have the tools and a good example to learn from.  Thanks!!!

decor8tor-Love your name!  Certainly this can be done on a towel.  My only question is how the thread of the towel will end up laying.   If you decide to do a towel, be sure to show us your project.  We are always interested in some different take on a design!

Batting is  not required, again, this is another take on a traditional design.  Just like any recipe is open to new ingredients, ME can be done differently using your imagination.


Frances - You ask about Trapunto designs.  Just under the  turtle in my blog is the links for either the single design or for the pack, right here at ATG.

Thanks for supporting ATG because they make this blog possible.


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