This was originally posted on August 29, 2007 at Suture for a Living.
Trapunto originated in Italy in the early 16th century. It made it’s way through France into England. From there it came to the United States in the the late 1700’s and remained popular until the Civil War. There was a revival in the early 1900’s and again more recently.
Traditional Method was done by layering two pieces of fabric together. The design is completely quilted. The vines and straight line patterns are threaded with a soft yarn or cording. The rounder shapes of the motif are stuffed with small amounts of batting “teased” through the loosened fibers of the back. This was much easier with the homespun fabrics which were more loosely woven than today’s fabrics.
Modern Method is done the same as the traditional method except that the batting or cotton balls used for stuffing the motif is inserted from a small slit made in the backing fabric. After the shapes are stuffed, the slit is whipped stitched closed. A second backing fabric is then added to the quilt and normal quilting is done all around the previously stuffed shapes.
John Flynn Method is done by beginning the sewing around the design motif, but leaving a space to insert his specially designed tubular rod that has been stuffed with batting. After inserting the stuffing the sewing is completed around the area.
Hari Walnar Cut-Away Method is done by marking all quilt designs, then placing a layer of high-loft polyester batt under the designs you want to stuff. That layer is pinned in place, and using water-soluble thread, the design is encircled with quilting to hold the batting in place behind each design. The excess batting is then carefully trimmed away. Then the quilt is layered with cotton batting and backing in the usual way, basted, and quilted with regular quilting thread (non-soluble). Use background fillers of various crosshatching and micro-stippling to make the pattern and its variations really pop out. When the quilting is finished, the quilt is submerged in cool water to dissolve the water-soluble thread. The water will also shrink the cotton batt somewhat, and the trapunto design stuffed with the poly batt will be enhanced by that shrinkage. You’ll have stuffed designs with detailed quilting with the speed and power of a sewing machine.
It is very acceptable today to use machine techniques. One of these was perfected by Karen McTavish. Instructions for using her technique can be found here. Or to do shadow quilting which adds subtle color to some areas.
Sources for Whole Cloth Patterns:
The Stencil Company
Trapunto by Machine by Hari Walner
Trapunto and Stippling by John Flynn
Trapunto: The Handbook of Stuffed Quilting by Sue H. Rodgers