Learn About Trapunto Embroidery

Trapunto means “to embroider” in Italian, and “to prick with a needle” in Latin. Trapunto or “stuffed work” is a whole cloth quilting technique that creates a raised design and can be done by hand or machine. This technique, used by American and English quilters, uses extra padding that is slipped behind the quilt top. The raised design will reflect the light and provide shadow on the surface giving the quilt a sculptural effect.

Trapunto originated in Italy in the early 16th century. Around the late 1700s, the technique appeared in America and remained popular until the Civil War.

Traditional trapunto patterns usually consist of vines, leaves, grapes, cherries and so on. The vines and straight line patterns are threaded with a soft yarn or cording through the channels created from the designs. The rounder designs are stuffed with small amounts of batting inserted from a small slit made in the backing fabric. After the designs 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 raised designs. Elaborate designs and sculptural effects can best be seen and appreciated on all-white fabric. The white quilting thread is almost invisible on the background, and so the light and shadow of the raised areas emphasize the design.

Here is a photo of a 1830s trapunto pillow cover created by hand. It has a fine cotton front with a nice linen backing and hand knotted fringe.

Today, trapunto is created in a variety of colors and designs. Some are still created by hand, while others use the sewing machine, and still, others now use the embroidery machine. Yes, you can create a project using a technique from long ago on your modern embroidery machine!

Let’s take a look at trapunto embroidery designs and how they are stitched out on the embroidery machine. Each of the motifs consists of two different files. The first file will create the “pillow” that will give the raised effect. The second file will finish the design work and create the trapunto piece.

Let’s use a design from Heritage Creations Trapunto #78700 (discontinued) embroidery collection as the sample. It is a beautiful collection featuring 55 designs. Complete and detailed instructions are included in each of OESD’s trapunto embroidery design collections.

Gather lightweight tear-away stabilizer, fabric, extra loft batting large enough for the design, low loft batting or cotton batting, temporary spray adhesive, embroidery thread, and wash-away thread.

Instructions for File 1 – “pillow” file

  1. Hoop one layer of stabilizer.
  2. Stitch the first color which is the placement stitch.
  3. Cut a piece of extra loft batting large enough to completely cover the placement stitch. Spray with temporary spray adhesive and lay over stitching.
  4. Stitch the second color which is the cutting line. NOTE: If you have problems with the foot getting caught in the batting, see the hints included with the complete instructions.
  5. Unhoop and cut out the “pillow” close to the stitching.
  6. Set the “pillow” aside – you will use it when stitching the second file.


Instructions for File 2 – finishing the design

  1. Hoop the back fabric right side down and one layer of low loft batting.
  2. Stitch the first color which is the placement stitch, using wash away thread in the needle and bobbin.
  3. Spray with temporary spray adhesive and place the “pillow” inside the placement stitch.
  4. Lightly spray with temporary spray adhesive the wrong side of the top fabric. Right side up, cover the “pillow”.
  5. Stitch the second color which is the basting stitch, still using wash away thread.
  6. Lastly, stitch the final color change which stitches the details using normal embroidery thread.


The remaining instructions included with the trapunto embroidery collections are hints. It is a good idea to read those first, prior to stitching out the design. The hints discuss the wash away thread and issues with the embroidery foot getting caught in the batting.

Another beautiful trapunto embroidery collection is the Christmas Trapunto #12317. It has 20 designs which include borders and corners, a Christmas tree, sleigh, star, candy cane, wreath, snowflakes, and gift package.

Christmas is always around the corner, so some projects to consider for using the Christmas trapunto designs are stockings, tree skirt and possibly a quilt to match. A pillow as a gift would be well received. Make a stunning holiday jacket in your favorite color and trapunto design to wear to holiday parties.

Designs from the Heritage Creations Trapunto #78700 (discontinued) embroidery collection would also be good for some of the projects suggested above. Then the quilt or pillow could be a treasure for all year long. Let us know what type of project you made with the trapunto embroidery designs. We would love to hear from you!

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