Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Trapunto or Stuffed Needlework, So Elegant

      Average Colonial American women were so busy spinning, weaving, cooking, making candles, and tending animals, as well as doing hundreds of other daily chores, they didn’t have much leisure time for quilting.
      Many of the quilted garments, such as winter petticoats, and bedcoverings were stitched by professionals who made meager salaries. It was mostly the well-to-do women who had time for fine needlework such as trapunto, which in Italian means "to embroider." In Latin it means "to prick with a needle." English and American quilters called the technique stuffed work.
Quilted petticoat with trapunto trim
      Quilters would stitch lines through the quilt top, the batting, and the quilt backing. The patterns were usually flowers, feathers, leaves, and vases.
Picture courtesy of the Quilts a Lot Blog
Once they sewed the lines of a pattern, the quilters would separate the threads of the thin backing making a tiny hole.
      Next, using a stiletto, a toothpick, darning needle, or an instrument called a bodkin they stuffed tiny pieces of stuffing or yarn through the holes. After stuffing the space evenly, they would move the threads of the backing into place, closing up the holes.
      In some of the finer examples of trapunto, quilters would stuff darkly dyed batting or yarn underneath the thin white topping, allowing the color to shine through like a pale shadow. This was a tedious process that took a long time.

There's a nice video that shows how to do this elegant needlework at:

You may also want to visit the Quilts a Lot blog at:

Susan F. Craft is the author of a Revolutionary War suspense novel, The Chamomile, which won the SIBA Okra Pick. Her post-Revolutionary War suspense novel, Laurel, will be released by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas January 12, 2015. She is represented by Linda S. Glaz, Hartline Literary Agency.


  1. So glad you like it. For me, doing trapunto would be like sewing the tiny cross stitch patterns -- lots of effort for very little outcome -- though beautiful, if you have the patience.

  2. Wow, this is really interesting. It does sound like a lot of work, but creates a beautiful 3d pattern. I'll have to look into this more. (shhh, don't remind me I don't have time to pick up another hobby.)
    I'm looking at that winter petticoat and thinking I want one.

    Amber Schamel
    Brining HIStory to Life

  3. What beautiful work! Thank you for sharing this most interesting post!

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

  4. I can't imagine such small stitches and tedious work. Beautiful, though. Thanks for sharing.