Stuffed Work: Trapunto and Boutis

trapunto hearts

Although quilting a quilt top gives it a raised or puffy appearance, depending on the batting used, there are techniques used to give a quilt top even more of a three dimensional feeling by adding extra batting or cord under the quilt top. These areas are normally stuffed once the quilt is quilted. They are called trapunto and boutis. Trapunto is often times used in heirloom quilts and boutis can be applied to clothing, decorative home linens and coverlets.


Trapunto is a word from the Italian that means “to embroider”. Trapunto has been used since the thirteenth century. It originated in Sicily, and the best known early example of this technique can be seen in the Tristan Quilt, an Italian trapuntotapestry from the late fourteenth century. It was also used for clothing and household linen and from Italy, it started being used on other European countries (United Kingdom and France) from which it came to the United States. Trapunto started being called “stuffed work” in the colonies and it was primarily used in whole cloth coverlets, often times with an added fringe around them. It was also used in calimanco quilts (whole cloth quilts made with glazed cotton, giving them a shiny appearance). Trapunto is made after quilting is completed. Although mostly used on whole cloth quilts, it can also be used on pieced or appliqued quilts on large, open areas where fancy quilting can be applied. Most times, trapunto is used in fancy designs such as wreaths, feathers, flowers or vases. It is important that if trapunto is to be added to the quilt, the backing should be loosely woven (like muslin or cotton batiste) to allow stuffing the shapes from the back. Areas like flower stems or channels between feathers in wreaths or quilted swags can be stuffed with light colored pre-shrunk thick wool yarn or with cotton or acrylic yarn and a long, thick needle, called a “trapunto needle”. trapunto needleThread the needle with a length of yarn long enough plus a little with the yarn and from the backing, carefully open up the threads of the fabric with the needle tip, to allow the needle and yarn to be inserted between the backing and batting without tearing a hole in the fabric. Following the channel created by the quilting lines, travel with the needle between the quilting lines, as far as the needle can go. Pulling the needle out can be difficult, so you might need to use a rubber fingertip or a rubber needle grabber. Leave a short tail at the beginning and a tail at the end. Once you have stuffed the stem or channel, very carefully, trim the tails and tug the fabric, so the yarn will disappear inside the quilt. Stuffing feathers or other raised areas can be done by very carefully opening up the threads of the backing fabric in the area to be stuffed. Using a toothpick or thick needle, insert small bits of batting, pushing it to stuff the shape. Once the shape is completely filled, use the toothpick again to close the hole in the backing fabric, and scratch the threads in the direction of the grain with your fingernail to make the trapunto created hole practically invisible. Trapunto shapes will really stand up if the quilting done around them is dense. Quilt around them in a close grid or “stippling”.


Boutis  developed in Southern France, in the Provence region during the sixteenth century. It can be described as a boutis closesimplified form of trapunto. Two layers of white batiste cotton are used but no batting is needed. The quilted designs are stuffed with cotton yarn and there is no additional background quilting, since there is no batting (there is no need to quilt a boutis top to hold the batting in place). Boutis is stuffed more densely than trapunto and the designs are simpler. In traditional boutis, floral and animal or religious designs are preferred. The boutis motif needs to be transferred to the batiste by tracing it with a washable marker or pencil. The marked layer and the backing layer need to be basted together. Once the layers are basted, the design needs to be stitched by using a running stitch in white cotton quilting thread (just like quilting a design in a traditional quilting, minus the batting). An embroidery hoop helps keep the layers tight in order to accomplish the quilting. When the quilting is all completed, the stuffing work begins. Using a boutis needle, the traditional needle, or a tapestry or long doll needle and doubled up white cotton yarn, stuff the boutis areas leaving an 8th inch tail of yarn at the beginning and end of each pass with the needle, making sure the yarn stays between the two layers of batiste. Hold the tail at the beginning boutis 2to prevent it from going inside the design. When the motif is all stuffed, the yarn tails need to be pushed into the fabric by using a toothpick or the needle itself. Once the tails disappear between the two layers of batiste, use the needle to push the fabric threads closed. When the whole design is stuffed, the boutis piece needs to be washed in order to remove the pencil markings. The front (marked side of the piece) becomes the back of the boutis.

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