Monday, September 21, 2009

Working on a New Trapunto Class (Part 3)

There are two distinct things that you have to do to make a trapunto quilt. I call the first the "trapunto set-up" because this is how you lay the foundation to get that beautiful stuffed work. Once the set-up is done, you are ready for the second step, which is the layering and quilting.

For a "normal" trapunto quilt, in other words, one without color added, I would only be using a layer of polyester batting as the stuffing instead of the added fabric layer that I am illustrating here. I use poly batt rather than cotton because I know that it will not shrink or lose its loft over time and repeated washings; however, you can use anything that you know is colorfast and pre-shrunk. For instance, a double layer of acrylic fleece could be used if you want to add both color and loft at the same time.

I did the set-up on this quilt top as follows:

With the back of the quilt top facing me, I positioned one piece of the bright green fabric over each of two diagonally opposing blocks, then placed one square of poly batting on top of the green fabric. Straight pins were used to hold the layers together for the time being so they wouldn't shift out of place.

I turned the quilt back over to the front and safety pinned the layers securely together. Because I am going to be using the free motion foot for the machine sewing, the foot really doesn't touch the quilt and layers are more likely to shift; so I use a lot of safety pins to keep that from happening.

Once the safety pins are in, I can turn the quilt back over and remove the straight pins.

I thread the machine as follows: Water-soluble thread (such as Vanish Extra by Superior or Wash-A-Way by YLI) in the top of the machine and regular 50 wt. cotton (most likely, the stuff you're piecing with) in a pale neutral color such as ecru or light tan in the bobbin. Water soluble threads are fairly fragile threads that are just meant to temporarily hold fabrics together, so they do require a tension adjustment. I adjust the tensions as follows for my Bernina machines:

Vanish Extra: Loosen tension to 2.5 on all models except 830; on 830, loosen to 2.o

Wash-A-Way: Loosen tension to 2.0 on all models except 830; on 830, loosen to 1.5

What is really rad is that the 830's automatic needle threader works on both of these threads! I sort of expected it not to work with any threads other than cottons and polys, so I was pretty impressed that it worked well.

Once threaded up as above, I sewed the design, using the free motion foot with the feed dogs dropped, and then I was ready to start cutting the batting and green fabric away from the background areas that I didn't want stuffed.

In this photo, I have trimmed away all of the poly batt from the background areas and started cutting away the green fabric. You could probably do this in one step rather than two, but I'm a little wary of possibly cutting into my quilt top.

Here's one of the blocks with both the green fabric and the poly batt trimmed away from the background areas.

Here's a nice close-up of the trimming. It's always important to trim very closely, but even more so if you are backing trapunto with color as any untrimmed or, even worse, sloppily trimmed batting will show through.

The goal here is to trim away all of the batting from the areas that you don't want stuffed without accidentally clipping into the quilt top. The best scissors that I have found for the job are these, made by Nifty Notions and available at most quilt and sewing machine shops. They are called 3-1/2" Blunt Nose Travel Embroidery Scissors.

I want the green color to show in the background of the remaining two blocks rather than in the "stuffed" part, so I used straight pins to temporarily hold the last two squares of poly batt only , no green fabric this time. Then I turned the quilt over to the front, safety pinned the layers, removed the straight pins and sewed and trimmed the same way I did the first two blocks.

I folded the quilt to show two blocks side by side: the one on the left has the green fabric underneath the poly and the one on the right is plain old poly.

That finishes the trapunto "set up" part of constructing this quilt; now all I have to do is pin it up and quilt it!

But, WAIT, you say -- There are still two green fabric squares left!! You're right -- there are!


  1. Excellent tutorial. It now makes perfect sense to me. Far easier than the trapunto techniques I learned in the 70's (e.g. pull needle with yarn thru the layers). You've inspired me so I'll give this a try very soon. Can't wait!

    But I also can't wait now to take a class with you. I hope to see you back in San Diego soon, or at a quilt show that I can attend.

    Thank you so much! Very inspirational.


  2. Thank you so much for the tutorial!!! This is sorta the same technique in a quilting book I have - I can't wait to try it - thanks for all the pictures and details!!!


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