Trapunto Embroidery Basics
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What is Trapunto Embroidery

Trapunto Embroidery 101

trapunto embroidery finished

Learn all about trapunto embroidery techniques and how to achieve the look with pretty designs & fun thread.

What is Trapunto Embroidery?

Trapunto is a technique that provides a dimensional effect, similar to the puffiness of a quilt. Fabric is layered with batting before the stitching begins, so open areas of the design “puff” up, raising the fabric surface.

Embroidery designs labeled as “trapunto” are digitized with this in mind. There are often knockdown stitches in areas of the design that compress the batting around larger motifs that are left open to accommodate the loft.

knockdown stitches for trapunto embroidery

Knockdown stitches consist of close stitches in the shape of circles, squares or quatrefoils (similar to a symmetrical clover). You may be familiar with knockdown patterns beneath monogram designs, as these stitches are used to also compress the nap of a terrycloth towel so the monogram stitches sit atop the fabric surface.

While the towel embroidery shown above is not layered with batting, it has a “faux” trapunto effect due to the knockdown stitches in the design. To achieve true trapunto, batting (or even lofty fusible fleece) is required.

Some designs labeled as “trapunto” are more simple than that, too. Without knockdown stitches, simpler designs are comprised of simple straight stitches. The design chart directs you to trim away the batting beyond the stitching line so the areas designed to “puff” will do so with the remaining loft underneath the fabric. (See the Corner Trapunto Design featured below.)

Is Stabilizer Needed with Trapunto Embroidery?

Stabilizer isn’t necessarily required for trapunto embroidery if the batting is tightly compressed so it provides adequate stabilization for the fabric. The batting should be secured to the fabric wrong side using Sulky Kk 2000™ Temporary Spray Adhesive prior to hooping to ensure the layers won’t shift during the stitchout.

However, adding a layer of Sulky Soft ‘n Sheer™ Stabilizer behind the batting is preferred. This sandwiches the batting and provides a nice surface to glide over the machine bed during embroidery. Plus, the stabilizer adds another, albeit small, layer of interfacing behind the design to protect the wrong side if not lining the finished project.

Soft ‘n Sheer is a cut-away, permanent stabilizer. So if the chosen design is digitized for only certain areas of batting to remain behind the stitches, the stabilizer is also trimmed with that layer for an inconspicuous finished look.

Trapunto Designs

There are loads of Trapunto Embroidery Designs at your fingertips. Many of these designs look like quilt blocks, too. Purchase a design pack to have many coordinating designs and make a quilt comprised of loads of trapunto blocks.

Embroidery Library Trapunto Design Pack
image courtesy of

Corner Trapunto designs are great for placemats, table runners and quilts, too.

corner trapunto embroidery design by OESD
image courtesy of

Pay attention to the available embroidery design sizes to ensure you purchase a design compatible with your available hoops and project requirements.

Thread for Trapunto Embroidery

Most Trapunto Embroidery designs consist of one thread color. If your chosen design has more than one, you can always deviate and stitch everything with one thread spool, depending on the desired look. Trapunto designs are generally digitized for a 40 wt. Thread. Sulky Rayon and Poly Deco™ both fit the bill. Use a size 80/12 or 75/11 Embroidery Needle for best results.

Sulky Rayon Thread
Sulky Rayon Thread
Poly Deco Thread
Sulky Poly Deco Thread

However, since most trapunto embroidery designs consist of straight stitches with no fill, aside from knockdown stitches that are open), thread substitutions are suitable.

Try a heavier thread, such as Sulky 30 wt. Cotton Blendables, for a multicolor look. These threads are randomly dyed every 2 1/2″ to 5″ across the thread length, resulting in random color variations. Pair this thread with a size 90/14 needle for best results.

30 wt. blendables

Another option is to use Sulky Poly Sparkle™ Thread. This is also a 30 wt. Thread, but it has flecks of metallic running through it for a subtle sparkle that can’t be beat. Use a size 90/14 needle with this thread, too.

Trapunto Embroidery Pillow


Supplies listed are enough to make one 18″-square pillow.


Wash and dry the chosen fabric. If needed, trim the yardage to 18″ x 42″.

Fold the fabric rectangle in half widthwise; finger-press along the fold.

folding in half widthwise

Then, fold the fabric in half lengthwise; finger-press along the fold.

folding in half lengthwise

Unfold the fabric. If needed, mark along the foldlines using a removable fabric marker or chalk for a better view.

marking along foldlines


A magnetic hoop is a great choice for these lofty designs, as the thicker batting isn’t compressed or marred by the hooping process. However, a standard hoop should work fine as well; just be careful to ensure the hoop isn’t too tight.

Cut a piece of stabilizer to 18″ square.

Center the batting square along the fabric center wrong side, using KK 2000 to secure.

spraying batting with KK2000

Cover the batting with the stabilizer square, matching all corners and edges; use KK 2000 to secure.

adding stabilizer to back of trapunto area

Hoop the fabric sandwich. Then, place the hoop onto the machine.


Check to make sure the needle is at the center cross marks on the fabric.

centering needle position

Begin the stitchout with 60 wt. Bobbin Thread in the bobbin and 30 wt. Cotton Blendables Thread in a new 90/14 Needle.

embroidery supplies

Don’t be afraid to slow down the machine speed a bit to reduce friction, if desired.

When the embroidery is complete clip any jump threads, if needed. Then, remove the hoop from the machine and the fabric sandwich from the hoop. Press lightly to remove any hoop markings, if needed.

pressing finished embroidery


Trim away the stabilizer and batting close to the outer design perimeter.

trimming batting

Double-fold each short edge of the pillow fabric 1/2″ toward the wrong side; press. A Clover Hot Ruler makes quick, accurate work of this double fold.

Topstitch along the second foldline using the 30 wt. Blendables Thread. Or switch to a matching 50 wt. Cotton Thread for a more inconspicuous look. (If using, be sure to pair the 50 wt. Thread with a size 70/10 Needle.)

Place the fabric rectangle wrong side up on a flat work surface. Bring one hemmed short edge about 10″ toward the fabric center.

measuring overlap

Then overlap the opposite short hemmed edge, about 3″ across the previous edge.

measuring pillow back

Pin the upper and lower pillow edges.

pinned pillow edges

Flip over the fabric to make sure the trapunto embroidery design is exactly centered (you’ll be looking at the design wrong side). Make any adjustments needed to the folded edges.

measuring to center design

Stitch the pinned edges, using a 1/4″ seam allowance. Remove the pins as you reach them.

At each corner, stitch tapered ends to avoid “dog ear” pillow corners. Measure 2″ up from the corner along the stitching; mark.

marking at 2"

Measure 1/4″ to the left of the stitching; mark.

marking at 1/4"

Then, connect the marks to form the tapered corner.

Stitch along the drawn line.

Zigzag- or serge-finish the seam allowances.

To finish, turn the pillow right side out. Poke out the corners using a turning tool.

pushing out pillow corners

Finally, insert the pillow form.

finished pillow on couch

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I am the Director of Content for Sulky of America. The former Editor in Chief of Sew News and Creative Machine Embroidery magazines, I hosted Sew it All TV on PBS for nine seasons. I've appeared on It's Sew Easy on PBS, DIY Network's Uncommon Threads, Hallmark's Marie Osmond Show, MacPhee Workshop and more! Come sew with me!