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Trapunto Embroidery

Poster: Sue Humphries <humphs2@scsn.net>

        "Hello!" A shy person steps up from the shadow, and smiles. "Did
someone ask about trapunto? I am Athelina of Oldenfeld, and this is my first
time posting. Pleased to meet you all."
        I have some information on the history of trapunto. There is an
article in the Jan/Feb 1995 issue of Piecework magazine which is worth
looking up if you can find it. It is entitled, "Trapunto- A Gift of Light
and Shadow" by Martha Baker. I will attempt to recap it here, at least the
parts touching on period info. 

        The article contains a photo of a _gorgeous_ trapunto-quilted
coverlet from the Victoria and Albert Museum labeled, "This detail from a
Sicilian quilt depicts scenes from the medieval legend of the knight
Tristram. Figures of knights and princes, elegant ladies, heralds, vines,
leaves, and lettering in Sicilian dialect were created in trapunto, circa 1392."

        The photo shows that the stitching was done using a brown linen
thread on a beige linen background. The coverlet appears very thin and flat,
and the non-figured areas are not padded. The outfits worn by the figures
support the dating of the piece. The primary type of stitching was
backstitching, with some work done in running stitch. It appears as though
bits of stuffing were used, because the design is nonlinear enough to make
cording difficult. The author says that trapunto, by definition, involves
bits of stuffing poked through the backing fabric between the threads
(loosely woven backing is an advantage) or cording threaded on a needle and
poked through the backing. 

        As for materials and other techniques, the article says, "Although
linen was the fabric used in the earliest quilting, by the sixteenth
century, wools, cottons, Persian silk, taffeta, and satin were being used;
colored and metallic threads had become popular for the quilt tops; twilled
cotton, fustian (a strong cotton and linen fabric), linen, and silk had been
introduced as backing materials; various embroidery stitches had been
incorporated into the work; and new raised techniques developed. A variation
known as cording (also known as Italian, English, or Portuguese quilting)
became popular at this time. A single or double strand of cord or yarn is
drawn through two parallel lines of quilting to produce the raised design."
(Note- the corded designs do look somewhat different in style from the
earlier example which (I think) used bits of stuffing, because the corded
designs require long rows of parallel stitching (straight or curved) to form
"channels".) Cotton and wool were most commonly used for the padding material.

        The article states that trapunto as we know it is believed to have
originated in Sicily, where heavy padding on the bed coverlets was
unneccessary due to the warmth of the climate. It says also, "By the
fourteenth century, however, trapunto, a more lightweight form of padded,
raised quilting decorated _garments_, household linens, and wall hangings."

        The article adds, "Some of the traditional quilting designs still
used today, such as the rose, fern, beehive, feather, and diamond were
developed during this period." Now here is where I begin to doubt a little.
The author claims that, "By the seventeenth and (early) eighteenth
century... stuffed and corded stitching was found on everything the wealthy
_wore_, sat on, slept on, or used to keep the sun out..." and, "Eventually,
decorative raised quilting was evident on all (?) well-to-do men's, women's,
and children's fashions." I think this is a very sweeping statement; for
example, I've seen it on men's but not women's clothes- not to say it wasn't
done, I simply have no idea. Personally I think it would be very cool. One
of my friends suggests that the use of quilting on men's garments was a kind
of "militaristic fashion statement" deriving from the quilted armor padding
and "gambeson" type of garment. 

        Does anyone else have any other info, especially relating to the use
of quilting on _women's_ garb? The author goes on at length about modern and
American historical quilting (as in bed cover type quilts) so I don't know
how many of her sources are pertinent, and some of them look like they would
be very hard to find. Here they are though, so have fun: 

                Brackman, Barbara. "Clues in the Calico" McLean, Virginia:
EPM Publications, 1989
                Chicago, Judy, with Susan Hill. "Embroidering our Heritage"
Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1980
                Colby, Averil. "Quilting" New York: Charles Scribner's Sons,
                Duke, Dennis and Deborah Harding. "America's Glorious
Quilts" New York: Park Lane, 1989
                Having, Bettina. "Missouri Heritage Quilts" Paducah, KY:
American Quilter's Society, 1986
                Morgan, Mary, and Dee Mosteller. "Trapunto and Other Forms
of Raised Quilting" New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1977
                Orlofsky, Patsy and Myron. "Quilts in America" New York:
McGraw-Hill, 1974 
                Perkins, Zoe Annis. "Textiles from the Collection" St.
Louis, MO: St. Louis Art Museum, 1994
                Soltow, Willow Ann. "Quilting the World Over" Radnow, PA:
Chilton, 1991


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