Corded Quilting

Recently I have been reading about the various methods of doing “stuffed work” or Trapunto in quilting.

Here are some of the various  terms and techniques.

Corded quilting (also known as Marseilles quilting, Marseilles embroidery or marcella) is a decorative quilting technique popular from the late 17th through the early 19th centuries. In corded quilting, a fine fabric, sometimes colored silk but more often white linen or cotton, is backed with a loosely woven fabric. Floral or other motifs are outlined in parallel rows of running stitches or backstitches to form channels, and soft cotton cord is inserted through the backing fabric using a blunt needle and drawn along the quilted channels to produce a raised effect. Tiny quilting stitches in closely spaced rows fill the motifs and provide contrast to the corded outlines.

Corded quilting was popular for dresses, petticoats, and waistcoats as well as curtains and bedcoverings. Originating in the fine whole-cloth quilt tradition of Provence in southern France, corded quilting differs from the related trapunto quilting in which loose wadding or batting rather than cord is inserted to created raised designs. By the Federal era in America, corded quilting and trapunto were combined with whitework embroidery and other needlework techniques to produce a profusion of white-on-white textiles for the home before the fashion faded.


The first whole-cloth stuffed quilts to be made in the southern region of France were matelassage quilts in the mid-17th century. These sandwiched a layer of wadding between two outer layers of fabric, which were then quilted together using a running stitch.  Matelassage quilts were successfully exported from the South of France to England, Spain, Italy, Germany and Holland.

Piqûre de Marseilles

Also known as corded quilting, Marseilles work or piqué marseillais, this technique was developed in Marseilles in the early eighteenth century, and became an important local industry. The two layers of plain fabric are stretched together without wadding, and intricately stitched together using backstitch, or after the mid-18th century, the more swiftly achieved running stitch. There were narrow channels in the embroidered design through which fine cord or rolled fabric was threaded using a special needle to create a three-dimensional effect.

In the late 18th century the Lancashire cotton industry developed a mechanised technique of weaving double cloth with an enclosed heavy cording weft. The resulting imitation Marseille quilts became an important industry for Lancashire from the late 18th to the early 20th century. These textiles are also known as marcella, one of a number of variations on the word “Marseilles”.


Boutis quilts, as they are known today evolved in the 19th century from the earlier Provençal quilting techniques. They represent a simplification of the Marseilles technique where the motifs in the quilting are larger and the stuffing bulkier. The boutis quilt may feature various images and symbols in its design, such as religious symbols, oak leaves, flowers, fruits and berries, animals, and cornucopia; it might also include naive motifs drawn from the maker’s personal life. The term “boutis” is now widely used as a general term for all forms of Provençal stuffed quilting.

So with all That I decided that I would like to give it a try.  I decided to do a very simple example of corded quilting.  Step one was to draw a design on some fabric. I used unbleached muslin, and drew a simplified bunch of grapes, and background lines spaces 1/4″ apart.

then pin it together with another layer of muslin for backing (no batting just 2 layers of muslin).  Next stitch the design in a running stitch (If I was doing a real quilt I would have been a bit more concerned about making nicer even stitches.

next it is time to do the cording.  I used wool roving yarn and a BIG needle.

thread the needle with the yarn and insert between the 2 layers. (from the back side because the large needle will distort the fabric)

Pull it through and cut off the tails, then using the needle push any stray ends back in between the layers

Simple for narrow channels but for wider areas you need to repeat several times to fill the cavity…pull the yarn through, cut off the ends, tuck in any stray ends with your needle and then work the yarn over to the edge of the cavity…keep going through the same hole adding another strand of yarn, cut off and repeat.

This wider area has 4 rows of the yarn added….just keep adding until the cavity is filled.

and keep filling more area, above is the same area back and front.  (see the end of post for several pictures of all stages)

In this picture you can see the holes where the big needle went through, use a small needle and push those holes closed by manipulating the threads in the fabric (washing will also help to close them)

Now do the background fill.  Use the same big needle and Yarn and run it through the channels

this is the easy part

It goes pretty fast, just be sure to keep the needle in the channel and not poking through the other side.

now it’s filled, just wash out the marking pen and there you have it

This is just a small 9″ x 12″ test….but I like the method and I think I will do more.

PS: we had a really long discussion a while back on a Facebook group about how leaves in antique quilts reminded people of Marijuana so I couldn’t resist doing it here as well.

OK here are the rest of the pictures (click to enlarge)

Happy Quilting


27 thoughts on “Corded Quilting

  1. Hilda says:

    Looks wonderful! – thank so much for all the tuition. Can I ask what pen you use? it seems to wash out very well.

  2. Gerrie says:

    Excellent tutorial! And I like your sense of humor. I’m off to draw me some leaves…

  3. Gaye Ingram says:

    Is that the marijuana cherry tree?

    Good work!!!!!

  4. Karen says:

    great work, I have thought to try this sometime and have never gotten to it – wonderful work!

    • timquilts says:

      Thanks Karen
      It was a fun thing to try…and not as hard as I thought it would be….if I do a real quilt I will have to get some different sizes of yarn, and needles .

  5. Thanks for explaining the difference in they different types of stuffed quilting. Your tutorial was great. I too have always wanted to try this method.

  6. Siobhan says:

    Great tutorial! You have to be one of the fastest hand quilters I know…this whole discussion on FB was only last week!

  7. Kristen says:

    This is great, Tim, a good education — thanks.

  8. Regan Martin says:

    I think I’m ready to try this now! You are awesome at tutorials! Thanks so much! Just wondering: how stiff was this piece after the stuffing? If it was a whole cloth quilt like that, do you think it would it still have drape?

    • timquilts says:

      Thanks! (being a teacher helps in doing tutorials)
      It is small so it is a bit hard to tell what It would drape like, but I think it is a bit “stiff” I think that If I wanted to do a full quilt I would do the background channels with thinner yarn and that would make it more drapeable. I am also thinking that what I would maybe do is to combine this method with normal quilting…so I would do normal quilting and then stuff some selected areas

  9. Miriam says:

    Beautiful work Tim. I have recently done a bit of experimentation with boutis, trying different thickness of threads for the stuffing. I am still learning and playing with different fabrics too, There are a few photos on my blog. The techniques have a fascinating history. Recently I saw an antique piece with microscopic stitching and very fine cording. It was stunning!!
    Looking forward to see what you make next! 🙂

  10. threadlore says:

    Hi Tim,

    I am a recent subscriber to your blog. I have enjoyed your posts very much. I was particularly pleased to see that you are exploring the white-corded quilting method. I have done a few pieces myself this past year. You can view a layette set that took 50 hours to make on my blog . Sadly, my granddaughter only wore it once for a photograph. It has since been passed down to the next granddaughter. In my January 8th post there is an incredible piece that I photographed. It took Sue, the quilter, 6 years to complete but it is the real deal. Most exquisite.

  11. […] enjoyed doing the little grape quilt so much I decided to try that method with a different design.  I cut out a snowflake using freezer […]

  12. […] Bit I decided that after the quilting is finished I will add trapunto.  I really want those feathers to stand out and that is the way to do it.  I did a post last winter about corded quilting or boutis, with some step by step photos…(read that here). […]

  13. […] of wool) through the channel. There are lots of illustrations showing the traditional Italian or French corded quilting available on the internet. This is one of those techniques that I didn’t […]

  14. Lorij says:

    Wonderful explanation of techniques. Sometimes one reads about a type of sewing or needle craft but does not understand how it’s done or what it entails. I appreciate the full understanding of some of the terms I’ve read about but didn’t know how they were done. ☺
    Sponge of the things made long ago were very time consuming and a little bit hard to do. This makes learning to do them all the more special.


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