Batting Basics

Batting is often an afterthought, especially for newer quilters. But since batting can dramatically change the look and feel of your work it’s really quite important. Here are a few things to consider when selecting the right batting for your project.

How will you use the finished quilt? Will it hang on the wall, be a competition quilt, or be frequently used and washed? Cotton batting tends to hold its wrinkles, which is great for creating an “old-timey” look, but maybe not so great for competition. Wool is known for its ability to spring back into shape, making it the choose of many competitive quilters. Silk and bamboo batts can be wonderful for creating quilted garments. Washability varies by batt variety, so be sure to check the label to see what the manufacturer recommends for the specific batting you are considering.

Discovering the Hidden Perks of a Truckload of Dung ©Judy Coates Perez, shown in MQU March/April 2016 issue. Art quilter Judy Coates Perez uses wool batting to beautiful effect in her gorgeous quilts.
Discovering the Hidden Perks of a Truckload of Dung ©Judy Coates Perez, shown in MQU March/April 2016 issue. Art quilter Judy Coates Perez uses wool batting to beautiful effect in her gorgeous quilts.

Do you want to heavily quilt the piece, or stitch it just enough to get the job done? The label on each type of batting generally indicates how far apart you can quilt it and still produce reasonable results. Some cotton and bamboo battings can be quilted up to 8″ apart, while polyester and wool generally require somewhat closer quilting (2″ to 3″ or 4″). No matter what type of batting you choose, there usually isn’t a limit as to how closely you can quilt it. Bear in mind that the more closely you quilt the stiffer the final product will be. This means that for a quilt you’re going to use you might want to not quilt the entire thing in tight fills if you want to ensure drapeability.

Are you planning on personally quilting it on your domestic machine, using a longarm, or hiring out the quilting? Many longarm quilters have specific battings that they prefer to use, and usually have batting on hand that they will sell to you. Domestic machine quilters might prefer wool or polyester as they are easier to “scrunch” to fit through the machine. Some show quilters, especially those who use longarms, use a double batt of wool over cotton or a blend to create more dimension in their quilting.

Detail from Super Nova ©The Cohorts (for the Evening Star Quilt Guild of Davison, Michigan) This raffle quilt incorporates a Dream Poly Cotton batt. It was quilted by Lois Walker on a Gammill Classic. Shown in the January/February 2014 issue of MQU
Detail from Super Nova ©The Cohorts (for the Evening Star Quilt Guild of Davison, Michigan) This raffle quilt incorporates a Dream Poly Cotton batt. It was quilted by Lois Walker on a Gammill Classic. Shown in the January/February 2014 issue of MQU

Is loft a consideration? Some quilters prefer a very flat finished look, others want lots of dimension.

Dazzling Dahlia ©Andrea Brokenshire from MQU September/October 2014 Andrea used Warm and Natural Cotton batting
Dazzling Dahlia ©Andrea Brokenshire from MQU September/October 2014 Andrea used Warm and Natural Cotton batting for this piece. Her painting alone creates tremendous dimension in her work, while the stitching adds lovely detail.

Does your quilt top have lots of white or light fabrics in it, or is it mostly medium to dark? Sometimes light fabrics reveal the color of the batting underneath. If your quilt is white, consider getting a batting that is truly white as opposed to cream colored. For a mostly dark quilt, black batting can prevent any possibility of bearding creating an issue.

What price are you willing to pay for batting? Polyester is generally the least expensive, followed by cotton and then wool.

If you are making a bed quilt, how heavy and or warm do you want the finished product to be? Wool is usually considered to be the warmest batting, followed by polyester and then cotton. Remember, though, natural fibers breath better than synthetic ones.

In addition to the basic fibers that are used to create battings – cotton, wool, polyester, silk, bamboo, and soy – blends are also available in many different combinations. I also have friends who use felt as a batting for wall quilts.

Detail Floating Down the River ©Mary Ann Van Soest. Mary Ann used two layers of Pellon Thermolam in her stunning 5 panel quilt measuring 16 feet wide by 6 feet tall! Shown in the September/October 2014 issue of MQU.
Detail Floating Down the River ©Mary Ann Van Soest. Mary Ann used two layers of Pellon Thermolam in her stunning 5 panel quilt measuring 16 feet wide by 6 feet tall! Shown in the September/October 2014 issue of MQU.

So many of these options are subjective, so remember that there’s no one right batting, the best batting is the one that produces the look and feel that you prefer. Consider buying a variety of samples or crib sized battings to test and determine what batting is best for your needs, or maybe split a few batts between friends to test them. You may now be scratching your head in confusion with so many different options. Don’t despair, ask a friend or quilter whose work you admire what batting they use, then start from there. And remember, don’t be afraid to try a new batting if you think it might work for you.

 

 

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