Quilt Batting Basics

Your quilt top is all done, and the backing is pieced—now what kind of batting are you going to use? There are so many choices in batting nowadays that this question is not as easy to answer as it seems.

Batting comes in many different lofts and several colors.

By Gina Gempesaw

Quilt Batting Basics

The Packaging/Size Batting comes either on a roll or is packaged by size. Most batting rolls come in predetermined widths—usually 45″, 60″, 90″ or 120″. It is also available in a narrower runner width of about 18″.

Purchasing batting by the yard off a batting roll is very convenient because you can specify the length needed for your project. You may not have as many choices in types of batting purchasing this way because most stores do not carry a variety of battings on the roll. Most packaged batting sizes correspond to bedding sizes such as king, queen, twin and crib. For smaller projects, there is also a craft size. These packaged battings are very quick and easy to purchase and use.

Choosing Batting

To choose batting, first determine the size of the finished quilt top. The width and length of the batting will need to be at least 8″–12″ larger than the stitched top depending on the preferences of the quilter. For example, if the finished quilt top is 60″ x 80″, adding the quilting allowance means that you will need batting that is at least 68″ x 88″, which is basically a twin-size batting. To purchase off a 90″-wide roll you would need about 2 yards.

Batting Loft 

Determining the amount of loft or thickness of the batting preferred in a finished quilt is a personal choice.

Batting Fiber Content

Fiber content is another important factor to consider when choosing batting. Batting labels will indicate whether the batting is made of cotton, polyester, wool, silk, rayon, bamboo or other fibers. They will also indicate if the batting is made of a blend of two or more different fibers. Sometimes, the label will indicate a small polyester content, which can be attributed to a scrim. Scrim is a thin surface layer of a polyester material that binds the batting fibers to make the batting less stretchy.

Additionally, for more stability and strength, some battings are needle-punched instead of using glue or resin to hold the fibers together. Some quilters look for these qualities since they make it easier to handle the batting for quilting.

Thermal bonding is another process that is now commonly used in batting manufacturing. Batting fibers are mixed with a small amount of low-melt polyester and then exposed to heat. This process requires sealing or glazing on the outer surfaces to add stability and to help minimize the potential for bearding, bunching and shifting. Bearding refers to batting fibers migrating through fabrics to the quilt surface. This is especially troublesome when using light-color batting with darker fabrics or vice versa.

Types of Batting

Cotton Batting Cotton is a natural fiber that has been used in quilts since at least the early 1800s. Today, cotton battings are extremely well processed, clean and very smooth. Unless it has a scrim binder, cotton batting can be easily quilted by hand or machine, and usually is soft and easy to drape. Shrinkage varies depending on the manufacturer and the manufacturing process. Some cotton battings shrink as little as 1–3 percent.

Pre-washed for a variety of reasons, including pre-shrinking, or if it will be used for hand quilting. Some battings will fall apart when prewashed, so it is critical to investigate the laundering recommendations. Air-fluffing a batting in the dryer before use is often recommended to remove fold or crease marks. After the quilt is completed, follow the general laundering guidelines found on the batting label. For the most part, quilts are usually laundered with little to no heat in either the washer or dryer. In fact, air-drying a quilt on a warm but cloudy day is the preferred method. Whether or not to launder batting is just one of the many things to consider when contemplating shrinkage in a finished quilt. The amount a quilt will shrink is based on many things, including the choice of fabric, thread and quilting density. For example, a quilt made with unwashed flannel will most likely shrink a lot more than a quilt made with unwashed regular cottons regardless of expected batting shrinkage.

Quilting Density

One of the most important things you need to know about batting is how close the quilting stitches need to be. This information is also usually found on the label. This is important information because if not followed, the batting will come apart during use and when laundered. This can ruin a quilt. While there are battings that require quilting stitches every 2″, there are also those where the stitches can be up to 8″ or more apart! How densely are you planning to quilt your project? Heirloom quilts might warrant very dense quilting. A rush quilt is easier to complete with less quilting—perhaps even tying instead of quilting—so in that case, batting that does not require close quilting stitches may be preferred.

Packaged batting comes with a label or information sheet about its content and use. These labels will include information about loft. A low-loft batting is usually about 1/16″–1/8″ thick while high-loft batting can be 1/2″ thick or more. A low-loft batting is typically easier to hand-quilt than a high-loft one just because the needle has to travel farther through the latter. A quilt made with a high-loft batting will be fluffier, while quilts made with low-loft batting tend to be flatter and will drape better. Using a batting with a slightly higher loft in a quilt with a lot of seams will allow the seams to nestle into the batting better and will eliminate seam bumps. Quilts used purely as wall-hangings will drape and hang better if made with low-loft battings.

Laundering Your Batting

If purchasing batting from a roll without take-along label information, be sure to get the name of the manufacturer and type of batting from the store. You can check the laundering information on the manufacturer’s website. Packaged batting provides laundering information on the label. Batting is usually ready to use as it comes. Some battings will need to be

Make sure you keep the laundering instructions for unpackaged batting with the batting.

Cotton batting is manufactured in a variety of lofts and can also be frequently found blended with other fibers such as polyester.

Polyester Batting

While polyester batting is made with a synthetic fiber, it has a looser density compared to cotton and has a higher loft in general. Loft for polyester batting is sometimes described in terms of weight in ounces. Polyester batting is easier to hand-quilt, resistant to molds and mildew, and usually will not shrink. Products with a lower loft tend to drape well and are suited for use in wall hangings.

Polyester batting runs the risk of bearding. Polyester batting is not considered breathable, which means it does not allow air to pass through. Quilts made with polyester batting can make for a warm quilt because it traps body heat. Of course, this can also depend on loft and the density of the batting. Some polyester battings may be very sparse so once it is quilted, the batting compresses to an extremely thin layer that can make for a cooler quilt.

Wool Batting

Wool is a natural, breathable fiber that is known for its insulating qualities. A quilt made with wool batting would be very warm yet lightweight, making it a great choice for use in bed quilts. Hand quilting through wool is a dream. There is no resistance to the needle pushing through the layers. In general, it has a higher loft than cotton and shows off quilting stitches well. Wool batting, however, is more expensive than cotton or polyester batting.

Other Fibers & Blends

Battings made of silk, rayon, bamboo and other fibers are also available. A lot of these are created specifically to cotton batting, polyester batting, and wool batting.

Use white batting when working with light or white fabrics.

Highlight certain desirable features of the fibers used. For instance, rayon is a wonderful fiber that is warm and also resists mold and mildew.

Specialty Batting

Also available are specialty battings created for specific purposes. For example, fusible batting allows a quilter to baste the quilt sandwich by pressing—no need to pin or stitch-baste. Certain projects such as pot holders and oven mitts require insulation to prevent heat transfer, so there is a heat-resistant batting that provides for that. There is also batting that has extra body, making it ideal for purses or totes. There is the batting made from flame-retardant fibers that would be ideal to use in a crib quilt.

Color Batting is usually one of three colors—white, natural or black. Cotton batting can be bleached (white) or unbleached (natural). For the most part, using white or natural batting does not make a difference in how the quilt looks. However, when the quilt top has a lot of white or light fabrics, the best choice is to use a white batting. Even though white is close to natural, a natural-color batting can possibly change the color of a white quilt and make it look a bit dingy. Black batting is used with quilt tops that are dark. For example, a quilt with a black background will most likely need black batting. This is the prudent choice, especially if there is even the smallest chance of bearding.

Batting Primer

The next time you visit your local quilt shop or attend a quilt show, look for different types of batting so you can test which ones you would like to use in future projects. Sometimes batting samples are available for free or for a small fee. Make sure you try quilting the battings you choose and take notes! Keep your notes and test samples for future reference.

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