How to Choose the Best Batting for Your Project
Your beautiful quilt top deserves a batting that will enhance it and be suited to its use. Quiltmakers historically used whatever natural fibers were on hand. Today's quilters, however, can choose from natural and synthetic products that have a variety of characteristics.
Batting is the soft layer between the quilt top and backing that offers warmth and gives a quilt dimension and definition. Because batting comes in various thicknesses and fibers, it can make a quilt flat or puffy, still or drapable. It is available to but by the yard or packaged to fit standard bed sizes. The batting you choose should complement the nature and use of your finished quilt. Check package labels, talk to other quilters, and test samples to find a batting with the qualities that are important for your project.
All battings start out as individual fibers that are carded and processed into a sheet or web. Without further treatment, these unbonded fibers would come apart or clump together inside a quilt, making them difficult to use. Untreated batting also would be susceptible to bearding or fiber migration, which is when batting fibers come through the quilt top.
To make a sheet or web of batting more stable, and hence more usable, it's either bonded or needle punched-treatment processes that result in battings with different characteristics.
Manufacturers chemically bond batting fibers by adding a resin or using heat. Resin bonding helps wool and polyester battings resist bearding. Bonded battings usually have a higher loft and airier appearance than needle-punched battings. A bonded batting holds up well with use and does not require extensive quilting. If a batting is not bonded, it can be difficult to work with and have an uneven appearance.
This treatment process involves running a barbed needle through the batting fibers to tangle them, which provides some stability to the web. For additional stability, a scrim-an extremely thin nonwoven substrate layer-can be added to a batting sheet or web before it's needle punched. The loft of needle-punched batting varies according to the number of layers used in the manufacturing process. The fewer the layers, the lower the loft; the lower the loft, the better fine-quilting details can be seen.
Natural batting fibers are ecru in color. They can be bleached to create bright white battings for use with white or light color fabrics.
Carefully read the manufacturer's label to learn the specific qualities of a particular batting. Knowing what qualities you desire can make a significant difference in your satisfaction with the finished quilt. You can learn about various battings by looking at other quilters' finished projects and asking the makers what battings they used. Because same-type battings from different manufacturers can vary in qualities and results, keeping records of the battings you use and your personal preferences will help you make future selections.
Some battings beard, or have fibers migrate through the quilt top, more than others. Bearding is particularly a problem when light battings are used with dark fabrics, or the reverse, so choose your batting color according to your quilt color. Also, test battings using similar quilt fabrics, thread, quilting technique, and, if desired, washing process. Though bearding can be attributed to a batting, it also can be caused by loosely woven fabric. And finally, make sure you're not using an untreated batting.
The density or sparseness of the quilting and the loft of the batting will affect the drape, or relative stiffness or softness, of a finished quilt. In general, a thinner batting and denser quilting will result in a quilt with a softer drape. A thicker batting in a quilt that has been tied, rather than heavily quilted, will have less drape.
Batting can have a grain line just as fabric does. The lengthwise grain is stable and doesn't have much give; the crosswise grain will be stretchy. In order to prevent unwanted distortion, match the lengthwise grain of the batting and backing. Quilt the lengthwise grain first to limit distortion.
The thickness of a batting is referred to as its loft. Differing loft levels result in differing appearances in a finished quilt. Refer to the chart, opposite, to choose a loft compatible with your finishing method. Keep in mind that the higher the loft, the less drapability in the finished quilt.
A batting's ability to regain its original shape is its resiliency. A resilient batting, such as one made from polyester, will spring back when unfolded and resist creasing. This may be a desirable feature if you want a finished quilt with a puffy appearance. Cotton battings are less resilient and more prone to creasing, but some of their other qualities may compensate and make their use desirable. A cotton/polyester blend batting is somewhere in between in terms of resilience.
Cotton battings have the ability to absorb moisture, thus offering cooling comfort in the summer and a natural warmth in the winter. Wool battings provide warmth with little weight. Synthetic fibers, such as polyester, lack the breathability of natural fibers.
Washability and Shrinkage
Polyester and wool battings resist shrinkage; cotton battings can shrink 3–5 percent. Check the package label, then decide whether to preshrink a batting. Some quilters prefer the puckered, antique look that comes from a batting that shrinks after it's been quilted.
Select Your Batting
Base your batting selection on the following factors.
Do you plan to quilt your project by hand or machine, or are you tying it? Do you want to use perle cotton and a utility stitch to create a folk art look?
The batting type dictates the spacing between rows of quilting, so before you select your batting you should determine whether you want dense or sparse stitching. The manufacturer's label will specify the maximum stitching distance. If you exceed this distance when quilting, your batting will shift and bunch up later, causing your finished project to look uneven. If you want to tie a project, select a batting that specifies a wide distance between stitches.
Consider how your finished quilt will be treated. Is it a baby quilt that will be washed and dried extensively? Will it be placed on a child's bed and get pulled and tugged? Are you making a wall hanging that needs to maintain sharp, crisp corners?
Or are you making a quilt that you want to drape loosely over a bed and tuck beneath the pillows? Is it an heirloom project that will be used sparingly and only laundered once every few years? Or is it a decorative item that will never be washed? Is it a table runner that needs to lie extremely flat? Answer these questions to determine which batting is best for your project.
Think about loft. Do you want your quilt to be big and puffy or flat and drapable? When do you plan to wash and dry your quilt fabrics and batting? If you want an antique appearance, don't wash and dry them separately but rather wait until the project is finished.
Consider whether you want natural, synthetic, or a blend of fibers. Each has different qualities.
Quilt batting needs to be larger than the quilt top to allow for take-up during quilting and for stabilization when using a quilting frame. Add 8 inches to both the length and width measurements to allow an extra 4 inches of batting around the entire quilt.
Tip: Try black batting. When quilting large areas of black fabric, it is difficult to avoid bearding-batting fibers migrarting through the top. If you're working on a dark color quilt, consider using black batting.