Batting is an essential part of your quilt sandwich and you may be wondering what is the best batting for your quilt. However, there is no exact answer because it really depends on the kind of finish and feel that you're looking for. With so many choices it is difficult to know how to go about finding the right one for your project but once you've read this article you will have a good idea of what is best for your quilt.
In this article we discuss:
- What is Batting?
- Why It Is Important to Choose the Right Batting?
- What to Consider When Choosing Quilt Batting?
- Terminology for Batting Explained
- Types of Quilt Batting
- Tips and Tricks
- Article Summary
What Is Batting
Batting is the middle layer of your quilt or the filling in your quilt sandwich. If you are in the UK or Australia, you may be more familiar with the term “wadding” but it is the same product. It is the part of your quilt that makes it soft, insulates and gives warmth and weight. However, choosing a batting for your project can be a little daunting as there are many different types, each with its own attributes.
Why is it Important to Choose the Right Batting
Choosing the right type of filling for your quilting project is absolutely vital to ensure you get the best result. Different battings behave in different ways. The look of your quilt will be determined by which one you choose as will how it feels and drapes.
The sort of quilt you are making will also define which you should choose.
What to Consider When Choosing Batting for your Quilt
There are a few things to consider when you are choosing a quilt batting:
- Do you want to use natural fibers or are synthetics ok?
- What is the quilt to be used for?
- What do you want the finished look of the quilt to be like? (eg flat, puffy, crinkly, vintage, stiff and without folds or creases)
- How much are you prepared to spend?
- How thick do you want the quilt to be?
- How close are the stitch lines on your quilt?
- Will the quilt be washed on a frequent basis or very rarely?
- Are you allergic to natural fibers?
- Is the quilt being made on a machine, hand sewn or tied?
- Does it need to be very warm or cool?
- Is it going to be washed regularly?
- What type of quilt is it? For example, is it a quilt to hang on the wall, a bed quilt or a baby quilt.
- How do I want it to feel? (eg, soft and cuddly, light and airy, heavy and warm, stiff and firm)
Before we discuss the types of batting that are available to buy, it is a good idea to explain some of the terminology you will come across when looking for the right product. We are going to look at:
The loft is the thickness of the batting. When you buy batting you will see that it is marked as low, medium or high loft. Low is thin and high is thick. Some are naturally thin and some thick. Others can come in a variety of lofts. The most popular loft for quilters is the thin type.
Bearding (or migrating)
Over time, certain types of batting can migrate through your outer quilt layers. It produces fine white fibers on the outside of your quilt and is called “bearding”. You are more likely to encounter this with lower quality batting or batting without scrim. It can also be a problem if the outer fabric you use for your quilt is loosely woven or your needle is too dull or too thick.
To make cotton batting stronger and more stable, particularly when washed, it is needle punched with a non-woven fabric. This is the scrim. It helps reduce bearding and stretching but can make it more challenging to quilt if you’re hand-quilting. If you don’t have a scrim, it is adviseable to have your quilt lines closer together to help stabilize the fabric.
Bonding has a similar purpose to scrim (to help stability of the batting and prevent or eliminate bearding) but a different method is used.
Thermal bonding is used only for 100% polyester batting and this is made by melting fibres which seals the batting.
For other types (natural or manmade), resin bonding (sometimes called spray bonding) can be used. It uses a chemical which is applied to both sides of the batting to form a kind of glue.
The drape of a quilt is how it hangs or falls. Some battings are quite stiff where others drape more softly and gently.
When you wash batting it will usually shrink a little or sometimes quite a bit. This is called “shrinkage”. Always read the instructions and wash your quilt accordingly to avoid any catastophes!
Types of Quilt Batting
There are several kinds of batting with each having its own unique properties, advantages and disadvantages. They can be available as pure 100% fibers or blended with other fibers. They can also be pre-cut in packages, bought by the roll or off the roll (cut to the length you desire). Here are the types we are going to look at:
Polyester batting is a synthetic manmade fiber which is relatively cheap to buy and comes in a variety of lofts (thicknesses). It is durable, holds its shape and can be quilted with larger gaps than some other kinds.
Compared to others, it can be more difficult to machine quilt and you need to be careful that it doesn’t melt or flatten if you iron the finished product.
That being said, it is a popular fiber for quilts being an easycare, all-purpose material which produces a lightweight product and can be a good option for children’s quilts which may need to be more hard-wearing and need a lot of washing.
An advantage with washing polyester-filled quilts is that they have very little shrinkage. A disadvantage is that it can have a tendency to beard over time but if you look for the type with a resin coating, this can help prevent the migration of fibers through your quilt layers.
Because polyester holds it shape and doesn’t crease, it is a good option for quilts that are to be hung on the wall.
It is not breathable like cotton or other natural fibers and is usually made from polyethylene which is a non-renewable source. If you want a more eco-friendly option, go for a batting that is made from a natural fiber, such as cotton. However, if you suffer from allergies, polyester is a good hypo-allergenic option.
Cotton batting is a natural breathable batting. It is a good choice if you’re creating your quilt with cotton fabric and want to keep it 100% cotton.
It is low-loft and can be a little stiff at first but over time you will find it softens creating a lovely soft and cuddly quilt with a wonderful drape.
One particular feature of the cotton batting that you will either love or loathe is that it does shrink quite a lot in the wash - up to 5%. However, this gives the quilt a distinct appearance which is crumply and wrinkled creating a vintage or antique feel like the old-fashioned quilts. This actually gives the quilt a softer feel and adds to the texture and character of the quilt which many people find attractive.
An advantage of this wadding is that it doesn’t have too much of a problem with pilling when washed, unlike polyester and wool, however your quilting lines will need to be stitched closer together (a half inch or even less) than with polyester to prevent it from bunching up.
It is easy to work with on the sewing machine because it naturally sticks to the top and bottom fabrics . However, if you are hand quilting, you will need to go for the very thinnest version as it is not an easy fiber to hand sew.
Cotton is available in bleached white, natural or grey but if you’re making a white or light colored quilt you should always choose bleached white. This is because cotton has a tendency to discolor the fabric. You should also be careful of any stray cotton seeds within the fiber and pick them out before sewing as they can stain the quilt if they aren’t removed.
Another point to bear in mind is that the bleached cotton batting is actually more difficult to manage than the natural color when it comes to hand quilting, so if you’re making a dark quilt and planning on hand-sewing it, you would be best to go for the natural color.
Because cotton fibers have memory and retains folds, this makes it a less suitable filling for wall hangings.
70% Cotton / 30% Polyester blended batting: This has similar properties to the 100% cotton but it is lighter in weight.
60% Cotton / 40% Wool: A lovely natural, softer fabric than 100% cotton which is medium in thickness.
Although more costly than 100% cotton or polyester, wool is beautifully warm, soft and heavy so it’s a good choice for winter quilts. Despite being heavier than 100% cotton, it is fairly easy to work with and has a medium loft.
Wool is also a good filling for show quilts or wall quilts. This is because wool has no memory so no creases will show even if it has been folded up and stored for a long time.
It has the advantage of being a naturally fire resistant fiber. It also has a good bounce that will be retained for years making it a good option if you want that more puffy effect to your quilt with an accentuated pattern and perfect for heirloom quilts that will be handed down for generations.
Unlike 100% cotton, wool unfortunately has a tendency for the fibers to migrate to the outer layers of your quilt (bearding) but if it is treated with scrim on both sides of the batting, this should reduce the chances of this happening.
You will also have to be careful when washing as it can be a little unpredictable and a beautiful quilt could be ruined if you don’t pay attention to the washing instructions that come with it. In addition to this, wool can attract moths so this is something you will need to be careful of this pest to ensure your quilt remains in good condition.
60% Wool / 40% Polyester: This blend is a thick batting with a similar warmth to that of wool but it is more lightweight. It dries quicker and is also good for quilts that are to be hung on the wall.
60% Wool / 40% Cotton. This produces a soft quilt and has a superior drape to the wool/polyester blend. With the warmth of wool, it enjoys the softness of cotton and is thin to medium in loft.
A more recent form of batting is bamboo. Although costly, it has many advantages, not least its eco-friendly attributes.
A fast growing plant that grows prolifically, bamboo can be harvested on a yearly basis without having to renew the plants. It can grow almost anywhere (apart from Antarctica) and without the necessity for pesticides and fertilizers. The fiber is also biodegradeable. If you are environmentally conscious, you may want to consider this type of quilt filling.
Bamboo is a breathable fiber which is also wonderfully soft with a beautiful drape, similar to silk and some find the softness is superior to that of silk.
Like cotton, it is ideal for lightweight summer quilts but will dry in a third of the time. You won’t have a problem with mold or mildew and it can be washed in the machine. Shrinkage is around 3-5%.
Bamboo/cotton blend: Soft and natural, this batting has a 2-3% shrinkage and is more affordable than 100% bamboo.
Silk is an expensive batting but has an exceptionally beautiful drape and being a natural fiber is also breathable. It usually comes blended with polyester although you can get 100% silk batting but this is harder to find. If you’re creating a quilt with silk fabric, this could be the ideal choice for your filling.
With a luxurious feel, It is a little lighter than cotton and is generally quite thin so it makes a good lightweight summer quilt which gives a lot of warmth despite it’s airiness. It does beard a little but has the benefit of being a strong fiber despite its softness.
It can be more difficult to source but is easy to use for hand or machine quilting.
Batting from Recycled Bottles
This another eco-friendly batting which is literally made from recycled plastic bottles which helps reduce landfill. With a very similar feel to polyester, it is a much better choice environmentally.
The natural green color is retained to avoid additional processing but this won’t run into your quilt as it is colorfast.
Despite the lack of scrim in this product, your quilt line distance can be up to 12 inches. It also has the advantage of having very little shrinkage when washed.
This batting machine quilts beautifully and is good for hand-sewn quilts too.
Fusible batting is one that you don’t need to pin or baste when securing your layers together. It has a type of glue on both sides which melts and sticks to your fabric when ironed but the glue is washed away once your quilt is laundered.
It also comes in various fibers and blends so you can choose the one that is right for your project.
Tips on Buying Batting
Here are some tips and tricks that will help you make the most of your batting and help you decide which is right for you.
- Always make sure your quilt lines are close enough together to hold the batting in place. Read the instructions on the batting package for advice on how close these lines should be for that particular product.
- Don’t pre-wash the batting because you may compromise the structure of it. It should only be washed once it has been sewn into your quilt and your project is complete.
- If you are making a lot of quilts, it is cheaper to buy it on the roll than in pre-packed sizes. This will also save on wastage.
- If you want to show off your piecing, go for a flatter loft but if you want to make more of your stitching, opt for a thicker loft.
- Bear in mind the throat space on your sewing machine when choosing a batting. You need to make sure it will fit when sewing together, particularly if you're tackling a full-size or queen quilt.
- Don’t always go for the cheapest option. You’ll be spending a lot of time and effort making your quilt so don’t ruin it by going for the cheapest batting. Make sure you buy the best you can afford that is suitable for your project and always read the specifications for the product.
- If your quilt is made from dark fabric, choose a darker batting. If it is light then choose a pure white batting.
- Do you want the quilt to fit in your washing machine? If you use a very thick batting in a large quilt, it may not fit unless you have a larger washing machine.
- Test your batting before committing it to your quilt by making a 12 x 12 inch quilt sandwich with quilt lines the same distance as the one you’re making. Put it in the wash a few times and see how it behaves with shrinkage, bearding, smell and texture.
- When purchasing your batting, measure the top layer of your quilt and add 6-8 inches to both width and length.
- If you are making a baby or crib quilt, it is always adviseable to opt for natural organic battings and to avoid using glues for basting.
As you can see, choosing any old batting is not a good idea. Always consider the qualities you want in your finished product before going out to buy your batting. Whether you want natural, synthetic, thick, thin, a hardwearing or beautifully draping quilt, your batting will play a big part in achieving this.
You might also be interested in reading our article about how to find the best rotary cutter for your project.