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Batting 101: How to Choose a Quilt Batting for Your Quilt

July 7, 2012 8:57 am in EDUCATION, Tips

I posted on Facebook the other day that I was going to use wool batting in a quilt, and people asked me to explain why, so I think I’ll do a series on batting.

The actual question posted on FB was about explaining the choice between cotton & wool, but I thought I’d expand on the topic & talk about a wider variety of batting and what factors should influence your choice.

For me, I choose batting based on the way the quilt will be used & the type of quilting I want to do.

In my quilting business, I carry about 13-15 different types of batting; they each have their pros/cons and best ways to use them, and I like to offer a variety to my clients so that “what I have” isn’t a deciding factor.  I have everything!  So now my clients can choose based on what’s best for the quilt and their budget.
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As you are selecting a batting for your quilt, here are some questions you should ask yourself:

  • Do I want a natural fiber, synthetic, or a blend? Some people are real purists about natural fibers, but there is such a variety these days.  Cotton and wool are popular options, but there is also bamboo, soy, rayon, and even flax/linen!  In synthetics, you’re usually limited to polyester.  Blends are nice for situations where you want to combine properties of different fibers, for example the drape of cotton combined with the strength of polyester.
  • Is pure white a dominant color in my quilt?  If so, then you definitely want a pure white batting!  That means going with a bleached cotton or polyester.
  • Is my quilt dark or black?  A black batting may be your best option here.  Most battings will “beard” a little bit (where the fibers poke through the weave of your fabric), and if you’ve got white fibers poking through your black fabric, you’ll be annoyed.  :)   Legacy makes a black 70/30 cotton/poly blend; it’s the only one I’m familiar with.
  • Is cost a factor?  Synthetic is going to be your cheapest option, followed by blends.  Natural fibers are the most expensive, with wool usually topping the list.
  • How will I quilt my quilt?  Are you quilting by hand or by machine?  Will you quilt more densely or not very much?  Polyester & wool are probably the easiest for hand-quilting, but you can only quilt about 4″ apart.  If you want to quilt further apart, choose a batt with a scrim binder.  “Scrim binder” is a very, very thin layer of poly that is needle-punched into the fibers & helps to hold them together better.  A 100% natural cotton usually allows quilting up to 4″ apart; that same batting with a scrim binder can be quilted 8-10″ apart – so it makes a huge difference!
  • Is shrinkage a concern?  I actually love my quilts to shrink up around the stitching, so I will not prewash my fabric or my batting for maximum shrinkage.  Not to mention I quilt pretty densely, so after a quilt is finished & washed, it probably loses 3-6″ in size.  :)   Most battings will shrink up to 5% , so if you do not want your batting to cause the quilt to shrink, choose polyester or preshrink your batting in the washer.
  • How will the quilt be used? My default batting is an 80/20 cotton/poly blend with scrim.  It’s what I consider an “all-purpose” batting for machine quilting and it’s fairly inexpensive. It’s the only batting I buy on a 30 yard roll – that’s how much I use it.  However, when I am making a quilt for a child, I’ll go with rayon, because it’s flame retardant, non-toxic, and non-combustible.  For wall hangings or other “show” quilts, I’ll go with wool because of the way it drapes & helps define the stitching.  If you are gifting a bed quilt though, never use wool unless you know for sure the recipient is not allergic.

There are other properties of specific batting, so as I go through the Batting 101 series, I’ll call out why you might choose that particular batting and how it compares to other choices.  This will be fun!

Oh, and before I forget, I wanted to point out what has become one of my favorite, favorite tools: a pair of batting scissors.
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This is one of those things that you don’t ever think you need, until after you get it; then, you wonder how you ever lived without it!  Since my batting is all on bolts or rolls, I am often cutting through 2-4 layers of batting at a time.  This really makes quick & painless work of cutting batting.  I got these from Handi Quilter at a show, but you can buy them from their website too.

If you have specific questions you want me to cover in the Batting 101 series, just leave a comment on this post!