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

Posted at July 7th, 2012
Posted by Ebony
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Categories: EDUCATION, Tips
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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!

4 Responses to “Batting 101: How to Choose a Quilt Batting for Your Quilt”

  • Kelly

    very very informative. Thanks!

  • Annie K

    They make black batting??? How did I not know this?? Great tips, thank you. What is your opinion on types of threads vs. types of batting? I know ladies who are appalled that I’ll use cotton thread with poly batting…the general consensus here seems to be “like with like.” But I’ve never had any issues arise from mixing them up a bit…have I just been lucky so far?

    • Ebony

      Nope, Annie, it’s not really luck. There just really isn’t a reason to do anything ALL one way. Maybe your quilt won’t stand the 200-year test of time but… do you really care? I use Polyester thread with cotton batting & quilts all the time. No issues so far either. :)

  • This is very informative…I’ll bookmark it so I reference it when I need to. I’ve heard that wool batting doesn’t tend to crease as much as cotton or polyester when the quilt has to be folded and stored, only I haven’t been able to find wool batting locally and have been reluctant to order it in a large quantity without a chance to play with it first. Also thanks for the info on the black batting, again something I’ve thought about but haven’t been able to buy locally. Guess I know what I’ll be looking for at the next big quilt show!

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