How to choose batting for your quilt

November 8, 2016

Filling, wadding, batting … all names for what goes in the middle of a quilt sandwich. No matter what you call it, that middle layer can have a dramatic effect on your quilt.

These days you can find just about as many batting products as you can find thread choices! Too often we choose batting simply by what’s on sale at our local quilt shop or sewing center. While that strategy may save you a few bucks you might be very disappointed in your finished quilt’s appearance if it is the only factor in your decision.

How to choose batting for your quilt

Think about these questions when choosing batting:

How do you want the quilt to feel?  Are you after soft and cuddly or firm and flat?

  • Densely formed batting will soften a little after washing, but may not be as cuddly as you expected. Check batting softness by scrunching up a small piece in your hands. If it’s difficult to do that or the batting feels stiff and rigid it may not be the best choice for a cuddle quilt since adding quilting and fabric will make it even stiffer.
  • Check the recommended quilting distance on the package. If the quilting distance is greater (7-10 inches apart) chances are very good that heavy or close quilting will make the quilt feel stiff and heavy.

How will the quilt be cared for? Will it be washed frequently?

  • Giving a quilt to your 3-year-old grandson that requires hand-washing or lay-flat drying to keep the batting intact is not a fabulous idea. Check the care labels on batting packages to ensure the instructions match how you intend to use the quilt.
  • Stay within the guidelines for recommended quilting distance so that your batting does not separate and ball up in the washing machine.

Is shrinkage a concern? Is the finished quilt size important?

  • Most of the time the finished quilt size isn’t critical…until you make one that must fit your mattress “just right.” Even if the batting package touts a small shrinkage rate, once you start adding quilting stitches the quilt size will change. For battings with higher loft, even minimal quilting will make the quilt smaller—even though the batting itself didn’t shrink when washed.
  • When analyzing an advertised “shrinkage rate” you must also factor in whether your fabric has been prewashed. A 5% shrinkage rate doesn’t sound like much until you do the math—a quilt that is 100 inches square would end up 95 inches square after washing, not even accounting for how the amount of quilting would affect the size!

Do you want your quilting design to show up more or do you want the quilting to blend in?

  • Flat cotton batting typically does not have enough loft to support large sections of unquilted fabric. All the work you did quilting beautiful feathers may be hidden since the flat batting under the feathers won’t puff them up.
  • If you want more texture, batting that blends cotton and polyester together give you the best of both worlds. The cotton shrinks to give a cozy feel, and the polyester supports the unquilted sections to make them pop out.

Do you want the quilt to be warm or breathable?

  • Polyester batting traps more body heat; cotton batting “breathes” more.

Batting comes in many different formulations and finishes today, including cotton, polyester, wool, silk, bamboo, flax, rayon, and even recycled soda pop bottles! Companies offer blended combination batting types too. The price can also range just as widely. Before you commit to an unfamiliar product for your pieced masterpiece, buy a crib-sized piece and test it by quilting it and washing it if you plan to wash your masterpiece.

Here are few more batting tips:

  • If your quilt top and/or backing are dark, use black batting to prevent the “Oreo cookie effect”—which is where you see the white “filling” between the two dark layers at each needle hole.

How to choose batting for your quilt

  • Start a project with a new needle. If you see batting poking out on the quilt back at nearly every needle hole then your needle has a burr that is pulling the batting through. Change the needle immediately.
  • If the batting package says it is “needle punched” then the batting has a definite right and wrong side. Put the “dimple” side up, and the “pimple” side down facing your backing fabric. The dimples indicate which way the batting was originally punched to hold the fibers together—and you want your quilting needle to enter the batting the same way.

How to choose batting for your quilt

  • The “pimples” are dense tiny balls of batting that look like a badly pilled sweater. These should face down to decrease the chance that the needle will catch one and try to push it out the back of the quilt.

How to choose batting for your quilt

  • Some batting comes with “scrim”—a very thin layer of stabilizer designed to prevent fibers from migrating out, to provide strength and reduce stretching. For best results put the scrim facing the backing fabric.

If you have more questions about batting, please don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments below!

Happy Quilting!