For some reason, choosing batting has always been a struggle for me. I get overwhelmed standing in front of the racks of packaged batting and the huge rolls on the wall. There are so many choices; you can get batting made out of everything from silk to recycled plastic bottles.
While there are occasions that call for specialties like fire retardant quilt batting, let’s focus on the four standard quilt batting types you’re sure to encounter at the store: cotton, polyester, a blend of the two, and wool.
Angela Huffman describes and shows examples of each of these four batting types in her online course Express Lane to the Free-Motion Highway. As an award-winning longarm quilter, Angela has a ton of experience quilting on various materials and she challenges her students to think about how our batting choice changes the impact of our free-motion quilting.
Here is a brief summary of batting which I learned from taking Angela’s course:
The loft, or puffiness, tends to be lower in 100% cotton batting so quilting lines don’t rise up as high, making the quilt much flatter. When washed, cotton shrinks 5-8% so the quilt top will have more of a crinkle, giving it an air of shabby chic. This shrinkage means your quilting will look significantly different once washed. This batting may not be the best choice if your aim is to highlight your free-motion quilting skills.
Polyester has a higher loft making your quilted lines pop up more, showing off all that hard work spent quilting. This batting also doesn’t have the shrinkage of cotton, leaving your quilted motifs crisp instead of crinkly. If you really want to make your quilting pop, layering a high loft with a low loft polyester batting will give the visual punch you desire.
This is a batting most often made in a ratio of 80% cotton and 20% polyester. There is a little bit of shrinkage, only about 3%, but the batting has enough loft to help make the quilting stand out. Angela says she uses this batting the most for her everyday quilts.
Angela’s personal favorite is to use two layers of batting, one layer of cotton/poly blend with a layer of wool on top. The wool has wonderful loft that makes the quilting pop! The addition of the 80/20 blend is really helpful because it prevents the wool from bearding, or getting punched, out the back of the quilt when it’s quilted. Unlike cotton, wool doesn’t remember its fold lines making it perfect for quilts you plan to ship or store.
Often overlooked, batting is the heart of every quilt we make. Do yourself a favor and make mini quilts using a selection of battings so you can get a first-hand look at how they look and feel before, during, and after quilting.
And if you want to step up your free-motion quilting skills, join Angela for her online course Express Lane to the Free-Motion Highway. Not only does she explain the ins and outs of batting, she shares 40 of her quilting motifs and leads you through the process of quilting each design. Whether you quilt on a domestic or longarm machine, you’re sure to grow your skills as you learn from Angela.
P.S. Our friends at Keepsake Quilting have a batting reference guide you can download and print out to have handy next time you’re in the market for batting.