once you’ve pieced a beautiful patchwork top, the next step in the quilt making process requires batting (aka waddling). batting is the stuff in the middle of your quilt – the layer between the front and the back that gives your quilt dimension and warmth. since quilts have this extra layer, they require quilting – that is, stitching—plain or fancy, by machine or by hand, to hold the layers together. there are some choices when it comes to batting and here’s a little overview.
types of batting – cotton
100% cotton battings are soft, usually supple (drapable), and usually thin (low-loft) but it seems these days they can be found with many variations.
cotton breathes – so your quilt will too.
if not preshrunk, cotton tends to shrink. when you wash your quilt for the first time, the batting will shrink and create that wrinkly, quilty look that you either love or hate.
since normal cotton fibers will tend to shift around in your quilt over time if not properly anchored with stitches, the batting manufacturers tell you that your quilting “lines” must be close together (usually 2-3” maximum) to prevent this bunching/shifting. there are manufacturers of new types of cotton batts that claim otherwise and say you can quilt them further apart (up to 8”.) i haven’t tried these out to know if they’re telling the truth.
there are many different types of batting that are part cotton and part synthetic (nylon, polyester, microfiber, polypropylene) in a variety of ratios – 87.5/12.5; 80/20; 50/50; etc.
because of the added synthetic fibers, these battings require less quilting to be stable. this is a plus to people for whom quilting is not easy nor the favorite step in the process.
the lofts (thickness), weights/drapes, and shrinkage properties of these products vary and it may take some experimentation to find the one that suits your purposes. there are some that i love and some that i can’t stand, but like pretty much everything—it’s personal preference.
the batting i have worked with most is the “warm & natural” brand cotton batting that is 87.5% cotton and 12.5% prlypropylene. it’s easy to find at local craft stores and can be bought by the yard on big rolls. look for a good sale or use your coupons to save big.
synthetic battings (frequently polyester) also vary in thickness, although in general they run from medium to high loft (on the thicker side).
they are generally lighter in weight so they will produce a lighter quilt that doesn’t drape as well.
if you plan to tie your quilt instead of quilting it, it is often recommended that you use a synthetic batting because they require less anchoring than cotton battings. high loft (very puffy) polyester batting is ok for tying, but not recommended for quilting (especially hand quilting).
some synthetic backigns (especially the high loft ones) have loose fibers that tend to work their way through the layers of your quilt (known as bearding). this is especially evident if your fabric is dark in color. some synthetic battings come colored black for this reason.
to me, most synthetic battings that i’ve tried are more slippery than cotton battings, so they tend to shift around more as you are uilting. if you use them, try to baste more heavily to prevent some of the unwanted shifting.
because of its flammability, i don’t recommend using polyester batting (or fabric, for that matter) for quilts that people (babies and children, particularly) will sleep under.
i have not worked with wool or silk bats, so i have no direct knowledge to share, but i know they are out there and are more expensive, as you might have guessed.
flannel makes an interesting, very thin batting for quilted projects like bedspreads or tablecloths. since it is so thin, the quilt design doesn’t stand out, so don’t waste your time doing anything fancy.
other (that catchall category)
some people use fleece for their battings. i find it too stretchy and slippery to use and definitely too thick for the typical weather here in southern california.
fusible battings can be ironed to your quilt top, eliminating the need for basting.
100% cotton battings are available now in organic varieties if you’re into that sort of thing.
you can do as the pioneers and struggling quiltmakers of times past have done and use whatever extra “stuff” you have as batting. if you piece things (old washcloths, dishtowels, etc.) to use in your quilt, you’ll have to live with the bunching/creasing/irregularity of the innards, but that’s part of the charm of these “make do” quilts. ..and definitely in line with the history of quiltmaking!
working with batting
batting can be bought folded or rolled in packages or by the yard.
i prefer to buy batting by the yard because i can cut off just what i need for each quilt and have less waste.
if in packages, batting is generally sold in standard bed-sized quantities – crib, twin, full, queen, king. you will need your batting to be a couple inches bigger than your quilt top on all sides.
some battings can be pre-washed to eliminate shrinkage. check your manufacturer’s recommendations. some people like flat quilts with no wrinkles and puckers.
you can drape or lay your batting flat overnight to let the fold/wrinkles relax before using it. some battings can be thrown in the clothes dryer and fluffed before use to remove wrinkles. some battings can even be ironed carefully.
check the manufacturer’s information to see if your batting has a top/bottom side or grain lines (direction the fibers run). for less possibility of distortion, you should make your batting’s grain lines run in the same direction as your backing fabric’s grain line.
remember to check the quilting requirements for the batting you will use and plan your quilting design accordingly. if you exceed the recommended maximum distance between quilting lines your batting could shift/bunch/tear inside your quilt over time.
you can piece large scraps of batting together as a way to re-use all those cut off ends. this is a nice option for scrap quilts.