Ever been overwhelmed by the variety of batting (or wadding) options available to quilt stores? This week for our Beginning Quilt-along (or How to Make a Quilt from Start to Finish), I’m going to talk about the different kinds of batting and how to choose batting for a quilt.
As always – feel free to weigh-in. I love when you do because I haven’t tried every product or technique. (I have updated this post in 2020.)
Basically the definition of a quilt is a blanket made of a top (front) and back with a layer of batting sandwiched in between and held together by some kind of stitching through all three layers. Today we are going to discuss choosing batting and backs.
There is a wide variety of quilt battings available on the market. Like everything else, the variety can get overwhelming so I’m going to break down some of the differences so that you can pick the batting best suited to the project you have in mind.
How to Choose Batting for a Quilt
The two most relevant factors in choosing a batting are Loft and Fibers
First off – Loft. This means how thick or thin your batting is.
Low Loft = thin and High Loft = thick.
Thin batting makes a thinner quilt (obviously) but it works much better for a running stitch whether done by hand or machine.
High Loft batts are best for a thicker comforter-type finish where the quilt is going to be tied (typically by hand.)
Fiber defines what the batting is made of. The three most common types of quilt batting are Polyester, 100% Cotton, and Cotton/Poly Blend and each has its own pros and cons. (Wool and Silk are other options that are wonderful, but usually a lot pricier.) Another recent option is batting made from Bamboo.
- Polyester – Less expensive, better for hand-quilting (low loft), doesn’t need to be quilted as closely together. Tends to shift when not quilted closely and ‘beard’ (which means the polyester fibers migrate through the fabric to the outside of the quilt).
- Cotton – Feels like a thick flannel. Light and Breathable. Better option for machine quilting. Generally must be quilted closely. Washes better without pilling. Shrinks slightly. (This can be good or bad, depending on your personal preference. I personally like when the batting shrinks after the first wash because it softens the quilt and gives it more of a vintage appearance.)
- Cotton blend (usually 80% cotton/20% polyester). Very similar to the cotton option, but is less-expensive and doesn’t shrink as much. Good for machine quilting. This is what I use most often.
- Wool – 100% natural fiber, but it can shrink so if you buy it, make sure the label states if it’s been pre-shrunk. Resists folding and creasing and has great stitch-definition for showing off fancy machine quilting. It’s also beautiful to hand quilt through. Drawbacks: higher price and potential allergic reaction for some people.
- Bamboo – ecco-friendly, natural fiber. (Typically blended with Cotton which makes it great for breathability.) I’ve made one quilt with Bamboo batting it the drape of that quilt is amazing, even for a quilt that is densely-machine-quilted.
Batting can be purchased by individual size (you will need a “crib size” batt for this project), or big sewing stores will also let you buy it by the yard (get 1 ¼ yards). Batting goes on sale often at the big box stores. I always stock up then – or use those 40% off coupons. Save your batting scraps. It’s very easy to whip-stitch (largish) scraps together. Or you can use your scraps to make an easy table runner!
Size: you want your batting to be slightly larger than your quilt top (front) and slightly smaller than your quilt back. In other words the backing should be the biggest.
Lots of Quilt Batting options are available by the roll (or off the bolt) or pre-packaged individual sizes. Connecting Threads has a huge variety of batting choices and frequent sales. You can also find batting on Amazon.
Now let’s talk Quilt backs:
For this baby quilt project you will need 1 ¼ yards of fabric for the back. This should be roughly 42″ square.
Most fabrics come 42-44″ wide which is perfect for baby or crib quilts. For larger quilts you will need to piece your back – meaning you will need to sew yardage together. Some fabric companies do make fabrics that are 90″ (or more) wide if you don’t want to piece a back. A pieced back can be as simple as one seam, using the same fabric for the whole back or complex with multiple fabrics and seams. Just so long as it’s a few inches bigger on all sides than your front, you’re fine. The reason a back needs to be bigger is because you’re usually quilting from the top of the quilt and the batting and backing can shift slightly underneath. The extra inches are your insurance policy that your back doesn’t suddenly become smaller than the front.
Next in our Quilt Along Series: we’ll talk about quilting – putting all the layers together. Once again there are lots of options.