Ever been overwhelmed by the variety of batting (or wadding) options available or which batting is the right choice for your quilt? This post will discuss the choosing batting for a quilt, including the different kinds of batting options.
This post is part of the original Beginning Quilt Series (or How to Make a Quilt from Start to Finish), but options have changed a little since that time and I wanted to update the post. As always – feel free to weigh-in and share your thoughts in the comments. I love when you do because I haven’t tried every product or technique.
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 the right quilt 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.
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Factors to Consider When Choosing Batting for a Quilt:
The two most relevant factors in choosing a batting for a quilt are Loft and Fiber
This means how thick or thin your batting is.
Low Loft = thin and High Loft = thick.
Low Loft batting makes a thinner quilt (obviously) but it is less bulky and works much easier for a running stitch whether done by hand or home machine – particularly if you are quilting it yourself.
High Loft batts are best for a thicker, comforter-type finish where the quilt is going to be tied (typically by hand) or if you really want to show off the quilting.
This 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, Bamboo and Silk have become more available in recent years. These other natural batting options have wonderful qualities, but are usually more expensive.
Polyester – Pros: Less expensive, lightweight but very durable. The Low Loft options are better for hand-quilting, doesn’t need to be quilted as closely together. The Higher Loft versions are good for those who want their quilting to really stand out. The Highest Loft polyester batting is good for a thicker quilt – probably easiest to tie. Polyester batting options are often warmer – providing insulation without a lot of extra weight.
Cons: Tends to shift when not densely quilted 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 natural fiber. Heaviest weight batting. Better option for machine quilting. Generally must be quilted closely. Washes better without pilling. Shrinks slightly – especially if it’s 100% cotton. (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 a softer, more vintage appearance.) Generally softens over time and ages well.
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.
- What is Scrim – Cotton and Cotton/Poly blend battings sometimes come with a feature called Scrim. This is a thin layer of stabilizer on one or both sides of the batting to prevent the fibers from separating or stretching. Scrim is often needle-punched onto the batting making it stronger and more stable. The benefit of this is that you can place your quilting stitches further apart—as much as 8-12″ apart, versus a maximum of only 3-4″ for batting without a scrim. Batting with a scrim is great for machine quilting, but it is too dense for hand-quilting.
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. Wool batting is warmer and at the same time lighter-weight.
Drawbacks: higher price and potential allergic reaction for some people.
Bamboo – eco-friendly, natural fiber. (Typically blended with Cotton which makes it great for breath-ability.) This Maple Leaf quilt was made with Bamboo Blend batting and the texture of the quilting as well as the drape of the quilt are amazing, even for a quilt that is densely-machine-quilted.
Fusible Batting is made with a fusible resin on both sides of the batting. This allows you to “baste” a quilt by simply ironing the three layers together. This is a temporary fusing and typically works best on smaller scale projects. You can find Fusible Batting here.
Choosing Batting for a Quilt – Advice from a Long Arm Quilter:
I reached out to Melissa Kelley – a Long Arm Quilter at Sew Shabby Quilting for some of her insights and recommendations on batting choices:
“The first thing I always ask a client when trying to choose a batting is what their budget is for this specific quilt. Some quilts, for whatever reason, we don’t want to spend a lot on. For these quilts, a basic 80/20 works great. Not all brands are created equal, so making sure that you get a good brand will be something to keep in mind. We use Winline and Quilters Dream 80/20.
If you have a special quilt that you want to invest in, I think batting is an important thing to consider. I always recommend 100% wool if you want to “show off” the quilting. I mostly recommend this for custom quilting because it really makes the quilting POP! This is a great choice if you plan to display or enter a quilt into a show. We use Quilters Dream 100% Wool. I have tested it in many of my personal quilts and it washes and wears well.
If you want to spend a few extra dollars for a special quilt that needs to be extra cozy, I recommend a bamboo or a bamboo blend. After trying many types, Winline 6oz 100% bamboo is AMAZING! I actually put this in most of my quilts. You want a quilt to be a family favorite? Add this batting! It also gives the perfect crinkle. If you want to go an extra special – combine the 6oz 100% bamboo and cotton voile fabric for the backing. It’s dreamy!”
How and Where to Buy Batting for Quilts
Batting can be purchased by individual size – typically based on the traditional bed sizes (crib, twin, queen & king) you can buy it by the yard off the bolt (typically available in big box stores like Joann’s). Batting is also available to purchase in bulk by the entire bolt – which is a great option if you use a lot of batting. Batting goes on sale often at the big box stores. I always stock up then – or use those 40% off coupons. I’ve also bought it by the bolt from Overstock.
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. (Connecting Threads also has a helpful info page about what size and kind of batting you need.) You can also find batting on Amazon.
Save your Batting Scraps
Don’t forget to save your large batting scraps. It’s very easy to whip-stitch (largish) scraps together. (And even easier to use fusible Batting Seam Tape to join smaller pieces together side by side.) Or you can use your scraps to make an easy table runner!
Or use those scraps to make small ‘quilt-sandwiches’ to practice your machine quilting on your own machine.
What Size Batting Do You Need?
You want your batting to be larger than your quilt top (front) by about 4″ bigger than the length and height and slightly smaller than your quilt back. In other words the backing should be the biggest of the three layers.
Let’s talk Quilt backs:
If you are following along in the Beginning Quilting Series 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 Wide Back Fabrics (90″ – 108″ wide) so that you don’t have to piece a back. In addition to saving time, it’s often less expensive to buy the yardage using a Wide Back option.
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 basting and quilting – putting all the layers together. Once again there are lots of options.
Here are some other helpful tips for basting your quilt layers together: