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 Quilting Techniques : Selecting Quilt Batting

It may be tempting to select batting for your quilt based upon what happens to be on sale at the time. The truth of the matter, however, is that there is no all-purpose batting which works for every project. In fact, there is a great deal of variation in fiber, loft and construction. To further complicate matters, the type of quilt, as well as your quilting method should also be considered.

Historically, batting was selected to provide insulation and warmth. During times when a quilt's functionality meant everything, cotton or wool batting was used to provide insulation and warmth. At the time, there were less options in quilting technique, and decidedly less choices in batting material.

With so many choices available today, however, batting is selected for function, as well as workability and performance. It is not a matter of choosing a favorite brand or style of batting for quilting. Rather, batting should be selected to fit the needs of individual projects.

Thinking About Fiber

Batting is available in a number of natural and synthetic fibers. It is important to know the pros and cons of each.

  • Wool Batting : Wool is easy to handle, and will certainly provide a great deal of warmth. It is more costly than cotton or polyester batts, however. Bearding, or fibers that travel through the quilt top giving it a halo effect, is fairly common with wool batts. Also, there is some risk of moth damage over time.

  • Silk Batting : This natural fiber batting is more expensive and more difficult to find than cotton or polyester batting. Working with silk batting requires the use of special techniques, and should not be attempted unless a familiarity with them is established. Machine quilting may be difficult, as silk batting may not cling well.

  • Cotton Batting : Not all cotton batts are the same. Bleached cotton batting can be more difficult to hand quilt that natural batts. Examine the batting for cotton seeds, as they can stain. Quilting lines should be placed closely, around half an inch or less to avoid bunching after washing.

  • Poly-Cotton Blend Batting : Blended batting combines the best of both worlds. It is easy to work with, easy to care for and creates warm quilts.

  • Polyester Batting

    Polyester batts are less costly than many natural fiber counterparts. It is also a good choice for anyone suffering from allergies. It is processed in such a way that quilting lines may be spaced further than with a cotton batting. Polyester batts tend to beard, however.

    Matching Batting to Your Quilt

    A major consideration in selecting batting is how the project is to be quilted. Some batts work well with either hand or machine quilting, while others work better for one technique. There are even batts best suited for quilts that will be tied instead.

  • Hand quilting : Batting effects the quality of stitches created by hand quilting. In general, polyester batts are the most hand quilting-friendly. If you prefer working with natural fibers, however, always select the lowest loft. No matter the material, high loft batts are very difficult to hand quilt.

  • Machine quilting : Natural fiber or blends work well for machine quilting. Just remember it should be pre-washed before quilting, to avoid shrinkage.

  • Tied quilts : High loft polyester batting is a great choice for quilts that will feature no stitching.

    The fabric used for a backing can also effect your choice of batts. Large prints or dark fabrics call for a more opaque batting. Light weight polyester batts, in general, are too sheer, allowing shadows from the backing to appear on your quilt top.

    A batting's construction method can also render it more useful for one type of project than another. Most cotton batts are stabilized by needlepunching, which gives the batting a pad-like texture. While helpful for a sewing machine, this texture is difficult to hand quilt. Only the lowest loft cotton batting is manageable to quilt by hand.

    Yet another consideration is how well a batting clings to fabric. This is especially important for machine quilting, as it sets how close basting should be. For the most part, cotton battings cling well, whereas polyester batts do not.

    Finally, consider the use for which a quilt is constructed. Sturdy, washable batting is desirable for quilts that will receive frequent use, such as a baby quilt. Laundering and durability is less of a concern for decorative quilts, on the other hand.

    Related : More Quilting Techniques

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