The Filling Between the Sandwich


A quilt has three main components, the beautifully designed quilt top, the backing and of course the filling between the sandwich.  Choosing the proper batting is very important.  Before thumbing through catalogs or cruising through your local retailer take time to ask yourself these questions:

  • How will my quilt be used?  Will it be a wall hanging or bed quilt.  If I am using it as a bed quilt, how warm would I like it to be.
  • Do I want to do hand or machine quilting?
  • How much quilting do I want to do?
  • What is my budget?
  • Do I care about quality?
  • Did I use light or dark fabrics?
  • Do I have allergies?
  • How big is my quilt?

This sounds like a lot of questions but they’re all very important.  Your answers to those questions will help you make your choice.

Let’s Begin the Journey

Obviously not all battings are alike.  There are many terms that are used when describing batting.  There’s carded or combed, bonded, needle punched; natural or synthetic fibers; low loft, medium loft, high loft or extra loft.  Lets explore some of this terminology

Carded or Combed Batting

Carded or combed fibers have no bonding agent therefore are more prone to shifting and bearding.  As a result the quilt lines on this batting should be between 1/4″ and 1/2″ apart.

Bonded Batting

There are two types of bonded batting, resin and thermal.  The processes are very different but the reasons are similar.  Bonding is done to help prevent bunching, eliminate thick and thin areas as well as bearding and provide extra strength to the fibers.  Bonded batting has a higher loft than needle punched because the fibers of the needle punched batting are compressed.

Resin bonding is a thin coating of resin or glaze applied to both the top and bottom layers.  This type of batting is great for comforters and quilts that have less quilting.  Thermal bonding is typically done only on polyester batting.  Thermal bonded batting is softer than resin bonded batting, but not as durable and may tend to be more susceptible to bearding.

Needle Punched

Needle punched batting is just what it sounds like.  The fibers are punched with thousands of needles.  The punching tangles the fibers together, thereby compressing them.  The tangling process adds durability.  Some needle punched battings also have a scrim.  A scrim is a netting type material that is added while the batting is needle punched.  The scrim adds even greater strength.  Lightweight scrims are easily hand quilted.  Heavyweight scrims are more suited to machine quilting.  A heavyweight scrim makes the batting stiffer but less .

Loft (Weight or Thickness):

Low Loft

    • 1/8-3/8″
    • Easy to work with
    • Great for lightweight quilts, wall hangings, placemats, clothing
    • Suitable for hand or machine quilting

Medium Loft

    • Adds texture
    • Thicker loft means more difficult to machine quilt
    • Very difficult to hand quilt
    • Use in warmer quilts and wall hangings

High Loft/Extra High Loft

    • High = 1-2″ thick
    • Extra High = 2-3″
    • Great for tied quilts
    • Difficult to hand and machine quilt
    • Not suitable for placemats

Fibers

Now that we’ve explored the process of bonding lets discuss the types of fibers.  Battings can be made from natural fibers, synthetic or a blend of both.  Fibers that fall within the natural category are:  alpaca, bamboo, natural cotton, organic cotton, cotton flannel, flame retardant batting, a flax and linen blend, silk, soy blend or wool.  Synthetic fibers are made from:  polyester, plastic, a cotton/polyester blend and a cotton/polyester blend with stabilizer.  Lets look at each one a little closer.

Natural Fibers:

Alpaca

  • Many colors
  • High quality, expensive
  • Lightweight, warm
  • Fibers are smooth, not itchy like wool
  • Often blended with wool or cotton
  • Needle punched variety easier to quilt
  • Care:  Can be machine or hand washed.  Do so with care.  Agitation can result in felting.  Air dry.
  • Needs protection from moths
  • Shrinkage:  2-3%
  • Distance between quilting lines:  2-4″

Bamboo Blend

  • Rayon fiber made from bamboo
  • Eco-Safe plant, fast growing properties eliminate need for pesticides or fertilizer
  • Often blended 50% bamboo rayon with 50% organic cotton
  • Needle punched.  Has lightweight scrim, no glue or binders, no bunching or clumping
  • Great for machine quilting
  • Breathable & cool like cotton, keeps you cool yet warm
  • Naturally antibacterial
  • Care:  Machine or hand wash with care, air dry (check label, some are machine dryable)
  • Shrinkage:  2-3%
  • Distance between quilt lines:  up to 8″

100% Natural Cotton

  • Very popular
  • Not subject to bearding
  • Can be blended with other fibers to reduce their bearding tendencies
  • If needle punched typically doesn’t have a scrim and no chemicals are added.  May vary depending on manufacturer
  • Great for machine quilting and intricate hand quilted table runners and wall hangings
  • Higher quality natural cotton batting has fewer “neps” (tiny tangles that dull needles)
  • Absorbs moisture which keeps you cool in summer and warm in winter
  • Softens with age, washing and use
  • Available in natural, black and bleached
  • Care:  machine washable, air dry or machine dry low
  • Shrinkage:  3-5% when washed.  Once washed will keep its shape and no longer shrink.
  • Distance between quilting lines:  variable, 2-4″, 10″ if scrimed

100% Organic Cotton

  • Similar to natural cotton batting
  • Eco-Friendly because no pesticides or fertilizer are used
  • Soft
  • Some are needle punched.  If needle punched may have a scrim.  Scrim would make it more stable, less stretchy.  Scrim could make it slightly harder to hand quilt.
  • Suitable for hand and machine quilting table runners and wall hangings
  • Care:  machine washable, air dry or machine dry low
  • Shrinkage:  could be 2-3% when washed, keeps shape after that
  • Distance between quilting lines:  3-5″, see label

Cotton Flannel

  • Woven fabric
  • Often used as batting and backing
  • Great when very low loft desired
  • Lightweight alternative to typical batting
  • Many, many colors
  • Suitable for table runners, bed runners, placemats, tablecloths and lightweight quilts
  • Care:  wash before using, machine dry low
  • Shrinkage:  can be 10% (read label)
  • Distance between quilting lines:  8-10″

Flame Retardant Batting

  • Made from wood pulp
  • Soft, warm
  • Needle punched
  • May have scrim to hold fibers in place, no resins or glues
  • Naturally flame retardant, no chemicals
  • Great for baby quilts, bedding
  • Care:  pre-soak, wash carefully (especially first time), machine or air dry
  • Shrinkage:  4-6%
  • Distance between quilt lines:  6″ (refer to label)

Flax/Linen Blend

  • 2-3 times stronger than cotton
  • Prone to wrinkling but presses well
  • Thin, highly absorbent
  • Needle punched with very lightweight scrim
  • Great for hand or machine washed quilts and wall hangings
  • Care:  machine wash, air dry or machine dry low
  • Shrinkage:  2-5%
  • Distance between quilting lines:  8-10″

Silk

  • Quality, elegance, pricey
  • Hard to find
  • Lightweight, thin, drapes wonderfully
  • Carded and resin bonded
  • May be blended with small amount of polyester to retard bearding
  • Warm like down
  • Colors:  natural or black
  • Suitable for machine or hand quilted clothing, light quilts or coverlets
  • Care:  hand wash or machine wash with extreme care in tepid water, lay flat or air dry
  • Shrinkage:  up to 5% on first washing
  • Distance between quilting lines:  up to 4″

Soy Blend

  • Eco-Friendly
  • Blend of 50% soy & 50% cotton
  • Needle punched with lightweight scrim
  • Hard to find
  • Very soft, thin, skin friendly
  • Drapes smoothly
  • Hand quilters like it because it is easy to quilt
  • Care:  machine wash gentle cycle in cool water, air dry
  • Shrinkage:  2-3%
  • Distance between quilting lines:  8-10″

Wool

  • Breathable, lightweight, soft, naturally warm, easy to quilt, expensive
  • Beards more than natural fibers
  • A resin bonding or cheesecloth scrim will reduce bearding
  • Some people are allergic to it
  • Naturally flame-retardant
  • Comes in natural or black
  • Great for quilts
  • Care:  wash gently in cool water or dry clean.  Never dry in dryer because agitation and heat will ruin it.  Protect from moths
  • Shrinkage:  2-3%
  • Distance between quilting lines:  2-4″

Synthetic Fibers:

Polyester

  • Most popular synthetic, least expensive
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Lighter than cotton but cotton is more breathable
  • Easy care, may launder frequently
  • Bearding tendencies make it great candidate for blending with cotton.  If not blended then needle punched or bonded
  • Petroleum based, not renewable
  • Durable, great insulator
  • Colors:  white or black
  • May be hand or machine quilted
  • Care:  machine wash and dry
  • Shrinkage:  none
  • Distance between quilting lines:  2-4″ (read label)

Plastic Earth Friendly

  • 100% recycled plastic bottles
  • No scrim or resin
  • Needle punched
  • 1# of batting = 10 bottles kept out of landfill
  • Soft, cozy
  • Great for hand & machine quilting
  • Care:  machine washable, air dry or machine dry low
  • Shrinkage:  none
  • Distance between quilting lines:  2-4″, up to 12″ if needle punched

Cotton/Polyester Blend

  • 80% Cotton/20% Polyester; 50% Cotton/50% Polyester; 60% Cotton/40% Polyester
  • Long arm quilters prefer the 60%/40% blend
  • Great for hand or machine quilting
  • Blended because easier to handle, gives more loft than 100% cotton
  • Very drapable
  • Colors:  white or black
  • Care:  machine wash, air dry or machine dry low
  • Shrinkage:  2-3%
  • Distance between quilting lines:  2-4″, up to 12″ if needle punched

Cotton/Polyester with Stabilizer

  • 24″ combined with stabilizer
  • If using embroidery machine to quilt no need to back batting with stabilizer
  • Stabilizer adds strength
  • Care:  machine wash and dry
  • Shrinkage:  none
  • Distance between quilting lines:  n/a

Fusible Batting

  • No need to baste
  • 100% polyester with fusible web
  • Can also be a natural blend of cotton and bamboo rayon
  • May be fusible on only one side, if so, fuse on backing of quilt
  • Limited sizes
  • Fusible web holds layers together while quilting which eliminates shifting
  • Fusible web is temporary.  Dissolves when washed.
  • Softens when washed
  • Great for small machine quilted projects
  • Also suitable for hand quilting
  • Care:  machine wash or rinse in cool water after quilting, air dry or machine dry low
  • Shrinkage:  2-3%
  • Distance between quilting lines:  2-6″

Insulating Batting

  • 100% polyester
  • Needle punched with reflective mylar
  • Low loft
  • 45″ wide
  • Great for craft projects
  • Care:  machine wash, machine dry low
  • Shrinkage:  none
  • Distance between quilting lines:  up to 10″

Conclusion

What you have just read barely scratches the surface of available information. I didn’t even attempt to compare the various manufacturers and brand names.  Doing so would have sent my head spinning.  If you would like further details you can find numerous websites with even more data.  Feel free to go on a search and discovery mission of your own.  I hope that you have found this information helpful.

Cindy Anderson of In A Stitch Quilting

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