Addy on Batting
Batting, the part of the quilt that doesn't show, performs several roles. The first is
structural. A batt's composition and structure determine much of the final quilt's drape,
texture, and weight. The second is functional: the batt has a lot to do with washing and
drying characteristics as well as drape or suppleness. For hand quilters (and I plead
guilty to this) there is another important consideration: ease of needling.
One can make some generalizations about batts: Cotton batts generally dry more slowly
than polyester batts. Some polyester batts may, over time, lose their loft, whereas cotton
ones become more and more supple. Cotton batts "breathe", permitting heat to
escape. Wool batts, like cotton batts "breathe", yet they trap air to keep you
warm. Poly batts tend to be "sweatier" than their natural-fiber counterparts,
yet cotton batts are tend to weigh more than poly ones. Polyester batts (unless treated to
prevent it) have a tendency to beard, which shows up as tendrils of white fabric on the
surface of a quilt. These are all important considerations when choosing a batt. Keep in
mind that though polyester batts have many fine qualities, I tend to prefer natural fibers
in most things, including quilts.
Although neither cotton nor polyester is "fireproof", cotton does not melt
when exposed to high heat. If you are in doubt as to the composition of a batt, put a
piece on an old dish and put a lit match to it. A poly batt will melt or bead; cotton or
wool will char.
A puffier batt or one that shrinks (causing the quilt to pucker) when washed provides
greater relief (hills and valleys) on the surface of the quilt; a flatter back may have a
more traditional, old fashioned look.
All batts are suitable for machine quilting. Those to which the top and back
"stick" (such as cotton, wool, and some poly batts) may be easier to machine
quilt than others. All poly batts are relatively easy to hand quilt, though various hi-
and and extra-loft batts can present more of a challenge. Cotton (or mostly cotton) batts
are highly variable in ease of hand needling.
Some cotton batts are bleached, others are not. If a quilt top has white in it, then
you may want to use a bleached cotton batt. Most 100% cotton batts need to be quilted at
fairly close intervals. Typically this means approximately 2" between quilting lines.
Some "cotton" batts actually contain a scrim -- a thin sheet of synthetic
material that lends stability to the batt. Such batts are said to be
"needlepunched" to make hand needling easier.
Expect from 2% to 5% shrinkage from cotton batts.
100% cotton batts:
Examples include Morning Glory Bleached and Unbleached, Fairfield Soft Touch, and a new
Unbleached Organic Heirloom Cotton (from Hobbs) None of these batts require prewashing.
All can be machine washed and dried (I have tested them). All are wonderful for machine
quilting, and all should improve with age and repeated washings. Fairfield's Soft Touch
and the new Unbleached Organic Heirloom cotton are a pleasure to hand quilt, whereas the
Morning Glory batt is considerably more difficult to hand needle.
In order of ease of hand needling:
Easiest: Hobbs 100% Cotton Organic
Mid-range: Fairfield Soft Touch 100% Cotton
Don't bother: Morning Glory 100% Bleached Cotton
Recommended quilting intervals:
Hobbs Organic Heirloom Cotton and Fairfield Soft Touch*: No farther apart than 2".
Morning Glory -- No farther apart than 4 - 6";
* One can probably get away with up to 3" on the Soft Touch, but I would not be
comfortable recommending that.
Flattest: Morning Glory
Midrange: Fairfield Soft Touch
Least flat, but still pretty flat: Hobbs Organic
Suppleness of finished quilt:
Most supple: Hobbs Organic
Midrange: Fairfield Soft Touch
Least supple: Morning Glory
Recommended needles and tips for quilting cotton batts:
For hand quilting these batts, I recommend a #10 between, JJames, SThomas, or Foxglove
Cottage; Hemming's size 10 between is also a good choice.
The Foxglove Cottage seems to glide best through the sandwich, bends less than the
JJames, is thinner than the Hemmings, and I just plain like it! All are excellent needles,
A needle grabber is good to have on hand.)
Examples include Hobbs Heirloom Cotton, Fairfield Cotton Classic, and Warm &
Heirloom Cotton and Cotton classic are made from 80% cotton, 20% polyester fibers. The
polyester provides stability. Both can be difficult to hand needle unless presoaked, and
both are easily quilted by machine without presoaking. Warm & Natural is made from
cotton that has a polyester "scrim" on one side. The batt is then needlepunched
to facilitate needling. Batts with a scrim tend not to be as supple as batts without.
Recommended quilting intervals:
Cotton Classic -- 2" - 3"
Heirloom Cotton -- 3" - 4"
Warm & Natural -- up to 8"
Instructions for prewashing are included on the bags in which these batts are supplied.
In general, presoaking involves soaking the quilt in a tub or washer for 5 to 20 minutes,
squeezing out the water by hand or spinning gently in the washer, and air drying or drying
in the dryer on "air fluff".
Warm & Natural is very popular for tied quilts; all the cotton/poly batts are ideal
for machine quilting.
Ease of hand needling:
All three of these batts are more difficult to hand quilt than Fairfield Soft Touch and
Hobbs 100% Organic. They are, however, all easier to hand quilt than Morning Glory 100%
Some wool batts, usually those available from local mills, contain lanolin. Others have
been washed free of lanolin and, sometimes, treated with resins to improve functional
The most commonly available wool batt is Hobbs Heirloom wool, which hand needles as
easily as polyester, and can be machine washed and dried (I do it, anyway, on warm wash
and warm dry). This batt produces supple quilts that breathe. Though warmer than cotton in
cold weather, it also "breathes", reducing the risk of sleepers' overheating.
Cost-wise, this batt is a good buy for an all-wool batt. This batt has been washed free of
lanolin and has been treated to reduce or eliminate felting.
Wonderful for hand and machine piecing, the Hobbs Heirloom wool batt can be machine
washed on warm and machine dried *after* quilting. Quilting should be at intervals no
greater than 4".
In the next couple of weeks I will be testing a wool batt that's from a sheep farm in
the midwest; the batt has not been washed free of lanolin. Will report on this when I get
my hands on more than the little piece I've seen and have had time to thoroughly test it
for quilting, washing and drying.
The major advantages of polyester batting is that it is easy to wash and quick to dry.
Lofty ones also give quilts the relief many quilters want. The downsides, though, are that
though light, most polyester batts offer relatively little warmth, and the batts tend to
be "sweaty" because they do not breathe. Light color polyester batts tend to
beard and may be undesirable for use in dark quilts. (See Poly-Down below for one possible
There are two general types of polyester batts: bonded batting, needlepunch. Bonded
batting is a fluffy sheet of fibers, needlepunch batting is more dense. Both types are
easily machine quilted and are -- to> varying degrees -- easy to hand needle. Ease of
hand needling depends > mostly on loft or thickness of the batt.
Bonded fiber batts include: Hobbs Cloud Lite, Hobbs Cloud Loft, Hobbs Poly-Down,
Fairfield Extra Loft, Low Loft, and High Loft. For dark quilt tops, Hobbs' Poly-Down dark
not only adds depth to the darkness of the top, if bearding should occur, the fibers that
beard are charcoal and are thus less likely to show.
Fairfield's Traditional typifies needlepunched polyester; other examples include Pellon
Fleece and Hobbs Thermore.
Pellon Fleece is unique because it takes some heat and can be used for placemats and
table runners. Though only 45" wide, it is sold by the yard, enabling quilters to
getexactly the length they need. Hobbs Thermore is lightweight, supple, and easy to hand
needle. Although Hobbs initially positioned it for clothing, it gives an elegant supple
quality to quilts, too, and is ideal for lap throws and wall hangings. Thermore should not
For Tied Quilts:
The puffiest batts are Hobbs Cloud Loft and Fairfield High Loft, followed by Hobbs
Cloud Lite. All three are ideal for tied quilts.
For Hand and Machine Quilting:
Hobbs PolyDown (white and charcoal), Hobbs Cloud Lite, Fairfield Traditional, and Hobbs
Thermore are perfect hand and machine quilting. Hobbs Thermore gives the flattest finished
product whereas the others yield a traditional but slightly puffy appearance.
So many batts, so little time! I hope the above helps quilters narrow down their
Copyright Addy Harkavy, 1996, all rights reserved.