Batting Education 101
After spending a lot of time and money on your quilt you need to pick out the correct batting. Picking a good batting is more important that you think. Nothing does more to determine the comfort and cuddliness of your quilt than the batting you use in it.
What batting is good? How much will I need to spend? What the heck does “loft,” “drape," “shrinkage” and "Stitch distance" really mean? What is the difference between all these different choices? Here's some basic answers to the questions above:
What is loft?
Loft is another word for thickness. While loft on most quilts are lower than in years my Grandmother was quilting. Loft still basically means the same thing: the higher the loft, the thicker your quilt. The thicker your quilt is, the warmer it will be. The exception to this is the new wool battings that have come out that are very thin, but are still super warm.
What is drape?
Go into your bedroom and look at your bedspread. When you pick it up and lay it over your arm does it drape over you in a nice, soft, comforting way? Does it sit stiffly against your skin? Drape means the way your quilt will feel after you've quilted it. Your batting choice, combined with how much quilting you do, will largely determine how your quilt drapes when it's done. Higher quality battings are able to take more quilting stitches and still retain their soft, cozy feel, whereas cheaper battings may just turn into cardboard.
What is shrinkage?
Shrinkage is the amount it will shrink when washed in warm/hot water.
What is stitch distance?
Batting labels are also marked with an amount of space you can leave unquilted. For example, a batting label reads: Stitch distance 8-10” apart maximum. This means that you can leave up to a 10" square open space on this quilt between your quilting lines without worrying about the batting shifting or bunching after you wash it.
What is the difference between Cotton and Polyester Battings?
Cotton battings are made from grown plant fiber that has been needle punched into place. Some cotton battings will shrink when they are washed, and some will not. The best thing to do is read the label and pay attention if the batting calls for any special steps before you use it in your quilt. Polyester battings are made from synthetic fibers that are also needle punched into place. They typically don't shrink and can have a really beautiful drape in the finished quilt.
What is needle punched and scrim?
When batting is needle-punched, the fibers in the batting are mechanically felted together by punching them with thousands of tiny needles. This causes the batting to be stronger and denser while being lower loft. Scrim is a thin stabilizer that is needle-punched into the batting to add strength, loft, and to prevent stretching and distorting. Batting that has been needle punched during its formation has a right side and wrong side. Look at the batting and search for small pin holes or dimples in the batting. Needle-punching methods drive small needles from one side of the batting to the other as they compress the fibers together. These small holes will reveal the right side of the batting. You want your machine's needle to penetrate the batting in the same direction as the needle-punching machine.
Problems with “cheap” batting:
Bearding means that the fibers in the batting have pulled apart and are migrating through the fabric fibers of your quilt. At first you see just little bits of the batting poking through the material. After washing you may start seeing lint balls on the top of your quilt. Once this happens, there's not much you can do other than rip out all your quilting stitches, scrap the batting and quilt the whole thing over again. This is a good reason to go with a trusted brand of batting, or at least the advice of an experienced quilter.
The causes of quilt batting “bunching” inside your finished quilt may be the quality of your batting. Batting that is not needle punched to be held together may separate during use or washing. Another cause of bunching can be the quilting is too far apart. You should follow the maximum stitch distance on your batting package.
Batting used from Backyard Longarm and Quilting include 80/20 natural blend batting with needle punched scrim, 100% cotton batting, 70/30 black batting. Batting comes from a large roll in 90”, 96” or 120” widths.