If you have gone to the time and trouble of piecing together a quilt top, you will want to finish it properly using a suitable batting, which will be sandwiched between the quilt top and the backing fabric. The batting will not be visible, once the quilt is finished, but it will give the quilt its warmth, weight and structure. The type of batting you select will depend on what you want to use the quilt for and how you intend to quilt the pieces together.
Depending on your personal preference and how much you want to spend, you can choose between natural or synthetic batting. If your quilt is for decorative purposes such as a wall hanging, or is for a baby gift, you will only require a thin batting. This will also make it much easier to machine quilt the pieces together. If you plan to use the quilt as a piece of your integral bedding and want it to be weighty and warm, choose a thicker batting. This is not so easy to machine quilt, and works best tied rather than quilted.
Common types of natural batting are cotton, cotton blends, bamboo, alpaca, wool and silk. Batting that is 100 percent cotton is very easy to work with. It is soft, supple and allows your quilt to breathe. Cotton batting will often shrink during its first wash. Some quilters love this fact and use the batting unwashed, so that once they wash the quilt, it will cause a rippled effect. Other quilters do not like the rippled, wrinkled effect and prefer to pre-shrink the batting before using it in a quilt. Cotton batting requires quilting with lines that are close together, since the fabric fibers will move a lot and cause clumping if they are not firmly held in place with plenty of quilt stitches. Cotton blends are even easier to work with since they have the qualities of cotton batting and are available in multiple weights. Bamboo batting is thin and machine washable. This is an ideal choice for making an environmentally friendly quilt. Alpaca batting is thick and can be hand washed. This is ideal for an occasional or cold-weather bed cover quilt. Wool and silk battings are the most expensive types of batting and are generally best left for use by experienced quilters who have had experience in working with all types of battings, since they are difficult to handle and can shrink, even after being pre-shrunk. Silk batting is lightweight and fine and is a good choice for quilted clothing items. Wool and alpaca battings are flame-resistant, whereas other battings are flammable.
Polyester is most commonly used for batting. It is inexpensive and non-allergenic and is a good choice if you are making a quilt that will be washed frequently, such as a baby quilt, since it does not shrink. It is also very stable and does not require close line stitching to hold it in place. Additionally, it is available in varying weights. One issue with polyester batting is that it is prone to bearding, which means that polyester fibers tend to poke through the outer fabrics with time, a problem which can also be exacerbated using close line, machine stitching.
If your quilt is going to be in regular use and will be washed intermittently or frequently, choose a batting that will stand up to this. Polyester batting can be machine washed and cotton and cotton blends can be hand washed.
You can by batting by the yard in 45-, 48- and 90-inch widths. It can also be bought in pre-cut packages in standard bed sizes from crib and twin through to king size. When buying a pre-cut piece, an excess allowance is included. This can be cut away prior to binding and finishing the quilt.
- Quilting 101: How to Choose Quilt Batting
- "Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Sewing and Fabric Crafts"; Martha Stewart; 2010
- Sew, Mama, Sew!: Batting Guide from Amy of Happythings
- All About Quilts: Quilt Batting
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images