Thursday, 28 November 2013

Wadding or Batting

Do you ever stand in front of the wadding at your local quilt shop, or at the long arm quilter's, and wonder what to buy?

Have you ever asked the assistant for advice and got the answer "It depends on what you want to use it for?"

Do you then chuck your hands up in horror, and grab the wadding closest to you, whatever it is; or the one sale; or the pre pack?

Well, today I am going to talk wadding, or batting, whichever word you choose to use.  Don't know which is technically correct, but I tend to use the word wadding.  I hope at the end of this post you will be a bit wiser, and be able to make a logical decision next time you buy wadding.

There are a lot of things to consider when making a choice of wadding, but the main ones are:

1.  What are you going to quilt?
2.  Are you hand quilting or machine quilting?
3.  How is the quilt going to be used?
4.  Do you want a summer or winter weight quilt?
5.  What sort of a look are you wanting?

The answer to each of these questions will influence your decision. 

And so will two other things - the composition of the wadding and the thickness of it.

With regard to composition, you can buy wadding made out of cotton, wool, polyester and lately, bamboo, with various combinations of all of these.

The technical term for thickness is Loft.  So you have High, Medium and Low Loft wadding i.e. thick, medium & thin.

What are you going to quilt?

This is the easiest question.  Is your item a wall hanging, or cot quilt or bed quilt?  If you are making a wall hanging or miniature, you should go for a low loft wadding.  It is simply a matter of scale.

Are you hand quilting or machine quilting?
Another easy question, but the choice of wadding will either make the quilting experience a happy one, or potentially a bit of a nightmare.

Wadding made specifically for machine quilting will usually have a scrim, or a lightweight fabric onto which the wadding is woven, in order to facilitate the movement of the wadding through the machine.   If it doesn't have a scrim, it is likely to be quite densely woven, for the same reason.  If you have some wadding scraps, try to pick it apart somewhere along an edge.   If it separates easily, then you will find it more difficult to machine quilt, and it is probably more suited to hand quilting.

If you are hand quilting, you need to look for a wadding which has no scrim in it, and also is a low to possibly medium loft.  A soft, low loft 100% poly wadding gives you the ability to produce tiny, even stitches, and is beautiful to work with.  In Australia you can buy a product called Hobbs Polydown, but it is not that easy to find.  I learnt to hand quilt with Liuxin Newman, and that was her recommendation.  Personally, I find cotton wadding too difficult to manage for hand quilting, as it is generally too dense to achieve nice small, even stitches.  I am told that bamboo works well, but I have not tried it. 

How is the quilt going to be used?

This is another important decision.  Is this quilt for a nursing home or a child, where it will be flung into a washing machine on a regular basis?  Will there be dogs/cats/children/people sitting on this quilt?  Is it going to hang on a wall or be used on a bed?  Or is this an heirloom on which you have worked for months/years and which you want to pass on to future generations?

A quilt which is washed often, usually in a machine, will need to have a serviceable, washable wadding.  So you are probably going to have to use a polyester or cotton wadding, or a poly/cotton blend.  You need to handle wool with far more care as it will matt and shrink if washed in a machine or in hot water.

Is it a summer or winter weight quilt?

Cotton and Cotton/Poly give a thin, lightweight quilt suitable for summer, or a project which needs a light weight look such as a mini or wall quilt.  Also suits a quilt which will be machine washed frequently.

Wool and Wool/Poly gives a thicker, warmer quilt, with the warmth factor depending on the percentage of wool used. Use for quilts which will not require frequent washing or for people who will be prepared to wash it with care as wool will shrink if mishandled.

100% Polyester comes in various thicknesses - so a variety or warmth factors.  Excellent washability, but be careful to choose the right one if you wish to machine quilt, as they are not generally densely woven, and can bunch up and separate when quilted by machine.

Bamboo is very soft to touch and is lightweight.

You can also buy wool/cotton blends which add a further dimension to your choices!  Look at the percentage of each, and the notes above to work out whether the wadding you are looking at will work for your project.

What sort of a look are you wanting?

This is opening a can of worms!!  I say this, because the look depends not only on the wadding, but the way a quilt is quilted (dense or open), the threads used and the design of the quilting as well.  For this exercise I will only be considering wadding, and not all the other variables. 

Irrespective of the type of quilting you do, a cotton or bamboo wadding will always give you a "flatter" look, because these types of wadding are invariably low loft. 

If you prefer a "puffier" look, where the unquilted areas  e.g. a heart are defined and sort of "plump" up, then you need to go for a higher loft wadding.

So.  What do I prefer?  These days I have to machine quilt as my hands hurt too much when I hand quilt.  I also tend to prefer medium density quilting as I like a quilt to be soft and pliable, and a densely quilted quilt feels stiff under my fingers.  Besides, I have owned up before that I don't actually like quilting much, so the quicker the better.  LOL.  I like quilts on beds so they are mostly utility quilts, and I use them for warmth. 

Therefore I mostly use a 60/40 wool/poly blend - a medium loft, wadding with a scrim, which I buy by the roll.  And the brand?  I found Hollyburton Park about 18 months ago.  They are a family owned farm in Victoria, using their own wool and other products sourced from Australia.  I love the thought that they are local & family owned.  And No.  I have not been paid for this plug.  I just love the feel of this wadding in my machine, and on my bed. 

I also use 100% cotton wadding or sometimes cotton/poly when I quilt the charity quilts for Stitching Hearts because it is serviceable and we therefore buy that in for the group.  I don't like that at all.  I find that it "pops" up through the fabric (there is a word for that, but I just can't think of it right now), and the result is a thin, flat quilt. 

And hopefully a picture tells a thousand stories.......

This is a hand quilted quilt, using Hobbs Polydown wadding:

The soft poly wadding, although low loft, let me make nice tiny, even stitches, and the little hearts are puffing up nicely.  The resulting quilt was soft to touch and very cuddly.  Thumbs up. 

This is part of a machine quilted quilt with approximately the level of quilting I like to do.  I have used Hollyburton 60/40 wool poly wadding which has a scrim:

Again, although machine quilted, the design is nicely plump.  It was quite soft and will be a warm quilt.

And the same quilting design used with a cotton wadding:

Can you see the quilted detail on this?  It is actually quite flat and the quilt itself is thin.

I think the worst ever decision I made regarding wadding/quilting was when I hand quilted a flannel (thick fabric) quilt with applique on it (even thicker) and I used a cotton wadding with a scrim (made for machine quilting) and No.8 Perle thread (thick embroidery floss).  It looks good, but boy did I shed some tears of frustration!!  It also took forever to quilt because I had to stab stitch it, and I also quilted too close to the seam line instead of in the ditch, which meant extra thicknesses of fabric.  And after all of that, here is a pic for you...

I am linking this post to Gemma's I Quilt linky party at Pretty Bobbins.  You will see the button on the right of the page.  This week she has asked us to talk wadding.  So this fits the bill, doesn't it?  Why don't you go take a look at some of the other posts linked up to that.

Til next time...... Keep on stitching (or FMQ'ing)

[Edited 27/4/2014.  I have added this to the tutorials page as a printable .pdf file.]


  1. Absolutely fantastic post! I love this, so much info! I'm going to look into trying holly burton park brand, that sounds interesting. Thanks so much for linking up. I'm going to give you a shout out in this weeks post. This is really helpful information for quilters of all levels! :)

  2. Thanks for linking Holly Burton; I'm definitely doing to give them a try. I've been wanting to buy larger amounts of wadding and their price works out quite cheap to what I usually get (Matilda's Own) even with the shopping cost!

    Though I have been wanting to try Bamboo wadding, so not sure what to get, yet!

  3. Thank you, so much useful information. We only have one or two batting options locally, maybe I need to shop further afield.

  4. Thanks for this post. Very informative.

  5. I'm off to look up Hollyburton too. It sounds great and I love the fact it's Australian made. Do you know if its similar at all to the Nu wool wadding?

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