Does the sea of batting choices out there just about drive you…well…
batty? Do you worry that the batting you’ve chosen won’t reveal itself to
be inappropriate and unforgiving, too thin or too lofty—until halfway through your project?
Like you, many prize-winning quilters have had to learn through trial and error. And now, some of them are willing to share their secrets.
Choosing just the right batting is contingent upon the size of the project, whether or not it’s designed to hang or lie flat, the materials and colors used in piecing, the desired “loftiness” and the right fiber content of the batting itself.
David Taylor, a well-known art quilter from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, won the Fairfield Master Award for Contemporary Artistry in last year’s International Quilt Association (IQA) Judged Show. His quilt, Beneath My Wing, depicts a mother swan sheltering a baby, and is dominated by white—not unlike his quilt, Maynard, a bulldog in the snow, which won first place in the Art-Pictorial category in 2011.
While Taylor usually prefers a specific brand of natural cotton batting, he found it necessary to switch to a pure white for Maynard so that the cotton “seeds” were not visible under the white “snow” fabric.
“I make up all of my practice ‘sandwiches’ with the same batting and backing materials as the actual art piece I would be quilting,” he explains. “I use a light spray starch to give the backing fabric some ‘body.’ Next, I steam press the cotton batting.”
After positioning the batting on an ironing board, Taylor covers it with a very damp pressing cloth. With the iron on the wool setting and full steam, he presses the batting to smooth out any folds, bumps, and wrinkles.
“This gives me a nice, flat surface to quilt,” he says “The top layer is usually my pictorial appliqué image, hand stitched to a base of white Kona cotton fabric.
“As I quilt on a mid-arm machine (mounted into its own custom table), I have not found it necessary to baste the layers together. I gently roll them up and unroll under the needle of the mid-arm and start quilting, always working from the center area, progressing out to the edges,” he adds.
“Another factor would be that I only use 30- or 40-weight cotton machine quilting thread, with the same variegated colors in both the top needle (size 80/12) and the bobbin. It’s all about cotton!”
A largely white background also plays a part in Feathers, by Modern quilter Shannon Page of Dallas, Texas. Densely quilted in concentric circles, this 65” by 75” quilt took home a second-place award in the 2013 Modern Quilt Guild competition, the Riley Blake Basics Fabric Challenge.
“I make quilts for draping over a bed, couch, and chairs,“ Page says. “I do hang some on the walls, but that is an afterthought.”
When starting any quilting project, Page says she is mainly concerned about flatness and warmth. Her preference is 100% cotton needle-punched batting on a roll with no added chemicals, glues, or resins, which she says inhibit the free-motion process.
“I free-motion quilt fairly densely, and solid uniform batting—almost like
fleece—is what works best for me,” she says. “I feel like the loft of the
batting is what makes the design. I like low loft and feel that gives the overall look a clean, modern aesthetic. High-loft battings, to me, give the quilt an outdated look.
“I live in Texas, and it is hot most of the year. I try to use all cotton so that the quilts can be used in the summer and layered in the winter,” she says. “I have used a layer of batting with a layer of fleece, and that made the most wonderful warm quilt ever.”
“Because I'm old and fussy, I insist on 100% natural fibers in batting,” adds Karen Stone of Beaumont, Texas. Her Reptile Wisdom won first place in the Traditional Pieced category of this year’s IQA Judged Show.
“Even the little 20% poly in the popular blend I find objectionable,” she continues. “It seems to throw an unreasonable amount of lint when cut, and makes the whole work less flat and stable. Yuck on all accounts!
“For many years, I've used 100% cotton with no scrim. And for years, I was able to find this in a fusible form, but apparently, I was the only person on the planet who loved this, and I can't find it anymore,” she says. “There is a fusible cotton/bamboo blend available, but the stiff hand is unpleasant if the piece is larger than—I don't know—12 inches square. Thumbs down.”
“After years of cotton, fusible and not, and years of carrying my quilts around in suitcases, it was suggested to me that the wool batts may crease less,” Stone explains. “I bought a big roll of a beautiful 100% wool which has a very light, fluffy hand. Everything about it is just gorgeous. I used it in my two most recent large quilts, and it's wonderful. The quilting looks great, working with the quilt on a domestic machine feels great, and I imagine if the quilts were to go into use, they'd be plenty snuggly!
“I tend to ride the fence between art quilts and traditional, but as a judge, I can say the criteria for what batting is to accomplish is the same: perfect stable flatness, a lovely surface, and certainly no bearding or lint or waffling,” Stone sums up. “Personally, I want my quilts to weigh right. As you would know an orange is juicy by its weight, I know a quilt is cotton or wool by its weight.”
Photo 1: Feathers by Shannon Page makes great use of white space with concentric circle quilting.
Photo 2: David Taylor’s award-winning quilt, Beneath My Wing, relies on the right batting and some dense quilting for effect.
Photo 3: Reptile Wisdom by Karen Stone is supported by a natural fiber batting to give it the right weight.
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