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To Use, or Not To Use Batting?

Summary

The decision to add batting to your quilt has several factors. We explore when to use it or not, and what types to use with your quilt.

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To Use, or Not To Use Batting?

Do I actually have to use batting? The simple answer is no. Historically, quilts often made for use during the summer weather, without any type of batting or “filling”, were referred to as summer quilts and were made to keep the cool night air away. Even though these summer quilts did not have the traditional finished quilting method used - as in layering a quilt top with batting and a backing, and then quilting them together – we still fondly refer to them as quilts.

To Use, or Not To Use Batting

 

Typically, current quilters balk at the idea of not using some type of batting between their quilt top and backing, but making a beautiful summer quilt without batting is a perfectly sensible idea. Even very thin low-loft batting inside a quilt can still be slightly warm. I personally don’t think the quilting police will knock on your door to check your bedding!

Quilt batting was known as wadding and was used for warmth in a quilt. Wadding made a quilt warm, cozy, and sometimes could even be quite heavy. Wadding was often made up from any type of filler that a quilter could find at the time. Antique quilts have been discovered to have fillers made from animal hair, human hair, straw, wadded up clothing scraps, unusable sheets, army blankets, and even newspapers! When unusual types of wadding are used then the quilt had to be very densely quilted to keep the wadding from . . . wadding up. As a side note - the word wadding is still used by those in the United Kingdom and Australia.

Summer Quilt

So what came first? The quilt top or the wadding? The answer is the quilt top because of the need for some kind of covering while sleeping. The first “quilts” as we know them today were created because fabrics that came off the loom were not large enough to cover a bed, and that meant that fabrics had to be “pieced” to be assembled into a bed covering. Very early on, quilts were nothing more than multiple sections of fabrics layered together to create a blanket of warmth. A “quilt” made with a decorative pieced top, wadding for insulation, and a backing layer was not as important as the issue of mere survival! Over time and centuries, quilts began to become more decorative with real thought to fabric, color, and design.

The wadding almost always used for bedding in the early years of America was wool. It was easily accessible since sheep were often quite plentiful and most families owned sheep. The wool was shorn, cleaned and then layered in chunks between the quilt layers. The sheep’s wool was not woven into wool batting as we know it today because any actual woven wool would have been used for clothing or on the quilt top itself. Wool batting was used well into the 20th century. Many quilts made in the eras of the thirties and the forties used the weathered wool army blanket of a family’s soldier once the wars were over.

Wool Batting

 

Cotton wadding was not as easily accessible in the northern part of the country as it was in the south. But then the south didn’t have the need for heavily batted quilts, hence – the summer quilt! And if cotton wadding was used in a southern quilt it was usually used in thin layers for those cool winter evenings. Just like wool wadding, the cotton used between quilt layers was often not woven together into the batting we know today. It wasn’t until much later during the industrial age that wadding, or batting, began to be woven into large sections to be sold for quilting purposes.

Cotton Batting

 

As the need and want grew in the latter part of the 20th century for thinner and lighter battings, polyester batting was created from a newly invented polyester fiber. Women could get the lightweight summer quilt feeling with a thin layer of batting, and still have the dense, intricate quilted look and design work that they liked to do on their quilts.

Today, we have the convenience of choosing from a variety of batting to fill our quilts. Everything from cotton, polyester, wool, silk, blends, organic and even bamboo. Wool batting is the heaviest and warmest, while bamboo is the lightest. You’ll find that batting comes in white, cream, natural, and black colors.

Bamboo Batting

 

You can also find batting in different “lofts”. The word “loft” refers to the thickness of the batting, or the height of the batting. Use a low loft batting for items like wall hangings or table runners. Likewise, use a higher loft batting for a downy-look or comforter-look quilt. Quilting with a polyester high-loft batting will give your quilt a very definite full look when it is quilted. Quilting with a thinner batting allows a quilter to make tight, small designs over the entire quilt and is quite often the favorite amongst long-arm quilters.

High Loft Batting

 

If you find yourself staring at the wall of batting at your favorite quilt store – go ahead and ask for advice. You’ll eventually find your “go-to” batting that works best for you. Don’t be afraid to play with different battings from time to time. And remember - change up your bed quilt throughout the year too. Consider making a summer quilt – it’s not only beautiful, but practical too!

 

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Glossary

Backing
The fabric on the back of a Quilt Sandwich (Top, Batting and Backing).

Same As: Lining
Batting
The layer in the middle of a quilt sandwich between the Top and Backing layers consisting of wool, polyester, blends, silk, or cotton.

Same As: Stuffing, Filling, Wadding, Filler
Filler
The layer in the middle of a quilt sandwich between the Top and Backing layers consisting of wool, polyester, blends, silk, or cotton.

Same As: Stuffing, Batting, Filling, Wadding
Loft
A descriptive term for the thickness, height and resilience of quilt batting. High loft batting is thicker and fluffier, usually polyester and used more often for tied quilts. Low loft batting is thinner and shows off the quilting stitches.
Quilt Top
The top layer of a quilt Sandwich.
Summer Quilt
A quilt with a top and a back, but no batting.
Wadding
The layer in the middle of a quilt sandwich between the Top and Backing layers consisting of wool, polyester, blends, silk, or cotton.

Same As: Stuffing, Batting, Filling, Filler
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