Sew Simple produce the widest range of high quality quilt waddings for the European market. Our thanks to Graeme Wright, Managing Director of EQS Ltd for providing much of the information for this beginner’s guide to wadding.
Introduction to quilt wadding
Fabric, thread and wadding (or the US term – batting) are all essential requirements for making a layered quilting project. It’s easy to spend hours choosing the fabric, matching threads and getting the backing fabric right but the unsung hero of a successful quilt is what you can’t see. Get it right and the quilting will be a dream, the end product will look stunning and it will last for ages; get it wrong and your whole project could be ruined! Take a trip into the world of waddings and discover more about this essential element.
What is wadding?
Wadding is the middle layer of a quilt, it goes between the quilt top and quilt backing to provide softness and warmth. The type of wadding you choose to use will affect the final look and feel of your quilt.
How is wadding made?
Today most waddings used in quilting are needle-punched. Needle-punching is similar to felting although instead of using needles with barbs, the fibres are punched through a very fine scrim (netting), normally of polypropylene where it gets tangled up. That holds the fibres together. Occasionally no scrim is used, which gives a softer handle but does allow the wadding to be pulled apart more easily.
Other ways of keeping the fibres together include glue sprayed onto the layers of wadding or inserting a low-melt fibre into the wadding which is then passed through a heater; the low-melt content softens and then, as it cools, it sticks to the other fibres. While more economical to make, the downside to these two methods is that it gives the finished product a crunchy feel.
If you want your wadding to be stable, choose one needle-punched with scrim which can be stitched up to 10” apart (always check any instructions if you are unsure). The same wadding but without the scrim should be the choice if you are looking for a softer drape where stability is not so important; these waddings can normally be stitched up to 6” apart. Older style polyester waddings are more suitable where you are after a high-loft finish as in outer jackets, duvets etc. although stitching may need to be closer together.
How do I choose a wadding?
There are a number of things to consider when selecting a wadding:
The weight and thickness of a wadding is measured by its loft. Low loft means thin, high loft means thick. Best to select a low loft variety if you want your project to have a flat finish, such as a bamboo wadding. For a quilt, select a higher loft wadding – wool batting is usually the thickest batting.
If price is a real factor, choose polyester wadding as it is the cheapest. It is best to choose a wadding based on its suitablity for the project you are making rather than price.
Wool is the warmest type of wadding, followed by polyester and then cotton. Cotton and wool waddings breathe better than polyester.
If you are making a very dark coloured project, you may decide to choose a black wadding in case it becomes visible through the fabric once it is made.
Lack of time
You can buy fusible waddings that dispense with the need to baste with pins or tacking but are really only suitable for smaller quilted projects.
What types of wadding are available and when to use them
There is a bewildering array of fibre types in wadding these days – a far cry from the polyester that was the only choice in years gone by. Here is our guide to the different types of wadding and their uses:
Cotton wadding – great for machine quilting
This is the traditional choice for quilt and is usually 1/8” thick. Cotton has the great advantage that it is the same raw material as the fabric. The main drawback is that cotton has a tendency to ‘drag’ on the needle; not a problem when machine quilting but when stitching by hand, it can make the process harder than with a man-made wadding.
There are some cotton waddings on the market that have been manufactured with a special finish to make hand stitching much easier. Being a natural fibre, cotton is also more flame resistant than a synthetic product.
Sew Simple Super-Soft 100% cotton wadding offers 3-5% shrinkage and quilting up to 8” apart. It gives a quilt an antique flat look. Buy it from Purple Stitches.
Polyester quilt wadding – ideal for hand quilting
Polyester is a cheaper alternative to cotton batting and has much better washability properties than any natural fibre. It holds its shape and thickness well and provides a thicker finish but without added weight.
This makes it the preferred choice if the quilt is likely to find itself in a washing machine or sink on a regular basis, such as for baby items. It is also easier to sew by hand. There is a great variety of qualities of polyester out there so be sure to buy a reputable brand!
Sew Simple Super-Soft polyester wadding is 100% needle punched polyester with scrim. Excellent for hand quilting, with only 0-2% shrinkage. Buy from Pelenna Patchworks.
Wool – super for hand, machine and tied quilting
Wool wadding obviously has great thermal properties and so lends itself to bed covers, lap quilts and so on. In some rare cases a user may have an allergy to wool and so, although the wadding is totally encased between the other layers it may be worth checking if in doubt. It is crease resistant and usually ½” thick. The big drawback is that it won’t stand up to frequent washing.
Sew Simple Super-Soft 100% wool wadding is 100% needlepunched wool, with scrim. It has 2-3% shrinkage. Buy from Busy Bees Patchwork.
Bamboo wadding – excellent for machine quilting
The one great attraction about bamboo wadding is that it is very environmentally friendly in production. The fibre is extracted using water and a lot of pounding – no harsh chemicals. To the touch it is silky soft and drapes beautifully in the quilt; in fact, it is so soft that it is common to find it blended with cotton to achieve a bit more “body” and make it more sew-able. Bamboo wadding also has anti-bacterial properties.
Sew Simple Super-Soft Bamboo wadding is 100% bamboo. Busy Bees Patchwork sell this one too.
Insulating wadding – great for craft projects
A relatively new arrival, this wadding feels more like felt and contains heat-resistant properties, often Mylar fibre which is used in the space programme. It is ideal for such projects as place mats, cool bags, tea cosies, oven gloves etc. where it is important to keep things hot, keep them cold or protect surfaces from extreme temperatures.
Sew Simple Insulating wadding can be ordered from Villavin Crafts .
Wadding Blends – very versatile for all types of quilting
There is a wide assortment of blends available. Typically the commonest is the 80/20 cotton/polyester mix; then the 50/50 wool and cotton; then cotton and bamboo; and cotton and soy. They are all designed to bring together the best of the properties of the different fibres. The bamboo/cotton mix does add substance to the silky texture of the bamboo. Similarly, the cotton/poly blend does bring some of the polyester durability, loft and ease of stitching to the cotton fibre
How do I use quilt wadding?
Here are a few general tips for using wadding/batting:
Lightly press your natural fibre wadding before use and smooth out the layers with your hands before basting the quilt. Don’t press a polyester wadding!
Remember to wash and thoroughly dry a cotton wadding first, if you don’t want the quilt to have that old-fashioned wrinkled finish, as cotton wadding will shrink slightly after washing.
You can join wadding if your piece isn’t large enough – push together the edges and stitch with a big zigzag on your sewing machine or by hand. Alternatively, you could use a fusible tape to hold the pieces together as they will be permanently in place once quilted.
Baste the three layers of a quilt together with the wadding in the centre. You can baste with quilters’ safety pins, long tacking stitches, a tacking gun or basting spray, depending on your quilt size and preference or whether it is going to be hand or machine quilted. Your layers need to be sufficiently basted so they don’t shift as you quilt.
Take great care if you’ve used polyester wadding and want to press your finished quilt – use a very low heat but be aware that the heat may damage the quilt.
Which waddings do the experts use?
We asked some well-known quilters which waddings they prefer:
“For most quilts my favourite wadding is a 70% cotton and 30% polyester blend. I like the feel of this – it is quite a dense wadding but thin and light. I tend to make quilts for people with children and pets so I want something that will dry a little faster and this does because of the polyester. It doesn’t feel like it has polyester in it and has great drape. The only downside is that is is not good directly near an iron!”
“I use an 80/20 cotton wadding that is nice and pouffy. I’ve used bamboo too and it’s divine, but crazy expensive.”
Katy Jones, editor of the former ‘Quilt Now’ magazine and author of ’25 Patchwork Quilt Blocks’
“My favourite wadding is a cotton/polyester blend because it has the softness and shrinking nature of regular cotton wadding (which gives you that straight out the drier crinkled, vintage look to a quilt), but has the added durability of polyester. It’s easy to work with, drapes really nicely and has a consistent loft.”
You may be interested in our quilt basting guide, to learn how to join quilt wadding with your quilt top and backing fabric.
To find out more about Sew Simple Super-Soft waddings please visit the website www.eqsuk.com or call on 0116 271 0033.