Wednesday, October 30, 2013

31 Days - Day 30: Wool batting

In 2003 some friends celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. I had enough notice that I was able to complete a quilt in time for the party. Well, actually two, but that's another story.

Up until this point, the battings I'd been using had been polyester (primarily for hand quilting) and cotton or cotton blends (machine quilting and some hand quilting). But the batting companies had come out with a new product, a wool batt that could be machine washed without felting.

Felting is what happens when you, say, wash a 100% wool sweater in the machine with warm or hot water - the fibers shrink, the nice soft wool mats and shrinks up and you are left with a tiny doll's sweater.

It's also possible to felt with a dry method, often used by crafters for specific projects.

In a quilt batting, however, felting is not desirable.

Moore's anniversary quilt
This is another quilt where the colors were pulled from a floral border fabric. I do think I should have varied the fabric used in the small corner blocks around the pinwheel, so there wouldn't be such huge green squares, but the green allowed me to quilt a large rose in each area, and have it show up quite well. The beige is quilted in a fairly dense meander.

It's difficult to see the quilting detail unless you can enlarge the picture considerably, and it is in the quilting that the wool batting makes all the difference.

First, a quick batting primer.

Polyester batting is very puffy. If you buy a commercial comforter that is nice and fluffy, the chances are it has a poly batting of some sort. When you quilt on poly batting, the line of stitching compresses the layers, and the poly batting puffs up in the spaces between the lines. Polyester doesn't breathe, so it traps heat, and quilts with poly batting are nice and warm.

Cotton and cotton blends are flatter, though you can get varying thicknesses. Because the batting is flatter to begin with, it doesn't puff up (loft) as much between the quilting as the poly does. Cotton batting also shrinks a bit (more or less depending on brand - they will tell you on the package label). With one batt, you can get the look of an older quilt, with a bit of shrinkage and wrinkling of the top. With another, the quilt will lay as flat after washing as it did when you quilted it. Ironically, cotton batting gives you a nice quilt, but not one that is particularly warm.

Wool batting combines the best of both poly and cotton. It is higher loft - it puffs up between the quilting the way polyester does. But it can be easily compressed and squished to make it easy to pass it under the machine needle when quilting, much like cotton batting. Best of all, wool breathes, keeping you warm when you need it, but not stifling you when you don't.

Quilting with wool batting is wonderful. It needles well for hand or machine quilting, squishes up so you can reach even the center of the quilt with ease when machine quilting and pops back up to give the top dimension.  I've used it again since, and love it.

A bit of care still is needed when you wash it, but overall, it's my favorite batting to quilt on.

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