Wadding – it’s the bit you don’t see, but your choice of wadding for your patchwork project can have a big impact on how it finally looks when quilted and then as it is washed over time.
When you have spent hours selecting the fabrics and weeks (or months.. maybe years..) constructing the quilt, it only seems right that you should take the time to ensure you have the perfect wadding for your project.
Historically, quilters used whatever was on hand to fill their quilts, from loose cotton and wool rovings to torn newspaper and pine needles (ouch!).
The selection of wadding available now is so extensive it can be a bit daunting; as I work for one of the largest retailers of wadding in the UK, stocking a wide range of brands in all different sizes, colours and materials, I know this only too well!
So, to give myself and hopefully a few others a helping hand I have created this in-depth guide to ensure you get the perfect wadding for your project.
In this first post I am breaking down all the different terms used when discussing wadding.
In following posts I will discuss different materials available, sizing issues as well as colours and washing/aftercare, so keep an eye out.
The American term for Wadding.
The wadding fibres separate and push through the quilt top. This can happen when using a combination of cheaper wadding, fabric and/or thread. Strong, synthetic fibres don’t break off as natural fibres do, causing them to beard on the quilt top.
The flexibility within a wadding. A good quality wadding should have natural drape, but the thickness will impact on this. Poor quality wadding can be too stiff to drape well.
Fusible wadding is fused on either one or both sides with heat activated glue fibres that allows the wadding to be ironed on to the quilt top or bottom. This is considered a great time saver and is often used with bag making.
The weight or thickness of wadding. This is a slightly vague term as it doesn’t take into account the density of the material, but in general a high loft means it’s thick, a low loft means it’s thin. Use high loft for warmer bed coverings or tied quilts and low loft for hand quilting and quilted garments.
Low Loft vs High Loft
The base material of a wadding is often one of the most important factors in making a choice. We split our wadding into three categories; natural (e.g. cotton) man-made (e.g. polyester) and blended (a combination of the first two).
Putting the needle through the fabric as you quilt. Synthetic wadding needles more easily than cotton because they are bonded rather than needle-punched (see below). Wool and Silk wadding have excellent needling properties as the natural lanolin of the fibres lubricates the needle as you quilt.
When wadding is washed it may slightly reduce in size. This is unlikely to occur with man-made fibres, but cotton may shrink if exposed to high heat. Always check the manufacturers guidelines.
Quilting is necessary to stop the wadding bunching up and becoming lumpy within the quilt sandwich. Some fibres tend to travel more than others, meaning that the maximum distance between stitches varies. It is best to stay within the recommended stitch distance to ensure your quilt remains nice and flat.
Whatever material is used for wadding if it is not processed in some way it will form clumps or become uneven. To avoid this manufacturers used a number of different methods, here are some of the most popular:
Bonded: The fibres are bonded together using heat or a resin. Thermal bonding uses a low melt fibre to hold it together. This can allow bearding but doesn’t break down with washing as fast as resin bonded wadding. Resin bonded wadding is made from a variety of fibres including polyester, cotton, and wool. Resin is applied to both sides then dried and cured. This makes it resistant to bearding.
Needle-punched: The wadding fibres are mechanically felted together by punching them with thousands of tiny needles. This is done by passing the blanket through a needling machine called a fibre locker. This causes it to be stronger and denser and lowers the loft (not so good for hand quilting), although the loft still varies depending on the numbers of layers in the blanket .
Needle-punching process (image courtesy of www.dvc500.com)
Scrim: a lightweight binder that is needle-punched into the wadding to add strength, loft, and to prevent stretching and distorting. Quilting lines can be farther apart when using a wadding with scrim.
Understanding these terms will help to make an informed decision on which wadding you choose for your projects.
Watch out for my next post to learn about the pro’s and con’s of the different materials available. For a more detailed look at individual wadding brands, check out this Wadding E-book from Cotton Patch.
If you have any suggestions for other terms that should be included in this glossary, please let me know in the comments!