In this second installment of The Ultimate Wadding Guide I will be discussing the different materials used in the amazing array of waddings that are available to us.
In order to help you decide which material is perfect for your project, I will be looking at the pro’s and con’s of each material, splitting them between three categories; Natural, Man-Made and Blended. At the bottom I have summarised it all in a Wadding Comparison Table.
Natural fibres include cotton, bamboo, wool and silk. Some quilters prefer to use a natural fibre simply because it is, well, natural!
Natural fibres will have a tendency to shrink slightly, which may be a desired effect. Over time they may acquire the puckered look of an antique quilt.
Cotton is the go-to choice for many quilters because it is is soft, washable, and can accept very detailed quilting stitches. It is the wadding of choice for quilts that will be entered into shows and competitions.
However, when washed cotton will always have a tendency to shrink within the quilt, producing a soft, crinkly effect, adding character and giving the quilt a “well-loved” effect. Whilst this is great for bed quilts, it is not the best choice for wall hangings that need to retain their sharp corners and hang straight. If this is the case the wadding can be pre-washed or simply not washed at all.
The recommended quilting distance varies by brand, but is generally up to 8″ apart. Cotton wadding is great for machine stitching because its clingy quality helps to keep the fabric from shifting whilst you quilt. However, if needle-punched, cotton wadding is less desirable for hand-quilting because it can be hard to push the needle through the dense mat of cotton fibres.
Examples include Quilters Dream Cotton which comes in three different lofts to suit every need.
You can find more details about each of the cotton waddings that are stocked by Cotton Patch in the Wadding E-book.
Light, warm, lofty and resilient, wool regulates the body temperature better than any other fibre, keeping you from getting too hot or too cold while sleeping. For comfort, wool wadding can’t be beat; it is warm without being heavy, but also light enough to use all year round. It is also know for wicking moisture away so is a practical choice for a regularly used quilt.
However, some people are allergic to wool and it is more expensive than cotton, polyester and bamboo, though less expensive than silk.
The recommended quilting distance for wool is up to 4″ apart. It is perfect for both hand and machine quilting despite a high loft.
The main issue with wool is the need for vary careful washing and drying as it will felt and shrink if agitated when being washed. It cannot be dried with heat (e.g. in a tumble-drier) as the heat and motion will ruin it.
Hobbs Heirloom Wool has been slightly treated to allow for washing in a machine on a gentle setting. Find out more about wool wadding options in the Wadding E-book.
Lightweight, thin and supple, silk wadding is favoured by many quilters for making quilted garments or a luxurious quilt. This is a good alternative for those who are allergic to wool. Most silk wadding actually contains a small amount of polyester to help stabilise the product and limits shrinkage to about 5%. Silk breathes well and provides excellent warmth with very little weight.
The main downside is that it is much more expensive than other fibres and must be handled very carefully when being washed with cool water and dried flat.
The maximum quilting distance for silk is 4″ and it is excellent for both hand and machine quilting.
Tuscany Silk Collection from Hobbs is a blend of 90/10 silk and polyester to provide all the benefits of silk without all the fuss.
Where wadding contains a man-made fibre it is almost exclusively polyester. This is derived from polyethylene, a non-renewable source.
While polyester is not breathable like many natural fibres it is an excellent choice if you are looking for a thick, but very lightweight quilt. It comes in the widest range of lofts and, as mentioned in more detail below, is sometimes blended with cotton to offer the desirable qualities of both fibres.
It’s durability and ability to retain its shape well, plus the fact that you can machine wash and dry polyester makes it a very practical choice for quilts that will receive a lot of use such as children’s quilts, charity quilts and animal quilts. There is also minimal shrinkage so an excellent choice if you wish to avoid this. Polyester is much more suitable if you wish to have larger distances between quilting lines as it is less likely to bunch up.
Polyester wadding has the advantage of being non-allergenic so is a good choice for anyone who is allergic to natural fibres. It is among the cheapest of all fibres and offers little needle resistance during hand quilting.
However, as a petroleum-based product, polyester is not renewable like cotton, wool or bamboo. It doesn’t ‘breathe’ the way natural fibres do and has a greater tenancy to beard than the other fibres. Finally, polyesters natural loftiness can make it hard to handle while machine quilting, although thinner lofts are available.
There are many variations of polyester waddings available in the Wadding E-book
100% Plastic Bottles
Bet you weren’t expecting that!
Just a nod to Quilters Dream Green wadding which is a polyester wadding made entirely from plastic bottles. It is a soft and cosy wadding that meets all the highest standards of quality, function and performance whilst being eco-friendly too (this is my go-to wadding when looking for a low loft option).
Many of the waddings on offer today are blended fibres, either with all natural or natural mixed with polyester to provide the best of both worlds.
For example, Warm & Natural’s use of a polyester base for their cotton wadding gives the wadding more stability meaning you can quilt up to 10″ apart or even use as an exterior craft fabric.
Hobbs Heirloom Premium uses an 80/20 blend of cotton and polyester to make it strong and long lasting, reduces bearding and can be quilted by both hand and machine.
The all natural, environmentally friendly blend of Bamboo, Silk and Tencel ® in Quilters Dream Orient makes for a luxuriously soft, strong, warm and drape-able wadding that has become a favourite amongst quilters.
The development of blended fibres means that there really is a wadding available to suit every need; making them more washable, have less shrinkage, wider quilting distance etc.
Having now covered wadding materials in-depth, it is clear that what you want from your quilt will greatly affect which wadding you choose. But practicality is not the only consideration, and when there are several types that fit the bill, it all comes down to personal preference.
There is no real substitute for actually seeing and feeling the differences before making your decision which is why the wadding sample packs from Cotton Patch are very popular, especially with patchworkers who are new to the craft.
The Wadding 4″ Charm Pack contains a selections of 18 waddings divided into two sections, “natural” and “man-made”, with a cover sheet for each section giving a brief description of each type.
If you want more reassurance that what you put in the middle is a worthy choice then the sample pieces in our Wadding Sample Packs are much larger at approximately 35cm (14″) square – big enough to sandwich between two pieces of fabric so that you can practise your quilting with your chosen thread to ensure you are happy with the result. Choose between Natural or Man-made, with 9 samples in each pack.
Natural Wadding Sample Pack
Man-Made Wadding Sample Pack
I’ve tried to collate as much info as possible in this Wadding Comparison Chart below, which compares many of the waddings on offer in the UK, which will hopefully help you to decide which one is perfect for your project.
Look out for the next instalment of The Ultimate Wadding Guide where I will be looking into wadding sizing. I hope you have found this post informative and not too long!
Please, if you have any wisdom to add, share it in the comments below.