Cotton batting is hands down the most popular choice of batting for quilters today. Some may even call it the quilting world’s MVP because it has long been inducted into the crafting Hall of Fame. Even though it's a common choice, cotton batting is far from average.
100% cotton batting is soft, durable and all natural… which has its pros and cons (depending on what you want). We've talked A LOT about batting here on the SQ blog, and now its cotton's turn. This post will highlight all of my favorite parts about cotton batting (that crinkle!) and what to watch out for (those seeds!)
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100% Cotton Batting Options: Taste the Rainbow
Ok, so there’s not exactly a rainbow of cotton batting choices, but there are a few, and each has its own advantages! 100% cotton batting comes in white, natural, and even black. I discovered black batting a few years back when I was working with a quilt top with lots of dark blues, greens and reds, and wanted to maintain my quilt top’s intense saturation.
If you want to read more about my deep dive into the world of dark batting, read this post. But since black batting is a rarity in the 100% pure cotton world (you’ll find it more in cotton blends), let’s talk about our other two hues: white and natural.
In the quilt below I used a mid-loft white cotton batting. This quilt pattern is the Reflections pattern and can be purchased in the shop!
100% Natural Cotton Batting
If you’re in the market for some cotton batting, don’t just grab the first package you see with “100%” printed on it. White and natural colored cotton batting can look pretty different… especially if you’re using a lot of pure, crisp white fabric in your quilt top.
“Natural” cotton batting is unbleached, which is great if you’re going green (in the environmental sense) but not so great if you want your whites to stay looking white. The yellowish tint of natural cotton batting can show through pure white fabric, and chances are you chose that bright white for a reason. In short, white quilt tops love white cotton batting.
If you look closely at this type of batting you will also notice dark flecks. Those flecks are seeds. Seriously! If your quilt uses lots of light fabrics, those seeds will show through.
Watching out for pesky seeds is an extra chore I do not need while I am eating or quilting! This is also why I always get seedless watermelons. But unlike watermelons, whose seeds simply grow watermelon plants in your stomach (right?), cotton seeds can actually stain your quilt fabric. I don’t even know which one is worse. I think I’d rather live with fruit inside of me than obsessively spot-clean a quilt top!
Full disclosure, seeds from natural batting have never stained one of my quilts, however I stopped using natural cotton batting a while ago after realizing that dark flecks were showing through a solid ivory border. Such a bummer!
Cotton’s Cuddle-able Crinkle
Have you ever seen (or drooled over) those ultra-comfy looking cottage quilts with the perfect cozy crinkle? That’s cotton batting doing its thing!
The signature crinkle look of cotton-filled quilts comes from the other quality cotton is known for: shrinking. If you’ve ever owned a cotton… anything… you know that it likes to shrink. Cotton batting is no different. When cotton shrinks inside your quilt sandwich, it pulls everything in with it, creating that crinkly look.
See that killer crinkle in my Campfire quilt below? That's the beautiful texture of 100% cotton, baby!
This is great for comfy bedspreads, but maybe not so great for that quilt you want to make into a wall hanging. Keep this in mind.
Despite that snuggly, crinkly look, 100% cotton batting can be pretty stiff at first. But don’t worry, your new cotton friend won’t be inflexible forever! Just give it plenty of hugs and cuddles and it will loosen right up (like I always say, quilts are a lot like people!)
So Cotton… Are You the One?
Many quilters are all the way on the 100% cotton bandwagon. Because cotton is light, soft and easy to work with, it leaves you with a great result. Cotton batting is plant-based and relatively breathable, which is also a plus.
If you do decide to go with cotton, here are a few tricks of the quilting trade that will help you make it the very best cottony quilt it can be.
Below is a photoshoot I forced my family into helping me with this morning. As you can see my one-year old son, Desi, is not too keen on the idea. But he's so cute in his snowsuit! This is the Mod Mountains quilt pattern.
Tips for Working with Cotton Batting
Quilt a little more so it doesn't bunch. If you go with a loose (read: quilting far apart) quilting pattern, cotton can bunch after washing! Because of this, you’re probably going to want to make sure your quilting is close and tight, so that batting stays exactly where you put it.
Most packages let you know exactly how close your stitching can be. This is another one of those times that you’re going to want to read the fine print.
Keep an eye out for scrim. Scrim is a layer commonly found on batting that anchors and stabilizes the fibers to make sure they don’t separate or stretch too far. Scrim makes it possible to quilt a liiiitle bit looser than you otherwise would, and it’s ideal for machine quilting.
But here’s the thing, a lot of cotton batting doesn’t have scrim. This is because scrim is commonly made of polyester, so if batting wants to claim that desired 100% cotton status, it’s probably going to be scrim-free.
To read more about scrim, check out this post – Is There a Right Side to Quilt Batting?
You can prewash cotton batting to prevent shrinkage. If you’re on board with some crinkle, but want to take it down a few notches, you can prewash your cotton batting. My one suggestion is that you don't agitate your batting in your washing machine. If you do, you'll get one big cotton mess.
If you don't want to wash your batting by hand in a tub or large sink, fill your washing machine with water, unfold and submerge your batting and then turn your machine off. (This is to prevent any agitation.)
After it has soaked for about 30-60 minutes, drain the water and ring out your batting. The batting can be tossed in the dryer on air fluff or laid flat on some towels to dry.
Honestly, this isn’t something that I do, so if you try it out, comment and let us all know how it goes!
Most batting comes prewashed, but that doesn’t mean it won’t shrink a little more once you wash your finished quilt.
My Favorite 100% Cotton Batting
If you’ve read some of my many posts on batting, you already know that my favorite brand is Quilters Dream. This brand offers multiple lofts of cotton batting (loft is the density of your batting.)
From lightest to the most dense:
- Request — A lightweight batting that is easy to work with when hand quilting.
- Select — “standard” thickness of batting that offers some warmth while also maintaining a lovely drape. This is available in both Natural and White.
- Deluxe — Warm and dense, offering extra emphasis to your quilting design.
- Supreme — Very warm and dense and has ½ lb. of cotton per square yard!
Below is a picture of the Quilters Dream Request cotton batting.
And here is a picture of the Quilters Dream Supreme cotton batting. You can see that the Request is much thinner than the Supreme.
Even though I love Quilters Dream, I also think Pellon cotton batting is a great batting for the cost. It is less expensive than Quilters Dream and can usually be found at chain craft stores.
Do you have a favorite type of cotton batting? Let us know in the comments!