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The benefits of cotton batting, how to pre-wash it and how to quilt it

The benefits of cotton batting, how to pre-wash it and how to quilt it

by Allison Spence

This week I’m looking at some batting samples from Fairfield. I was sent 5 different batting samples and am looking at a variety of features and benefits of each batting. Yesterday, I briefly described each batting sample. Tomorrow I’ll focus on the polyester battings and later in the week I’ll compare and discuss the best projects to use these battings.

Today I’m focusing on the 2 cotton battings: Soft & Toasty and Quilter’s 80/20.

Fairfiled batting samples - Quilter's 80/20 and Soft & Toasty

Quilter’s 80/20 and Soft & Toasty battings from Fairfield

I wanted to do some simple testing of the battings. I cut 14″ squares of each batting and then drew a 12″ square with a permanent marker.

I've cut and marked 12" squares on a 14" piece of batting

12″ square marked on a 14″ piece of batting

I soaked the batting pieces in a tub of warm water for an hour. I then squeezed out the excess water and placed them in the dryer with a large bath towel. I allowed the dryer to run until the battings were still damp. I then spread them flat on the bath towel to finish drying.

Pre-wash batting in warm tap water to pre-shrink

Pre-wash batting in warm tap water to pre-shrink

I remember my 2 very first quilts. When I bought the batting for these large twin quilts for my daughters, I was told that I had to pre-shrink my batting. The directions were to fill my bathtub with warm water and immerse the batting. Let it sit for a while and then squeeze out the excess water. I thought I’d save some time by “washing” the entire 5-meter length at once. Well, I felt like Lucille Ball and her infamous grape stomping episode! I spent a good half hour stomping on the batting in my bathtub and then trying to pull that wet length of batting out of my tub and finding a place to dry it! Things are much easier now.

I recommend the following procedure to pre-wash cotton battings. Fill the washing machine with water. Unfold and submerge the batting in the water and turn the machine off!


Allow the batting to soak for a while and then spin the moisture out. The batting can then be tossed in the dryer with a large towel to get most of the moisture out. Lay the batting on a flat surface to finish drying. If you agitate the batting, you’ll end up with a tub full of fluff!

The benefits of cotton battings

Cotton battings have a few clear benefits. They’re made mostly with natural fibers. Cotton battings ‘breath’ and therefore can be warm in winter and cool in the summer. They drape well and are ideal for bed quilts. Cotton battings tend to be heavier than polyester battings and for those of us who like the weight of our quilts, cotton battings are ideal.

Personally, I like cotton battings for their natural materials. I have a few allergies and cotton batting assures me that I won’t have any sleepless nights.

Soft & Toasty is a natural cotton quilt batting

Soft & Toasty natural cotton batting from Fairfield

Soft & Toasty natural cotton batting from Fairfield

Soft & Toasty is a low loft natural cotton batting. The package states that the batting won’t beard, shift or gather and can be stitched up to 8″ apart.

What in the world is scrim?

The batting has been needlepunched onto a very fine scrim. Scrim is a very thin stabilizer that the batting material has been needlepunched to. When looking at both sides of the batting, the scrim side will appear firmer and flatter. The non-scrim side appears and feels softer and loftier. The scrim also helps the batting from becoming distorted.

The Fairfield website has the following information about Soft & Toasty.

Soft & Toasty™ batting is the perfect 100% natural cotton quilt batting for all of your quilts and crafts. You will get the same strength and warmth you expect from similar battings at a very affordable price. You can use it to create everyday quilts and crafts or award-winning masterpieces with confidence.

  • Low loft
  • 3 oz per square yard
  • Quilting distance: 8″
  • Ideal batting for clothing

If you choose not to pre-wash your batting, the quilt will take on an antique look once it has been washed.

Soft & Toasty batting quilted and washed

Soft & Toasty batting quilted and washed

Quilter’s 80/20 batting is 80% cotton and 20% polyester

Quilter's 80/20 batting from Fairfield

Quilter’s 80/20 batting from Fairfield

Batting that is made up of more than one fiber has the added benefit of giving the quilter the best of both worlds. Cotton is a natural fiber and breathes more than polyester, but it does show creases from the folds of the quilt. Cotton/poly batting blends give the breath-ability and weight of cotton and the polyester fibers help to keep the creases to a minimum.

The Fairfield website gives the following information.

Quilter’s 80/20™ is a super-soft needle punched quilt batting that is preferred by hand quilters for its easy needling and smooth drape. The 80% cotton and 20% polyester blend yields a beautiful antique look and is an ideal batting for clothing. Weight: 3 oz / square yard

  • Low loft
  • 3 oz per square yard
  • Quilting distance: 2″ – 4″
  • Ideal batting for clothing

The following image shows the quilt washed after being quilted. There’s some shrinkage from washing the batting which gives some nice texture to the quilt.

Quilter's 80/20 batting quilted and washed

Quilter’s 80/20 batting quilted and washed

Both of the batting samples shrunk once they were quilted and washed. There’s a little less texture on the Quilter’s 80/20 sample, but both battings quilted beautifully and I’ll certainly be adding these battings to my quilting toolbox.

The advantage of the polyester in the Quilter’s 80/20 is added thickness or loft. I’ll go into more detail later this week.

Join me tomorrow, I’ll look at the 3 polyester batting samples I received from Fairfield.

This is part 2 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 1: Comparing 5 Fairfield quilt batting samples – which one is for you?

Go to part 3: The characteristics and benefits of polyester batting



Elin Larson June 2, 2023 - 3:34 pm

June 2, 2023

Dear Mrs. Spence,

You described your difficulties with trying to shrink your quilt batt in the bathtub. You felt like Lucille Ball in the grape stomping episode. Let me tell you how I did it. I put a six-yard bolt of all-cotton, needle-punched, no-scrim, batting into a bathtub full of cold water. I turned it over after an hour to soak the other side, pushing it down so all surfaces would get wet. After the second side had soaked, I put two kitchen colanders, used for draining noodles, into the bathtub, side by side. Then I put the wet batt on top of the colanders to drain for an hour. After the water had dripped out, I carried the much lighter batt to the clothes dryer. I did not have to wrestle with a huge, dripping, heavy batt to carry it to the dryer. Then I put the colanders away. This is much easier than being Lucille Ball stomping grapes. Colanders can be used for more than just noodles. You can even drain quilt batts in them.

Elin Larson

Carla A. Canonico August 4, 2023 - 3:59 pm

Thank you, Elin, for this useful information.

Susan December 2, 2018 - 12:38 am

You didn’t mention the size after soaking & drying your cotton batting samples. They started out measuring 14 inches, with the 12” square drawn on with a permanent marker, right? How did they measure afterwards?
Also, is it really OK to prewash wool batting? And if so how did you wash it and what temperature? Can it be washed regularly, after the quilt is finished as well? You mentioned washing a quilt with wool batting in the article and you’re the first person I’ve come across that mentioned that and it’s something that I’ve been wanting to know. I’ve never used wool batting. I’m wondering if they put chemicals on it like they do with “super-washed” wool yarn? I’ve also wondered if the wool fibers poke out or beard through the quilt, because I’m allergic to wool, but I like that it’s a natural fiber.
Thank you for doing the comparison and for answering my questions. 🙂


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