Monday, May 10, 2021

Featherlicious Quilting on a Hunter Star Quilt + Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Wool Batting

This beautiful Hunter Star quilt is fresh off my frame, ready to be shipped back to my client Jo, and I am so pleased with how it turned out.  Jo pieced this quilt as a gift for her sister, using fabrics from Moda's Daybreak collection by Three Sisters.  

Abundant Feathers E2E on Jo's Hunter Star Quilt with Wool Batting

When Jo first reached out to me about this project, she had seen the Graffiti #7 E2E on my Color Outside the Lines quilt and thought she might like something similar.  I suggested Abundant Feathers instead because it has a similar sweeping movement, curved lines, and dramatic impact of the Graffiti design, but with a more traditional style that better complements the soft colors and traditional fabric prints in Jo's quilt.  

I know everyone loves seeing "Before & After" photos.  This is the photo Jo included when she first contacted me about quilting for her:

80 x 96 Hunter Star Quilt Top Before Quilting

Isn't it beautiful?  And here's what Jo's quilt looked like once I had it loaded up and basted on my long arm frame, ready for quilting:

Locked and Loaded; Let the Quilting Begin!

This is how every quilting transformation begins.  The backing fabric has been pressed, squared and straightened, and has been pinned to the backing roller (closest to the front of the frame) and to the pickup roller (closest to the back of the frame).  The batting has been basted along that top edge of the backing fabric, just below the line of pins.  The bottom edge of the quilt top itself has been pinned and rolled to the quilt top roller at the front of the frame (on the right side, in the photo above), and then the top edge and the unrolled sides of the quilt top are basted to the batting and backing fabric in the area between the roller bars.  I've checked and double-checked that the quilt top is centered and straight, the major seam lines in the quilt top are straight, and the quilt top is laying flat and smooth in the "work zone" before I begin. 

This was a beautiful quilt top before I even touched it, but I loved it even more as the quilting stitches sculpted the fabric into swirling, dimensional feather plumes!  Notice how the wool batting puffs up between the stitching lines for extra drama.  We'll talk more about the wool batting in a minute.  (Impatient?  Just scroll to the bottom of the post.  I'll never know!)

Feather Texture Transformation 

Quilting Design Influences Thread Selection

Before we get to the batting, let's talk about thread.  Do you recognize this feather quilting design?  It's the exact same Abundant Feathers E2E that I quilted on the daffodil baby quilt that I shared in my last post but at a slightly larger scale.  I usually have a few donation quilt tops on hand in my studio, and if I happen to have one that would be enhanced by a design I'm about to quilt on a client's quilt, I'll often stitch it out on the donation quilt first.  It's a great way to refresh my memory about the stitch path of that particular design and how much backtracking (stitching exactly on top of a previously stitched line) is in the design, and that information is really useful when selecting the perfect thread for quilting.  

Stitching Abundant Feathers on the charity quilt first helped me to eliminate some of the threads I had been considering for Jo's quilt.  When a design has this much backtracking, I generally prefer a lighter weight thread in a blending color so the double and triple-stitched areas don't show visibly heavy thread build up.  I had been considering a pale silver 40 weight Glide thread for Jo's quilt, but I decided against it out of concern that the backstitched portions of the design might end up looking like "dirty thread."  The So Fine 50 weight thread I selected for Jo's quilt is a classic off-white Snow color that blends into all of her fabrics and completely disappears against her white background fabric, creating a beautiful quilted texture without drawing attention to the thread itself.  In the photo below, I've unspooled a length of So Fine in Snow and swirled it across the top of the quilt.  In the places where you think you see the thread against the background fabric, you're really just seeing the shadow of the thread from my bright overhead light.

So Fine Thread in Color 401 Snow

Another thing I love about So Fine for traditional quilts especially is that, even though it's a strong, thin polyester that can withstand high speed stitching in my long arm machine without constant thread breaks, its matte texture mimics the look of a traditional (but fragile) cotton thread.  I'm not opposed to using 100% cotton thread if that's what the customer wants (or if that's what I really want for my own quilt!), and I have some absolutely scrumptious variegated cotton quilting threads in my collection, but they are a heavier weight than So Fine and not suitable for a design like Abundant Feathers that has significant backstitching.

Check Out This Sumptuous, Silky Sateen Backing Fabric

Oh my gosh, you guys -- Jo's 108" wide cotton sateen "Daybreak" fabric from Moda feels like silk or rayon or really expensive bed sheets.  It is fabulous.  This silvery sateen backing fabric was what tempted me to consider a silvery Glide thread for the quilting.

My client was unsure whether her backing would cause any issues for me with the quilting, but it was totally fine.  I can see how its shifty, slithery nature might have caused some dilemmas (as in pleats, puckers & profanity) for a domestic machine quilter, however.  If you want to use a backing fabric like this for quilting on a sit-down machine, I recommend that you starch it into submission before layering and pin basting.  

Whoever cut the fabric off the bolt struggled (and failed) to get a clean, straight cut, but fortunately my client sent a large enough piece of backing fabric that I was able to tear new, perfectly straight edges along the cross grain and still have sufficient margins for pinning the backing to my frame.  Once I had it straight, square, and pinned to the frame, it behaved just as nicely as any other quilt shop cotton fabric.

Daybreak Wide Back Sateen from Moda

Just look at how deliciously that sateen backing quilted up, too.  Although I had matte 50 weight So Fine in the needle, I used white 60 weight Glide in the bobbin so there's just the subtlest sheen to the quilt stitches on the back side of the quilt.

Sateen Backing Fabric Quilted with Wool Batting

NOW We Can Talk About the Wool Batting

The wool batting I carry is Quilter's Dream Wool.  It's a creamy ivory color, about 1/3" loft, and the Merino wool fibers have been "scoured, super-washed, and thermally bonded."  That process results in a batting that will have little or no shrinkage when washed (if you follow the care instructions), and far less likelihood of wool fibers migrating through the weave of your fabric over time (bearding).  

The Loft and Resilience of Wool Batting Gives Beautiful Definition to Quilting

The photo below shows the exact same Abundant Feathers E2E design stitched in the exact same combination of threads (So Fine 50 needle with Glide 60 bobbin), but with a "regular" quilt batting (it's whatever batting our guild's outreach committee was able to purchase in bulk, likely a needle punched cotton or cotton/poly blend).  See the difference the loftier, puffier wool batting makes?  Wool batting, either alone or layered on top of 80/20 batting, is a favorite choice for show quilters because the loft gives such amazing definition to show off the quilting design.

Same Thread, Same Quilting Design, Different Batting

Wool batting is incredibly lightweight, yet warmer than a heavier weight cotton batting.  Unlike polyester quilt batting (which is also warmer than cotton), wool is a natural fiber that is just as breathable as cotton.  I would probably not recommend wool batting for a bed quilt that is going to Key West, unless it's going to someone whose spouse keeps their air conditioner set on Arctic Freeze!  This Hunter Star quilt belongs to a client who lives in the North East where the winters get quite cold.

Some people prefer a flatter looking quilt, or a weightier blanket feel to their finished quilts.  Those people will be happier with a different batting choice.  If anyone has wool allergies or sensitivities, wool might not be the best choice.  I wouldn't recommend wool for a baby quilt, either, because of the care instructions.  You can machine wash and dry a quilt with Quilter's Dream Wool batting, but the manufacturer recommends COLD water and a COOL dryer setting -- which is not the best way to clean up the biohazard messes that babies leave behind!  No ironing allowed, either -- those low-melt fibers used in the manufacturing process to prevent bearding will fuse your wool batting flat as a pancake if you try to iron it.  (I don't know anyone who routinely irons their finished quilts, but I DO know quilters who like to iron the edges of their quilts as part of their binding process.  Don't do that with wool batting!)

Wool Batting is a Great Choice for Someone Used to Down Comforters

Wool batting is NOT as thick and puffy as those polyester bed-in-a-bag comforters that you get from Bed, Bath & Beyond.  Still, it's a little puffier and lighter weight than other battings, so it might be perfect for someone who enjoys sleeping under a down comforter.  Just keep in mind that, as with down, the warmth of wool batting comes from air trapped within the lofty fibers.  A design like Abundant Feathers maintains a great deal of the batting's loft to maintain the wool's ability to retain warmth.  If you use a wool batting but you "quilt it to death" so that most of the loft is compressed by your quilting stitches, the finished quilt will not be as warm.

Had to Show You the Backing Again,  Because YUMMY!!

The potential for bearding is another consideration when deciding whether or not to use wool (and a major reason why all wool battings are NOT created equally).  Quilter's Dream Wool batting is thermally bonded, a process that substantially cuts down on the possibility that wool fibers might migrate up through the needle holes, or even through tiny spaces between yarns in the fabric weave to the surface of the quilt over time.  I have never had an issue with bearding on any of my Quilter's Dream wool-batted quilts, or with the quilt I made with a Hobbs wool batting years ago (Hobbs wool battings are also thermally bonded to resist bearding).  However, I'm still not going to recommend wool batting for a very dark colored quilt or for any quilt that is expected to be subject to heavy use and frequent washing, just to be on the safe side.  And please don't go out and find the least expensive batting from a big box store or online discounter -- I can vouch for the quality of the thermally bonded wool battings from Quilter's Dream and from Hobbs, both of which I've used myself, but I've heard nightmare stories about "bargain" wool battings that shrank, felted, bearded, and reduced quilt makers to tears.

And why would anyone take a chance on a bargain priced, no-name wool batting in the first place?  Because the cost of a high quality, "superwashed" and thermally bonded wool batting makes it a luxury option that precludes its use in everyday quilts.  

So, let's recap:

When to Use Wool Batting in Your Quilts:

  • You really want to see the gorgeous quilting design
  • You want the quilt to be warm yet breathable
  • You want a lightweight quilt, or you have a heavily pieced quilt top that already weighs a ton and you don't want to add more weight with the batting
  • It's a show quilt
  • The quilt is for someone who prefers sleeping under a comforter
  • The quilt is for someone who is always too cold
  • You're curious about wool batting and want to try it out
  • It's a high quality washed and thermally bonded wool batting, such as Quilter's Dream Wool, Hobbs Tuscany Wool, or Hobbs Heirloom Wool

When NOT to Use Wool Batting in Your Quilts:

  • When you're on a budget
  • When the quilt is predominantly dark fabrics
  • If the quilt is for someone who is allergic or sensitive to wool
  • If it's a baby quilt, a charity quilt, or a gift for someone who is unlikely to follow care instructions (no hot dryers or irons!)
  • The quilt is for someone who is always too hot
  • You prefer the flatter look and/or heavier weight of a cotton batting
  • It is a mystery batting brand that you have never heard of and the price seems too good to be true
Let's have one more peek at Joann's gorgeous quilt before I box it up and ship it back to her:

One Last Peek

Thanks so much for choosing me to quilt for you, Jo!

PSST!!  I'd Love to Quilt for YOU!

By the way, if you or any of your quilty friends has a quilt top or two that needs quilting, I'd be delighted to quilt for you!  My turnaround for edge-to-edge quilting is currently running about 2 weeks, and you can click here to find out how to book your quilt with me.

I'll be linking today's post with some of my favorite linky parties:


Design Wall Monday at Small Quilts and Doll Quilts  

Monday Making at Love Laugh Quilt


Midweek Makers at Quilt Fabrication

Wednesday Wait Loss at The Inquiring Quilter


Needle and Thread Thursday at My Quilt Infatuation  

Free Motion Mavericks with Muv and Andree


Whoop Whoop Fridays at Confessions of a Fabric Addict

Peacock Party at Wendy’s Quilts and More

Finished or Not Friday at Alycia Quilts

Off the Wall Friday at Nina Marie Sayre

 TGIFF Thank Goodness It’s Finished Friday, rotates, schedule found here: TGIF Friday


Frédérique at Quilting Patchwork Appliqué

Oh Scrap! at Quilting Is More Fun Than Housework


Darlene S said...

Absolutely beautiful quilt and quilting. I've always been fond of the Hunter Star quilt design and this one is truly lovely, but your E2E quilting is absolutely perfect for this quilt and really makes this quilt stand out and look amazing. Thanks for all the tips on wool batting too!

Vicki in MN said...

You both did a beautiful job on this quilt! Wool certainly does work for great definition. said...

Wow, the wool batting and those feathers sure took that beautiful top to gorgeous! I hope Jo is over the moon happy!!! Great post about the pros and cons of wool for batting. I personally like it for all the reasons you shared!

Melisa- pinkernpunkinquilting said...

Beautiful quit and quilting. I have never worked with wool batting. Thank you for the tips

AnnieO said...

Your quilting looks just beautiful on this quilt. I have only used wool batting once before, and when I wash the quilt I let it air dry outside, protected by a sheet from direct sun.

Tracy said...

I recently found a half used spool of Sew Fine in my stash. I wound it onto a few bobbins for the LA. I quilted four baby quilts with it, using Fantastico, Finesse, and King Tut in the top, and each one came out perfectly. I guess it has enough grab to it that it works with many different weights and fibers. I just ordered two more spools :).
I also like wool battings for larger quilts, less weight and more puff. I use Hobbs Tuscany, mostly, but I have tried another brand that I liked, but I can't remember the name.

Gretchen Weaver said...

Your quilting made the quilt sing! She a real beauty.

Alycia~Quiltygirl said...

Wow - I love that quilting! it looks so pretty on that quilt! I love wool batting too!

Jennifer Fulton Inquiring Quilter said...

Lovely quilting on this one. Love your summation of wool batting benefits/limitations. Thanks for sharing on Wednesday Wait Loss.

Muv said...

Hello Rebecca Grace,
This is an absolutely beautiful quilt. Jo has chosen wonderful fabrics, and your quilting is perfect. Jo's sister will love it!
Thank you for linking up with Free Motion Mavericks.
Love, Muv

Anonymous said...

Thank you for explaining the quilting process. It is well worth it to send my quilts out, to be quilted. I use the high loft wool, however I appreciate learning the dos and don't. Very informative