Quilters have a large selection of quilt batting to choose from. There are low loft and high loft. There is cotton, polyester and a blend of polyester/cotton. Some batts are meant for hand quilting and some for machine quilting; some can be used for both hand or machine quilting; others are meant to be tied comforter-style; others can be used for clothing or wall hangings.
Batts can also come with a scrim or be needle punched. The scrip makes the batting more stable, but it is harder for hand sewing. Needle punching makes it easier to hand quilt. For hand quilters, ease of needling is an important consideration and hand quilters prefer polyester as it is easier to work with. Cotton or cotton/polyester blends are preferred for machine quilting as they cling to the fabric and there is less shifting, thus alleviating puckers on the bottom lining.
Batting is the part of the quilt that does not show, but it determines the look of your finished quilt. If it is a bed, it should provide warmth. If it is for a wall hanging, it should be low loft and hang fairly flat. Also note that cotton batts take longer to dry while polyester ones dry fairly quickly.
Polyester batts can lose their loft, whereas cotton ones become softer and more supple with use and repeated washing. Cotton batts and wool batts, being of natural fiber, tend to "breathe". Polyester batts can trap in air and do not 'breathe', thus making you 'sweat'. Cotton batts are heavier than polyester. Children's quilts tend to lean toward polyester because they are lighter and they are easier to wash and maintain. Keep in mind that polyester batting will cause a quilt to melt when exposed to fire. Polyester batts can beard, i.e. the batting may creep to the top of the quilt.
Some batting manufacturers are Mountain Mist; Fairfield Processing; Warm Company (Warm & Natural); Hobb's.
For tied quilts, try Fairfield Extra Loft and Ultra Loft or Hobbs Cloud.
Cotton batts may or may not be bleached. If a quilt top is predominantly white, bleached cotton should be used or your batting color color may show on the top. Hobbs' Bleached Organic Heirloom Cotton and Fairfield Bleached Cotton are some examples. Most 100% cotton batts need to be quilted 2" apart between quilting lines. Read the instructions on your batting package as some cotton batts can now be quilted farther apart. The scrim found in cotton batts adds stability to the batting. The scrim is synthetic. Some batts are needle punched, meaning puncture marks are added to the batting for ease of hand quilting. Cotton has a tendency to shrink an average of about 5%. You can purchase black batts for dark pieced tops.
Cotton or cotton/polyester blends are preferred for machine quilting as it clings to the fabric and helps prevent shifting, thus alleviating puckers on the bottom lining.
Fairfield's Cotton Classic is 80% cotton and 20% polyester. The polyester content means that you can quilt farther apart than if it was all cotton.
Hobb's also carry a polyester/cotton blend - 80% cotton and 20% polyester. It does not have to be pre-washed but the instructions say that you have to quilt 3 1/2" apart. For use with either hand or machine quilting.
Warm & Natural is predominantly polyester with 20% cotton. It looks and feels like cotton and is readily available. It should be prewashed as it contains plant seeds.
Quilters Dream Cotton can give your washed quilt an antique look.
Wool Batting may be treated with lanolin or other resins. It can be machine-washed. The cost is slightly higher than cotton but it hand quilts as easily as polyester. There is no pull on the needle and it is easier to hand-quilt than cotton. Wool tends to beard.
Pellon Fleece is used for place mats and table runners as it is heat resistant. Hobbs Thermore is used for clothing but can also be used for placemats.
Polyester batting allows for quilting to be farther apart. Quilting lines for cotton batts are as follows:
Cotton Classic - 2" - 3" apart
Heirloom Cotton - 3" - 4" apart
Warm & Natural - up to 8" apart.
At all times follow the instructions provided on the bags regarding how closely you can quilt, whether to pre-wash or not and if it is for hand or machine quilting.