Monday, November 05, 2007

Batting Samples (a la Harriet Hargrave)

Front and back of a sample batting square. The back is supposed to be 1/2 black fabric so you can see if this batt beards with your chosen needle. This particular sample is pre-washed muslin fabric with pre-washed Hobbs batting. I used a blue washable marker to trace the stencil design. The 6-inch square is drawn on the front with permanent marker to test shrinkage and take-up from quilting (The mere act of quilting can make the piece shrink as well. Who knew?)

Why am I doing this?
Several months ago, Harriet Hargrave spoke at the Darting Needles Quilt Guild in Appleton, WI. Her lecture was on batting.

Now--you probably would not think of batting as a very interesting topic, but Harriet made it intriguing! She suggested making quilted batting samples from as many batts as we can find (or order her batch of batting samples (which I did)). The sample kit contains most of the batts Harriet Hargrave carries in her shop (minus the silk). Even in the finer quilt shops, they usually carry only 1 or 2 types of batting amid all that wonderful fabric. It's amazing to me that so little thought goes into what's inside these wonderful quilts we make. Which is why her lecture was so refreshing!

She said people used to blame nylon thread (old style fishing line) for the crackly feeling they'd get in a quilt gone wrong. Harriet said it's more often from a bad choice of batting. Invisible threads are much better today than they used to be ... and so are the batts available now.

In 1997, Ms. Hargrave wrote a book called From Fiber to Fabric, which I read last summer. Fascinating process! She has also worked with the Hobbs people to get them to produce battings that we quilters actually want to use in our quilts. I for one, am grateful for her input!

I learned early on that I really don't care for Warm N Natural (Did you know that WnN was originally designed to be used for window coverings? It's great as a window quilt because it doesn't sag or stretch. I just don't like sleeping under it ... ) At present, my preferred batting is Hobbs 80/20--mostly because it's been easy to get locally (Though JoAnn Fabrics no longer seems to carry it.) We'll see if my opinion changes after these experiments ...

Harriet says we need to think about what type of batt is appropriate for the person we are making the quilt for--as much as we think about patterns and colors in the top being appropriate to the person, the batting is also an individual choice. Some people like light and airy and warm (silk might be the best choice). Some people like breathable cotton or wool. Some people like hot-hot-hot (so polyester might be appropriate). It all really depends on who's getting the quilt and their preferences. Do you want thick or thin? Do you want something you can quilt by hand? on and on ...

I've been doing a mixture of marking and free-hand/free-motion quilting on the squares :
* Stencils with blue water-soluble marker (see 1st picture above and feather below)

* Feathers drawn on Golden Threads quilt paper and stitched through (Tip : Don't use a pencil to trace the feather/design as the graphite from the pencil migrates as gray to the thread and fabric. It should wash out, but it makes everything look dirty and gray.
* Freehand designs. You can see sample free-hand patterns from Patsy Thompson's website.

Though I think several of the ladies thought I was crazy to be working on such a collection of batting samples at Quilt Camp, I think this is a very useful exercise. With so much concentrated practice on free-motion, my technique was starting to look pretty good by about the 12-15th squares. Too bad I have so little time for free-motion. It really is something that takes practice to keep up the skills (kind of like welding, I hear). By the time I have another quilt to do, I'll have forgotten the feel and pacing to keep the stitches even ... Maybe by then, I'll have a long-arm to practice on??????

When I'm done with this project, I'll have a box of batting samples, and I'll be able to see what a batt will look like after it's been washed a few times. Believe it or not, it makes a big difference if you use pre-washed batts, or pre-washed fabrics, or a combination of both. The samples allow you to see what effects are possible --and offer direction on how to attain the desired effect with a particular batting, and washed or new fabrics.

"Sandy's Promise" (above) was made with a new Hobbs 80/20 cotton/polyester batt with pre-washed fabrics. After being washed, this batt does shrink a certain amount. That's what gives it that wonderful old-timey look that I was after.

The first quilt I made was from a kit. I thought I knew how to sew, and I did it on my own. I found out there are a lot of tricks to learn with quilting ... I used a thick polyester batt (I was rebelling against Warm N Natural even then!). It's puffy and light and warm, but even through the cotton top, the batt feels kind of scratchy. Now I know that the polyester batts are not great for the longevity of a quilt. The polyester fibers can rub, scratch and damage the cotton fabric of the top. I don't expect this one to become an heirloom, but I do like to use natural fibers if possible.

1 comment:

Vicki W said...

I think doing batting test is very valuable. I was able to participate in a longarm group batting test a couple of years ago. Each participant quilted a large sample using the same fabric, thread and quilting pattern. I ended up with about 20 batting samples - it's like a batting library! I happen to like W&N a lot but I like my bed quilts to be heavy.