The Free Motion Quilting Project: Question Thursday #7

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Question Thursday #7

It's Question Thursday yet again! This is the day of the week I set aside to look through all my email, comments, and through all your linked up blog posts to find 5 questions to answer.

And guess what? I only found 2 questions this week!

I guess this means I'm moving too slowly? Should we stitch it up a notch and move on to new designs or would you like to stick with Stippling for a few more weeks?

Make sure to share your opinion in the comments below.

Now for the questions:

Pat from Color Me Quilty
has asked a great question about batting:

What type of batting do you normally use?

Do you use different batting for different types of projects? Without doing trapunto, which batting would best show off the quilting in the top block?

I use Quilter's Dream polyester batting almost exclusively. I do have other batting in the studio that I'm trying to use up, so occasionally I'll use something weird, but 99% of the time I'm using either Select or Request thickness Quilter's Dream Polyester.

As for different projects - no, I don't change batting for different projects. A quilt is a quilt is a quilt. And for me at least, I know a quilt comes out nice, and is predictably easy to stitch with this batting.

Of course the one exception is quilted garments. I can't ignore the fact that if you quilted a jacket using normal batting, even the thinnest poly, it would likely come out so puffy you'd look like the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man. For garments I use 100% cotton flannel that has been washed and dried twice in hot water to get the shrink out.

As for what batting creates a super puff similar to trapunto - I have HEARD about using wool batting, but I have not tried it myself so I cannot really say whether it works well or not.

Keep in mind that I'm a crazy nut for trapunto! If I want something puffy, I'm not going to leave it for the fates to grant me good luck with a wool batting. I'm going to quilt that sucker twice and relish every second I get to clip batting away (my favorite part).

For trapunto, I use Quilter's Dream Polyester in the Deluxe thickness for the first layer and Select thickness for the second layer. It always comes out perfect. Always.

Now that I've answered the main question, it's time for a little lecture...

Just like with needles and thread, batting is an opinion driven material, and one that's subject to hot debate.

Many quilters hear that I use polyester batting and thread and don't want to hear another word out of my mouth. Their response usually goes something like this:

HERETIC! How dare you suggest we use something other than COTTON!

Whenever I hear this kind of thing, I always have to ask:

"Have you personally had an issue with either poly batting or poly thread?

...and the answer is always:

"No, but I've HEARD that..." which begs the argument:

Shouldn't your opinion should be based on what YOU have actually experienced?!

Get out there and try something NEW! Do you want to create a quilt with a super puff? Get your hands on some wool batting and play with it! A little 20 inch table topper quilt should be more than sufficient to know whether that batting is going to do the job or not.

Are you looking for a batting that will shrink a bit to hide mistakes? Try a cotton or cotton/poly blend with a small amount of shrink. Give it a go with a SMALL project to see what this batting will do before investing a ton of money and time into a bigger project.

Too often I hear quilter's complain "I'm trying out a new batting and I really hate it. It's ruining my project completely." and guess what they decided to test that batting out on? Inevitably it's always a queen to king sized quilt.

That's a really good way to ruin a quilt and hate your life for a LONG time with a batting that works in an unpredictable way.

When I say Test, I mean test and experiment with batting in a scientific way.

Make a list of all the things you want your batting to do. You might want it to:
  • Shrink slightly to hide mistakes.
  • Not shrink at all to keep the quilt flat.
  • Shrink a LOT so the quilt gets a pretty antique look.
  • Drape softly so the quilt is soft and comfy when quilted.
  • Remain stiffer so the quilt looks good on a wall.
  • Very thin and low loft so the quilt is easy to manage in your machine.
  • Super thick with a high loft so the finished quilt is big and puffy.
  • Allow quilting up to 4 or 6 or 8 or 12 inches apart.
This is just a starting list of possible characteristics a batting can have. Sit down a think for a bit about what you want YOUR quilts to look and feel like when they're finished.
When you shop for batting, look at the different packages, write down some names, then go home and Google the companies before buying. Learn more about different batting types from the company itself.
Hint: if the batting company doesn't even have a website, that's a good sign to go with another batting.
Of course, there's always a list of things we DON'T want batting to EVER do:
  • Shift within the quilt - this creates ripples and lumps within the quilt you can feel when you run your hand over it.
  • Beard - Just like guys wake up every morning with fuzz on their chin, terrible battings get out of the washer and are covered with fuzz on the back or front. The batting is literally leaking through the cotton fabric and once it starts, it usually doesn't stop.
  • Smell - I know this sounds weird, but I once bought a batting that stank right out of the bag. I didn't want to risk a quilt that never lost that smell so that batting ended up in the trash.
When you invest in batting, only purchase the smallest size. Many companies are now offering craft size, which is even smaller than crib size, and is a great size to start with.
Cut out a 20 - 24" section of the batting and either use plain fabric or piece together some orphan blocks to create a very small quilt top. Baste and quilt this mini test quilt the exact same way you will baste and quilt your regular quilts.
Finish the edges in some way quickly, then wash and dry the test quilt the same way you will treat your regular quilts.
Take note of what the batting is doing at every step of the game. Ask yourself questions:
Do you like the way the batting feels and acts in the machine? Is it too puffy / not puffy enough? Is the machine liking this material, or wanting to eat it?
Do you like the way the batting feels after washing? Is it draping nicely? Did it shrink as you desired? Is it showing any signs of bearding, shifting, or smelling?
Remember you don't have to go for a gold with each of these little test quilts. It's a test, not a masterpiece, so don't spend an excessive amount of time on each project, otherwise you'll burn out before finding a good batting.
Is it really worth going to this much trouble to find a good batting? Absolutely!
It's no fun to waste money on batting that sucks.
But the only true way to know if something works for you is for YOU to try it. If it doesn't work, tear that batting up into tiny pieces and stuff a doll with it. That way it's not totally gone to waste and make a note of the brand and thickness in a notebook so your lesson will not be forgotten.

Above all, never share an opinion about a particular material unless you've actually experienced it yourself. There seems to be a lot of talking and hearing in the quilting world, but not a lot of experiencing!

Just please don't contribute to someone else's phobia of new materials. We now have awesome bamboo, silk, soy, recycled polyester, and wool battings that all deserve a chance right next to the traditional cotton batting.

That being said, once you've found what works and produces the effects you like, STICK WITH IT!

This is basically where I'm at with batting, thread, and needles. I've had my experimental phase and found what works. For me, Quilter's Dream is the perfect batting and I have no desire to play the field to find something else that also works. What's the point?!

That said, I am keen to try the polyester created from recycled drink bottles. That just sounds cool!

Now it's time to jump off my soapbox so we can get to the next question:

Anne from Anne's Threads asked:

What do you use to mark your quilts?

I must have tried every marker available and I don't think I've ever found the right combination of visibility and remove-ability!

I use a blue Fine Line Water Soluble marking pen for any light colors. This works exceptionally well over white and lighter fabrics.

free motion quilting | Leah DayFor darker fabrics lately I've been switching between the Sewline Ceramic Pencils and Fons & Porter Ceramic Pencils in white. I think these are pretty much the same and both work equally well with a thin, noticeable mark that brushes or erases off easily.

free motion quilting | Leah DayOf course, a blue pen or white pencil isn't going to show up well with fabrics like these:

free motion quilting | Leah DayBusy fabrics are really difficult to mark because so many colors and shapes are involved.

In this situation you really have to start looking at your quilts and planning ahead with your quilting. If you plan from the beginning to include marked elements in your quilt, make sure to choose plain, solid, or solid reading fabrics that you know you can make visible marks on.

If you look at a quilt design and decide you don't want to mark it, then you have full freedom of choice with any wild prints or colors you can find.

Keep in mind that marked designs aren't necessary on every quilt. This is the point of having so many filler designs - designs that can fill space on your quilt without marking!

When you bother to mark a design, you're taking an extra step in the process and you should definitely get credit for your work. Marking a design over busy fabric is really pointless because it simply won't show off or stand out as much as it could over simpler fabric.

Whatever you do, make sure to TEST YOUR MARKER before you mark an entire quilt with it!

Also whatever marking device you use, use it throughout your quilt!

I learned this the hard way with a very important quilt The Duchess. Most of the quilt was marked with the Fine Line marker which came out immediately when immersed in water.

But I happened to forget that parts of the quilt had been marked with a different pencil and I didn't erase these marks before dunking the quilt in warm water.

In the end, the chacopel pencil marks NEVER came out because the warm water heat set them into the fabric. It was a terrible lesson to learn on a quilt this big, but it's a lesson I've NEVER forgotten!

So that pretty much sums up this Question Thursday! Again, share your opinion about whether we should move on with more new designs or stick with stippling for a few more weeks.

If we stick with stippling, here's a few fun projects we'll work on together:

free motion quilting | Leah Dayfree motion quilting | Leah DayTime to shut up and quilt!

Leah Day


  1. Hi Leah, Thank you so much for sharing all your knowledge with us. I think we should continue with stippling. I'm not really crazy about how the stitches look on the back of my quilt. It looks like the tension is off, especially around tight curves. Is it just me because I am so new to this, or is this expected?

  2. Hi Leah,
    Thank you for taking the time to answer the questions and I like the lecture about batting. I always thought cotton was great(and again being a beginner quilter and cotton lover). This just came to me naturally.

    I had some polyester batting I had bought for craft work and it does look really good after its quilted. Its looks geat with all the puffiness. So, after I finish up my cotton batting, I might try Quilter's Dream polyester batting.

    On a second note, this week I didn't really have any questions partly because I was so busy quilting I guess :-). Which is always a good sign. Everything seem to fall in place or went as I had planned. The only thing I'm really struggling is the controlling the speed and maintaining the balance in moving the quilt around. It would be great if you can spend at least couple of Quilt Alongs on practicing speed. But not sure, how many people would be interested in this. Since it would be helpful to only beginners like me.

    Anyway I can't wait to see what the coming weeks are going to bring.

  3. I have to agree with batting prefs. Just to add one comment though... If you ever have a quilt quilted, make sure you ask what type of batting they use. I had one done before I was comfortable doing my own large quilts. I love the pattern I used to make it. I love the pattern quilted into it, I HATE the batting she used. I don't like to use the quilt at all. (ps... The word verification is a pain now)

  4. Thanks Leah for answering those two questions which happened to be the exact two questions I've been thinking about this week and you answered. I also don't feel we are moving too slow but that's because I'm still learning stippling and it feels good to take time to learn one design, which I love by the way. Of course, maybe alot of the others quilters are moving alot faster than I am and therefore may have a very different opinion. But, I do appreciate the answers you gave today and appreciate you and your talent and sharing it all. Thank you. Marianne

  5. Thanks, Leah, for the information on markers - I must see if my fine collection includes the ones you mention (sod's law - probably not!). I also found what you say about batting very helpful. I've tried various battings - cotton, poly, bamboo, and only the last was a problem - it shed EVERYWHERE! Recently, for economy, I've used fleece as batting, very successfully. I was interested to see that you've used flannel: my Mum has just given me 2 very good quality flannelette sheets, and I was wondering if I could use them as batting - good to know that's a yes!
    Moving at a faster pace on the Quilt Along - personally I'm very happy with the current pace, as I'm not very experienced and quite a slow learner. I've absolutely loved having several weeks to consolidate everything I'm learning, so that it's all really fixed in my mind and hands! For me this thoroughness is one of the best things about this project. Some of the people posting are obviously extremely experienced - even teachers - and could cope with moving faster, but I think I'd struggle to keep up, and wouldn't feel I was learning as thoroughly without the same time to try out what I'm learning on different projects.
    But others may feel differently - that's just my opinion.

  6. Thank you Leah for going back over the basics. I have made quilt tops for years, having had a few quilted for me by others, which I no longer can afford to do - Not to mention that being able to do it myself is what I have always wanted to do! Thanks for all your tips, about your practice sessions and notebook of stitches, but most of all for your continued inspiration and knowledge. Your easy going manner makes me believe that I will get good at this, thank you!!

  7. I would love to learn some variations on the stippling shape, like in the pinwheel picture.

    I spent a day practising at my local quilt shop last weekend and found the boxy and zig-zag stipples hard to do.

  8. I confess that I could use more practice stippling, and those future projects look interesting. I'm just doing samples, though, and not intending to assemble them into a quilt.

  9. I am grateful for all of the info you share, Leah. Though I don't "link up" I am following along and many times these questions you answer are ones I didn't even know yet that I had. When I read I think, "Oh, yeah. I needed to know that!" : )

  10. Thanks for sharing all your talent and wisdom with us. I look forward to what you have to share every week. My lowly opinion is to stay with this subject for a bit longer. Thanks again for sharing and teaching us so well.

  11. I like the 2 photos you have of ideas lined up for stippling. FYII didn't participate this week because of my machine acting up.I hope to get back going in a week or 2. In the meantime,I can get some stuff pieced.It seems to be doing ok just straight stitching.

  12. Oh, and good to know about the batting! I haven't used polyester batting since my first tied baby quilts.You know, the real lofty stuff that's no good for FMQ? I will have to try your brand:)

  13. I use warm & white cotton batting, but it can be expensive sometimes. Last time I bought it on sale at Joann's (off the bolt). I think I got 6 yards of the 90 inch for less than $40. I'm currently working on a queen size quilt for which I have Quilter's Dream (cotton) set aside. I have never used it before, but I can't imagine it having problems. It was less expensive than warm & white. I guess I will have to test it out first!

  14. I'm happy with a few more weeks of stippling. I'm still on pretty basic stippling and I must say that your breaking down of the shapes finally got me comfortable with free motion quilting. I need to practice, practice, practice before I move on.

    About polyester batting -- I heard that you shouldn't use it in baby quilts because if there's a fire the batting will melt and hurt the child under the quilt.

    I like cotton batting because it doesn't leave so many little fibers around when you're quilting.

    Many thanks, Leah for your detailed instructions. They are wonderful.

  15. Hi Leah....I'm all for staying with stippling a while longer. I was just about to say "let's move on" until I saw the quilting on your Zen-tangle. It was gorgeous and I'd like to see more kinds of those variations. Thanks again...I hope you know how much you are appreciated!

  16. ummmm, I think the stipplers have it! haha & I'm good with that

  17. Hi Leah,
    You are well known for your wonderful quilting all over the world. I am from New Zealand and was attending Bernina Club which is run by a very clever lady who knows her Berninas inside out and back to front. I was telling her about a problem I had and how I was following your site AND how I read about how to fix the problem. She said she followed your site and thought it was wonderful and mentioned how clever you were. She is picking up tips from you and passing them onto her classes. Thanks to the WWW we are all able to learn from you. Thank you so much for sharing your talents.

  18. I have been wondering if anyone has used the poly batting from recycled materials...that is something I would like to support but haven't tried it out yet. Any thoughts? (I have been living outside the US for several years so am not up on what is actually available and popular right now.....sigh! k.

  19. My own experience with poly batting from quilts I made in the 1980's is that if it's quilted fairly loosely, the poly batting abrades the cotton seams and eventually the seams pop open. I've seen this at a quilt restoration site as well-- poly thread eventually works its way through the seams and the batting works it way up. Don't know if this is true for close quilting.

  20. All of your comments are very well written and should be a bible to those that are not sure. Testing is a great way to learn. The polyester thread and batting issue has puzzled me for years. I am now using polyester threads to piece with. Why wate all the choices we have. Thank you. Chris

  21. Hola Lea, de marcadores también he probado varios y alguno de ellos que desaparecen con el calor de la plancha, en según qué tejidos dejan marca. Aún no he probado si se van al lavar o no. Probar antes de usar es un muy buen consejo. Referente boatas me encuentro con el problema que en las tiendas en las que habitualmente compro tienen ésta y ésta, una con algodón y otra sintética, ni composición, ni marca , ni posibilidades de elección. Tendré que buscarme otra tienda. Gracias Lea.

  22. Gracias por poner el traductor en tu blog.
    ¿Aún quieres que te enviemos nuestras primeras pruebas de acolchado con errores, puntos saltados, colores y demás desastres?

  23. Leah - Thank you for sharing all this information!

    It never occurred to me to do a pre-test of the batting in different stages. Man, I hope my Warm and Natural QAYG projects will work out!

    I was excited to see your post on how to join the pieces up. I'm going to cut up my samples and practice before I work on my real projects! I just have been basting and FMQing on sections - and that magically I'd know how to join them - thank you!

    I know I need more work with stippling so I hope you will keep working on that. As for the pace, when I have the materials needed it's fine. I think even with tax season coming up I will be able to do most weeks.

    I didn't have a project available to do the assignment for last week - was considering buying a yard of the Spoonflower but figured it wouldn't arrive in time - but since I didn't create anything myself I still don't have anything to "turn in".

    Actually I'm piecing now to get ready for a 4-day quilt workshop next week - and realizing that I need something to mark the various lines so your information on marking will come in handy. I've been using a regular writing pencil (on the wrong side of the fabric) - will check right now to be sure the lines will not bleed thru! Again it didn't occur to me to pre-test.

    As I'm measuring and cutting I'm wishing I had different sizes and types of rulers, but I'm making do. What sizes and types of rulers do you rely on?

    Next time I buy batting I will get Quilter's Dream!

    Thank you,

  24. Hi Leah,
    I am so delighted with your entire website. Thank you so much for all of your information and encouragement.

    I also would like to stay with stippling longer. This is something I am struggling with and when I see your beautiful upcoming projects, I soooo want to be able to do those.

    Thanks also to the people who came up with the questions because I had them in mind too.

    Can't wait for Wednesdays!

  25. Hi Leah,
    I saw a blog last summer where the washable school markers were tested. I can't find the web address. The quilter bought some markers and marked lines in each color on a piece of fabric and then washed it. Most of the colors came out, but she found that a couple did not. That way she knew which markers she could safely use. I thought that might work for the fabrics that are not light or dark. One of the colors should show up. I plan on testing those markers myself, one of these days.

    I do like the F&P pencils with white and dark "chalk". And I use the Blue cold water erase pens also.

    Keep quilting,

  26. Hi Leah, Quilters Dream Poly is the only batting I have ever used that bearded on me. It was highly recommended by the quilt shop I bought it at. Used it on a queen sized Twisted Bargello. It beards still 7 years later every time it is washed. It's awful. I have often used other polyester battings and never had a problem with them or cottons or wools. I would never suggest Quilters Dream Poly to anyone from the horrible experience I personally experienced from it. Others on some of my quilting groups have also had proglems with it. So, be careful with that batting if you plan on washing the item.

  27. Hey Leah,
    I thought I was ready to move on from stippling but now I'm not so sure!

    I'm also doing the SewCalGal FMQ assignments and although they are excellent tutorials and I'm learning a lot there also, they tend to be more overwhelming than yours.

    I think I like the slower, steady pace and a few more weeks of stippling - perhaps different variations? - sounds good to me.

    And now.....I'm off to practice my FMQ. I almost hope it rains so I have an excuse to stay home all day in my little house and quilt.

  28. lisa0116 - When it comes down to it, all we have is our person experiences right? Personally I've only ever experienced good things from Quilter's Dream poly, and yes, it has been used in many quilts that are washed often.

    As always, the best advice is to test and try batting, and take note of how it behaves. And if you get burned, you're right, it's best to remember it so you don't repeat the experience!



  29. My favorite quilts are the ones I used polyester batting. They are thicker and softer than cotton batting quilts.

  30. Excellent information on the batting that you use. It's so nice that you take the time to share all this info with us.

    I think both the projects you posted as potential upcoming projects look great, but I'm especially likin' the hearts with the itty bitty stippling on them. That looks challenging.

    Thanks, Leah, for taking the time and always having something informative to share with us.

  31. Leah, you are a very special young lady. I've read, been inspired by, purchased, and learned from your work for the last several years. You are real, and you care. God bless! I love low loft polyester purchased from JoAnn with 40% off coupons for bed quilts, the kind that are snuggly and conform to the body. These are also perfect for layering on a bed in cooler weather. I never use dense quilting for these quilts because I want them to drape and be light. For wallhangings, placemats, table toppers, small bags, etc., I prefer Warm and Natural. It's so easy to cut into exact shapes, adheres easily to the fabric, and on these I use much denser machine quilting.

  32. I was going to say I'm tired of stippling, but a couple more weeks will be fine. I've fallen behind because I bought a new-to-me machine to do my FMQ on and need to spend some time getting familiar with it. Stippling will work just fine for that. And I'd love to see and try some shape variations.

  33. Leah, My wife is the quilter, I (age 72) am a helper (take care of sew machines, Mid-arm Nolting on 10'frame, etc. LOVE you and Josh, learn much from you! We recently had trouble with our quilting on the Mid-arm because we made a mistake with the batting. We were using Warm & Natural needle punched batting. We know this is good batting as we used it often before, so we are NOT blaming the brand/type of batting. We unzipped a finished quilt, and loaded the next quilt. Our machine had problems immediately. It had just worked fine! All normal checking of tensions, new needle, new bobbin, new bobbin case, new thread, and we still had problem. We had "quilted-- quite some territory" with bad snarls, broken threads etc. in our testing. nothing fixed the problem. The only thing "new" or "different" on this quilt was it was the 1st cut off a 10 yard purchase. So I went online, and on their web page found a direction NOT found on the package! This batting has a 'scrim' into which cotton is punched. The direction on the site said the scrim side had to be on the backing side of the quilt! All this time we had accidently been doing it right! This time we just put it on as 'normal', but it was facing the top of the quilt. We did a lot of seam ripping taking apart our messy quilt. Reinstalled our same backing, batting (with scrim facing backing) and our same top. All worked well! ! ! That 'rule' should have been ON THE PACKAGE to alert purchasing quilters.
    Please alert your followers. sincerely, Richard (


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