Hand quilting basics: Wadding

How do you start hand quilting?

This webpage will discuss the types of wadding that you will need.

The thickness and the density of the wadding makes an enormous difference to the ease of the quilting, and also to the finished appearance.

White quilted hearts design with deep texture
Feathered heart design using high loft wool wadding

Feathered heart quilted design on brown
Feathered heart design using low loft 80% cotton/20% polyester wadding

Wadding that feels very squishy will be comfortable to quilt through by hand, and will give a high “loft” to the finished item, while flatter wadding will give a low loft finish. Don’t choose anything that is really thick – it will be too hard to stitch through. Even if it’s thin, if it is also dense, it could be difficult to “needle”.   Some makes (such as Quilters Dream)  produce the same wadding in more than one thickness; the thinner ones will be easier to quilt, particularly if you are aiming for tiny stitches, but will give less loft to the finished quilt.

Wool wadding

Many experienced hand quilters love wool wadding, which is soft, light, easy to stitch through and gives a good loft. Good makes are Hobbs Tuscany Wool or Matilda’s Own.

white wadding; not very dense
Modern wool wadding is light and springy

It is, however, quite expensive, and not always easy to buy in smaller quantities for a small initial project.
You also need to wash it with care to avoid shrinkage or felting.

Puckered fabric on antique quilt
If the wadding shrinks after quilting, the top fabric becomes puckered, as seen on this antique Welsh frame quilt

Polyester wadding

The modern polyester waddings are also nice for hand (or machine) quilting,  particularly if the quilt needs to be easily washable.

Make sure that you get a compressed polyester wadding such as Hobbs Polydown or Quilters Dream Poly, not the cheap, generic sort which, over time will squash flat and lose its loft. 

Cheap polyester wadding

Can you see how much more body the better quality polyester wadding has on the right? It will still be springy enough to maintain a good loft.

The cheap polyester wadding to the left is not worth wasting your time with.

Dense white wadding
Quilter’s Dream Poly wadding

Some are thicker than others – of the three shown here, Soft & Bright has the highest loft, and is a bit too thick for fine hand quilting.

Three different thicknesses of polyester wadding
Quilters Dream Poly, shown on top of Hobbs Polydown, on top of Soft & Bright

Cotton wadding

Cotton wadding generally has a lower loft than either wool or polyester, and will give a flatter finished appearance. It tends to be creamy in colour, so if your quilt includes a lot of white fabric, test the wadding behind it before using, to see if it dulls the brightness.

Mountain Mist Cream Rose shown on top of Quilters Dream Cotton Select on top of Hobbs Heirloom 80% cotton/20% polyester Fusible

It will also shrink a little on washing, which will affect the appearance of the finished quilting (you may or may not like the “antique” look!). The “needling” is very variable – some can feel almost “sticky” when you try to stitch through it. Avoid anything which has a scrim in it, which is very dense or which has visible seeds in it. Try needling it in the shop before you buy, or buy a selection of samples to try out from e.g. The Cotton Patch.  Mountain Mist Cream Rose is whiter than most, and shrinks less, so is a nice option if you can get it, or Quilters Dream Cotton.

Hobbs Heirloom is a blended wadding which is 80% cotton and 20% polyester. Generally, I like this better than pure cotton – and for a quick quilt, I particularly like the fusible version, which just needs the top and backing ironing on to layer it, avoiding the need for pinning or tacking.

80% cotton/20% polyester fusible

It is also available in a black version, which is a good idea if you have a lot of dark fabrics in your quilt

Black wadding
Hobbs Heirloom 80% cotton/20% polyester black wadding

 I haven’t tried either bamboo, soya or silk wadding; these are liked by some hand quilters but not by others.

Which wadding you choose is a matter of personal preference.
Consider the finished appearance, your budget, and what the project will be used for.