Mar 26, 2019

Heaps of King Cotton in Quilt Batting

Heaps of King Cotton in Quilt Batting 

An Excerpt from American Cotton: Farm to Quilt 

By Teresa Duryea Wong

Quilts have been examined, copied, shared, preserved, destroyed, written about and researched for 200 years. Yet, there’s very little curiosity about the material between the two layers of fabric that make a quilt a quilt. Like a classic peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, the layers of bread are important, but it’s the stuff inside that makes it yummy.

Quilt batting, or what used to be called wadding, is the soft, solid, yummy layer inside a quilt sandwich. The batting is what makes a quilt warm and gives it its drape, and today a quilter can find a batting in almost every make, shape, and material, whether thick or thin, to meet her needs. Besides cotton, other common quilt batting materials are wool, polyester, cotton blends and bamboo.
The process to make cotton batting is strangely very hi-tech, but also strikingly similar to the way it has been made for a century. I was fortunate to visit the manufacturing facility owned by The Warm Company in Elma, Washington in 2018, and it was fascinating to learn how the cotton travels through giant automated machines and comes out the other end as a smooth, finished product, ready for the billions of quilt stitches that will eventually pierce it.

Heaps of American cotton are purchased each year and turned into cotton batting for quilts, as well as industrial batting for furniture and bedding. The Warm Company alone, whose primary business is quilting, purchases four million pounds of fresh, American cotton annually. To put that in perspective, it takes roughly 14,000 acres of West Texas farmland to produce four million pounds of cotton. That means the Warm Company buys enough cotton to cover the entire crop of at least four farmers, and they are spending approximately $3.2 million annually on those purchases.

The Warm Company has strict requirements for fiber length, thickness, strength, and color, and only the cleanest cotton is chosen. The raw cotton, which has been ginned to remove leaves, sticks, seeds, etc., travels to the Warm facilities where it is cleaned again, twice in fact. This super-fine cleaning process separates even more leaf or stick fragments from the fiber. It is natural for very tiny specs of leaf or stick to remain, even after all this rigorous cleaning. Those tiny specs are called pepper. The pepper look is what you will see in the batting named Warm & Natural. This product is so popular with quilters that many consider it essential to quiltmaking. Warm & Natural batting is not bleached, and as the name suggests, the batting has a natural-looking creamy, off-white color.

A second type of batting is made with purified cotton, and this is the cotton used to make Warm & White batting. With purified cotton, the individual fibers are scoured to remove natural oils and discoloration. The treatment involves a gentle bath of hydrogen-peroxide. This process leaves the fibers so clean and white that the fibers actually become coarse, so a lubricant is added to the cotton, not unlike when human hair is bleached and needs a conditioner to make it soft again. The Warm & White batting is preferred by many quilters who seek that clean, pure snowy-white color.

After cleaning, the cotton begins its long journey through the conveyor-belt maze of automation that turns fibers into batting. The cotton fibers are formed into layers, and the layers are laid on top of each other. Eventually a scrim is added to the layers of cotton fiber. A scrim looks a lot like a common dryer sheet, only it is significantly lighter and thinner. The fibers and scrim are needle-punched millions of times, in a matter of seconds, by very long needles. As the needles move up and down through the fibers, they force the cotton down through the scrim and back up again until the fibers and scrim essentially become completely intertwined. Thanks to the scrim, the batting holds together and at the Warm Company, no glue is added. Stitches in most modern batting can be up to 10 inches apart without worrying about the batting moving or bunching up.

American Cotton: Farm to Quilt by Teresa Duryea Wong, shares the story of the American cotton farmer, America’s textile industry and their connection to quilting. 

Available online at

Mar 20, 2019

1930s quilt - modern and complicated even by today's standards

I am so excited to share this post. This is a quilt I recently purchased to add to my antique quilt collection. The date is circa 1930 - and it is hand quilted of course. This beauty was one of those extraordinary quilts that you see and just have to have. After I clicked the buy button on eBay... I started looking into this pattern and its history. Keep reading...!

Turns out, this quilt is titled Giant Dahlia and is based on a pattern by a man! Hubert Ver Mehren and his wife owned a small company called Home Arts Studios.

This quilt is almost certainly a kit and the fabric pieces were most likely pre-stamped with the cutting instructions.

Hubert Ver Mehren released his Giant Dahlia pattern in 1933, and this one - like several other well known patterns of his - was complex and unusual for quiltmaking. According to Susan Price Miller, who wrote a paper for Uncoverings (American Quilt Study Group) in 2000, the Home Arts Studios promotional material stated the Giant Dahlia is "a modern design for the woman of today who wants to create a quilt that is new and different and will go down in quilt history as one of the new designs for 1933."

The pattern was widely copied and Needlecraft Magazine published it again in 1935. Later, a 1983 book copied the design and gave new life to this old pattern. It is also believed that the Dahlia is copied by overseas makers who have exported inexpensive copies of the quilt to the U.S. So I am not an expert in dating textiles therefore I can't be 100% sure my quilt was actually handmade in the 1930s. I can only go by what the seller told me - that my quilt is a 1930s quilt. I hope so... although it could be a later copy. Either way, I do love it.

Hubert was not a quilter but he had an incredible eye and a special talent for transferring his ideas to textile patterns. He drafted his patterns without knowledge - or the constriction - of knowing how to piece quilts. As a result, his patterns are considered some of the most complex and dramatic pieced designs of the day. And they still continue to astonish today!

In my new book, "American Cotton: Farm to Quilt" another quilt by Home Arts Studio is featured - one title the Bridal Bouquet. Another reason I love this quilt and this era is because from around 1900 till around 1980, American textile mills dominated the global industry, so there is a high chance that most of the quilts made here during this time period were constructed with American-grown cotton and manufactured in America. You can read much more about all this in my new book. Check it out here. 

The border alone is amazing!

Below is the original Home Arts Studio pattern for the Giant Dahlia. And if you want to read more on Hubert Ver Mehren and his company, here is a link to the article by Susan Price Miller. It is available on The Quilt Index to read for free.

Mar 18, 2019

first time to pay a longarm quilter

For the first time, I sent a quilt off to a professional longarmer!

I'm so thrilled. I don't even know why I made this quilt... these fabrics are everywhere, and not my usual palette. But I just decided it was time I made something with the beautiful Japanese chrysanthemum from Philip Jacobs - part of the Kaffe collective.

Once I started making blocks, I just couldn't stop. Before I knew it, the thing was a queen size! I have only made one other quilt that large and it was ages ago. Didn't have the enthusiasm to push this thing under my domestic machine and quilt it.

Longarmer to the rescue!

It was quilted by Rose Jeter who lives out near Boerne, Texas. Rose did a beautiful job and her stitches and design are just perfect. I met Rose when I gave a lecture to the quilt guild there and she showed some of her stunning quilt work during the show and tell. Later I asked her if she'd quilt this for me and she agreed.

This is the messy guest room... those boxes on the left are filled with my books!

Even though its a bit messy, the room looks very cheery now with this bright, new quilt.

Nice geometric design fits perfectly with these blocks.

Mar 6, 2019

Texas Quilt Museum news release: Everyone invited to lecture and book launch March 9!


Noted quilt historian, author, and Bybee Scholar Teresa Duryea Wong will present a lecture based on her new book, American Cotton: Farm to Quilt. The event will take place on Saturday, March 9, at 3 pm, with Museum admission free beginning at 2 pm.

The book features more than 80 antique and contemporary quilts, and shares the important story of the American cotton farmers and the cotton that they grow and sell.

“Quilters are incredibly passionate consumers of 100% cotton fabric, and cotton batting is a critical element of quiltmaking. But rarely do we stop to think about where all that comes from and how and where it’s made,” Wong says. “On the highway, we whiz past farms on our way to somewhere more important. I wanted to slow down and find out more about American cotton farmers, and then connect their story to quilting cotton.”

American Cotton: Farm to Quilt also explores the efforts of those who want to revive and kickstart the direction of cotton farming and related businesses in the U.S.

“These days, lots of people are interested in the American economy and what is and is not made in America,” Wong adds. “We happen to live at a very interesting time where a few courageous companies and individuals are bringing back American made quilting cotton and commercial quilts and other products constructed from cotton that is both grown and manufactured here. I met these people to find out what drives them and how and where their products are made.”

Wong will sign books after the lecture, and copies will be available for purchase in the all-new Museum gift store.

Join us for a free lecture and admission on
Saturday, March 9!

Mar 3, 2019

vintage Japanese fabrics make a 'thank you' quilt special

I made this quilt as a thank you gift for someone who graciously offered to help me with a project. Can't say too much yet... till I send off this gift. I love making quilts to give away... it makes me happy. This one, I kind of fell in love with... so it will be hard to send away. But I guess that makes it an even better gift

The fabric is vintage Japanese yukata (cotton kimono cloth) and traditional Japanese prints. I collected the vintage fabrics on my many trips to Japan.

Tom the dog wondering what all the full is about.

Part of the back. And the next photo shows the whole back. I pieced in one long strip of the vintage yukata. Cotton yukata is most often made in 14 inch strips. I pieced this with the selvedge on top so you could see the original finished edges of the cloth.

The last photo is a close up of the front. I did not have a plan when I started making this... I just pulled fabrics out of my stash and I knew I wanted big blocks to preserve the fabric design. I also wanted something masculine, so I kept the color pallette to only indigo and white. The quilting is simple straight lines.

I hope the receipient loves this as much as I do!