It used to be that quilters bought multiple yards of fabric to make their quilts. They did not have what we commonly refer to today as pre-cuts.
However, the first pre-cut to change the world of quilting appeared in the mid-1980s.
The term fat quarter first appeared in the book Country Needlework by Margaret Boyle.
Quilters began asking for this smaller cut of fabric, and overnight the quilting industry changed.
Fabric companies started cutting their fabric collections into handy fat quarter bundles and quilters bought them. They could afford to buy an entire collection by their favorite designer.
Pattern designers wrote books and simple patterns to expand the fat quarters potential and quilters loved it.
Walk into any quilt shop today, and you will find fat quarters bundled together based on color, genre, background, and theme.
Most shops also offer single fat quarters already cut from the bolts.
However, if you cannot find a bundle or single fat quarter to your liking, you can always ask the shop to cut fat quarters for you. Most shops will gladly honor this request.
The Ultimate Guide To Fat Quarter Sizes
What are fat quarters?
A typical one yard cut from a bolt of fabric measures 36” long by 44”-45” wide. A fat quarter refers to a cut of fabric that is 18” x 21”.
When looking at a bundle of fat quarters, you may find some are slightly larger or smaller.
Why the discrepancy?
It depends on who cut the fat quarter. Manufacturers have machines set to cut pre-determined sizes, so they often have a precise cut.
A quilt shop cutting fat quarters may add in a bit of fabric resulting in an 18 ½” wide cut.
The most important point here is that you want your fat quarter to be at least 18” x 21” to follow pattern instructions. Older patterns wrote for fat quarters that measures 18” x 22 ½”.
In the past several years, the selvage edges have grown, therefore, reducing the size of the fat quarter down to 21”.
How Many Fat Quarters in a Yard?
There are four fat quarters in a yard of fabric.
How to Cut a Fat Quarter
Let’s say you have a yard of fabric at home and want to make your own fat quarters. First, you would lay the material with the selvage closest to you running left to right. The fold of the fabric should be along the top. Second, find the 18” mark on your cutting mat. Third, take your rotary cutter and cut along the 18” line. This will give you two half yards of fabric. Last, take your scissors and cut along the fold of the material. You will then have 4 fat quarters.
Fat Quarter Sub Cuts
From a single fat quarter, a quilter can expect to get any combination of cuts. The quilt industry writes a majority of their patterns now for pre-cuts. Therefore, it is helpful to know what pre-cut sizes you can get from a fat quarter.
56 – 2 ½” Squares
12- 5” Squares
4 – 9” x 11” (Fat Eighths)
7- 2 ½” x 18” Strips
6- 3” strips
2- 10” squares, 4-5” squares, 1- 2.5” strip
How To Plan A Quilt With Fat Quarters
With hundreds of patterns and books dedicated to fat quarter quilts, you can make a variety of quilts using fat quarters.
1. Begin with an idea.
Planning a quilt with fat quarters is really quite simple. You can begin with an idea, theme, or an event that you want to celebrate. Should you have a pattern idea before you buy your fat quarter? I suggest you do. It is easier to find the fat quarters you need when you know what the pattern will call for.
2. What if you see a fabric you love, but you don't have a pattern in mind?
Buy two yards of the material. You will get fat quarters and borders from that cut. That piece of fabric will be the basis for the other fat quarters you purchase for your quilt.
Purchasing six to eight fat quarters in a theme is also an excellent place to start if you do not have a pattern.
3. Keep fabric value and scale in mind.
Keep in mind that value has a role to play here. Value is the lightness or darkness of the fabric. Plan to buy light and dark values when picking out your 6-8 fat quarters. Another thing to watch is the scale. A couple of small prints pairs nicely with a couple of larger prints.
Of course, you may need to add more depending on the size of the quilt you plan to make.
Anything you have left over can be incorporated into the back of the quilt. Pieced backs are popular because the quilt can be flipped over and remain decorative. From those fat quarters, you want to find a coordinating color for the background.
4. Choose fabric for borders.
Next, decide on how many borders the quilt will have and pick the fabric for them.
If you struggle to pick coordinates, your local quilt shop will be a helpful resource. Their staff is trained to assist with color selection and often yardage requirements for background and border needs.
These same shops often have fat quarter bundles ready to purchase with coordinating fabrics for background and borders.
Of course, you may have a stash of fabric at home. Pick six fabrics that go well together and cut out fat quarters. Again, choose coordinating fabrics for your background and borders.
Pre-Wash The Fat Quarter Or Not?
There is an ongoing debate in the quilt industry with regards to the washing of the fabric before cutting. Some believe you should pre-wash to remove sizing, allow shrinkage, and prevent bleeding of colors. Others think that it is unnecessary and prefer to have the sizing remain in the fabric.
If the material is from a quilt shop and it is quilt shop quality fabric, the shrinkage will be minimal.
However, anything red should be pre-washed. Red has a reputation for bleeding. The sizing can be added back in if you have decided to pre-wash by using starch or Best Press. It really comes down to a matter of your preference and where you bought the fabric.
How Many Fat Quarters in a Bundle?
Fat Quarter bundles are extremely popular due to the fact they have all the fabrics from a designers collection.
A collection of fabric generally has 25-35 bolts. A fat quarter bundle will then typically have 25-35 fat quarters. Batik collections have fewer bolts which make the fat quarter bundles smaller.
Let’s say you are planning a quilt with a theme such as the Civil War.
A Civil War Fat Quarter bundle will contain an excellent variety of prints all coordinated to work within the concept of your quilt. It will have the correct Turkey Red or Poison Green colors that were found during the Civil War.
The prints and florals will also be the exact replica of fabric patterns from the mid-1800s.
A fat quarter bundle of Christmas fabrics can allow you to make a lap quilt with enough material left over for placemats, stockings, or maybe a tree skirt.
Fat Quarter Exchanges
Do you have fat quarters that just do not seem to work with your ideas?
Consider getting involved with a local quilt guild. Quilt guilds often host monthly fat quarter exchanges.
You and the other members bring in a designated amount of fat quarters. They all go on a table, and then everyone has a chance to pick out fat quarters from other members stash.
Some online groups host monthly fat quarter exchanges coordinated by theme. One month may be ocean theme and the next month Halloween. Each member sends three fat quarters by mail to another member. You then receive three fat quarters in the mail. It can be quite exciting and inspiring to get a monthly supply of new fat quarters.
Fat Quarters provide a quilter with an abundance of opportunities to make hundreds of different quilt blocks.
If you are a beginner quilter, I suggest fat quarter quilts as a starting point.
Purchase a bundle or pick out fat quarters to your liking and get started. This handy pre-cut will make up fast into a quilt for you to enjoy.
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