What is a Fat Quarter in Quilting?: Guide to Pre Cut Fabrics

Does it seem like you’re the only one who doesn’t know the answer to “what is a fat quarter in quilting?

I was once you, and I know you aren’t the only one thinking the same thing! It took me a while to finally find the confidence to admit to the worker in my local fabric store that I hadn’t a clue what they were showing me.

As it turns out, fat quarters are always much easier to deal with for beginners who aren’t used to cutting long strips of fabric.

You must be new to the quilting world so welcome! Let me show you around!

What is a fat quarter in quilting fabric?

Stack of Fat Quarter Fabrics
Stack of Fat Quarter Fabrics

Fat quarters are pre-cut square shaped fabrics sold in quilt shops all around the world saving you from hours of rotary cutting. A fat quarter is a typical quarter yard of fabric.

They’re different to a regular quarter yard as a regular quarter is cut along the length not width. When cutting a regular quarter yard of fabric from a roll the fabric is 9” wide x the width of fabric which is around 42 – 43”.

You still need four of each style of quarter to make one yard.

(You can imagine a piece of paper which is cut equally into four horizontal strips, instead of one piece cut horizontally then vertically four times to get the same size. Four of these make up one yard of fabric).

Appearance

Usually they are tied up into beautifully color coordinating bundles and help quilters to grab and go without waiting for a worker to come and cut up some fabric for them.

Taking advantage of fat quarter bundles means you can add variation to your sewing without having to buy a yard of fabric for every fabric that you like!

What size is a fat quarter in quilting?

When we buy fabric from quilt stores, the fabric is usually sold by the yard. A fat quarter can vary slightly in size based on the width of the fabric, but typically they measure 18 x 22 inches when the fabric is cut by yards.

They are called fat quarters as they have a slightly more rectangular shape than square. Moda fabrics are a firm favorite choice when quilters buy fat quarters.

The area of the material is the same as the area of a standard quarter yard of meter, but the shape of the cut makes it easier to work with than a thin cut.

TIP

You could make your own fat quarters if you wanted to work with a smaller number of different fabrics or prints.

Take a yard and cut it on the fold to make a half yard doubled or two half yards of fabric. Fold short sides together and cut fat quarters by cutting down the folded part again.

How many fat quarters are in a fat quarter bundle?

Assorted Quilting Fabrics
Assorted Quilting Fabrics

A collection of fabric typically has 25-35 bolts, therefore when you buy fat quarter bundles they will typically have 25-35 pieces of fat quarters.

How many fat quarters in a yard?

As the name suggests there are four fat quarters in a typical yard of fabric.

A yard of fabric is cut from the bolt, it is then cut in half widthwise and lengthwise and you are left with four quarters. There should be four equal pieces to make up a yard.

Different fabric manufacturers also produce different quilt blocks such as:

Pre Cut Quilt Fabrics

Charm packs

A charm pack of fabrics contain smaller squares of quilt fabric, usually 5” square.

A charm square is often bundled together with other charm squares as an entire collection of one line of fabric from a designer and can include all the colorways of that fabric line.

Sizing wise these come out smaller than a layer cake piece of fabric, but bigger than a mini charm pack piece.

Charm packs contain around 42 mini squares and are used for a smaller project like bags, purses, English paper piecing and baby quilts.

Fat eighths

If you’re good at math you’ve probably already worked out that a fat eighth is half of a fat quarter and can be cut parallel to the fat quarters long edge, or vertical.

There’s no real standard size for a fat eighth so ask the store worker at your local quilt shop for the dimensions before you buy any, but generally there are two fat eighths to a fat quarter, those are the basics. You can add additional yardage if necessary.

Jelly rolls

Jelly Rolls
Jelly Rolls

Jelly roll strips have made the cutting out fabric aspect of quilting easier! A jelly roll is usually 40 strips of 2.5” x 44” fabric from one fabric design. The roll sizes however do vary depending on manufacturer.

The materials are rolled up in a dessert looking roll which is how they got their name!

Jelly rolls are my favorite thing to create with, second to a fat quarter when making a patchwork quilt, as you can literally sew the strips together to make a top quilt.

Prewash

Sometimes after a pre-wash I cut them up and rearrange them into various half yard patchwork patterns like log cabin, for example, or herringbone.

Many other quilters like to use a jelly roll fabric with a neutral shade in alternation which can give a quilt design an uber modern feel.

TIP

There is a LOT of lint on a jelly roll, so use a lint roller on each cut side of the jelly roll before unrolling which helps to eliminate as much loose lint as possible!

Pre-wash can end up pulling out more threads, so lint rolling is a better cleaning process.

Layer cakes

When store workers cut fat quarters into smaller squares of 10” it creates a layer cake. Layer cakes made by moda fabrics are used for creating small quilts or pillows and usually come with a selection of squares of fabrics that are color coordinated.

TIP

To make a simple patchwork quilt you would need two 42-piece layer cakes to create an 85″ square quilt using a 9-by-9 layout of the 10″ squares! For a bit more interest, add some sashing between your squares.

Mini charm packs

Moda Mini Charm Pack
Moda Mini Charm Pack

As the name suggests these bite sized mini charms packs are smaller than the charm packs created by moda fabrics.

The dimensions are equal pieces of 2.5” square and are perfect pieces for making a lap quilt or sampler quilts if you’re a beginner quilter. Mini charm packs are usually sold in pre-cut bundles of 42 pieces of square fabric.

They are in an adorable size and quitlers love to use them for applique quilting.

Usage

Whether you pick up one fat quarter, jelly rolls or a few stacks of charm packs all of these mini fabrics can be a big help in your next patchwork projects or patterns.

While most pre cut packs have the same amount of pieces in, the number of fat quarters can vary based upon the manufacturer. It’ll be important to have the figured out.

These are all perfect pre-cut fabric bundles for making quick and easy sewing projects. The material is a high-quality cotton and are most commonly cut from standard sized bolts.

Before you use it for your project, you might want to press your fabrics first. Check out this Best Iron For Quilting article if you need a reliable iron.

Why do quilters use fat quarters?

Fabric stores or a fat quarter shop is usually stocked up on fat quarters, and offers a huge assortment because they know they are so popular with quilters, but, why?

Standing over a cutting mat to cut shapes from fabric takes a lot of time and can be back breaking work.

Saves Time

It’s important to cut precisely with a rotary cutter for clean shapes when sewing, but it’s hard work! Pre-cuts of fat quarters provide extra time for quilters.

Usage

I know quilters who enjoy free motion quilting or the pieceing of a quilt top but not many quilters enjoy the cutting of the fabric, especially if they are making a large patchwork quilt.

Even new quilters use fat quarters to help them for all kinds of other projects, quilt styles, and patterns such as patchwork quilts.

Fat quarters come in handy for a range of projects where you need a wider surface area instead of a long skinny one, like making circles on a monogram quilt.

Easier to Cut

A single fat quarter makes it easier to cut bigger fabric chunks, such as a fat eighth, than it would be from a regular quarter as it’s wider.

A fat quarter gives more versatility for patchwork quilts and applique as it can be cut in strips that are twice as long on the fabrics stable lengthwise grain.

Here’s a quick video comparing a fat quarter cut to a quarter yard of fabric.

Fat Quarter vs Quarter Yard Fabric

In most fat quarter bundles you can get that gorgeous array of fabric and color in your fabric stash, but without buying a huge amount of pieces of fabric off the bolt that you won’t end up using!

I think fat quarters are always easier to deal with for beginners who aren’t used to cutting long strips of fabric for a new project.

NOTE

Keep in mind that not all fat quarters measure 18 inches x 22 inches. If you haven’t pre washed the quarters, when you do eventually wash them they will likely shrink a bit, fray, and could become distorted!

What size quilt does a fat quarter bundle make?

A quilt made from pre-cut fat quarter bundles depends on the size of the bundle. A bundle can usually make anything from a full sized quilt to a king sized quilt.

A fat quarter bundle is an 18 x 24” cut of fabric off the bolt which equals a quarter yard.

These are some very general measurements of sewing quilt sizes:

Baby = 36′” x 54″

Crib = 45″ x 60″

Twin = 63″ x 87″

Double = 78″ x 87″

Queen = 84″ x 92″

King = 100″ x 92″

You could assess how many pre cut pieces of fat quarter bundles you would need to make your quilt based on the guidelines above.

What else is a fat quarter used for?

A fat quarter is not only used to make beautiful patchwork quilts.

You can cut them down to different sizes and make smaller pieces like charm packs for other projects.

A fat quarter can be used in combination with charm packs such as bags, purses, dresses, you name it!

Don’t let the name ‘quilting cotton’ put you off and not let you use a fat quarter to make other clothes.

Conclusion

There you have it, fat quarters are a perfect way to get a wide assortment of quilting fabrics in your fabric stash without having to buy whole cuts.

Fat quarters are a popular and less expensive way of increasing your stash for future quilts. I hope I answered “what is a fat quarter in quilting” satisfactorily for you!

Do you like to use pre-cuts or fat quarters when you sew? Why or why not? I would love to know your thoughts on fat quarters and jelly rolls! Let me know in your comments below.

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Kris Daub
Kris Daub
[email protected] byCurated I'm a maker at heart! I love to create and tech others to create. I particularly sewing and hand crafts like ebroidery. I also love larger home decorating projects. ✂️ 🧵