Back before I started this whole quilting endeavor, the quilting section of fabric stores was quite a mystery to me. Sure, I’d wander about because patterned cottons can come in handy for other types of sewing, but one section of fabric really confused me: the fat quarters. I had no idea what that meant. But now, the mystery is solved.
It’s all in the cut
Fat quarters are are 18″ × 22″ rectangles of fabric. They get their name from the fact that they are quarter yards of fabric, but cut differently than “normal” quarter yards. Rather than cutting a quarter yard off of a bolt, which results in a 9″ × 44″ piece of fabric, a half yard (18″ × 44″) is cut in half parallel to the selvage, resulting in two fat quarters.
So, you see the measurements come from the size of “normal” quarter and half yard cuts. The size of those cuts are determined by the width of fabric, which is almost always 44″ for quilter’s cotton (plus or minus an inch). A yard is 36″.
Fat quarter uses
Fat quarters have some advantages over traditional quarter yard cuts.
- Longer strips can be cut parallel to the selvage, or lengthwise grain, which is less stretchy than the crosswise grain.
- You may be able to cut more of certain shapes. For instance, you can cut 12 5″ squares from a fat quarter (3 rows of 4 squares) rather than 8 from a normal quarter yard (1 row of 8 squares).
- For larger patterns, the 18″ side may allow for more flexibility in larger blocks (as in you can get more of the pattern).
Beyond their usefulness of cutting, more fabric sellers and manufacturers ship pre-cut fat quarters as part of a fabric collection, meaning you can easily pick up the prepackaged cuts (sometimes in packs with multiple patterns).
You can also find fat eighths, which follow the same idea. Rather than a very thin strip (4.5″ × 44″), a quarter yard is cut in half resulting in a 9″ × 22″ piece of fabric.
Fat quarters aren’t just useful for quilting; they can be a boon to crafters as well. In fact, some pattern makers even sell craft patterns made for use with fat quarters.
What is your favorite use of fat quarters?