What is a fat quarter?

Bubblegum fat quarter batik bundle by Hoffman

FQ? What is a Fat Quarter? There’s no shame in asking the question! All of us asked when we first started quilting. This post is for those of you who have heard or seen the phrase “fat quarter” but didn’t want to ask.

Just a quick note: my discussion here is a mix of imperial measurements — inches — with metric — metres. One yard is 36 inches. One metre is 39 inches. 

First, let’s talk about the basics.

Quilting fabric comes folded in half on a bolt (the piece of cardboard the fabric is wrapped around). Fabric width has changed over the years, but today quilting fabric is typically 44/45 inches across their width (from selvage to selvage). Another quick note: batik fabric is usually 42/44 inches wide. I’ve always assumed this is because it is hand made and doesn’t need to fit a machine press.

Quilt stores cut fabric as it comes off the bolt. One yard is 36″ wide, so when cutting a regular quarter yard of fabric off the bolt, you get a piece that is 9″ wide x the width of the fabric (42-44″). 

A fat quarter is also one-fourth yard cut of fabric — but it (usually) measures 18″ x 22″. [A metric fat quarter is one-fourth of a metre, and measures 20″ x 22″.] Compare that to the typical quarter yard cut, which is 9″ by 44″. [Or 10″ x 44″ metric]

To cut a fat quarter you start with a half-yard (18″) or half-metre (20″) and then cut that again in half on the fold. The end result: a piece of fabric that is more square than long.

One cut isn’t better than the other – but one size might be more useful depending on the pattern or project you’re planning. A regular quarter yard is a good choice for strip piecing or cutting binding because you’ll have less piecing to do.

But a fat quarter is pretty versatile. If you look at the illustration, you can see that a fat quarter allows you to cut larger pieces of fabric than is possible with a regular fat quarter. Fat quarters are good building blocks to start any fabric stash. 

Illustration of what is a fat quarter

 

Most, if not all quilt stores cut fat quarters of their fabric and you can pick up an exciting selection of different colours, patterns, values to begin any quilt. Manufacturers even create special fat quarter bundles of entire collections and colourways. This can include 20-25 different fabrics, so you can pick up the latest line without spending a lot of money.

Plus there are literally hundreds of patterns designed specifically for fat quarters. It solves the problem of not knowing if you have enough fabric. (Of course, if you make a mistake you could run into a few problems!)

Robert Kaufman kona cotton fat quarter bundle

When ordering online, make sure you check whether you’re ordering a “regular quarter (1/4) yard” or a fat quarter, sometimes shown as “FQ”. The store should make it clear – some choose FQ as the default unless you tell them otherwise.  

Any converation about fat quarters with experienced quilters always creates a healthy discussion. There are those who never purchase FQs, arguing it stifles creativity. Some quilters purchase 1/2 yard or 0.5 metres as their minimum, others 1 yard!

Whether you agree or not, at least now that you know what a fat quarter is, you can join in the discussion.

 I’d love to hear your thoughts – do you purchase FQs?  

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