'Fat quarter' is quilt-speak for a slightly rectangular, pre-cut piece of quilt fabric, measuring 18" on the selvedge edge and 20"-22" on the adjacent two edges.
While it's a groan of a private joke among quilters, a fat quarter IS NOT a body part. If you need reminding, you can find mugs and shirts and memes (like the one below) to remind you.
Nor is a fat quarter a tchotchke (pronounced CHäCHkə)--a weird-looking word that's fun to say and means a small decorative thingy that needs to be dusted.
Bundled groups of fat quarters deserve to be taken apart, cut into patches, and sewn into quilts.
Why spend time dusting fabric when you could be sewing with it, don't you think?
You'll find these handy precuts at your local quilt stores, at big box stores like Joann's and online.
In brick and mortar(B&M) quilt stores, there's usually a nice inventory of individual fat quarters already cut, whispering sweet nothings in your ear, tempting you to grab a few and take them home.
Your local quilt shop frequently cuts the fabric at the end of the bolt—a single yard wrapped on the cardboard bolt looks a bit sad, doesn't it—to make room on their shelves for the new goodies.
A fat quarter is a rectangular shape piece of quilt fabric measuring 18" along the selvedge and 20"-22" along the cut sides adjacent to the selvedge. It is probably the most popular pre-cut fabric there is. It was the first.
NOTE: 'Pre-cut' meaning it's cut before you even enter the store. No need for you to wait. Just grab, pay, and go.
This pre-cut can vary in size for a couple of reasons:
It's a handy way to purchase fat quarters that instantly go together.
All the major manufacturers assemble fat quarter bundles for their new fabric collections that include one of each print. It's an extremely efficient way to add to your fabric stash.
Occasionally, the bundle includes a panel if there is one in the line — read the fabric label to know for sure.
When unfolded, a yard of fabric measures 36" along the selvedge edge and 44" along the cut edges, i.e., between the selvedges.
To cut it, fold the yard in half, matching the selvedges.
Now cut in half to create 2 pieces measuring 18" along the selvedge. At this point, you have two half yard cuts.
With the selvedge edges aligned, cut each in half along the fold. Our original yard is now in four pieces; each is called a 'fat quarter'.
If you cut your two half yard segments in half to create four 9" wide pieces, then you'd have 4 quarter yards, but for this example I cut 2 fat quarters and 2 quarter yards of fabric.
You can just make out, at the top left, the wee bit where I sliced away the fold with my rotary cutter and ruler.
They're fun to swap with your quilting buddies. The more, the merrier.
They're easy to cut.
As shown above, you just need your standard rotary cutting mat, ruler, and cutter.
Three cuts, and you've got four of the little beauties.
We don't need that problem in our finished quilts, so we quilters never cut a patch out of the selvedge area. This is one of only a handful of real 'rules' in quilting.
So, the total size in square inches for both is equal.
Since their total size in square inches (396 inches/sq) is the same, you'd think that a fat quarter and a quarter yard of fabric would cost the same, too.
Ideally, a fat quarter cost should be the price per yard divided by 4.
It's the same square inches as a standard 1/4 yard, right?
We proved that.
If quilting fabric costs $12-$13/yard, a quarter yard is 9"x44" of quilty-goodness for $3-$3.25.
No premium, just the cost divided by 4 or $12-$13 ÷ 4.
Shouldn't a FQ cost the same?
The quilter faces two possibilities.
1. In the brick and mortar quilt fabric stores.
All those individual fat quarters sit just tempting you to buy them, kind of like candy racks in the grocery store checkout line.
They're usually NOT marked. The price is the same, whether it's a batik, a print, or a solid. It just doesn't make sense for the store owner to tag each one individually.
Besides, most quilters aren't too keen on the adhesive that a label may leave behind.
What you're faced with is a single price for fat quarters, regardless of the price per yard marked on the bolt.
You must decide whether the convenience outweighs the extra hit to your quilting budget.
Here in Illinois, pricing in my area is $3.50-$4 a FQ.
That's a 25¢ to 75¢ premium on each one based on our $12-13/yd cost. (2022)
2. With bundles assembled by the manufacturer.
Again, you encounter a premium pricing.
Take the recently shipped Peacock batik collection from Anthology, shown here. Beautiful, isn't it?!!
Don't get me wrong.
Fat quarters provide benefits. In fact, I can think of at least 6 reasons why the extra cost might be worth it.
How much weight you put on each depends on your current circumstances. Be prepared for those circumstances to change from project to project. These reasons are:
There's always more than one way to do things in quilting. Dealing with FQs is no different.
Here are three ways to avoid paying a premium—I've saved the best for last! ;)
What quilter doesn't love a good sale? Online sources have them all the time.
If you're in the market for fat quarters, it's a good idea to check these sources out first. Free money is free money.
Occasionally, your favorite local quilt shop will have a special sale on fat quarters. As quilt fabric has gotten more expensive, these sales happen less often. Signup for your LQS's newsletter or like/follow their FB page to receive notice ahead of time.
Cutting them in half takes less than a minute.
If you don't mind a bit of frayed edges, you could even nip and rip in the car before leaving the parking lot. :D
And you didn't pay a premium for the privilege!
A quilting buddy of mine (Sandy P., if you're reading this, MANY THANKS.) turned me onto buying 1/3 yards. It's a 12" x 44" piece that's 528 square inches (12×44).
Consider between choosing between the two if the patches you need are less than 12" in one of the dimensions.
If you have no idea what you'll use the fabric for, i.e., you're simply in a stash-building state of mind, then 1/3 yds are a terrific solution to avoiding that premium.
Going back to our Peacock batik example. A FQ was $3.41.
A 1/3yd of that $11.98/yd fabric would run you $3.99 ($11.98 divided by 3).
That's 33% more fabric (528 sq inches divided by 396) for 17% more ($3.99/$3.41).
That'd be a deal for most quilters. Wouldn't you agree?
...you need to:
If they are, you must purchase a FQ as instructed.
EXAMPLE: Your pattern directs you to cut a background patch that's 12½" square.
It's impossible to cut that from a 1/4 yard of fabric (9" x 44"), but easy from a FQ (18" x 22").
Now that you know the answer to 'what is a fat quarter', let's move on to the other popular pre-cut pieces available to you for your quilting projects.
Will these precuts find a place in YOUR stash?