Learn how it's cut and used in all kinds of sewing projects.

By Mollie Johanson
February 21, 2020
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Credit: homendn / Getty Images

When shopping for fabric or looking at sewing projects and patterns, it's common to see fat quarters. But what are these pieces of fabric and what do you use them for? Fat quarters are a standard cut of fabric, frequently seen in quilting fabrics. When purchasing fabric, it typically comes by the yard or meter. As it comes off the bolt, if you buy a quarter yard, the piece would be 9 inches by whatever the width of the fabric is. Similarly, a quarter meter would be 25 centimeters by the width of the fabric. That long piece of material is good for some projects, but other items require a little more width. A fat quarter solves that without needing to purchase a larger amount of fabric.

Instead of cutting a yard or meter into four long pieces, fabric stores and manufacturers take the yard or meter and cut it into four rectangles that are closer to squares. First, they cut the piece in half, like a half yard or meter, then they cut those pieces in half again, this time cutting the other direction.

Fat quarters vary slightly in size, based on the width of the fabric, but typically they measure 18 by 22 inches when the fabric is cut by yards or 50 by 55 centimeters when cut by meters. The area of the material is the same as the area of a standard quarter yard or meter, but the shape of the cut makes it easier to work with than a thin cut.

Because of the extra steps it takes to cut fat quarters, a fat quarter usually costs a little more than a standard quarter yard or meter. The additional cost is often worth it, however. If you need the extra width, but not the length, fat quarters provide that without needing to buy a larger piece of fabric, spending more money and potentially wasting more material.

These handy pre-cuts also mean you can skip the cutting counter because they're ready for you to purchase. Many fabric lines offer packs of fat quarters so you can buy a little bit of each design from the collection. A single fat quarter bundle will usually give you enough material to sew a quilt top and still have fabric leftover. Quilt patterns frequently use fat quarters because their area allows you to cut many pieces. Lots of other sewing projects suggest using this pre-cut too. In fact, you can find books filled with patterns for toys, bags, gifts, and more, each using one or more fat quarters.

Whether you pick up one fat quarter or a whole stack, these little cuts of fabric can be a big help in your next patchwork project using needle and thread.

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