What is a “fat quarter” and why do all quilters want them? The phrase sounds rather humorous. The thought of it brings visions of a slightly overindulgent piece of fabric or one that originated during Mardi Gras. There are several other one-liners that could be inserted here, but everyone gets the point. A “fat quarter” (F.Q.’s) is a 1/4 yard piece of fabric cut in a custom way for quilters and quilting. There are at least four advantages to using F.Q.’s for quilting versus a traditional 1/4 yard of fabric: more versatile, more readily available and cheaper, no loss of design, compatible with more designs and quilt book patterns.
Most fabric sold today has 42 to 44 inches of usable fabric. This is known as the width of the fabric. If you were to buy 1/4 of a yard of fabric, you would get a 9 inch (36 divided by 4) by 42 or 44 inch piece of fabric. Although this would have some usefulness (albeit quite limited), quilters would not flock to a sale of this type.
F.Q.’s are more versatile:
A “fat quarter” is a quarter of a yard of fabric, but its dimensions are 18 inches by 22 inches (assuming you started with a piece of fabric that had 44 inches of usable fabric). This dimension is useful for quilters since it is twice as wide as a regular piece of 1/4 yard fabric (hence the “fat” designation), offers more versatility for patchwork and applique tasks.
F.Q.’s are more readily available:
It is much more traditional for quilt shops to carry F.Q.’s. In fact, quilt shops commonly have great deals on fat quarter bundles, especially since these are usually from scrap fabrics. Occasionally, the fabric mills will even send these as samples or “teasers” — so the deals are abundant if you look for them. These are purposefully coordinating, and sometimes even come with your choice of compatible quilt designs!
No loss of design with F.Q.’s:
Normally, if there is a design in the fabric, you will be able to get the entire design within the F.Q. The four corners are also less stretchy than if the cut were made the entire length of the fabric (i.e. the 9 inch traditional 1/4 yard).
F.Q.’s are compatible with more designs and quilt book patterns:
Many common patterns use a 5 inch square block. A traditional 1/4 yard 9 inch piece would only yield 8 such squares. A “fat quarter” would give you 12 5-inch squares. A large number of quilting books specialize in fat quarter projects.