Fat quarters: tips + easy quilt patterns

Fat quarters are beautiful, versatile, and—let’s be honest—irresistible. Resisting a fat-quarter purchase is akin to refusing a piece of cake at a birthday party. It simply shouldn’t be done! Fat-quarter acquisitions are pure intuition for quilters. They’re affordable, eye-catching, and they can infuse quilts with richness and diversity.

Quilting with fat quarters

And yet… so many fabrics, so many decisions! Fat-quarter bundles make it easier to coordinate a quilt, but what about the onesies—all those “just because” cuts you’ve accumulated? To help your singles find a permanent home, we’ve put together a quick primer on quilting with fat quarters, along with tips for how to best use them in your quilts.

Once you glean the tips, click through the slideshow at the bottom of this post to find a variety of easy quilt patterns using fat quarters. The patterns featured are in books that are 40% off this week. What a clever way to make your fat-quarter stash skinny again!

What are Fat Quarters?
Excerpt from Quilting with Fat Quarters

Fat-quarter bundlesThe term fat quarter is used to describe a quarter yard of quilting cotton, but instead of being cut across the width of the fabric, a fat quarter is a half-yard cut of fabric that is cut in half along the fold. What is the measurement of a fat quarter? Approximately 18″ x 21″. A fat quarter offers the same square inches as a regular quarter yard (378″ to be exact) but in a chunkier piece that’s often more usable than a 9″ x 42″ skinny quarter.

Most quilt shops—brick-and-mortar and online—offer fat quarters. If you don’t see the fabric you want in a precut fat quarter, it doesn’t hurt to ask a shop employee. Many are willing to cut what you need, provided they carry fat quarters. They’ll just add the other half of your half-yard cut to their lovely display of fat quarters for sale.


How to Make Fat Quarters from Yardage
Excerpt from Clever Quarters, Too by Susan Teegarden Dissmore

To convert a half yard into two fat quarters, simply fold the fabric in half and match the selvage edges. Make a crease along the fold of the fabric. Open up the fabric and cut on the fold with a rotary cutter or scissors. You now have two pieces of fabric that measure approximately 18″ x 21″.
How to make fat quarters

Choosing Fat Quarters for a Quilt
Excerpt from Clever Quarters, Too by Susan Teegarden Dissmore

My favorite quilts are traditional designs composed of a multitude of fabrics; in other words, scrap quilts. The easiest way I have found to collect fabrics for a scrap quilt is through the use of fat quarters. Once I have a nice-sized collection, the question then becomes how to adapt the fabrics into a fat quarter–friendly quilt. One answer is to simply choose a design, convert each listed amount of yardage into quarter-yard increments, and apply that result to each element of the design.

For me, however, creating a scrap quilt requires a blank canvas prepared for painting a work of art with fat quarters used as the palette. Because many fabric companies now offer entire collections in fat-quarter form, choosing a coordinated collection of fabrics for the palette has been made easier through the use of those bundles. But selecting fat quarters individually is always an option. Below are a few tips for choosing individual fat quarters for any quilt you make.

Color wheelStart with a favorite color. When choosing individual fat quarters, start with your favorite color first, disregarding its value or scale. Find that chosen color on a color wheel and work clockwise until you have gathered at least one fabric in each color family that looks good next to your first choice. The quantity of coordinates is up to you.

Create a palette. Palettes are collections of fabrics that vary in scale and value and are arranged in various tints, shades, and tones of a pure color. Consider the brightest, clearest fabric your pure color. Adding white to a pure color will create a pastel tint; adding black creates a deep, warm shade; and adding gray creates a soft, subtle tone.

Incorporate yardage. Larger cuts can be included successfully without spoiling the effect of a scrappy quilt—especially in a border. By isolating one aspect of the quilt (such as the border), you can devote more time to selecting just the right fat quarters for the center of the quilt. Flexibility is the key!

Duplicate fat quarters. It’s okay to use more than one fat quarter of the same print. Just because individual quantities of fat quarters are listed doesn’t mean you can’t duplicate them.

Ruby Beholder value finder for quiltersChoose a range of values. Value is determined by the lightness or darkness of a fabric. A light fabric could be white, ivory, beige, or tan with (or without) any other color added to the print. A dark value is simply that—dark—and a medium value falls somewhere between the light and the dark. Values can vary depending on the lightness or darkness of the fabrics placed next to them. Expanding on your first choices and following the same color-wheel concept, choose coordinating fabrics that are lighter or darker than the original ones. Stack them in order from light to dark. Use a transparent value finder to see if your perception is correct, like the Ruby Beholder (above). Value can also be tested by standing back at least 10 feet from the fabric and squinting. Squinting helps you see variations in value more easily.

Vary fabric scale.
Scale refers to the size of the print on a fabric. After testing the value, examine your selections to see how many of the prints vary in size. A mix of various scales in a quilt not only adds movement but also keeps the eye interested. If your collection lacks variety of scale, rethink your choices.

Here are some quilts from Clever Quarters, Too, along with the collection of fat quarters used to make them.

“Charmed, I’m Sure”

Fat quarters for Charmed I'm Sure quilt
Fat quarters selected for “Charmed, I’m Sure”

“Summer by the Sea”

Fat quarters for Summer by the Sea quilt
Fat quarters selected for “Summer by the Sea”

“A Bouquet of Stars”

Fat quarters for A Bouquet of Stars quilt
Fat quarters selected for “A Bouquet of Stars”

In this fast-paced world, many desire instant results. But choosing just the right fabrics for your projects requires an adequate amount of planning and thought. Once you’ve jumped that hurdle, however, you’re well on your way to creating your own quilt masterpiece. You’ll have the satisfaction of a job well done and the rewards will last a lifetime.

What’s your favorite way to use fat quarters? Small quilts? Big quilts combined with yardage? Sewing projects? Inspire your fellow quilters to make a dent in their fat-quarter stashes by sharing your story in the comments!

Old Architectural Stars from Quilting with Fat Quarters

"Old Architectural Stars" from Quilting with Fat Quarters

Confectionery from Quilting with Fat Quarters

"Confectionery" from Quilting with Fat Quarters

Berry Fine Wine from Quilting with Fat Quarters

"Berry Fine Wine" from Quilting with Fat Quarters

The Waters of Kaua‘i from Quilting with Fat Quarters

"The Waters of Kaua‘i" from Quilting with Fat Quarters

Pinwheels in My Garden from Fat-Quarter Quilting

"Pinwheels in My Garden" from Fat-Quarter Quilting

Simply Charming from Fat-Quarter Quilting

"Simply Charming" from Fat-Quarter Quilting

Batik Fun from Fat-Quarter Quilting

"Batik Fun" from Fat-Quarter Quilting

Delectable Mountains from Fat-Quarter Quilting

"Delectable Mountains" from Fat-Quarter Quilting

Prairie Queen from More Fat Quarter Quilts

"Prairie Queen" from More Fat Quarter Quilts

Triple Rail on Point from More Fat Quarter Quilts

"Triple Rail on Point" from More Fat Quarter Quilts

Z Star from More Fat Quarter Quilts
Bargello from More Fat Quarter Quilts

"Bargello" from More Fat Quarter Quilts

Finally Fall from Clever Quarters Too

"Finally Fall" from Clever Quarters, Too

Farmers Market from Clever Quarters Too

"Farmers Market" from Clever Quarters, Too

Baby Rails from Clever Quarters Too

"Baby Rails" from Clever Quarters, Too

Briar Patch from Clever Quarters Too

"Briar Patch" from Clever Quarters, Too

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