Would you rather be cutting or sewing? If you instantly shouted out “sewing,” you’re in good company. You and your like-minded quilting buddies are the reason precut fabrics are so popular. But even if you do enjoy wielding a rotary cutter, there are times when you want to make a quilt quickly. That’s when precut fabrics come to the rescue.
For those of you new to quilting (and wondering, just what is a fat quarter, anyway?), we’ve got definitions of common precut fabrics below. For quilters both new and experienced, you’ll also find answers to vexing precut questions. Such as, do I need to trim the edges off a pinked fabric? Then come inspiring photos showing how you can make Jelly Roll fabrics and other precuts into pretty quilts. For all our definitions, dimensions, and tips on successfully working with precuts, we turned to Jelly Babies, a darling collection of Jelly Roll baby quilts.
Precut Quilting Fabrics Defined
How big is a charm square? What size is a fat quarter? Read on to find definitions and dimensions for common precut fabrics.
Charm square: A standard charm square measures 5″ x 5″ and a mini charm square measures 2 1/2″ x 2 1/2″. You can often find charm packs that include every print from a particular fabric line, as with the packs shown here.
Fat eighth: The same amount of fabric you’d get in a standard eighth-yard cut, but in more user-friendly proportions. You can get two 9″ x 21″ fat eighths from a quarter-yard cut of 42″-wide fabric or two 11″ x 18″ fat eighths from a fat quarter. Fat quarters can be purchased individually or in bundles of various numbers.
Fat quarter: The same amount of fabric you’d get in a standard quarter-yard cut, but in more user-friendly proportions. A half-yard cut of fabric will yield two fat quarters, each measuring approximately 18″ x 21″. Fat quarters can be purchased individually or in bundles of various numbers, from four coordinating fat quarters to 35 or 40—a full fabric line.
Jelly Roll™: A trademark of United Notions (Moda Fabric), a Jelly Roll is a compact bundle of 2 1/2″-wide strips cut across the width of the fabric (42″). Other companies also offer precut strips and call them by different names. Many Jelly Roll bundles include 40 strips each, but the number of strips in a bundle can vary. Fabric companies started making precut bundles to promote their fabric lines. A Jelly Roll usually contains fabrics from one line, resulting in a group of fabrics with similar colors and patterns. Depending on the number of fabrics in the line there may be duplicate strips in the Jelly Roll. You can also find 1 1/2″-wide precut fabric strips, which are called Honey Buns™ by Moda and are also known by other names.
Layer Cake™: Packet of 10″ squares, 40 per packet. Layer Cake is a trademark of United Notions (Moda Fabric), but you may find that your local quilt shop packages their own bundles of 10″ squares.
How to Keep Your Unwrapped Jelly Rolls Tidy
To keep your long strips from tangling, gently ease the roll open and clip or secure the strips at one end. Pin the ends of the strips to your ironing board to hold them in place, and then fan them apart and choose the strips you want by easing them away from the rest.
Don’t Prewash Precuts
If you prefer to prewash your fabrics before cutting and sewing, learn to resist the temptation to wash or even rinse your precut fabric strips. Washing could cause the fabric to fray, ravel, or shrink, resulting in pieces that are no longer an accurate size.
You can test a strip for bleeding by spritzing it with a little water and pressing with steam between two pieces of muslin, being careful not to stretch the strip out of shape. Examine the muslin for any running or bleeding of color. If you’re worried about fabrics bleeding when it comes time to wash your finished quilt, use this trick from Carrie Nelson of Miss Rosie’s Quilt Company: Toss a Shout Color Catcher sheet in the washing machine. These sheets resemble fabric-softener dryer sheets, but they’re made to catch any dyes that may run out of fabric during the wash cycle and prevent them from bleeding onto other parts of your quilt.
Working with Pinked Fabric Edges
While the idea behind precut fabrics is that the measuring and cutting have been done for you, different brands of precuts can vary slightly in size. So measure your precut pieces before you start stitching, measuring from the outer points of the pinked edges, and then trim to the desired size if needed. When aligning your fabrics for sub-cutting or sewing, use the outer points of the pinked edges as the edge of the fabric so that your 1/4″ seam allowances will be accurate.
Making Jelly Roll Scrap Binding
If your project ends up looking a bit on the scrappy side, consider making the binding scrappy, too. The 2 1/2″-wide strips are just the right width for double-fold binding. So to use up any leftover Jelly Rolls (full-length or partial strips), consider stitching them together end to end using a diagonal seam to make the perfect scrappy ending to your quilt. Just be sure all of the ends of the strips are trimmed with the angles facing in the same direction. (For more help with binding, refer to "Binding a Quilt" on our How to Quilt page.)
Making a Jelly Roll Backing
Leftover Jelly Roll strips can also be used to create a pieced back for your quilt. Simply sew the strips together along their long edges to create a striped panel, as shown in these Jelly Roll backings for "Rainbow Hearts" and "Spinners," both from Jelly Babies.
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Thanks to everyone for entering the drawing! Our eight winners are:
Kathleen, who said: “As a special education teacher to teenagers with various exceptionalities, I find the precuts indispensable. The time gained using precuts ensures that our projects are completed in time for gift giving or raffling. The students spend more time on task and are able to see the progress in their projects.”
Elena B., who said: “I am a beginner quilter and my problem with fabric has been color coordination. I cannot seem to match colors well. The thing I most love about these precuts is that all the guesswork has already been done. And I can start by picking what I want to use. Thanks Moda for taking all the guess work out of fabric coordination so we can start our quilts faster and enjoy the process of putting them together.”
Karen in Breezy Point, who said: “I love to buy precuts, because I love to have a little bit of every fabric in a line of my favorite designers. Also, I do a lot of scrappy appliqué, and I can get a lot of variety without purchasing a huge amount of yardage.”
Theresa, who said: “I love fat quarters, I am a junkie! I have made lots of Turning Twenty quilts with them. I have recently gotten into the jelly rolls too, making Lasagna quilts.”
Lynn, who said: “Although I really love ‘the hunt’ for perfect fabrics for a new project, sometimes its fun to start with precuts from a beautiful fabric line. There are so many great ways to re-cut precuts and recombine them into quilt blocks. The finished product looks complicated but really is not! Lately, when I have fabric scraps, I spend a little time cutting them into 5″ squares and 2 1/2″ strips–makes my stash much neater and jump starts another project for the future!”
Marsha, who said: “My quilt group, Loose Threads of Vancouver, Washington, makes charity quilts that are sent to an orphanage in Guatamala. We find the precut fabric makes the quilts go quickly and beautifully. Moda fabrics are wonderful!”
Cheryl, who said: “I am terrible trying to pick out a color scheme on my own, so precuts have taken hours of my trying to coordinate material. Then when I get home, I am ready to start sewing … what a time saver!”
Karen, who said: “When I sometimes have been working on a quilt thought, before I actually begin one of my scrappy donation quilts, I get overwhelmed. Badly overwhelmed with choices to make. I can’t see straight sometimes with all the things dancing thru my mind. Jelly Rolls or charms are my best friend at that time, because I know they are already in a package that will automatically ‘fit’ because of their cohesiveness. Either one of them are my best friend … even now, as I am working with a jelly roll collection of red/white/blue. Going to be a happy day of quilting!”
Winners, look for an email from us about your prize—and congratulations!