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

15 Comments (leave a comment)

  • How do I use my fat quarters? Anyway I want to. Strips, squares, triangles, applique–I learned you can cut anything you want from a fat quarter and not feel guilty that you didn’t make a nice straight cut WOF and sub-cut into desired shapes. You can have FUN with fat quarters. Try it!

    —Claudia on January 21, 2013
  • FQs that coordinate are great for making quilts that look scrappy yet the color and scale of prints already "go together"… and a FQ has enough fabric so can make several blocks or sashing. Plus, leftovers can be shared with my mother when she makes her quilts. It’s lots of fun. I like that a stack of fqs is a swatch book which let’s me look at the prints in a collection overall before spend on yardage. FQs are my favorite precut.

    —MarciaW on January 21, 2013
  • Applique, strips, triangles mostly. . .but, last week, I made a couple bags and trimmed some pillow cases with fat quarters. These are such a versatile and affordable way to have a little bit of current fabric lines and partnered with larger pieces of fabric, FQs make up into wonderful projects!

    —Terry K on January 21, 2013
  • At first, I was using yardage fabric to make BOM for Honoree’s and hated the fact when I needed a full yard of fabric, I’d find, I had previously cut into it. A friend suggested I use FQ instead and not having any; I began my quest to fill a small chest of drawers with all the colors I might possibly need for future projects. 90% of my FQ are used for BOM, but I’ve also found, they offer great choices for scrappy quilts, trivet pads, applique’ blocks, and wall hangings. I have, at present, over 1000 FQ’s in my stash.
    I was given 3 yards of a beautiful pale grey fabric and in my quest to buy more, I learned, it was a discontinued fabric at Joann’s, and only sold in FQ. Everytime, I saw this fabric in FQ, I bought all of them.

    FQ are like American Express; don’t leave home without them.

    Keep smiling,

    Lynnita Shipman on January 21, 2013
  • Fat quarters and some yardage works great for bags, wall-hangings, and table-runners (small projects). I also like to use fat quarters in my quilts, so I can get a great variety of colors .

    —Donna W on January 22, 2013
  • Oh, how I love fat quarters, they are such a quick fabric treat and I frequently remember exactly where I purchased them, (but forget other important things). However, I find that a small pack is not enough for a whole project so get bogged down making decisions and end up putting them back in the stash. These books are beutiful and wonderful inspiration and always appreciate the pictures and sharing info. Thanks.

    —Carol on January 23, 2013
  • Mostly into strips or squares. They are my fat quarters and I can cut them however I want to. Fat quarters are really fun and there are so many quilt patterns that pertain to them now. So darn versatile and so many color options. I would be so honored to win my own e-copy of this fantastic book. Can’t wait to start fat quarter quilting. Thank you for the wonderful opportunity to win.

    Sandi Timmons

    —Sandra Timmons on June 20, 2013
  • FQ novice here!…
    I have been in the habit of buying stash building fabrics (fabrics I like but don’t have an immediate plan for) in 1 yard cuts… And then, when I start cutting into a fabric, I’ve been afraid that I won’t have enough of it, when it’s "the perfect" fabric for some future project!! This is a feeling/habit that’s been holding me back from cutting into some favorite fabrics!!
    Recently, however, I’ve been forced by necessity to mix up some scraps of favorites… And have loved the effect that the richness of variety gives to the overall impact of a quilt!!
    I’m a convert to FQs!!
    You really CAN cut anything out of a FQ… It’s the interplay, of small amounts of many fabrics, that creates a more vibrant, complex whole!
    Thank you, for an awesome, valuable resource, in creating this "fabric magic"!!
    Pat T.
    in Michigan

    —Pat T. on June 20, 2013
  • I don’t use them. Just admire my mountain of fat quarters lol. I ripped out the shelves from a tower style CD rack and stack my precious fat quarters in there. It has a glass door. I did sort them by colours so that is a start.

    —Lorraine on June 21, 2013
  • Cool

    —Valerie A. Clark on June 21, 2013
  • I love fat quarters… and jelly rolls, and layer cakes, and honey buns….lol if its a pre-cut, I love it. I have a brain injury from an accident last year, so I cant work or drive. I needed something to do to keep my brain active and my self busy… so in January I taught myself to quilt. I’m loving it and everyone loves my quilts! fat quarters saves me from some of the more difficult cutting math too, which is a blessing. my husband built me a spectacular sewing room with lots of storage and eBay has become my friend =] so many fat quarters, so little time…

    —Dawna on July 10, 2013
  • My favorite use for fat quarters is for collections. When I see Valentine fabrics, I buy a fat quarter of each print that I like; when I had enough I used "The Yellow Brick Road" pattern and made my girls Valentine throws (for an example). I have done this several times with autumn fabrics, but my latest quilt was made from fat quarters that I picked up at various quilt shops during our road trip thru the Southwest. I put the blocks on point and made a gorgeous quilt, pillow and tote bag (putting this pattern on point makes a much bigger lap quilt and gives you a chance to showcase favorite fabric in the setting triangles as well as a narrow shashing to give a pop of color and then the beautiful border! (There are always several blocks left over to us for other projects such as a pillow and/or bag.) Each time I look at or use these quilts it brings back memories of the fantastic time we had on our trip and my first visit to the southwest region of our beautiful country!

    —Mickey Hunt on July 14, 2013
  • I really like your choice of fabrics in the Summer by the Sea quilt. What are they? I particularly like the large florals at the top of each columm.

    —Rachel Schaekel on August 8, 2013
  • Love love FQ. I live in a mobile home so my sewing room is small space precious. Having FQ give me the variety of beautiful fabrics. I sew crafty items,quilts,kitchen items and a plethora of gifts. With them I can have oodles of fabric stash with less money. Love my fat quarters

    —Leilani Abbott on August 11, 2016
  • Always pick up FQ’s when I fall in love with a particular line of fabric. Finding the perfect pattern to showcase them is another part of the fun before I get down to cutting them up and putting them back together again. Love playing with and sewing fabric.

    —Mary Washburn on December 2, 2017

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