Patterns for charm squares + fabric-trade tips

Posted by on February 18, 2013, in quilting & sewing, ,

charm squares stackCharm squares. We love to admire their colors, stack them in piles, imagine them as quilts. How can you get more of them? Well, visiting your local quilt shop is a good first step (as though you needed to be told). And you can always cut your own. But if you want more charm squares of more variety, trading with friends might be your best strategy—and the most fun!

We’ll share expert tips on how to conduct charm-square trades below, along with a slideshow of beautiful charm-square quilts. But first, let’s cover the basics for those of you wondering, "What is a charm square?"

What size is a charm square? Usually 5″ x 5″, although you can also find packs of mini charm squares that measure 2½" x 2½". Note that these dimensions apply to the precut charm squares found in today’s quilt shops. Just 5 years ago, most quilters would have regarded a "charm square" as being variable in size, depending on the particular charm quilt they were making.

What is a charm quilt? While the traditional definition of a "charm quilt" is a quilt in which every piece of patchwork is a different fabric, the definition has become broader since the advent of precut charm packs. Now quilters might also think of a "charm quilt" as one made from 5″ squares.

How many squares are in a charm pack? Usually about 40, but it depends on who assembled the pack. Charm packs assembled by fabric manufacturers, as opposed to your local quilt shop, usually include at least one of each fabric from a particular fabric line.

Northern LightsI need how many charm packs to make a quilt? That depends on the quilt. But if you want to match your charm-square collection to a certain bed size, you’re in luck. In Nickel Quilts, Pat Speth and Charlene Thode give instructions for making each of their charm-square patterns in three sizes, and they list the number of charm squares needed for each version. You get either lap-twin-queen or lap-full-queen options for every quilt in the book. And the materials lists make it easy to gauge whether you have enough charm squares on hand. For example, the queen-size version of "Northern Lights," shown at left, requires 110 matching-square pairs, or 220 charm squares total. That’s about 5½ charm packs. The lap size requires 96 charm squares and the full size requires 176.

If your shelves and bins are already bulging with charm packs and you need patterns for charm squares, we’ve got four wonderful charm-square books on sale, all of them 40% off this week only. If you’re looking to start a charm-square collection or simply want to increase your existing one, today we’re sharing tips from Pat Speth and Charlene Thode on how you can trade squares with fellow quilters.

How to Gather 5″ Squares

Excerpted from Nickel Quilts by Pat Speth and Charlene Thode

Four Patch PlaidHaving only a few different fabrics in your stash is just not much fun, wouldn’t you agree? If you’re anything at all like the two of us, what you really want is to walk into a quilt shop and say, "I’ll take a yard of everything!" Since that’s a nice fantasy but a little unrealistic, you need an easy, inexpensive way to gather enough different fabrics to make truly scrappy quilts. It’s easier than you think. If you focus on 5″ charm squares, collecting squares for your quilt becomes part of the fun of making it. Organizing fabric trades with a group of friends, through a quilt shop, or via your quilt guild allows you to amass a diverse collection quickly.

Charm-Square Trading Guidelines
You may find it helpful to organize your fabric trade with a few guiding principles. Begin by drafting a friend or two to help.

Select the type(s) of fabric your group wants to trade. For example, you could begin by designating a different color for each month, or a different type of print, such as stripes, stars, paisleys, florals, or plaids. Or, you could swap fabrics that represent specific time periods—1800s or 1930s reproduction fabrics, for example. Some swappers even go so far as to designate the manufacturers whose fabric they want to swap.

Decide how many times per year you want to trade. If you’re trading with guild members, it’s a good idea to schedule six trades per year so that participants can drop off packets one month and pick them up the next. Midway between your regular meetings, get your small group of volunteers together to organize the fabric into sets for pickup. Those who may have missed the drop-off meeting can still participate at that time if they want to drop off their fabric.

Determine how many squares you’re going to trade. How many squares you trade will depend on the size of your group. You may want to ask people to sign up first to get an idea of the number of participants you’ll have. Be sure to let them know that they can submit multiple trades. As an example, for each trade in our guild each person brings 144 squares, or 72 pairs. As long as there are at least 72 trades turned in, no one receives any duplicates. We’ve also discovered that trading the 5″ squares of fabric in pairs makes it easier to create a wider range of blocks and frees up the design elements of your quilts. Just like the animals on the ark, trade those squares two by two. (Big confession: We both submit at least four or five trades per month. We may not be the official winners of the "whoever dies with the most fabric wins" contest—yet— but if the two of us pooled our fabric collections, we’d be awfully close! You might say our fabric stashes border on the obscene!)

Make sure everyone understands that all fabrics must be 100% cotton and that they must be preshrunk and tested for colorfastness before the swap. Selvages should be removed before you cut the strips.

Remind all participants that you get as good as you give. Depending on who is involved, the fabrics you receive might not be ones you would have personally selected, but that’s what makes scrap quilts so interesting. Remind participants to be kind and to use this as a learning experience.

Ask each participant to stack their trade squares in twos, staggering each pair of 5″ squares, and to place them in a gallon-size plastic bag with their name on the outside. Bagging the fabric squares makes things go faster when it’s time to actually swap them.

Pinwheels quiltPlan a party! Pick a day to get together and trade the fabrics. Think about having a potluck lunch or dessert party. Most important, have fun. Remember, anyone who comes to help with the swap gets to fondle the fabric first! It’s nice to have a large space for setting out the trades. Ping-Pong tables are great. Count the number of trades turned in and mark that number on the table with slips of paper. Beginning at one end, place one pair of fabrics on each slip of paper. When the first stack runs out, start on the next stack and keep going until all of the fabrics have been traded. Place one traded stack back into each reusable bag to take back to the next meeting. Depending on the number of participants, you may get some of your own fabric back. Once you have a wonderful stack of 5″ squares, half the work—the cutting—is already done!

How many 5″ squares can I cut from yardage?
Based on 40″ of usable width after preshrinking.
¼ yard = 8 squares
1 fat quarter= 12 squares
½ yard = 24 squares
¾ yard = 40 squares
1 yard = 56 squares

Thanks for the tips, Pat and Charlene. We’re ready to start trading! For even more reasons to start collecting charm squares, check out the lovely quilts in the slideshow below.

Have you ever participated in a charm-square trade? Or perhaps you’re feeling inspired to start one? Tell us about it in the comments!

Little Red quilt

"Little Red Quilt" from Schnibbles Times Two

Plan C quilt

"Plan C" from Schnibbles Times Two

Imagine quilt

"Imagine" from Schnibbles Times Two

Take Turns quilt

"Take Turns" from Country Threads Goes to Charm School

Wipe Your Feet quilt

"Wipe Your Feet" from Country Threads Goes to Charm School

Walk--Don't Run quilt

"Walk--Don't Run" from Country Threads Goes to Charm School

Autumn Stretched Star quilt

"Autumn Stretched Star" from Nickel Quilts

Dutchman's Puzzle quilt

"Dutchman's Puzzle" from Nickel Quilts

Big Dipper quilt

"Big Dipper" from Nickel Quilts

Chocolate Dip quilt

"Chocolate Dip" from Charmed, I'm Sure

Christmas Rose Table Topper

"Christmas Rose Table Topper" from Charmed, I'm Sure

Acorn Dance quilt

"Acorn Dance" from Charmed, I'm Sure

26 Comments (leave a comment)

  • I didn’t know the original definition of a charm quilt but now that I do I want to make one. I also love every quilt pictured in your post. These books are going on my wish list.

    —Joanna on February 18, 2013
  • I have SO many charm packs–I’m going to need to add some of these books to my collection!

    Karen in Breezy Point on February 18, 2013
  • I tried to do a trade 15 years ago with 6″ block. It takes a lots of cutting. The charm packs are fun to collect and makes it easy. No need to exchange.

    Love the Nickle book, but it does need to be rewritten with better details of how many pieces. It also has too much waste with some of the patterns. I sure will not cut 5″ blocks, then trim down to 4 1/2″. My hands ache now from cutting. Who wants to cut more than necessary.

    —Linda Christianson on February 20, 2013
  • A fellow quilter, I "met" on line and became e-mail pals with introduced me to "Charms" and the Nickel Quilts book. For Christmas, she made Charm Packs and gave them to her friends as gifts and sent me a pack also. I added 5 inch squares and made my own creation: "Charms in a Frame" Quilt, which consisted of a finished one inch different color frame around each of the 5 inch Charms. The blend of "Charms" and thier frames were beautiful, so easy to do and were made, a few at a time. I love greens and autumn colors when making quilts.

    The Autumn Stretched Star pattern is also known as Indian Hatchet and Tessilating Stars and all three make beautiful quilts, no matter what colors of fabric that are used.

    Keep smiling,

    Lynnita Shipman on February 22, 2013
  • I am a beginner at quilting so naturally I bought charm squares because I have carpal tunnel, but I have always wanted to start a quilt. I am very inspired by the thought of the sharing charm squares. I just need inspiration to start a quilt and the Nickel Book looks like it could be the one to start.

    —Cindy from Iowa on February 22, 2013
  • Having never participated and is not quite how it happens

    —Mona Elmgreen Petersen on February 27, 2013
  • This a great site for a beginner like me. thank you

    —Marlene Helvey on March 4, 2013
  • We just started a group…. There are 20 of us and we split into 2 groups…. We are spread out all across the world….

    —Tracey on July 29, 2013
  • My group plays a dice game called LCR. We play for charm square instead of money. Lots of fun!

    —Cindy in Kansas on October 14, 2013
  • Too bad you leave out King size quilts, that is important to a lot of people.

    Sorry about that, Carol. But with the three different sizes, it should be fairly easy to figure out how many more blocks to make for a bigger quilt. Thanks for your comment!

    —Carol Bowers on November 7, 2013
  • I love charm quilts! The old fashioned look that you get using lots of different fabrics makes each one so unique. I made a Nickel quilt for my grandson as a wedding gift, he is James V and everyone loved the idea. His coworker when she saw the picture, commented that she hoped she could get to be as good a quilter as his Nana.

    —Donna Olson on November 7, 2013
  • Collecting fabrics is fun, but I need a book to creatively use my charm squares to their best advantage. this looks like the ticket!

    carol on November 8, 2013
  • Charm exchanges are fun, if everyone is giving same quality fabrics. It is sad when some folks are giving old poly-cotton solid broadcloth squares, instead of quilt shop fabrics.

    —Sandra B on November 10, 2013
  • I have purchased charm packs… they all have the pinked edges on them. What do you do with the pinked edges??? leave them on and sew or trim them off and sew. thanks!


    Don’t trim them! Charm squares should measure exactly 5″ at the "points" of the pinked edge. Just treat them as if that were the straight edge. The points will disappear into the seam allowance. You might want to measure yours just to be sure.

    Hope this helps!


    —Velta on December 8, 2013
  • I want to have a fabric strip exchange with 2 1/2″ strips. Any guidelines I’d need would be appreciated. I thought I would have about 10 ladies come to a scrapy strip exchange and bring about 20 (?) 2 1/2″ strips X 12″. Guests can also bring a strip pattern to change. Any ideas?

    —Lana Stewart on June 30, 2014
  • I want to participate in a worldwide charm square or charm strip swap. I live in Australia. Can you help please with any contacts. Thank you

    Hi Margaret, we’re not aware of any worldwide charm swaps right now but you could do an online search. Good luck, and thanks for your question! –Jenny

    —Margaret Baker on December 20, 2014
  • I was looking to do a children’s i-spy quilt swap. Do you know of any places I can find where that may be a swap? Thanks!

    Luci on January 21, 2016
  • I have collected over 1,000 different prints of Kansas Troubles fabrics and am going to make a charm quilt with them. It’s going to be delicious!! I love scrappy quilts.

    Marcia Porcelli on March 11, 2016
  • What great information!

    —Donna Dean on March 13, 2016
  • how many charm packs do I need to make a "Trip Around the World" queen size quilt?

    Liz Teaff on July 17, 2016
  • We recently had a fat quarter swap from vintage sheets. It was so much fun. As the "gatherers" we really enjoy accumulating fabric for our stashes. I would be willing to host a charm swap but I would like your input of a theme. Drop me a comment and let me know.

    Mrs. R. Lowe on July 31, 2016
  • One day I decided to cut 2 charms from all of my many many fat quarters and scraps so I now have a whole tub of scrappy charms to do something with. I like the idea someone did of putting a border around each charm and putting them together. I may try that.

    —Gretchen Dietz on February 22, 2017
  • We are a bunch of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community.
    Your site offered us with helpful info to work on. You
    have performed an impressive process and our whole group shall be
    thankful to you.

    Grazyna on August 22, 2018
  • Hello ,You have given some wonderful ideas. Thank you. I really like the per-cut fabric.All the cutting time you do not have to do goes into sewing time .Isn’t that great??

    —Fran Callahan on August 24, 2018
  • In our quilting group love and looking forward for our square exchange, three times a year, it’s just wonderful, plus, you can do so many wonderful things with them. It’s just fantastic!

    —Cristiana on September 14, 2018
  • Soooo many great ideas shared here- thanks so much. I am a lover of Kansas Troubles material and I read a post from Marcia about her collection of KT charms. I think I will do the same. That material just makes me feel so comfy! It will be my first charm quilt.

    —Elise on August 9, 2019

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