Scanning the list of materials for your next project tutorial, you suddenly come across a term or two that causes you to stop and scratch your head: Fat Quarters, Charm Packs, Jelly Rolls, Layer Cakes, Honey Buns, Dessert Rolls. Have you accidentally clicked from a sewing site to a recipe site? All these items sound so delicious, but what the heck do they have to do with sewing? They are the names of various types of fabric pre-cuts. And though not edible, they are great time and money savers, and the perfect way to play with all the pretty pieces from your favorite quilting cotton collections.
Pre-cut bundles have long been a favorite of quilters; but recently, all types of sewers, including the home décor aficionados here at Sew4Home, have become fans. Pre-cuts shorten your cutting time and give you an affordable way to purchase an entire collection of fabric without breaking the bank.
At this time, pre-cuts are made only from designer quilting cotton collections. We did run across a few Charm Packs made with wool, but that was definitely an exception to the rule. However, knowing the innovative minds at the fabric manufacturers, we wouldn't be at all surprised if we started seeing pre-cuts in some of the newer fabric substrates sometime soon.
It also seems like there are new bundle options coming out all the time. Riley Blake, as well as a few other manufacturers, have recently started offering One Yard Packs, which contain about a half-dozen one-yard cuts in coordinating colors from within one collection. Fat Quarter Shop has a good selection of One Yard Bundles already.
Our thanks to Fat Quarter Shop for helping us 'cut through' the confusion on this article and for providing the images.
Fat Quarter Bundles
Fat Quarters are a quilter's best fabric friend. They measure 18" high x 22" wide, were the first specialty cut on the market, and are still the most common. What makes it 'fat'? A traditional quarter yard of fabric is cut from selvedge to selvedge (bolt end to bolt end), which gives you a piece measuring approximately 9" high x 44" wide, depending on the width of fabric you are working with. The majority of quilting-weight fabrics are 44-45" wide. This long and narrow traditional cut isn't very flexible in terms of the shapes you can cut from it. The 18" x 22" Fat Quarter gives you a squarer shape with the same amount of fabric, but in a much better format from which to cut smaller squares, rectangles and/or triangles. It is actually a full quarter of a single yard of fabric (36" x 44"). If you divide a 36" x 44" piece into four equal pieces, each one will be 18" x 22". Nearly all fabric manufacturers offer Fat Quarter bundles of one form or another, and that is exactly what they are called, however, Northcott Fabrics refers to theirs as Stone Rolls. Most Fat Quarter Bundles contain one Fat Quarter of every print in a collection, but because the number of prints in a collection varies widely, so do the number of Fat Quarters in any given bundle. Depending on whether or not the manufacturer includes the selvedge, your cut might end up at 18" x 21".
Fat Eighth Bundles
Fat Eighths are... you guessed it, half of a Fat Quarter. They measure 9" high x 22" wide, a good rectangle shape that can be used as-is or sub-cut into a few smaller shapes. Just like the Fat Quarter Bundles, Fat Eighth Bundles traditionally contain one piece of every print in a collection, but because the number of prints in a collection varies widely, so do the sizes of Fat Eighth bundles. We found them most frequently in bundles of twenty to forty pieces. As above for the Fat Quarters, and for the same reason, some Fat Eighths are 9" x 21".
We used Fat Eighths in our Gathering Apron.
A Charm is a 5" x 5" square of fabric. Depending on the fabric company, each Charm Pack normally contains at least one of each print in the collection. Most packs have around forty-two pieces, which means there can be duplicates and even triplicates of some prints. Charm squares are great for easy patchwork quilts. You can sew them up without slicing and dicing and - voila, quilt top done! Charm Packs are also one of the least expensive pre-cuts on the market, and like Fat Quarters, are a very common option from nearly all the fabric manufacturers. For the most part, they are referred to as Charm Packs, but Northcott Fabrics has Stone Chips and Hoffman Fabrics calls their batik bundles, Bali Snaps.
Mini Charm Packs
These little bundles are about as cute as you can get! We like to think of them as Barbie® pre-cuts. At just 2½" x 2½", they are indeed adorable, but also quite functional. Use them as center points in your patchwork or combine them with the 2½" Jelly Roll strips (more on these below). Some fabric manufacturers use this size only for samples to give away at quilt shows and other events, but Moda has included them as a standard pre-cut option for the majority of their collections. Like Charm Packs, most Mini Charm Packs contain about forty-two pieces. At under $5.00 each, these are one of the most economical ways to inject a lot of little bits of color and design.
A Layer Cake is a super-sized Charm Pack! Whereas a Charm Pack contains 5" x 5" squares; its big brother the Layer Cake is made up of 10" x 10" cuts of fabric. This gives you a lot of fabric to play with, especially for larger-scale prints. If you need to cut shapes for appliqué or create squares of different sizes, Layer Cakes are your best bet. Moda's Layer Cakes contain forty-two pieces. Other companies are also beginning to offer 10" x 10" square bundles as an option, such as Robert Kaufman's Ten Squares (forty-two pieces) and Hoffman's Bali Crackers (forty pieces).
Moda Fabrics coined the term Jelly Roll for these cute, round fabric treats. A Jelly Roll has forty 2½" x 44" strips of fabric. These forty strips are layered, rolled up tight, and tied with a bow. Jelly Roll strips can be used to achieve many fun, scrappy effects. Try sewing several strips together along the length, slicing them into 2" sections, and mixing up the sub-cuts as an easy patchwork method. Most fabric companies have followed Moda's lead with something in this size, such as FreeSpirit Fabric's Design Rolls, which include thirty to forty-two 2½" x 44" strips; Robert Kaufman's Roll-ups with forty 2½" x 44" strips and their Half Rolls with twenty 2½" x 44" strips; Hoffman Fabrics' Bali Pops with forty 2½" x 44" strips; and Northcott's Stone Strips, also with forty 2½" x 44" strips.
If the Layer Cake is the Charm Pack's big brother, the Honey Bun is the Jelly Roll's little sister. The Honey Bun (again, a Moda Fabric creation) has become a much-less-common option in recent years. When available, it contains forty 1½" x 44" strips. Sewn up, using a ¼" seam allowance, the strips finish at 1" wide, allowing for some very cute and intricate effects. The only other manufacturer offering this size in any quantity is Robert Kaufman, who offers what they call Skinny Strips: forty to forty-one 1½" x 44" strips.
FQS does not carry a wide variety of Honey Buns, but we did find a pretty example in Winterlude by 3 Sisters for Moda Fabrics, which is coming out in June 2014.
Jelly Rolls double-up to become Dessert Rolls. These are 5" x 44" strips, which makes them a good option for sub-cutting into squares or rectangles or you could make your own pairs of 2½" Jelly Roll strips. Moda uses the term, Dessert Rolls and bundles twenty 5" x 44" strips in each roll. This is one pre-cut that has a lot of variation in size. At Timeless Treasures, they have Tonga Treat 6-Packs, which are twenty 6" x 44" cuts. RJR Fabrics offers Twice The Charm with forty-six 5½"x 21 strips. Windham Fabrics has Fat Rolls with thirty 5" x 44" strips. Kaufman Fabrics just introduced Charm Rolls, twenty 5" x 44" strips. And, Rowan Fabrics cuts theirs at 6" x 44" and calls the twenty-piece bundles, Design Strips.
This is a fairly new member of the pre-cut universe, having been introduced to the market in 2012 by Robert Kaufman Fabrics. Since then, they've become quite popular, probably because it's a hard shape to cut precisely by hand! Robert Kaufman's "Hexie" is 2" point-to-point and available in a variety of forty-one-piece Kona Solid Cottons. Moda's calls their option: Honeycombs, which measure 6" from point to point, 5¼" measured horizontally, and they include a plastic template with dots in each corner to use as a seam allowance guide. Fat Quarter Shop has a great video, which shows you the tips and tricks of sewing with Honeycombs.
Finally, we have turnovers, which are triangles. These are not as common as the other shapes, but are still a wonderful option for many projects. Moda has a 10" variety they call the Moda Slice, Robert Kaufman has Kona Solids 6½" Half Square Triangles, which are packaged like a square with two forty-piece stacks bundled side-to-side for eighty 6½" triangles total, and Benartex also brings out eighty-piece 6" turnovers for their collections quite regularly.
We haven't yet tried the Dessert Rolls, Hexagons or Triangles here at Sew4Home, but are intrigued by the shapes and flexibility and the creative wheels are spinning with ideas!
A few laundering notes
Moda Fabrics makes the most pre-cut bundles on the market, and they state that their pre-cuts never need to be pre-washed. They feel pre-washing means pressing, and that takes a lot of the ease-of-use out of working with pre-cuts. In addition, you could be left with a big tangle of thread ends.
However, as in all things sewing, there are a variety of theories out there, and it's hard to give a 100%-works-every-time response. Most people agree that if you're mixing pre-cuts with other fabrics, pre-washing is in order. Otherwise, when laundering the final project, the different types of fabric could shrink at different rates, leading to wonky seams.
If the project you are making will rarely, if ever, be laundered, you could try not preshrinking anything. Or, if you have enough extra yardage/pre-cuts, you could do a small sample pre-wash of both to see how they behave.
If you do decide to pre-wash pre-cuts, they should be placed in a mesh bag or pillowcase to reduce tangling. And there is likely to be some fraying. To keep this at a minimum, some people recommend snipping a little off each corner at a 45˚ angle prior to washing.