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. Have you accidentally clicked from a sewing site to a recipe site? All these items sound 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 all types of sewers, including home décor aficionados can 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, most pre-cuts are made only from designer quilting cotton collections. We did run across a few Charm Packs made with wool and our friends at Shannon Fabrics offer Sweet Strips (10" x 60") of some of their most popular Cuddle Fleece fabrics. but those are a fun exception 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 other new fabric substrates sometime soon.
It also seems like there are new bundle options coming out all the time. One Yard Packs, Half Yard Packs, and the exclusive Fat Quarter Shop 5" x 10" Jolly Bar bundles are soon of the most recent additions.
You'll also find that the different fabric manufacturers may have slightly different names for their pre-cuts, but the sizing is usually quite similar. And, are these ALL the options out here? Not necessarily. You can often find triangles (sometimes called Turnovers), Dessert Rolls, which are double the width of a Jelly Roll (5" x 44"), and various other tidbits. Whatever the name, pre-cuts are an excellent addition to your fabric stash.
Our thanks to Fat Quarter Shop for their expert information as well as many of the pretty pictures you see here. There are among the very best in the industry for selection and service when you are looking to buy your favorite pre-cuts.
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".
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 Square! 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 also 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.
This is a somewhat newer 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. We haven't designed any projects yet with this particular pre-cut, but it's on the list.
This fun size is exclusive to Fat Quarter Shop. At 5" x 10", they are a bit of a cross between a Charm Square and a Layer Cake. Each Jolly Bar comes with a custom Fat Quarter Shop coordinating pattern! The bundles include from 42 to 45 cuts and are available in select Moda Bella Solids as well as pretty print collections. You can watch their Jolly Bar Video to learn more and can even shop their their fun selection of unique Jolly Bar Kits!
One Yard and Half Yard Bundles
These two alternatives are also newer to the market, and just as their name implies, they are standard yardage cuts (36" x 44" and 18" x 44") that have been bundled into coordinating prints from within a single collections. Only a few manufacturers are currently offering these. Riley Blake Fabrics and their sister company, Penny Rose Fabrics led the way in this category and still have the widest offerings. FreeSpirit Fabrics and Moda Fabrics have recently begun to offer some collections in this bundle option as well. There is a lot of variety in the number of cuts in any given bundle; we've seen as few as 4-6 and as many as 40! The price, of course, tends to be higher because you are getting much more fabric than with a traditional pre-cut.
We haven't added project links for this option because the possibilities are really endless. You can use them anywhere your pattern calls for standard yardage cut at one yard or a half yard.
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.