Diagram showing 9 different fabric sizes

Posted by Liz on June 9th, 2012 (Articles)

Understanding Quilting Fabric Sizes

Picture the scene, you walk into a fabric shop, and there are hundreds of rolls of fabric. Well these rolls of fabric are called bolts, and are the starting point for all shapes and sizes of fabric. Bolts can vary a little in length, but are usually 44 inches (about 1m 12) in width. It’s not very often you’d buy a whole bolt of fabric to make a quilt though – the fabric on the roll can be around 25 yards (23 metres) long!



The more likely thing is that you pick up the bolt of fabric and take it to the till. The shop assistant will roll the fabric out and ask you how much you want. You say, “a metre and a half please,” and the shop assistant will measure it with a long ruler and then cut (or rip) the fabric to the desired length.

Now picture another scene, you go to a quilting specialists, in a quilting shop or at festivals or event. You may even visit a virtual quilting shop online! There doesn’t seem to be any bolts of fabric, but there are lots of things that sound like you could eat them – turnovers, jelly rolls, layer cakes and honey buns- nom nom. But alas, they are not for eating, they are different measurements of fabric, cut especially for your quilting and patchwork needs.

The most common of which is called a fat quarter. This is typically an 18 inch by 22 inch piece of fabric. "Hey!" you exclaim. You’ve just told me that a bolt of fabric is 44 inches wide and now you’re telling me that a fat quarter is 22 inches wide. The Carol Vordeman in me (or Rachel Riley – depending how young you are, or depending on the last time you watched Countdown) is screaming "22 is half of 44!" Well, what a clever observation! A traditional quarter yard (or long quarter) is cut from one end of the bolt to the other, and being a quarter of a yard means it’s nine inches wide. "Hold the phone," you say. I hold it. "Nine is half of 18." Well, yes it is you deserve a Countdown crystal clock (-side note: had trouble finding out what the prize was, because a lot of the countdown websites sites were filtered – go figure!) A long quarter and a fat quarter of fabric have the same amount of fabric, just cut into a different shape. But a fat quarter is a more flexible shape for quilting. The fat quarter’s little brother is a fat eighth – a 9" by 22" piece of fabric, or half a fat quarter.

Then you get more tasty treats. There are two types of long strips of fabric. Both are 44 inches long (of course, the width of a bolt). One is 2.5” wide and called a jelly roll, and usually has forty strips of fabric, which are layered together and rolled up. Honey buns have been cycling to work and, as a result, are a thinner version at 1.5" wide.

If you think it’s hip to be square then perhaps charms will be your thing. They are 5 inch squares, and are great for a quick quilt. You can also buy turnovers which are 6" triangles, which make 5" squares when sewn together. These, of course, are the perfect partner for charms. And if you’re a little greedy, why not try a layer cake. It’s a 10 inch square, for four times the fabric of a charm.

Finally, for those who like a dessert, a chocolate with your coffee, and a mint on your pillow, look no further than jelly cakes. Jelly cakes are bundles which consist of a Charm Pack, a Layer Cake and a Jelly Roll of beautiful, complimentary fabrics sold together for your convenience.

So that’s it, a roundup of the common fabric sizes you might come across in your quilting adventures.

What can I eat?

Tasty looking jelly roll
You can eat this type of jelly roll

A jelly roll of fabric

Don’t eat with this type of jelly roll

Tasty looking honey bun

You can eat this type of honey bun

A honey bun of fabric

Don’t eat with this type of honey bun

Tasty looking layer cake

You can eat this type of layer cake

A layer cake of fabric

Don’t eat with this type of layer cake

Tasty looking peach turnovers

You can eat this type of turnover

A turnover of fabric

Don’t eat with this type of turnover

Tasty looking jelly cake

You can eat this type of jelly cake

A layer cake of fabric

Don’t eat with this type of jelly cake

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4 responses to “Understanding Quilting Fabric Sizes”

  1. Amelia du Plessis says:

    Thank you so much for this information, as a new quilter its something I have wondered but felt too embarrassed to ask.

  2. Nivedita says:

    Thank You !! I’m just trying to learn quilting from the internet, and in India, we have no shops selling pre-cut fabrics for quilting. So this information on sizes is much appreciated as I will need to cut the fabric myself and I need the sizes.

  3. Tracy Smith says:

    love the perfect illustration! Thanks!

  4. Julie Paradis says:

    Love how you compare fabric with food 🙂
    Now I have all the info. I need for fabric
    sizes.
    “Keep on quilting.”

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