Good afternoon, friendly quilters! Happy new year and welcome to 2017!
How many of us are feeling a little shut-in from winter and unsure where to jump after finishing Christmas presents for all our loved ones? With a freshly clean sewing room, ready to take on another year of projects?
Don’t worry, my sewing room isn’t clean either. 😉
But now that the Christmas toll on my checkbook has dissipated (sort of), I can’t help daydreaming about the new quilt fabric that I’m certain is going to enter my life this year. My “Promotions” inbox is full of offers from quilt shops and websites that I have patronized over the past few years, eager to show me the newest, prettiest lines of quilting cotton to feast my eyes and my creativity on. I would probably hate them for it if I didn’t love it so much.
With that in mind, I have been trying to decide which fabrics I will just daydream about, and which ones will actually come home with me to sit in my sewing room for the next 5 to 10 years, looking beautiful. (The average shelf life of a fabric bundle in a quilting stash before the quilter gathers up the strength of will to cut into it.)
When it comes to shopping for quilt fabric, there are so many options! You can buy yardage, individual fat quarters, or those delectable bundles of fabrics in a stack from the same line that go great together… But how do I know if I want strips, or squares, or fat quarters?
…..Boy, doesn’t that look like the big, beautiful skyline of a city called “My Work Here Will Never Be Done.”
So, how do I decide which ones to buy, and how do I know what I’m going to do with them?
I often buy bundles simply because I love them, and they’re a good price. I rarely have a pattern in mind, and then develop an idea based on what I have. For example, this quilt, which I designed and made for my Mom for Christmas 2016. (Fabric line is Barbara Brackman’s “Morris Apprentice,” made from 4 charm packs, a jelly roll and a little bit of yardage.) I’m currently writing a pattern for it, (stay tuned!) so if you’d be interested in testing it, please click here for details. Be sure to scroll all the way down and fill out the email signup form. This pattern is versatile and you can use your choice of several different kinds of precuts to make the quilt.
So, if you love a current fabric line and all forms of precuts are available, which are best to buy?
Assuming you have a particular pattern in mind, and that the precuts in question will work in said pattern, the smallest available cut will save you the most work. For example, if you buy a jelly roll, 2.5″strips are already cut for you. If you buy charm packs, you won’t need to subcut 5″ squares from something larger. Anytime you buy yardage, you will be doing more cutting up front, and possibly a LOT more decision-making. That’s because in precut packages, you usually get 1-3 small pieces of every fabric in a given line. When you buy yardage, only part of that line might be available at your local quilt shop, *or* you may not want to spend the time having small lengths cut from every bolt. Also, deciding how much of each specific fabric to buy could be difficult and tedious.
Occasionally, I have heard of people buying precut packages and fat quarters that are not cut accurately. For the most part, you can rely on these cuts to be accurate (and perhaps returnable if they’re not)…but not always.
Sometimes fabric price is more of a factor than the amount of cutting you have to do. In that case, it helps to know the price per yard in a package of precuts. This information is rarely given in the pricing.
I’d like to introduce you to a magic number that I use frequently: 1,440. This is, conservatively, the number of square inches per yard of quilting cotton. It is calculated this way:
40” usable width x 36” in a yard = 1,440
This number is embedded into my psyche and I seem to use it on every trip to my local quilt shop. The reason is, it helps me equalize the playing field for price comparison between different types of cut fabric products. If I can convert the contents of any precut package to a number of yards, then I can assess the pricing based on a measure that I am familiar with.
A jelly roll of 4o strips contains 4,000 square inches, or 2.78 yards.
40 strips * 2.5” strip width x 40” usable length of strip = 4,000
4,000 / 1,440 square inches per yard = 2.78 yds
A layer cake of 40 squares contains 4,000 square inches, or 2.78 yards.
40 squares * 10” x 10” dimensions of square = 4,000
4,000 / 1,440 square inches per yard = 2.78 yds
(NOTE: Isn’t it cool that jelly rolls and layer cakes contain the exact same amount of fabric? IKR!?!)
A charm pack of 40 squares contains 1,000 square inches, or .69 yards of fabric.
40 squares * 5” x 5″ dimensions of square = 1,000
1,000 / 1,440 square inches per yard = 0.69 yds
There is really no standard for sizes of fat quarter packs. They sometimes (but often do not) include a single cut of each fabric in a given line, which could range from 12 to 40, and maybe beyond. The easiest way to calculate yardage in a fat quarter bundle is to divide the number of fat quarters by 4.
As fabric prices will continue to change (probably rise), here is another rule of thumb. A charm pack of 40 squares that costs $6.90 (if you can find one) is sold at a price of $10 per yard. This means that a layer cake or jelly roll sold at $27.60 is also sold at a price of $10 per yard.
Let’s say you’re looking at a layer cake with 42 10″ squares for $39.99. How much are you paying per yard at this price?
Calculate the total yardage of the pack, as above.
42 squares x 10″ length of square x 10″ width of square / 1,440 square inches in a yard = 2.92 yds
Then divide the price by the yardage.
$39.99/2.92 = $13.69/yard
Sometimes precuts cost more than yardage in a given fabric line. This is because the manufacturer has done a lot of the cutting work for you, and you get little pieces of every fabric in the entire line in one easy purchase.
To help understand the costs of a precut pack while you’re at the fabric store, I’ve built a table to help. Feel free to print this out and carry it in your wallet.
At the end of the day, you don’t need a REASON to buy a precut pack. If you see it, and love it, and have the money (that’s the accountant in me talking), then take it home with you! Sources of inspiration abound on the internet, in books and among other quilters. You’ll find the right use when the time is right. In the meantime, a few dollars for 40 pieces of beautiful fabric is a pretty cost effective way to dream. 🙂