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The Real Skinny on Fat Quarters

In my last blog I talked about buying fat quarters and remnants. I have bought remnants that I end up throwing away because I find flaws inside the rolled up piece of fabric; sometimes the fabric is dirty. Or I’ve lined a coat with fabric of unknown contents, only to end up with a big raveled mess.

Fat quarters are probably made up of newer fabric than remnants. The idea behind fat quarters isn’t to get rid of old merchandise. Customers often like fat quarters due to their convenience for making quilts or doll clothes. The customers can buy less of many prints, instead of more of one or two prints. It’s like buying small bags of chips that you put in Junior’s lunch. Fat Quarters are convenient. They usually are not cheap. If you get a fat quarter on sale for $1.50, and the fabric was originally $5.00 a yard, you’re coming out okay but you’re still paying over the original amount.

In my last blog I made an error in describing the size and shape of a fat quarter. I had thought that a fat quarter was half as big as it is, but a kind reader corrected my mistake in the Comment Section.

I did more research, and I now I thoroughly understand the fat quarter. It is as long as a half yard but only half as wide as a yard.  Huh? You say what? If you’re a visual learner like I am, when you see this diagram your whole life will make sense, and you’ll know there is a God.

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Please feel free to comment about fat quarters or remnants.

The dynamite diagram of the fat quarter is courtesy of About.com, Home Quilting. 

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Beware of Fat Quarters

I’ve always thought that buying fabric remnants was a smart move. After all, spending less money to obtain more product is generally a good deal, isn’t it? When there is less than one yard remaining on the bolt—or the store would like to make room for newer inventory—the last of the fabric may be sold “as is,” still on the bolt. Or it may be cut into smaller pieces and sold as remnants.

In recent years the “fat quarter” has become popular. A fat quarter is one-quarter of a yard—1/4 of 36 inches equals 9 inches. What can you do with 9 inches of fabric? You can cut out quilt squares or doll clothes. However, a fat quarter should be called a “skinny quarter.” The width of most fabric is generally 44 inches; but the width of a fat quarter is cut in half to approximately 22 inches.

(Please note: A smart and knowledgeable woman corrected me about fat quarters.; you can read this correction in the Comments Section. I seemed to have calculated them incorrectly, and I will explain how they’re measured exactly in another post. Thank you, Linda.)

Why would someone buy a fat quarter or piece of fabric that is 9 inches x 18 inches?

I usually buy 1/2 a yard at a time for doll clothes ; I also buy remnants and fat quarters.

Doll clothes can be sewn with very little fabric. Several quilt squares can be cut from 9 x 22 inches.

Instead of buying one yard of the same fabric, you could conceivably cut up one yard into 8 fat quarters. Let’s say you pay $1.50 for one fat quarter. Because a fat quarter in only 1/2 yard wide, a whole yard of fat quarters (8 of them) would cost:

$  1.50 x 8 = $12.40

These figures aren’t too dismal if the original price of the fabric was $12 a yard. This isn’t an unusual price for cotton, but cotton can be closer to $7 or $5. Joann Stores has fabric at $10 or more, but you can usually buy it at 40 percent off. Fabric at Joann Stores is often on sale, and there is ALWAYS a Joann’s coupon for 40 percent, or even 50 percent.

I have often purchased remnants, but now that I’ve been sewing consistently for a couple of years, I’ve come to pay closer attention to the prices and the quality of these remnants.

Since I don’t work at a fabric store, I don’t know how fabric is chosen for fat quarters. These are often found in a stack or bin underneath the matching bolts of quilting fabrics. I’m guessing that the stores find selling these fat quarters profitable; they are also convenient for quilt makers buy.

Although I have purchased fat quarters, I have more experience with remnants. I’m motivated to write about buying fabric because I’ve recently found flaws or stains on my remnants that were not revealed until I unfolded or unrolled my piece of fabric. I’ve also been more careful to calculate the price per yard after making some disappointing purchases. I once picked up a 1/4-yard remnant that had been marked down from $2.10 to $1.88.  What a good deal, I thought, until looked at the original price per yard, which was $4.99.

I’ve also noticed that fabric is often cut crooked, and a crooked line is more noticeable when the piece of fabric is small. The edges should line up when you fold the fabric. Whenever I buy fabric I watch while the store clerk cuts it. Obviously, I’m unable to watch when I buy something that is cut ahead of time.

I think that buying fat quarters or remnants can be fun. Doll clothes can be made with surprisingly little fabric. I enjoy combing two or more prints . I usually include polka dots. I thought I was careful when buying fabric. The green polka dot cotton that is toward the left bottom of the above photo was a remnant, and as I was rolling it up, I noticed flaws that make some of these dots look like a Pac Man. I probably have plenty of fabric. I could have done without the green.

In the future I plan to take my own advice and quit buying remnants unless I absolutely love the fabric. There is probably less risk in buying fat quarters because it is cut up as a money-making device that saves the customer’s time.

Back in “the day” when I made my own clothes, fabric was relatively cheap. This can still be true for the smart and patient shopper who looks for sales prices and good deals. My advice is to pay attention to the quality of the fabric, and do the math.

DO_Tiny Flower

Sewing Lessons

Here are some sewing lessons that I’ve adopted over time. Some of these rules came directly from my mother who was a talented seamstress:

  • When shopping for fabric, give each selection  the “wrinkle test,” by wadding up a corner of fabric inside your hand and squeeze while it’s still on the bolt; hopefully, you won’t see many wrinkles.*
  • Use fabric that doesn’t ravel—-or barely ravels—-for doll clothes, especially if you’re a beginner. A 1/4-inch seam doesn’t give much ravel room.
  • Ironing is half the job. For a finished look, iron your seams wherever possible.*
  • Here’s an easy way to mark fabric when hemming or trimming it in a straight line: Instead of using a ruler to place each mark on the fabric, place a measurement mark on a small piece of paper or cardboard. Then use this marked item to measure and then mark several places of the hem. In this case you don’t have to keep looking for the 2-inch mark on the ruler each time you mark the fabric because it jumps out at you.

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  • Always cut on the straight grain of the fabric—-by placing pattern pieces with the arrows going up and down, with the arrow lines parallel to the selvage (edge). If the fabric has a nap, like velvet, none of the pattern pieces can be placed upside down, or the finished garment will be two different shades.
  • When you’re trying to match thread with fabric, go darker instead of lighter. The stitches on the fabric will appear lighter than the spool of thread.*
  • Never iron a trimmed item without testing the trim first. You may have nylon lace attached to a piece of cotton, and the lace can melt and stick to the iron.
  • The fit of doll clothes can make a difference between a stylish garment and (what I call) a “prairie dress.” Once you’ve found a bodice that fits the way you like it to fit, copy the pattern pieces to use for various styles, even if you need to make slight alterations. Adapting a basic pattern to own your style isn’t complicated.
  • Set-in sleeves should never pucker unless they’re full and gathered.
  • When using plaids, and horizontal stripes, you should match the fabric design on the side, and back seams (and center seam, if there is one). The top layer of fabric tends to slip when feeding through the sewing machine. Basting by hand can help to prevent this slippage.

These sewing lessons will be part of a running list. I will repost the list whenever I add a few more good suggestions. In fact, if you’re reading this, and you have a suggestion that makes sewing easier or better, please share. I will happily add your contribution to the list that you can always find in the section called “Sewing Lessons.” (See the Menu tabs at the top of the window.)

*These are tips directly from Mom, my best teacher of sewing and other lessons.

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More Fabric from Walmart

I went to Walmart to buy some thread and a small piece of fabric for lining. Right now I have more fabric than money. But I was unable to ignore the Walmart fabric sale. The fabric below was $1/yard. I considered buying the whole bolt, but I don’t wear much black. I bought a yard for doll clothes.

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I hung the fabric piece in front of the window to capture the texture. The fabric looks gray but it’s black. Here’s another shot:

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This still looks gray sitting on the kitchen table,  but you can get a glimpse of texture. I can’t wait to make a doll dress, maybe goth style.

DO_Littlebitty Stem

Buying Fabric for Doll Clothes

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Doll clothes don’t require much fabric, and if you’re resourceful, you may find scraps around the house, like blue jean legs or old t-shirts. I find that sheets or pillow cases make good bodice lining. This is good news for me because I live in a city without a fabric store—-or let’s say without a store that sells fine fabric at a price that is practical. We have a quilt store with a beautiful variety of cotton, but there is nothing under $9.99 a yard. Don’t pay that much unless you are absolutely nuts about the fabric, and you can use it ten different ways.

The smaller JoAnn Stores aren’t that exciting, but the newer JoAnn Super Stores have a variety of fabric depending upon the geographic location of the store. My sister lives in Fremont with a significant population of Asian and Indian fabric buyers. As a result the store carries stunning silk and sari fabric. The new-ish store in Dublin has stunning cottons with batik prints, ginghams, seersucker, fake fur, and other fun fabrics. A newer store is opening in Livermore, which is even closer to me. But unfortunately, there is no JoAnn Store on this side of the mountain pass unless I go to Manteca.

I find myself shopping in Walmart which is low in rich fabric, and even lower in sewing notions, but I can make do. In fact, I should probably note which of the doll clothes I’ve made so far that originated with fabric from Walmart. I see that maybe half of my projects began there. Here is an example of my favorite fabric.

The above fabric is an unbelievable find from Walmart.

Isn’t it stunning? This fabric looks like it was hand dyed. I’m not sure about making doll clothes with this find. I think I’ll make a vest for myself, and with the remaining remnant, I’ll try a doll skirt which could be interesting.

DO_Tiny Flower