An archive of sewing tutorials and inspiration


Fabric 101, Part 1 - Beginner's Quilting Tutorial Series

So today we will begin talking about Fabric, Fabric galore! This will take us a few weeks, because there is a ton of stuff we can learn about fabric! With all the amazing fabric out there it can be a little overwhelming choosing the right fabric for your quilt project. Often times beginners will rush this process so they can get to the sewing. I encourage you to take your time when planning your quilt.

Fabric Vocabulary


In the United States fabric is cut and purchased by the yard. Quilt shops have different minimum cuts, most often 1/8 yard or 1/4 yard.

Fat Quarter

A fat quarter is a piece of fabric cut to 18" x 21". It is created by cutting 1 yard of fabric in half by length and width. This is still considered a quarter yard of fabric, but it is "fatter" than a standard 9" x WOF 1/4 cut. This can allow for different cutting possibilities. Fat quarters cannot always be used in place of a standard 1/4 yard so when using a pattern make sure to use exactly what is called for.

Fat Eighth

One-eighth yard of fabric that is usually cut to measure 9" x 22" rather than the typical one-eighth yard cut of 4.5" x 42".

Layer Cakes

Layer Cakes are collections of 10" x 10" squares of fabric. Made originally by Moda Fabrics, they are similar to a charm pack but a larger size. Layer Cakes are available by collection and typically include 42 pieces of fabric, though the number may vary

Jelly Rolls

Jelly Rolls are collections of 2 1/2" x 44" strips of fabric. Jelly Rolls typically include 40 strips of fabric but can vary.

Charm Squares

Charm Squares are 5" x 5" cut squares of fabric. Charm packs are collections charm squares. The popularity of Charm Packs stem from the fact that they are affordable, easy to use, and the size is commonly used in quilting.


The edge of woven fabric finished so as to prevent raveling, often in a narrow tape effect, different from the body of the fabric.


The center fold that is created when folding your fabric selvage to selvage as it is on the bolt.


The direction of the weave of a woven fabric in reference to the selvage. Cotton and Linen fabrics have a grain parallel and perpendicular to the selvage. Fabric cut on the grain will hold up much better and is preferred when doing patchwork.


Is diagonal to the grain. Fabric cut on the bias will likely stretch along the bias edge and be a bit harder to work with. You will see this when working with triangles.

Width (WOF)

Width of fabric is the distance from selvage to selvage. Most fabrics are commonly 42"- 44". Home decor fabric is usually 54".


Is the distance from cut edge to cut edge. The length of the fabric will vary depending on what you cut. Such as 1/4 yard, 1/2 yard, 1 yard ex.

Right and Wrong Sides

The right side of your fabric, is the "pretty" side. The side you want to have showing on your finished project. The wrong side is the opposite side of the right which usually isn't "pretty". You will notice with some fabrics that tits hard to tell the difference between right and wrong sides. Just choose one side and stick with it through the whole project. Some solid fabrics such as Kona Cotton do not have a wrong and right side.


Refers to the size of the design or pattern on a Print fabric. Choosing a scale print that will work well with the size pieces you are piecing will be important. So always try to envision what the print would look like cut up. Will you loose the style or detail you want when it is smaller?

Type of Fabrics

Most quilters using 100% Cotton Fabric for their quilts. Occasionally you might use Linen or Flannel. Whichever you decide I think the important thing is to purchase the best quality fabric you can get with your money. Using low quality fabric can often be a headache to work with and wont wear and last as long. Since all fabrics wash and wear differently I personally like to use the same type of fabric for an entire project. So an all cotton quilt or all flannel quilt, ex.

Preparing your Fabric for use

To pre-wash or not to pre-wash that is the question!

I have previously written a post titled To Pre-wash or Not to Pre-wash that is the Question! You will see in that post that there are many many different opinions and views on pre-washing your fabric. I encourage you to read the post and read some of the comments on the post to get a little overview. I have since decided to only pre-wash my fabrics if I am using linen, flannel, or making clothing because of shrinkage. Whether you pre-wash or not, I personally think it is very very important to press AND starch your fabric before you begin cutting. Straight off the bolt fabric can have terrible wrinkles and creases that can effect the accuracy of your cutting. By pressing and starching first your fabric will be crisp and flat for cutting. And some make this this is a bit overboard, but I like to press and starch my pre-cut fabrics too! Next week we will talk about Using the Color Wheel and Inspiration to choose your fabrics.

Other Resources

Alyssa Williams

Alyssa Williams

Creator of Pile O' Fabric

Alyssa Lichner is a graphic designer turned avid sewist. She writes modern quilting tutorials and shares techniques and inspiration on her blog, Pile O’ Fabric. Alyssa has a passion for exploring different techniques and applying them to modern designs. She is thankful to have the opportunity to share these techniques, through her tutorials, patterns, and classes with quilters around the world. She always encourages her readers and students to challenge themselves to try new things and to approach quilting with a fearless attitude.