Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Fat Quarter Question

Old Cambridge Pike
21st-Century Marketing---Fat Quarter Packs

Paula Nadelstern asks:
By any chance, do you remember when the fat quarter was invented? 

Asking for my memories is always a trip to a vague yet wonderful place.

I do recall that Karla and I did a lovely pattern booklet in 2002 called Fat Quarter Fancywork featuring applique projects designed especially to use the 18 x 20 inch cut that is so popular.

Buttonwood Basket by Karla Menaugh, 2002.

The term was definitely established by then. We had a good time thinking up alternate names. Fat Quarter is not our favorite way to describe a piece of fabric.
The John Tenniel illustrations for Alice in Wonderland
probably traumatized us when we were children.

We made many suggestions for words we liked better than fat. How about:
Statuesque, stocky or well-fed quarters.


And that's where my memory takes me.


But back to Paula's question, which is essentially when did shops start marketing a wider cut than a 9" x 44" inch strip under the name Fat Quarter?

Here's my research method:
Go to Google. Put in a specific time period. Ask for references to
fat quarter quilt
"fat quarter" quilt
"fat quarter"

Try it in Google Books too. Here's what I found in Google Books

Earliest reference - Letter from President Andrew Johnson:
May 22d 1869. My dear daughter 
Along with your Beef I send you a nice fat quarter of Mutton which I accidently fell upon this morning. If you are not fond of it or do not need it, you can hand it over to your neighbour Mrs Dyck.
Roly-poly King Andy---too much mutton perhaps.

There were a few other references to fat quarters of meat.

The earliest reference to what we are talking about in terms of fabric was Margaret Boyles' Country Needlework in 1986 in which she explains the term well.

...a 'Quilter's Sample,' 'Fat Quarter' or various other names of their own devising. These are four 18" x 22-1/2" pieces (1/4 yard) cut from a full yard of 45" wide material. This is a very handy size for small projects...."

There may be earlier references because Boyles seems to be referring to terms she's heard. She did not originate the idea or the name.

But we can say that the term seems to have begun in the mid-1980s in reference to a fabric cut rather than a meat cut. Is your memory earlier than that?

I still like Chubby Quarter better than Fat Quarter.

And while we are on the topic...
Are you keeping up with Pat Sloan and Jane Davidson's Splendid Sampler quilt along?

The Fat Quarter Shop has packaged Moda fat quarters in traditional colors for one colorway.

I recognize a few from my Old Cambridge Pike collection.

Embossed heart from Fat Quarter Fancywork

You can still find our book Fat Quarter Fancywork at my Etsy store here:


  1. I visited a cousin in suburban Chicago in 1998 or 1999. She took me to a quilt shop in Naperville and they had fat quarters galore.

  2. Interesting -- I've never thought about this question before -- and funny, love your illustrations! This is my favorite quote of the day:

    Asking for my memories is always a trip to a vague yet wonderful place.

  3. What a great topic to think about. I wouldn't have equated a fat quarter of meat with a fq of fabric, though!
    thanks for the history!!

  4. Leave it to you to tax our brains yet again with something so mind boggling. The first time I heard the term "fat quarter" was in the late 1980's. I was teaching at a local sewing/quilt shop. I remember explaining to people that we would be happy to cut "fat quarters" for them and getting that "deer in the headlights" look so I guess it was relatively new. Certainly there was no such term when I began to make quilts in the late 1960's (as a very young child of course). It was also the time that nostalgic prints in 100% cotton became readily available to quilters. When I was in high school it was very difficult to find fabric that wasn't some sort of poly blend. I'm leaving the soapbox now. I look forward to hearing what others think about the time frame.

  5. No tenía ni idea y nunca lo había pensado.Aquí un fat quarter es equivalente a un palmo.

  6. Que es un palmo en inglés por favor?

  7. You are right about Alice in Wonderland. Never did like it; I thought the illustrations were horrid and ugly .
    Interesting about the FQs. They just kind of slipped in there. I remember thinking such a small about of fabric was rather useless at first. Now I love them.

  8. I was living in Manhattan, Kansas in about 1984 when they built a new Ben Franklin store. They sold fat quarters rolled into little logs and secured with a rubber band. My kids were little- about 5 and 8- and if they were good while I shopped, I'd let them each pick one. A win/win for me! I drew squares on the back using a ball point pen and a yard stick and we made a Trip Around the World quilt. I had just turned 30- such a long time ago! I don't remember if they used the term 'fat quarter' at Ben Franklin though.

  9. I like 'chubby' quarters, such a cute baby pic.

  10. I love this book, if only just to look at! Truly lovely.