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From Bolts to Yards: A Beginner’s Guide to Fabric Measurement

A yard is 36 inches but how much quilt fabric is that really? How far will those 36 inches go in a quilt?

For most of us, third grade was more than a year or two ago and when you are new to quilting it might be embarrassing to ask someone that question. Plus, just knowing how many inches of fabric you are going to get doesn’t mean you know how many strips or squares you are going to end up with. Suddenly, that quilt isn’t a must-make project and you leave the quilt shop defeated and empty-handed.

Don’t worry! I did the math for you and that’s the worst part of it all! You’ll just need to check the bolt of fabric so you know how wide it is and then you can jump to that section.

How big is a yard of fabric really? How many 2 1/2" squares can you get? I'm answering all those questions and more.

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Pre-cut fabrics are all the rage in quilting right now. I get it, they take cutting out of the equation making quilting a little more accessible for folks and I love anything that makes quilting more accessible.

They also cost more than yardage and you might not like all the prints but you love that pattern that uses 5″ squares. You download and print the pattern and head over to your favorite LQS or maybe to your favorite online quilt shop. You quickly find five amazing fabrics that will look great in your quilt. One look at your pattern shows no yardage, just how many packs of 5″ squares you need.

You don’t know if you need a yard of each or 5 yards of each and with fabric averaging $14 a yard guessing wrong could be a budget buster. That’s why you’ll want to save this post, you’ll get what you need/want without a bunch of leftover fabric.

How Big Is A Yard of Fabric?

Twelve inches is a foot and three feet is one yard, meaning a yard of fabric is 3-feet or 36 inches long by the width of fabric.

The width of the fabric is what gets confusing. It used to be pretty straightforward, quilt fabric was 44/45 inches wide. Forty-five inches wide with forty-four inches of usable fabric. I’m not sure when things changed, sometime in the mid-late nineties when I was out of quilting. When I came back to the quilt world every manufacturer had its own width and there was backing fabric. The good news is you can look at the bolt to know how wide the fabric is it will be right there with the fabric line, manufacturer, and where it was made.

Why Knowing the Width of Fabric Matters

I know a few inches in difference of the width of fabric doesn’t seem like a lot but it adds up. When I came back to quilting I stuck to QT Fabrics, still my favorite brand, because that’s what my mom had used when she was alive. QT Fabrics used to be VIP fabrics in the 80s and early 90s. They are still 44 inches wide and because of that, my first few projects were based on that. This caused some issues because I didn’t realize that 44 was no longer standard so I was shorting the fabric requirements for those using narrower fabric.

The width of fabric also changes how many 2 1/2 inch squares you’ll get out of each yard of fabric. It doesn’t change how many 5″ squares or 10″ squares you’ll get. So depending on the project it might not be that big of a deal.

A Yard of Fabric in Square Inches

Fabric width can vary from 40 inches wide to 44 inches wide, most companies today are in the 42-inch range. We are excluding backing fabric since most quilters aren’t purchasing it for piecing. Some of those cuts will have some bits leftover but I’m keeping the math simple in the examples below

40-inch wide fabric

The 40-inch wide fabric gives us 1,440 square inches of fabric. What does that mean for how many pieces you can get? You can get (224) 2 1/2″ squares, (56) 5″ squares, or (12) 10″ squares.

42-inch wide fabric

The 42-inch wide fabric gives us 1, 512 square inches of fabric. You can get (235) 2 1/2″ squares, (56) 5″ squares, or (12) 10″ squares.

44-inch wide fabric

The 44-inch wide fabric gives us 1,584 square inches of fabric. You can get (246) 2 1/2″ squares, (56) 5″ squares, or (12) 10″ squares.

How many 2 1/2” squares, 2 1/2” strips, 5″ squares, and 10″ squares in a yard of fabric?

For 2 1/2” squares please refer above because the width of the fabric will determine how many squares you can get. To make things simple I’ll refer to each size as the most common name, if you want all the names each size can be called check out of dedicated post on precut quilt fabrics.

2 1/2 Strips

You get 14 strips from each yard of fabric, it gives you an inch of fabric to straighten up your fabric. A jellyroll is 42 strips so you will need three yards of fabric to make a jellyroll.

5″ Squares

I think 5″ squares were the first precut fabric size and why it doesn’t have a baked goods themed name. From each yard of fabric you’ll get 56 squares or a full charm pack with 14 leftover squares.

10″ Squares

From each yard, you get 12 squares. That means you’ll need a total of 3 2/3 yards of fabric to make a layer cake. That will give you almost 3 inches to straighten the edge.

How Much Fabric Do I Need To Buy?

Most designers will include not just the yardage but also the width of the fabric used in the pattern, the text of the listing, or a blog post about the pattern. It’s good to check the notes or scan the QR code that is showing up on more patterns nowadays. There is only so much information that we can squeeze into a pattern and as I have learned over the years most folks don’t want a 12-page pattern for a 12-inch quilt block.

If for some reason the designer doesn’t include the width of the fabric or the manufacturer of the fabric error on the side of caution and assume 40″ wide fabric. I would rather have some fabric leftover than not have enough. If the manufacturer is listed but not width look up there 2 1/2” strip rolls to see what width they are. It’s a safe assumption that their bolt fabric will be the same width.

What Is A Yard of Fabric in Meters?

Quilting is an international craft so knowing the conversion of inches and yards to meters is needed. One yard of fabric is 0.91 meters and 1/2 yard is 0.46 meters so if you don’t want to do the math on a pattern you could just buy the same amount of meters as yards. You will have a little leftover but that’s OK!

How Much Fabric Is On A Bolt?

This is a fairly common question for quilters and I wish I could answer it. Remember how I said different manufacturers have different widths of fabric? The same goes for how many yards are on a bolt. Some manufacturers even offer different amounts to shops to one shop might have 10 yard bolts and the other 15.

So how do you figure out if a bolt has enough fabric? My mom taught me this little trick and it has saved me on more than one occasion.

Photo from Stash Fabrics Click Photo To Purchase

This will only work on manufactured bolts not on comic book boards. Every two of the folds of fabric is equals about a yard. I counted the folds in the pictures and got 19 folds. That would be between 9 and 10 yards on this bolt. Stash Fabrics is selling this bolt and it’s 10 yards. So the trick got me pretty close.

P.S. If you like Kona fabric click the photo above, they are currently selling Kona fabric by the bolt for $57.50 or $5.75 a yard. I’m not affiliated with Stash Fabrics I just wanted to share a great deal.


In case you forgot a yard of fabric is 36 inches long, 3 feet long, and just under a meter. Before you go don’t forget to check out the Ultimate Quilter’s Gift Guide, our Free Quilt Blocks, our Paid Quilt Patterns, and our suggestions on how to store fabric.

Don’t forget to pin the image below to find this post again!

Calculate how many 2 1/2" squares, 5" squares, or 10" squares you can get out of a yard of fabric. Discover the length & width in meters & learn how this affects pattern requirements. Get the measurements you need to plan your next project!

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