Here at The Quilting Room we sometimes forget some of the basics of quilting, like how big is a yard of fabric. I don’t remember when I learned that handy tidbit of information because I grew up in a family that sewed so fabric was talked about all the time. I also realized not everyone got excited for fabric lookbooks to arrive in the mail as a child. While I love the saving of trees that happens with so much being digital I So let’s answer this question today.
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This is going to be a lot of math. I’m going to do my best to explain it in both technical math terms but also in quilting math. My goal is for your to truly understand how much fabric you get in a yard of fabric because it isn’t as clear cut as it should be.
How Big Is A Yard of Fabric?
We need to go back to grade school and remember the conversions they taught us in third grade, I don’t know about you but the third grade was a long time ago. 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.
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.
You’ll notice there’s no difference in the 5″ and 10″ squares the difference is in how much is leftover after you cut the squares, you really notice the difference on the smaller 2 1/2″ squares and you can probably see where that can make a huge difference in a pattern.
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 errs 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!
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. If you are a precut quilting fabric fan we have a similar post about them.
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