Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sewing with Precut Fabric Bundles

Since I selected the Jelly Roll Race quilt technique for QuiltWest, you probably noticed I'm finally coming around on the whole precut fabric thing.  For years, the frugal homemaker inside me just couldn't come to terms with paying so much extra for the process of having someone else do your cutting.  Frankly, I saw it as a luxury I couldn't afford.

Boy, has my perspective ever changed...

Unfamiliar with Precuts?

Here's a basic breakdown of typical precuts and bundles you might see from various manufacturers.  Some of these terms are specific to the manufacturer (Moda, mostly), but they've come to refer to all precuts in the same way that all sodas are "cokes" if you come from Kentucky like me.

Fat Quarter - single cut of fabric, 18 x 22-ish inches, occasionally sold in bundles of varying sizes
Layer Cake - stack of 10 x 10 inch squares, $39 or less
Charm Pack - stack of 5 x 5 inch squares, $10 or less
Jelly Roll - roll of 2.5 x 42 inch strips, $39 or less
Honey Bun - roll of 1.5 x 42 inch strips, $30 or less
Turnover - stack of 6 inch triangles, $18 or less, (80 pieces)

With the exception of the turnovers, most of these kits come with approximately 40 pieces of fabric, provided from some 20-30 coordinating fabrics, but every manufacturer is different, so read the fine print to know what you're getting.

So why am I so sold on precuts now?

For one thing, what I failed to consider in the past was the variety of beautiful fabrics you get in a bundle of precut fabrics.  Precut = precoordinated.  So yes, if you buy a jelly roll with 2.5 yards of fabric for $40, you're paying a pretty sizable markup, BUT do you really want an entire yard of all 40 of those fabrics?  (Or even 1/2 yard?)

So, yes.  It took me a while to realize how nice it is to get a bundle of beautiful cuts, use it all and move on to the next project.  How freeing!

After I finally broke down and bought my first precuts, my next dilemma was how to make a quilt from such a small amount of each fabric.  Again, like the CFLs over my vanity, the lightbulb needed a little time to warm up before I realized that the key was to mix them with solids.

And on a side note, it was about this same time when I realized that solids were the answer to showing off my mad long-arm quilting skillz, too.  With a nice mix of solids and prints, the beautiful prints, precision piecing and intricate quilting prowess can all shine in a glorious trifecta of fabric-y genius!

Where do I get precuts?

I'm always going to say, "Start locally."  I'm a big fan of supporting local small business, and many high-end quilt shops will carry a limited selection of precut fabrics from major manufacturers/designers like Moda, Windham, Benartex, Robert Kaufmann, Riley Blake etc.

...But if you can't find what you need downtown, it's time to hit the interwebs.

The main internet purveyors are companies that focus on quilter's cotton fabric like Missouri Star Quilt Co, which specializes in precuts and boasts the largest selection on the web, Fat Quarter Shop (FQS accepts Paypal!), and honorable mention to Hancock's of Paducah for their amazing selection of precut Batiks.  (This is a different company from the big box fabric store chain and infinitely more awesome).  You can find precuts at, but because this company deals in all kinds of fabric, their attention to detail in precuts is pretty pitiful. (Sorry guys, but it's kind of a prerequisite with precuts that you should show a graphic with swatches of all the included fabrics.  That's what sells it, silly.  Why would you NOT do this?)

Finally, designer lines of precuts seem to come and go pretty quickly, so you can't always wait for them to go on sale.  That said, when I've fallen in love with a fabric line and couldn't find it at the major suppliers anymore, I've had great luck with Etsy.  Many small-time fabric dealers do business there and have older inventory, but don't expect a bargain.

 How do I get a better deal?

By their very nature, web resources for precuts typically have competitive pricing, so it usually comes down to selection, promotional discounts and shipping costs.  

Pay attention to daily deals from companies like Missouri Star, which also offers $5 flat rate shipping.  The daily deal is usually so good, it's nearly impossible to resist.  (A few days ago, they offered something for 100% off.  Kooky, right?  But it was legit -- a free product with only the price of shipping applied.)  Or go directly to the sale section of Fat Quarter Shop so you can fall in love with something that's already on sale, instead of wanting the latest release.  Incidentally, FQS has the absolute best website for sifting through their inventory.  It's fast moving and user-friendly.  If you know you need a layer cake, you can go to the sale section and then jump to layer cakes.  You don't have to sort through the entire sale inventory to find what you want.  Nearly all these companies have a "free shipping" threshold as well.  So it behooves you to plan your project and order all your supplies at once to save on shipping.

Another easy way to save?  Subscribe to email and coupon lists.  Of course, in order for that to work, you have to actually read the emails they send you...

What can I make from a precut bundle?

Now that you're sold on the concept of precut bundles and you've hunted them down, you run into two more dilemmas:

First, how do I figure out what to cut from these gorgeous little bundles?  I have a real hangup about wasting things.  I find that most people driven to learn arts like sewing and quilting come from two camps:  The "I want to save money and not pay retail" camp, and the "I want something different from what everybody else has" camp.  They aren't mutually exclusive.  I feel both compulsions.  So when I get ready to start a quilt with a bundle of precuts, it takes me a moment to get past the "Whatever I do, I don't want to mess it up!" stage.  When the largest cut of any one fabric in a fat quarter bundle is a mere 18 x 22 inches, you want to have some kind of strategy, even if it's a loose one.

If you prefer video learning, Missouri Star offers a series of free instructional YouTube videos on various quilting techniques with many of them starring precut bundles.  

If you're okay with a printed pattern, Fat Quarter Shop offers an awesome selection of free quilt patterns organized by manufacturer and many of them geared towards precuts. 

Hancock's of Paducah offers a nice selection of free downloadable patterns, but you have to know where to look.  Start with this link.  Ignore the prices and the moment of whiplash that says, "I know I clicked a link that said FREE" -- these are prices for ordering a printed copy.  Select your pattern and then when you're in the product page, below the photo you should see a link that says "CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD FREE PATTERN." It's not intuitive, but it's there, just the same. 

And how do I know what size quilt I can get from a precut bundle?

I am only beginning my precut journey, so I don't pretend to be the expert here.  Missouri Star offered this blog posting last March giving a basic idea of what various types of precut bundles can make, though I think it's a VERY general guideline.  It's extremely helpful if you have a size goal in mind, like a baby, lap, twin or queen-size bed quilt, but be flexible.  Their posting says, for example, that two layer cakes will make a queen-size bed quilt.  I'm knee-deep into a project using two layer cakes with a modest number of cuts and seams, and I'm here to tell you there's no way it's going to measure up to a queen quilt, (unless I add gigantic borders).

The jelly roll race quilts we're making for QuiltWest have turned out to be about 49 x 56 inches, though with some slight variation from quilter to quilter. 

What kinds of projects have you made from precuts?