A Quilt Pattern for Beginners (and what is a ‘fat quarter’?)

Clouds and Smoke cover picture.JPG

I have just published a new quilt pattern, designed specifically for anyone wanting to make their very first quilt. It’s called ‘Clouds and Smoke’ because the original is made in creams and greys. I was so happy to find the beautiful stone building pictured above for the cover photo-shoot, with its rich mix of greys.

The quilt is a nice, straightforward design, using squares.  The final quilt can be square (usable as a lap-quilt or throw or as a play-mat) or an oblong (usable as a lap-quilt or throw or a cot-quilt for a baby over 12 months). Diagrams are given for both shapes. You can complete the quilt top with six ‘fat quarters’ – three of cream or cream print and three of grey or grey print.  (I bought my six fat quarters at Sewn at Pam’s in Bishop Auckland, UK.)

A ‘fat quarter’ is a phrase much bandied-about among quilters but which I had never heard before I returned to doing patchwork and quilting in the last few years. A ‘fat quarter’ looks like this:what is a fat quarter.jpg

Things can get a bit complicated, however, because of the difference between imperial and metric measurements.

American quilters stick to imperial, so they will buy lengths of fabric in yards, and will think of the width as 42″. So, following the diagram above, a fat quarter will be 21″ wide and 18″ long – a quarter of the area of one yard.

Quilters from the British Isles, especially younger quilters, will be used to using metric, and will buy lengths of fabric in metres and will think of the fabric width as 107cm. So, following the diagram above, a fat quarter will be 53.5cm wide and 50cm long – a quarter of the area of one metre.

The ‘metric’ quilters will get a slightly bigger piece of fabric, because a metre is longer than a yard.

The reason that this particular piece is called a ‘fat’ quarter, is that it has a chunky, almost square shape. If you went into a fabric shop that used imperial measurements and just asked for a ‘quarter of a yard’ you would get a strip cut across the roll, so it would measure 42″ all the way across the width, but only be 9″ long. The shape of the ‘fat quarter’ gives quilters more scope (even though the actual area is exactly the same).

So, as a beginner, you need to know how your fabric shop sells fabric (by the yard? by the metre?). If you are buying fat quarters in a pack, it is worth looking closely at the packaging to see how big those particular fat quarters are.

I’m teaching a ‘Make your First Quilt’ group at the moment, which is very satisfying, but each time I do it, I am reminded of how many different skills are involved in making a quilt. You need to already know how to use a sewing machine to stitch a straight line, but the pattern covers all the other techniques you need to learn. There are useful hints and tips alongside careful step-by-step instructions, each with its own colour photo:

2 measuring up a block.JPG

You can learn how to cut out, stitch together, layer up, add quilting and bind your quilt. Machine quilting is covered and so is and hand quilting:


You can find the ‘Clouds and Smoke’ pattern by clicking here.

Should you wash fabrics before use?


Washing red fabrics.JPG

I’m just back from one of our twice-a-year quilting weekends away, which was thoroughly enjoyable. The journey to our quilting destination always involves visits to quilt shops en route and I usually buy fat quarters and scrap bags to stock up the ‘baskets of colour’ kept on the shelves behind my work table. There are currently 17 in all: red (2 baskets), blue (2 baskets), yellow, green (2 baskets), orange, purple/mauve, pink, peach, grey, black, white/cream, brown/fawn, multi-coloured (so useful having this as a separate category!) and a small basket for novelty prints of any colour.

Purple and mauve colour basket

In these baskets are pieces from varying in side from small scraps up to fat quarters, so that when I am designing and making, I can just reach for them, in the same way that I would for a tube of watercolour paint. I know many quilters talk about their ‘stash’, but it’s not a word I use. That speaks to me of keeping something you don’t use, whereas these baskets are in constant use and so I refer to these baskets of fabric as my ‘stock’. Larger pieces of fabric live in a small cupboard about five feet from my work-table (my studio is small) and once again, I go to it constantly.

Many quilters like to use new fabric without washing, and certainly in some class situations, this is the only option. However, if I am using the fabrics myself I always wash them, usually by hand, first, as I want to see how the fabrics behave. Lights and darks are washed separately and the red fabrics are done on their own, as red is a loose dye, as you can see from the photo at the top of the post. These particular red fabrics took about six rinses after washing until the water was completely clear. It’s important to remove excess dye at this stage. Imagine if you had a red and cream quilt and only found out with the first wash that the red was bleeding into all the cream areas. Actually, I did design a quilt like that (click here to see the post about it) and yes, I did wash every fabric first, including the backing fabric which was solid red.

winter-roses-quilt, designed and made by Amanda Ogden

I also like to look out for fabric from charity shops and recently picked up some vintage Laura Ashley fabric (dated 1981 along the selvedge!). This definitely needed washing and very many rinses as it poured dye from the light mustard-coloured background.

fabric from Laura Ashley.JPG

Everything is hung out to dry naturally. I wouldn’t put small pieces in a tumble dryer – it would put too much stress on the fabric. There is a good range of different drying racks in my household to accommodate all manner of textile items:

Hanging red fabrics out to dry.JPG

I mentioned buying a ‘lucky bag’ in a recent post about Bristol (click here if you missed it). And I couldn’t resist buying another one at ‘Fat Quarters’ quilt shop in Blackhall Mill. Even the very small ‘lucky bag’ items fit on this rack – and what a lovely range of prospects they suggest…

Hanging lucky bag pieces out to dry.JPG