A beginner's guide to visiting a quilt shop.

Avoid Feeling Overwhelmed

Most veteran quilters admit to a lifetime love of fabric. That love, however, doesn't necessarily make it easy to choose fabrics for a quilt or to add to a fabric stash. In fact, the wealth of fabrics that greets you when you enter a quilt shop may delight you at first, but often you're quickly bewildered by the seemingly limitless possibilities.

Fabrics in the store are often arranged by color and frequently resemble a giant rainbow. Some shops combine the principles of color and value in their displays, organizing all the reds in one area, for example. Other shops display best-selling fabric collections together. Many will group fabrics by type, such as flannels, reproduction, Asian fabrics, or wool.

When choosing your fabrics in the store, stack bolts horizontally to view how fabrics work together and how they will appear when cut into smaller shapes. Stand back and look at the stacked bolts; a view from a distance will give you an idea of how a fabric combination will work. If you need to figure out what's missing, arrange the fabrics by color from light to dark.

To make shopping easier, especially if you aren't able to find all the fabrics at one quilt shop, make a swatch card with snippets of your fabric. Take it with you when you're out shopping.  With that in hand, you should be able to fill in the gaps by comparing fabrics in the stores with your swatches.

Quilters Have Their Own Language

If you're new to quilting, it seems like quilters have their own lingo. For instance, what does a "fat quarter" mean? How many inches are in 3/8ths?

In most quilt stores, inches are the standard measurement that is used to cut yardage. It will help you determine how much fabric you need to make your quilt.

1/8 yd. – 4-1/2"

1/4 yd. – 9"

3/8 yd. – 13-1/2"

1/2 yd. – 18"

5/8 yd. – 22-1/2"

3/4 yd. – 27"

7/8 yd. – 31-1/2"

1 yd. – 36"

What Are Fat Quarters...and Fussy-Cutting?

Fat Quarter: A 1/4-yard piece of 42"-wide fabric that is cut in a different configuration from a traditional 1/4-yard cut, which measures 9x42". To get a fat quarter, a 1/2-yard piece of fabric (18x42") is cut in half crosswise, yielding two 18x22" pieces, each of which is a "fat" quarter yard.

Fat Eighth: Fat Eighth: An 1/8-yard piece of 42" fabric that is cut in a different configuration from a traditional 1/8-yard cut, which measures 4-1/2x42". To get a fat eighth, a traditional 1/4-yard piece of fabric (9x42") is cut in half crosswise, yielding two 9x22" pieces, each of which is a "fat" eighth yard.

Fussy-Cutting: Some patterns are perfect for showcasing a particular print, which may require you to "fussy-cut" certain pieces in the blocks. Fussy-cutting means isolating and cutting out a specific motif or print. For example, you may want a specific flower in a floral print to be the center of a star block.

To fussy-cut, place a see-through template in the shape you desire over the selected motif, trace the shape, and cut it out. Fussy-cutting does take more fabric, so buy extra if you know you want to use this technique.

Novelty Print: Also called conversation prints, these fabrics are printed with themed motifs that might represent holidays, hobbies, nursery rhymes, or even cartoon characters.

Large-scale prints make wonderful focus fabrics and can determine the color and mood of a project. They also make great borders or quilt backs, so you might want to buy a greater amount.

Building a Stash

Begin by selecting an assortment of fabrics over time. Use your favorite colors as a starting point and branch out from there. Remember to keep in mind a range of values, from lights to darks. Quilt shops often have precut bundles of fat quarters that give you a sampling of a variety of fabrics. You might want to assemble a stash based on seasonal fabrics or perhaps your favorite holiday, such as Christmas, Halloween, or the 4th of July. Don't forget to save the leftovers from a quilt you've already made.

Building a fabric stash helps you become more spontaneous in your quilting. If you find a project that you'd like to start immediately, perhaps from a magazine or a pattern you've picked up, you can begin working on it if you already have fabric available. By having a range of fabric at your fingertips, you'll be able to experience the joys of creating, much like an artist with a palette of paints!