The Benefits of Precut Fabrics
Writer: Linzee Kull McCray
Layer Cakes, Roll Ups, Pops—whatever you call precuts, it seems as though they have been around forever. From fat quarters to 1"-wide strips, precut fabric pieces provide quilters a palette of colors in a ready-to-use size, which can jump-start a project.
It might surprise contemporary quilters to know that the first time manufacturers offered these ready-to-sew pieces was in October 2006, when Moda Fabrics introduced Jelly Rolls—bundles of 42 fabrics cut into 2-1/2"-wide strips—at International Quilt Market. Lissa Alexander, Moda's director of marketing, says that while some individuals, including designers Daniela Stout and Debbie Caffrey, had been creating and using strips, Moda was the first fabric company to mass-produce them. "One person said 'jelly' and another said 'rolls' and that's how the name was born," Lissa says.
Precuts typically are die-cut when the fabric is printed and specialty cutting companies have grown up around the precut industry. Fabric manufacturers work hard to ensure that precuts and yardage are delivered to shops simultaneously so quilters can get backing and border fabrics to complete projects made using precuts.
While fat quarter bundles preceded Jelly Rolls, they require additional cutting to use. The strips in a Jelly Roll, on the other hand, can be used as they are or cut into simple shapes, which means time is saved. When the 2-1/2"-wide strips proved popular, other companies created their own: Robert Kaufman Fabrics has Roll Ups, RJR Fabrics has Pixie Strips, and FreeSpirit has Design Rolls. Soon a variety of sizes and shapes—including 10" squares, fat eighth bundles, 1-1/2"-wide strips, and hexagons—were added to the list of precut options.
Most precut packs are composed of a single fabric line, and pattern designer and author Christa Watson of Christa Quilts and The Precut Store thinks that's part of their appeal. "You can get variety without breaking the bank," she says, noting that a bundle of fabrics takes the worry out of pulling together compatible fabrics. "Precuts give you a scrappy look that's cohesive and controlled. They're fun to work with, and you don't have to worry about whether prints go together."
Hoffman California Fabrics combines precut Bali Pops (forty 2-1/2"-wide strips) differently, bundling fabrics from across its collections of batiks. "We pull from all our latest collections to create a color story," says Michelle Flores, Hoffman's marketing coordinator. Most recently the company added Bali Poppies (twenty 2-1/2"-wide strips). "The idea with the smaller 'snack' size is that you can mix and match packs," Michelle says. "Many strip projects call for 60 strips, and this way you can customize your project and combine colors in your own way."
While the 2-1/2"-wide strip is the most popular precut, quilters' shape and size preferences depend on the project. Lissa appreciates that as the scale of a fabric design grows larger, the 10" squares of a Layer Cake enable more pattern to be seen. Designer Kimberly Einmo also likes the versatility of the 10" square. "You can cut circles and arcs, and they're great for easy machine appliqué," Kimberly says. "And if you can't get the 2-1/2"-wide strips you want, you can cut a 10" square into four equal strips for the same thing. Layer Cakes are the powerhouse of design opportunity."
Precuts are the topic of countless blog posts, tutorials, books, and classes, and as each new precut shape becomes available, patterns and tips emerge that help quilters realize that shape's possibilities.
Precuts may be the answer when you don't have much time to make a quilt for a special baby or you just want to spend a soothing hour watching beautiful fabrics slide beneath your fingers. "For many people, cutting is their least favorite part of a project. It takes time and you have to think about using your fabric wisely and not wasting it," Michelle says. "With precuts it's instant gratification. You can just get started."
Christa says that even after four years, her simple-to-make Jolly Jelly Roll pattern is downloaded daily.
Lissa remembers the first time she sat down at her sewing machine with a precut bundle. "I'd worked all day and realized that between cooking dinner and tending to the kids and laundry, there was an ease to sitting down and just sewing," she says. "I said to myself, I so get it now." Precut-lovers so get it, too.
Love precuts? Get free patterns using a variety of precut sizes here.
Download our free cutting chart for a variety of precuts.
Watch this video for some quick tips to make them even easier!