I'm leading the activity (a Charm Square Swap and associated fun) at the May meeting of the Portland Modern Quilt Guild and have written this post mainly for the PMQG peeps who wanted additional information on cutting charm squares. It's general information though, so hopefully others will also find it useful!
In the parlance of our times, a charm square is a 5" x 5" square of fabric. Today, packages including one or more squares of each fabric in a collection are available from many fabric companies. Packages like these can be a good way to get a little piece of all of the fabrics in a collection at a reasonable price. Today's quilters also cut their own charm squares from yardage, fat quarters, and scraps.
The concept of a Charm Quilt has been around for years. Traditionally, the Charm Quilt concept involved making an entire quilt using a different fabric for every single piece. Because this necessarily involved more different fabrics than most quilters had on hand, swapping charm squares became common. One popular trend was for a quilter to cut two squares, one for her own quilt and one to swap with a friend.
Following are some basic instructions/calculations for cutting your own charm squares.
Note: Before cutting charm squares, make sure your fabric is freshly pressed.
Start by laying your folded fabric on your cutting mat. Square up your fabric and cut a straight edge along one side, as shown above.
Measuring from your straight edge, cut a 5" x width of fabric strip.
Note: in the above photo, I've moved around to the other side of my cutting table to make the second cut. For maximum accuracy, I recommend cutting on a table where you can do this. If walking around your table isn't possible, carefully turn your cutting mat around, so as not to disturb your fabric.
Measuring from the former selvage edge, cut four 5" x 5" squares, as shown above.
Because those cuts were made through two layers of fabric, this will result in a total of 8 charm squares.
So, as we just learned, a 5" x width of fabric* strip will produce 8 charm squares. If you're buying yardage to cut multiple charm squares for a swap, you can use the following as a guide:
- 1/4 yard = 1 strip 5" x WOF (8 charm squares)
- 3/8 yard = 2 strips 5" x WOF (16 charm squares)
- 1/2 yard = 3 strips 5" x WOF (24 charm squares)
- 5/8 yard = 4 strips 5" x WOF (32 charm squares)
- 3/4 yard = 5 strips 5" x WOF (40 charm squares)
- 7/8 yard = 6 strips 5" x WOF (48 charm squares)
- 1 yard = 7 strips 5" x WOF (56 charm squares)
*These calculations are based on standard cotton print fabric that is about 42" wide. If you're using more narrow fabric, you may end up with fewer squares. Wider fabric will obviously produce more squares.
Cutting Charm Squares from Fat Quarters:
A standard (approximately 18" x 21") fat quarter will produce 12 charm squares.
Lay your fat quarter on your cutting mat, as shown above. Square up your ruler along one on the long (non-selvage) edges and cut a straight edge.
Trim away the selvage edge, squaring up your ruler with the straight edge you just cut.
Measuring from the straight edge along the long side (the first cut you made) and squaring up your ruler with the former selvage edge, cut three strips 5" x approximately 21".
Measuring from the squared-up (former selvage edge) of each strip, cut 4 squares, 5" x 5", for a total of 12 charm squares.
Cutting from Scraps and Fussy Cutting:
If you're cutting charm squares from scraps or odd cuts, a 5" x 5" ruler can be an invaluable aid. Since the ruler is exactly the size of the square you want to cut, you can lay it on top of your fabric scraps and immediately now whether they're large enough.
If you're cutting charm squares from larger prints, it can be fun to "fussy cut" the print. Fussy cutting is when you cut out a particular part of a print -- usually to center a particular image. If you have a 5" x 5" ruler, you can simply move it around on top of your fabric until the part of the print you want to cut is framed beneath it. Cut around all four sides of the ruler to produce your fussy-cut square.
Fussy cutting is obviously not the most conservative approach to using fabric, but the effect of fussy-cut squares in a quilt can be striking.
If you don't have a 5" x 5" ruler, you can make your own guide by cutting a 5" x 5" square from translucent template plastic. If you do this, I recommend drawing diagonal lines from corner to corner, as shown above. This will allow you to easily pinpoint the center of your squares.
Once your template is in place, you can either trace around it with a fabric marking tool and cut it out with scissors or lay a quilting ruler on top of the template, carefully rotating the ruler to cut each side of the charm square.
I look forward to seeing everyone's squares at the PMQG meeting. Even if you're not in Portland and/or coming to the meeting, I hope you've found something useful here!