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Why Quilting Patterns, Tools, and Tutorials are Typically Designed in Inches

Recently, I got a question from a customer about why my patterns are described in inches. Actually, she specifically said, "If you are from New Zealand, why aren’t you using metric measurements for your patterns?" I'm not sure if she was questioning my location or if she was just genuinely curious, but whatever the reason, the answer for me is pretty simple: most of my customers are based in the United States and are comfortable using Imperial measurements. Yep, since I started this crazy design journey, I’ve become pretty comfortable converting imperial and metric measurements in my head, which is pretty impressive for someone who is admittedly not the best mathematician. I’m sure most quilters who live in a metric-based country probably gain this ability after a while because it’s a passion-based skill to acquire.

But it did get me thinking.

As you immerse yourself in the world of quilting, you’ll quickly notice a peculiar trend: most patterns, tools, and tutorials are designed in inches rather than centimeters. In a world increasingly governed by the metric system, why does quilting stubbornly stick to inches? Let's embark on a whimsical journey to uncover the mystery, shall we?

Historical Roots

Quilting has deep roots in the United States and the United Kingdom, where the imperial system (inches, feet, yards) has been the gold standard for centuries. Picture this: it’s the 18th century, tea is the height of fashion, and quilting is blossoming. As quilting techniques, patterns, and tools were born and spread, they naturally adhered to the familiar measurements of their time. Thus, inches became the quilting lingua franca.

Even pre cut jelly rolls are designed in imperial measurements

The Quarter-Inch Seam Allowance

Ah, the quarter-inch seam allowance – the unsung hero of quilting! This little measurement is vital for achieving precise, uniform quilt blocks. Why a quarter-inch, you ask? Because it’s just the right size to work with the tools quilters have traditionally had on hand, like rulers and seam gauges marked in inches. It’s the secret ingredient that ensures quilt blocks fit together like a dream, creating that perfect patchwork puzzle.

Tools of the Trade

From rotary cutters and rulers to cutting mats and sewing machine feet, quilting tools are predominantly designed with inches in mind. Quilting rulers, for instance, are often marked with grids that divide each inch into easy-to-read increments, making fabric cutting a breeze. Rotary cutters and cutting mats follow suit, aligning perfectly with the common quilting measurements and patterns. It’s like the tools and the patterns are whispering sweet nothings to each other in the language of inches.

Most quilting rulers and tools are designed in inches to support the fact that the majority of users are from countries where imperial measurements are the dominant system.

Patterns and Tutorials

Quilting patterns and tutorials have evolved over generations, primarily in regions that use the imperial system. As these resources were created and shared, they naturally employed inches. Today, the vast majority of quilting literature – whether in books, magazines, or online tutorials – continues to use inches. This consistency is a godsend, making it easier for quilters to follow along and ensuring that measurements remain accurate and standard across different projects.

Global Community, Local Traditions

Quilting is a global passion with enthusiasts from every corner of the world. Yet, the influence of American and British quilting traditions remains strong. Even in countries that use the metric system, quilters often adapt to using inches for the sake of convenience and consistency. Precut Fabric Collections like Jelly Rolls and Honey Buns are measured in inches. Quilting Rulers have measurements in inches, and even the feet on many of our trusty sewing machines... yep you guessed it fractions of inches. Switching to centimeters would require retooling equipment and rewriting countless patterns – a Herculean task that might create more confusion than clarity. So, inches it is!

Adapting to the Metric System

For quilters who are more comfortable with the metric system, there are ways to adapt. Some modern quilting tools and patterns do include metric measurements, and handy converters or online tools can help translate inches to centimeters. However, the imperial system’s dominance in quilting is likely to persist due to the deep-seated traditions and practicalities of the craft.

Final Thoughts

Inches remain the poetic heartbeat of quilting, a testament to the craft's rich history and the practical benefits of its long-standing traditions. While the world around us may increasingly shift towards the metric system, quilting's charm dances to the rhythm of inches – ensuring precision, consistency, and a shared language among quilters everywhere. So, whether you measure in inches or centimeters, the most important thing is the joy and creativity you bring to each quilted masterpiece.

Happy Quilting, Rachel