The Problem with Precuts

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If you follow me on Twitter, you may have already seen a bit of grousing on this subject, but I have to elaborate further here. You see, I had this sort of half formed plan (I won’t say half-baked, since that implies that it’s done but unsuccessful; this plan was just in it’s infancy) for a show quilt incorporating scrappy batiks, Inchies and machine embroidery. Don’t ask me to tell you how that was going to turn out with all of those seemingly disparate elements because I hadn’t yet figured that out completely, but it’s a moot point now anyway as you’ll see despite the fact that the Bali Pops look so pretty:

While the plan was still forming though, I spent a lot of time searching around the Internet looking for the best price on Hoffman Bali Pops, and was really happy when a 20% off coupon from Fat Quarter Shop showed up in my inbox at just the right moment. I placed my order for the Bali Pop colorways that I thought would work (so that the quilt would later find a home in my bedroom after the quilt show rounds were done), and spent the time waiting for it to arrive dreaming of sewing and cutting pretty diamonds from the hundreds of different batik fabrics I would have and placing them into my quilt plan just so.

The Bali Pops arrived, and they all looked so pretty sitting on my work table. I wasn’t quite ready to start on this big show quilt I was planning, but I did break one of the Pops open to use some of the strips for a small Inchie Quilt that I’m working on at the moment. After I chose the strips I wanted to use and got down to the cutting part, this is what I found:

That’s when Crazy Accuracy Freak Girl came boiling out of her corner raving all the way. The strip is horribly off-grain, the cut is completely crooked, and it’s not truly 2½” everywhere anywhere. I’m not even sure how they managed to cut this fabric at all from the looks of it now. Did they even use a ruler? And yeah, they’re all like that, every one of them in this package, some worse than others.

How on earth am I supposed to use this for a show quilt? You know, in recent years I’ve lightened up (a little) about precision piecing on every day sorts of quilts, but not on show quilts. Sorry, but it’s not show quality if the points don’t match, and you’d have to be a better fudger than I am to work with strips like these and get a good result. Not to mention that batik fabrics are harder to ease to match points, and these fabrics are not pre-washed (obviously) which makes easing even more difficult.

To be completely honest, I’m just not sure what I could use these for at this point, without cutting smaller-than-2½”-pieces from the strips, which kind of negates the purpose of these precut fabrics for me. That’s what I ended up doing with the couple of strips I already used for the small Inchie Quilt, and even that was a total pain because the strips are so crooked and off-grain to begin with. None of the squares I cut from the strips are on the straight grain and it’s a good thing that the Inchie Quilt that they’re going into is so small that I can work with it that way.

I was already pushing Crazy Accuracy Freak Girl’s buttons by using fabrics that couldn’t (reasonably) be prewashed, and now that I see how the strips are cut, I don’t see this show quilt idea having a happy ending. I’ve used precut batiks before and they didn’t seem this bad, though I didn’t like the pinked edges; pinked edges are hard to line up accurately for piecing. The Bali Pops have straight edges so I thought that they’d be easier to work with.

So now I’m stuck with six different Bali Pops that I have no idea what to do with. Yes, I bought six of these dang things; I was thinking BIG. So, I can let them sit there (they do look pretty all together on the sewing table with all the other precut bundles I have—–why do I buy these things?), sell them on ebay (probably too much effort), or I can ruminate on something else to do with them and come up with a new and unique pattern that could use them. You know, some sort of pattern where none of the points have to match and it doesn’t matter if the strips start out as crooked as a cat’s hind leg so it doesn’t make me crazy trying to piece it together, and oh, by the way, nothing that has to be paper pieced either. Riiiight. I’ll have to lock Crazy Accuracy Freak Girl in the heating room in the basement to keep her quiet, I’m sure.

Or, here’s a thought: maybe one of you out there can suggest a pattern that’s already out there somewhere that fits the criteria above, so I don’t have to make something up? What would YOU do with six Bali Pops?

EDIT: I forgot to note here that the one Bali Pop that I opened and that is pictured did not come from Fat Quarter Shop. That one came from the Army Arts & Crafts shop in Heidelberg! The other five I ordered from FQS!

15 December, 2009: SEE UPDATE BELOW!

Nadine Quilting smiley from

34 thoughts on “The Problem with Precuts

  1. Good morning Crazy Accuracy Freak Girl – from another crazy accuracy freak – I was sorry to read your post, but then glad too, because I too found the same situation in the one Bali pop that I have purchased. I abandoned my project requiring accurate cutting and piecing and made a bag from the Pop, and also some placemats. I was very disappointed in the quality of the strips and won’t use them again. I have also had issues with Charm squares – that, well, weren’t square. They were about 1/8 inch off, and that’s alot!
    My favorite rulers for super accurate cutting are from Patched Works – what are yours?

    Happy quilting – Kay

    • Hi Kay! So nice to know I’m not alone in the freakish accuracy department! I’ve noticed that about charm squares as well, though I’ve never tried to do anything with those that didn’t involve cutting them down.

      Can you give me a link to these rulers you like? I did a search and couldn’t find them. I’m an Omnigrid girl; I must have one of almost every size they make… 🙂

  2. I’ve found that the only time I get perfect cuts is when I buy “bulk” and then cut it down myself. I’ve bought precut sections from various sources for various projects, both quilting and not, and have repeatedly found that most people do not know how to use a ruler or a rotary. I do purchase off cut precuts because they come in handy on numerous occasions. However, with you purchasing 6 of these packs, my best suggestion is to possibly use them in small squares. This is the only thing I can think of off the top of my head. I only quilt from my own patterns. I taught myself and that’s all I know. I know no actual patterns.

    • Hey MorgansDead–Yeah, it seems I went a bit overboard on buying these, though if they would have been what I expected, it would have been fine. I don’t know about squares either really; I already cut two of the strips into squares and you have to cut each one individually since the strip is so dang crooked to begin with. It might work if I wanted 2″ squares, and then I could cut the strip down to 2″ and go on from there…Still frustrating!

  3. I think I’d get my $$ back from Hoffman!!! Nothing a nice letter and your photo won’t fix. Not sure I wouldn’t write the letter anyway… because they need to know that what is ending up in the shops is substandard.

    Beth-Near Chicago

    • Hi Beth! Yes, that’s something to consider. I think they need to know how bad these are and make some changes. The more I think about it, the less I look forward to trying to do anything with these other packages that I have!

  4. I agree with Beth. I would write to Hoffman and show them the problem. Maybe it will encourage them to make changes in how they are cutting their fabrics for these packs.

    I am glad to know about this! I was thinking of purchasing a package but I am reconsidering it now.

    • Hi Misty. I think you’re right about letting Hoffman know, and I think I’ll let Kimberly at Fat Quarter Shop know about this as well (though it is NOT her fault for sure!), just so she’s aware that the Bali Pops seem to be worse than the norm as precuts go.

      So what were you going to use the Bali Pop for?

  5. I, too, have found the same situation with the Bali Pops. My projects were not for show, but were for gifts the 2 good friends specifically wanted. I used Brenda Henning’s book, “Strip Therapy” – the quilts were called “Hot Flash” and “Mood Swing”. I did close to 1/8″ seams and relied on the tri-angle rulers suggested to make the final cuts. It was risky! The quilts did go together beautifully, but I will not work with the bali pops again.
    I hope this helps!

    • You know Linda, I kind of wondered about all those books about working with precuts, and how those authors dealt with the inconsistencies of strips like this. Was this problem mentioned in the book anywhere?

      I’m glad the quilts worked out okay, despite the fabric issues!

  6. I’ve noticed that the accuracy of the precuts isn’t really great on the Moda fabrics. I’ve learned my lessons the hard way. I try to straighten the precuts now before I start cutting pieces.

    I’m sad to see how bad the bali pop cut is. I just purchased one at the Des Moines Quilt show. Thanks for pointing this out to everyone. I don’t want to make the mistake of purchasing another.

    • Hi Amy! Having to straighten these little bits of fabric before you can use them seems like such a waste–of fabric and time! I realize that if we wanted as much variety as a charm pack or layer cake provides it would cost a small fortune to purchase it by the quarter- or eighth-yard so maybe we’re getting a deal, but it still seems like a waste. And I’d so much rather work with a decent size chunk of fabric (like at least 1/4 yard) than deal with little charm sized squares (which is why my scraps almost never get used).

      What were you planning to do with the Bali Pop you bought in Des Moines?

  7. Hi Nadine,

    Too bad. I ALMOST bought Bali-Pops for my sailboat quilt so I would have a bigger variety of fabrics for not as much money, but now I won’t. Thanks for letting us know. PS, I’ve seen this with Moda, and I won’t buy Keepsake Quilting strips (horrible fabric!) either.

  8. Hi Nadine,
    Ruth Blanchett has a great pattern called “Twisted Ribbons” I took an on line class from her and the quilt makes wonderful use of those oddly cut strips. It was a fun class and my quilt came out great. I plan to make another… it’s a nice break from precision. I wasn’t sure I would like it, so I bought my “Strips” from Wal-Mart, some were worse than yours and it came out great! So if I had those strips I would make another quilt like that. LOL. I have found those precust strips to be wacky no matter who makes them, So I have found when I want accuracy I just cut them myself.

  9. Nadine,
    I’m with the others, I would definitely contact Hoffman, and FQS and share this blog post with them too. I would imagine FQS has a good return policy, so it’s worth checking with them.

    I do have one bali pop here, but haven’t opened it. I love the colours, but I won’t order them again. I like wonky, funky, scrappy quilts, so I’m sure I’ll find something to do with the one I bought.

    Let us know how you make out. It’s one thing to get a sub-standard product, but quite another if you get excellent customer service to remedy the problem after the fact


      • Sherbert .. I’m planning to mix it with white .. but that will have to wait, as I’m using all the white I have on-hand for my sister’s quilt. Hoping for some good sales after the holidays. If you remember the pattern I was working on a few months ago, I was planning to do that, but larger. So, paper pieced, it won’t matter if they are cut off grain. I’ll have to adjust the pattern in case they aren’t exactly 2.5″ too. I was planning on purchasing more, as I love the colours, but I’m not too eager anymore.

  10. Nadine, your post also makes me think about the fabric cutting dies that are selling for personal use. Have you used them? They look accurate, but to me, I think pre cuts would squash creativity.

    • I don’t know if the cutters like the AccuCut Go would squash creativity necessarily, but I can imagine that getting things lined up so that the grainline on the fabric was straight on the pieces would be a concern. The only reason I’ve ever thought about a cutter is to do rag quilts, and I’ve never gotten around to trying to make one, so there you have it! 🙂

  11. Argh! How disappointing that those bali pops won’t work! I often use moda’s jelly rolls. I have made several bargello quilts from them and I’ve never had a problem (and I am picky, picky, picky!). That said… I ‘ve learned that precuts are cut in piles of FORTY fabrics (how could that possibly end in precision?) . I’ve heard of charm packs that were totally whack, off grain and not an accurate 5 inches square. I guess your best bet would be buying yardage to ensure your fabric is properly cut.

    • Hi Bradie! Yes, I know that with so many layers of fabric being cut all at once, it’s probably a miracle that the precuts turn out as well as they do. I’ve made many Bargello quilts in the past so I know the kind of precision they require and it’s good to know that the Jelly Rolls are working for you!

  12. Wait. They aren’t _supposed_ to look like that? Half the stuff I cut on my own comes out a little wonky because … I don’t know. Overly human? I swear my ruler has a curve in it or something to account for it. Fortunately, I killed off freaky precision girl ages ago. I might bring her ghost back if I _ever_ go nuts and decide to try a show quilt, but not likely. (I can loan you a murder weapon if you like. 🙂

  13. The rulers I like are from There is a sidebar to click where you can see all the rulers available. You can also get them from Checkers Distributers under PWRulers. The rulers come with either black or white lines, and I have both – white lines are sure nice when working with dark fabrics. The angled lines are in good locations, and on a couple of them, the 45 degree lines intersect at 1/4 inch from the edge – very handy when trimming square on point or flying geese blocks. I hope you can find them and try them out – Kay

  14. UPDATE!

    I received an email reply from Hoffman this morning:

    My understanding is that among the tens of thousands of BPs produced this year, there have been some substandard packs that slipped through our inspection checkpoint in Bali. But let me assure you of a couple of things: We’ve replaced these packs with our customers as soon as we’ve learned of them. And we’ve also worked with and continue to work closely with our plant managers in Bali in ensuring that appropriate changes be made in the production line so that consistency of the cuts are maintained. Our managers have made adjustments in how the fabrics are cut, including using a different type of cutting device. In speaking for Hoffman Fabrics, I want to clarify that the number of irregular BP packs has been very limited within the bulk that has been produced and enjoyed by our wholesale and consumer customers.

    Hoffman California Fabrics also offered to replace the packs or refund what I paid, whichever I’d prefer. I also received an email from Fat Quarter Shop saying that I was welcome to return the Bali Pops for a refund.

    After receiving the email from Hoffman, I decided to open the rest of the Bali Pops that I had here to see if they were any better. The one that I opened earlier that was cut so badly was a Cappuccino colorway from the first series of BPs, and of the five other BPs I have here, four are from the new series so I thought they might be better.

    All the other BPs that I have are much better than the first one that I opened. They’re still not perfect, but I’d have to guess that they won’t ever be “perfect” due to the way they’re manufactured, and these strips don’t exhibit any more flaws than I would expect from precut fabrics. I do think I’ll be able to use them for my original project without jumping through too many hoops. I should at least be able to sew two strips together since they have straighter edges! Perhaps the Cappuccino package was from an earlier production run.

    It’s good to know that Hoffman stands behind their product and is willing to replace or refund when there is an obvious quality issue. Like Michele said above:

    It’s one thing to get a sub-standard product, but quite another if you get excellent customer service to remedy the problem after the fact

    Excellent customer service received from both Fat Quarter Shop and Hoffman California Fabrics!

  15. Nadine – you are correct. It takes a long time to straighten the pre-cuts and it is a hassle. But it is cheap way to get a line of fabrics. I’m going to make my Bali Pop into a quilt with a pattern by Teacher’s Pet called Split Decision. I absolutely can not take any credit for that idea as I got the idea from a quilt kit I saw online at a quilt shop. I guess that is like cheating.

    Glad you got a good response from Hoffman and that they will take care of you – the customer.

    • Hi Amy! Straightening the precuts before I can use it just seems to defeat the purpose to me. At that point, I’d rather just buy yardage and have less variety!

      No, you’re not cheating at all to use a pattern! That’s what they’re for, after all.

  16. I ran into the same problem with precut strips. Pattern called for 7inch strips and after I sewed a few together you could see them were all slanting to one side. Will not purchase pre-cuts again. Glad to know that I wasn’t the only one with this problem.

  17. I have come to the conclusion that precuts are all cut by mindless machines at the manufacturer’s. This is why there is no consistency and why I no longer use them for important projects. I will use them for things that don’t need to be perfect–a children’s book bag or placemats for my table. Things that no one cares about and will probably get used so many times they will not long fall apart. But, then, I am a great fudger and have not had the inconsistent cuts appear to be obvious in any of my projects. So, unless the shop you buy your precuts at cuts them themselves (something a lot less common than it used to be), I would just buy yardage and cut it myself. Of course, you can always make this a little easier by using a die cut machine. That is what the shops used to do before the manufacturers caught on to the pre-cut craze and started providing them. I just wish if anyone were going to charge such outrageous prices for something they would make sure it is a little more accurate.

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