The Log Cabin Quilt

Log Cabin Quilt block bright yellow The Log Cabin Quilt is one of the most popular and easily recognizable of all quilt designs. It appeals to all levels of quilters - from the beginner to the advanced quilter. It is a very versatile design. The traditional design consists of a center square with strips of fabrics, of both light and dark colors, being sewn in sequence around the center. It is a very versatile design. Depending on the colors used and the way the blocks are put together a whole new and different look can be created.

History of the Log Cabin Quilt Design

It has long been assumed that the design originated in America. It was thought that the design represented the log cabins of the prairies. The center being the fireplace of the cabin, the light colors representing the side of the house in the sun, and the dark colors the side of the house in the shade. Another interpretation is that the light side meant happiness and the dark side was for sorrow. The earliest quilts found in the US date from 1869.

These early quilts were almost always tied, not quilted, as they were often made from scrappy materials of different weights, usually laid on a foundation, making them very difficult to quilt - especially in a time before sewing machines. This quilting pattern was very popular during the time of the Civil War as the quilts were sold to make money for the troops.

However, across the Atlantic in Britain there have been found, by the British Quilt Heritage Project, examples of Log Cabin quilts dating from the first half of the 19th century.

When the British archaeologists of the 19th century entered Egyptian tombs they discovered animal mummies that had been wrapped in a Log Cabin design. They also found the design on the floors of temples.

There are exhibits in the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland that feature log cabin designs.

Farmers from the Middle Ages in Europe cultivated their fields in a design similar to the log cabin design.

Quilters can get their inspiration for designs from anywhere they look, so it is very difficult to ascertain where the original idea came from - it has only been used in fabrics for about 200 years. British and Amish settlers probably brought the pattern to America in the second half of the 19th century where it really took off. The history and origin of the design is a fascinating subject but it can be assured you will discover that the pattern was used for many years before being used in quilting.

log cabin quilt block darker blue

Log Cabin Quilt - Basic Construction

I always think that the most exciting part of making any quilt is choosing the fabrics. You can spend many pleasurable hours in a quilting shop selecting just the right materials for the job (or even having to add some extras for your fabric stash!). For a traditional Log Cabin Quilt Block you will need both light and dark fabrics. You can choose a different fabric for each strip and the center or just use one dark or one light fabric with the center piece contrasting. Contrast is an essential ingredient in constructing a Log Cabin Quilt.

Always remember when making a quilt: "Measure twice, cut once!" There is nothing more frustrating when constructing a quilt block or a whole quilt than when the blocks don't fit together properly or if a piece has been cut too short. Also always have an iron nearby to press all your seams as you do them. All seams are 1/4".

Step 1:
For a 12" Log Cabin Quilt Block, measure and cut the following from your chosen fabrics (there are 13 pieces in this block):

  • 1 - 3 1/2" x 3 1/2" square for the center
  • 1 - 3 1/2" x 2" strip
  • 2 - 5" x 2" strips
  • 2 - 6 1/2" x 2" strips
  • 2 - 8" x 2" strips
  • 2 - 9 1/2 x 2" strips
  • 2 - 10 1/2 x 2" strips
  • 1 - 12 " strip

Step 2:
Sew the 3 1/2" x 2" strip to the right hand side of the center square - Press the seam toward the strip.

Step 3:
Working counter-clockwise, add the strips in size and color order to the center of the block, until all strips are used making sure all your seams are 1/4" and you carefully press each one before adding the next strip.

log cabin quilt block Japanese print Here's a picture of a couple blocks constructed by our quilting friend Jane, using wonderfully, rich Japanese fabrics.

The size of this block can be changed by altering the size of the center square and the width of the strips.

Variations of Log Cabin Block Quilts

There are many variations to the basic Log Cabin Quilt Block - Electric Quilter 6 - a quilting software package - has 75 Log Cabin variations to offer the quilter.

The most popular alternatives are:

  • Courthouse Step Blocks - the strips (or logs) are stacked around the center square in blocks of two light and two dark triangles. They are most often arranged in a diamond pattern.
  • Pineapple Blocks - probably the most difficult of all Log Cabin variations as some of the "logs" need to be placed diagonally to each other, not at 90 degrees. Because of this quilters use foundation piecing to make sure the block is accurate. The end result of using light and dark strips this way is an "X" shape.
  • Chevron Log Cabin Blocks - where the square is placed in one of the corners rather than the center and the strips are added in an "L" shape around it. With this alternative the blocks are either all dark or all light - there is no contrast.

It is no wonder that Log Cabin Quilts have been so popular for so long. It is such an effective pattern that can be put together in so many different ways. Each quilt is different depending on the colors used and the placement of the blocks. If you don't want to make your own, get onto the internet and buy one that someone else has made - you can get antique Log Cabin Quilts or modern ones.

However, there is nothing more satisfying than having made your own Log Cabin Quilt from scratch - it is such a wonderful journey – the only limit is your imagination!

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