The Log Cabin pattern

Cabin Quilts Pattens

Popular since the mid 1800’s, the Log Cabin pattern is not American in origin. Textiles with this pattern have been found in Britain dating from the Log Cabin Quiltsseventeenth century. And in ancient Egypt, animal mummies were wrapped in strips of linen in a pattern similar to the Log Cabin, even mixing dark and light dyed strips, just like in the quilt block. The earliest dated and signed quilt using this pattern is dated 1869, though no doubt, the pattern was being used earlier in the mid nineteenth century.

It’s a pieced work pattern that used to be sewn on a fabric foundation. Since the block uses narrow strips of fabric, a foundation was needed to stabilize the fabric when sewing the block by hand. The pattern has a central square, normally red, but also yellow or black in some cases, surrounded by logs, that is, fabric strips. Light fabrics are sewn to one side, dark fabrics to the other. There is no set number of strips or a standard strip width to this block. The important thing to remember when piecing this block is high contrast in dark-light fabric value.

The Log Cabin blocks can be scrappy or made from coordinated fabrics. Most antique quilts made with this pattern were tied, not quilted. The extra layer of foundation fabric and the number of seams made hand quilting difficult.

There is quite a bit of folklore associated with Log Cabin quilts. It is said that the red center symbolizes the hearth of the home, or the yellow center means a welcoming light on the cabin window. Even the lore about the Underground Railroad and quilts being used as signs suggests that Log Cabins with a dark center were used to signal a safe house for slaves fleeing North. Westward expansion and log cabins went hand in hand with this pattern, which became very popular after Abraham Lincoln was elected president. Quilters adopted this pattern then and it has remained popular since.

In the later part of the nineteenth century, during the crazy quilt era, Log Cabins were pieced of the same rich fabrics as crazy quilts. Silks, taffetas and velvets were sewn to a foundation. There are examples of woolen Log Cabin quilts as well.

The block itself is very simple to piece. There is no need to use a foundation fabric any longer, since sewing the block on the sewing machine makes it stable enough, and by cutting the strips with the rotary cutter, it is an easy block to cut and sew together. It lends itself to chain piecing, if not using scraps to build the block. The strips should be cut from the cross grain of the fabric, that is, from selvedge to selvedge. Subcut the strips needed for the center squares and start adding logs to the center in a counterclockwise manner, trimming the ends flush with the previous log added. Add lights to one side, dark fabrics to the other. Press the seams towards the piece added as you go. Add the desired number of logs and square the block if needed by pressing it carefully.

Interesting patterns emerge from the placement of the blocks within a quilt top. In Log Cabin blocks, there is a lot of value contrast between the dark and the light sides of the blocks.

Barn Raising in which the blocks are placed to create concentric bands of dark and lights on point.

Straight Furrows in which blocks are place to create diagonal lines of darks and lights.

Streak of Lightening for which the placement of blocks creates parallel zigzag lines the length of the quilt.

Pinwheel is created by grouping four blocks with darks and lights alternating to create a pinwheel.

Sunshine and Shadows with blocks arranged all in groups of four with either dark sides touching or light sides touching each other.

A variation of the Log Cabin pattern is the Courthouse Steps block. In this variation, the logs are sewn with light strips to the left and right of the central square and dark strips to the top and bottom. This placement creates a sort of hourglass Log Cabin pattern effect.

Another variation is the Pineapple block. It is slightly more complicated to piece, since the center square is placed on point, surrounded by four triangles and then strips are sewn not only to all four sides, but also to the corners. Dark fabrics are placed from the center outward to the four corners and light fabrics are placed up and down and left and right radiating from the center.

The Pineapple block can be pieced by using a paper foundation. To paper piece this block, find a free pattern on the web and print on your computer on thin paper, the thinner the paper, the easier it is to tear it when the block is finished. Piece the block on the foundation by machine, with a small stitch, then tear away the paper when the block is completed.
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