{Classic Quilt Blocks} Log Cabin - An Introduction

This month in my Classic Quilt Blocks series I've chosen the elegant and stunning Log Cabin block. Is there any other block that gives you all the warm, homey, around the fireplace feels? I think not! This block will forever be a classic block and over the next four weeks I'm going to make you love the Log Cabin block more than ever.

It's one of the sweetest and simplest blocks and it's the most recognised block in quilting. It's also one of the oldest quilt blocks in history - similar designs were also seen on ancient Egyptian mummies.

Back in 2007 I sewed a scrappy log cabin quilt, and I enjoyed the slow rhythm of sewing each of the 480 4" blocks - it's still not quilted by the way! ;) I'd sew one or two a day and as my basket started to fill, I planned possible layouts. This was the most difficult decision for me because there are so many wonderful options. In Week 3 of this series I'm going to give you some layout suggestions to help you plan your own quilts.

Today I'm going to talk about the Log Cabin block in a little more depth and look at its history, its design and share some antique inspiration.

Block History:

I mentioned that this block dates back to ancient Egypt and museums have small cat and ibex mummies on display where some of the block designs are shaded with a light and dark side - just like the Log Cabin block we know today.  

It made an appearance in the United States in the 1860's during the time of the Civil War. It's possible that the block name had connections to the then president Abraham Lincoln and it was identified with the pioneer spirit and values of America.

Traditionally the block has a dark and light side which represents the firelight and shadows around the hearth.  A red centre symbolised the hearth and home while a yellow centre represents a welcoming light in the window. Oral folklore suggests that a Log Cabin quilt with a black centre hanging on a clothesline was code to signal a stop for the Underground Railroad.

Log Cabin blocks were traditionally sewn by hand sewing the strips around the centre square, and this was a great way to utilise narrow strips of fabric with a minimal amount of cutting. In the late nineteenth century, they began foundation piecing the Log Cabin block onto a muslin base with velvets, wools and satins, creating a stable base that didn't require wadding or backing and these quilts were generally tied.

The Log Cabin block is rich in symbolism and history, and its homey look and simple construction makes it a popular block for all quilters. The layout possibilities are endless, resulting in a striking and eye-catching quilt that makes your home inviting and cosy - just like sitting around the fireplace with the family actually.

Block Design:

The Log Cabin block consists of one centre square surrounded by rectangular strips, and the beauty of this block is that you can vary the number of strips to create a more detailed block. Let's have a look at a few examples:

The more strips you add, the narrower the strips become and the block is more ornate and intricate, plus you have more opportunity to inject more colour. 

For a small block (3" or 4") I would choose the second example but for larger blocks I would add up to 9 strips to really pack in as much colour as I could. 

Next week I'll give you a step by step tutorial for traditionally piecing the Log Cabin block, and for my paper piecing lovers I'll include a few FPP patterns (my preferred method) with a varying number of strips so you can play.

Colour Values:

The Log Cabin block is perfect to experiment with colour to create a unique block. The more strips you have, the more colour you can inject into the block and there's no reason you have to stick to the dark one side, light the other.

I had fun playing with a few examples for you but of course the possibilities are endless. Never be afraid to play with colour - that's one of the fun parts of quilting. 

I've provided a colouring sheet for next weeks tutorial so you can try a few possibilities before you sew. Simply click the link to download and print the free colouring sheet.

Print as many copies as you want, grab some colouring pencils or markers and plan some blocks ready to sew next week.

Antique Inspiration:

Looking at antique quilts is inspiring and you can find so many gorgeous examples of Log Cabin quilts in a quick Google search. Here's just a few of the gorgeous quilts I found:

These quilts are stunning but I think my favorites are the scrappy ones, especially the top left and bottom right. I do love the striking solid quilts because they really showcase just how pretty this block can be. 

The Log Cabin block has been used for centuries and it has stood the test of time because its easy to construct, it creates visually sophisticated patterns and it's one of the most recognisable blocks in quilting history.

So here's what to expect in this months Classic Quilt Blocks series:
  • Week 2 - a step by step tutorial for a 6" traditionally pieced block plus a cutting chart for six sized blocks. As a bonus I'll include some FPP block templates with varying strips for my paper piecing lovers.
  • Week 3 - One block, fifteen quilts. Lots of layout suggestions for your Log Cabin blocks.
  • Week 4 - a FPP mini quilt pattern which is Log Cabin inspired (and its an absolute cutie!)
Lots of inspiration to have you loving this Classic Quilt Block as much as I do, and to encourage you to use the Log Cabin for some of your future projects.

Happy quilting :)
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  1. This will be fun. The log cabin is my most favorite block. It was the first one I learned to make.

    1. Oh that's great Susan. I hope you enjoy what I've got planned for this month :)

  2. Thankyou Rose for putting together this series. I love the new spin on these traditional blocks. So much inspiration!

    1. They are fun posts to work on. I'm so glad you're enjoying them :)


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