Log cabin quilt blocks are one of the most popular traditional quilting patterns and are easily recognized. This is a traditional design that is really simple but looks intricate. They are blocks made with a center square, with strips of fabric sewn around this square. A log cabin quilt is perfectly suited to use up scraps of fabric, or to use jelly rolls, which are pre-cut strips of fabric, usually 2 ½ inches (6.4 cm) wide. Contrast effects are created by light-colored strips forming half of the square, and dark-colored strips forming the other half. These blocks are then joined in various ways to create different patterns.
What are log cabin quilt blocks?
These patterns, made up of log cabin quilt blocks have their own names. Some examples are:
- Barn Raising
- Fields and furrows
- Sunshine and shadow.
Log cabin quilt blocks are relatively quick to assemble and are easy enough for beginner quilters to attempt. The different patterns are achieved by rotating the blocks in different directions and the use of light and dark fabrics.
History of Log Cabin Quilt Blocks
Traditionally, the centre square was either red to represent the hearth of the home, or yellow to represent a light in the window to welcome visitors.
Log Cabin quilts as we know them originated in the 1860s in the USA. The design, however, could have originated as long ago as ancient Egypt. When the tombs were first opened, many small animal “mummies” were found, wrapped in fabric that resembled our log cabin quilt block pattern. These were sent back to England for use as fertilizer, and somebody obviously took note of these patterns.
In Britain they are sometimes called Canadian Logwork and on the Isle of Man they are called the Roof Pattern.
In the USA, log cabin quilt blocks became popular during the civil war. As well as the traditional red and yellow center blocks, it is said that a house with a quilt hanging out on a clothesline with black center squares was a stop on the ‘Underground Railroad’ – it was a safe house for slaves who were trying to escape to free states or to Canada.
Quilting for Beginners
If you are new to quilting, take the time to read all about quilting for beginners. This article gives you a rundown of all the basic techniques and tools you will need.
Log Cabin Quilt Blocks- Supplies
- FABRIC - 2 ½ inch (6.4 cm) fabric strips in colors of your choice.
- THREAD - Matching cotton thread.
- CUTTING TOOLS - Rotary cutter, Sself-healing cutting mat, quilting ruler
- GENERAL SUPPLIES - Sewing Machine, iron and ironing board.
More About Fabrics
This design works best with distinctly light and dark fabrics. Of course, you can choose to mix any colors and prints to get an attractive scrappy design and a unique look.
Quilting fabric and tightly woven cotton fabrics are best for this. You can purchase pre-cut ‘Jelly Rolls’ which are already cut into strips 2 ½ inches (6.4cm) wide.
Fabric Requirements for Log Cabin Quilt Blocks
When calculating how much fabric you will need in total, each yard (0.9m)of fabric which is 40 – 42 inches (100 -106 cm) wide should give you about 14 x 2 ½ inch strips.
If using Jelly Rolls, you will need about 4 Jelly Rolls for a queen size quilt. Each Jelly Roll contains approximately 3 yards (2.74 m) of fabric, so you will get 12 yards (11 m)of fabric.
How to Make a Log Cabin Quilt Blocks
Light and Dark Cutting Instructions
To make 14 inch square log cabin quilt blocks you will cut your strips to these measurements:
- 1x 2 ½ inch (6.4 cm) square (Center) Dark fabric.
- 1x 2 ½ inch square (6.4cm) (Piece 1) Light fabric.
- 1x 2 ½ inch by 4 ½ inch strip (6.4 by 11.4 cm)(Piece 2) Light fabric.
- 1x 2 ½ inch by 4 ½ inch strip (6.4 by 11.4 cm)(Piece 3) Dark fabric.
- 1x 2 ½ inch by 6 ½ inch strip (6.4 by 16.5 cm) (Piece 4) Dark fabric.
- 1x 2 ½ inch by 6 ½ inch strip (6.4 by 16.5 cm) (Piece 5) Light fabric.
- 1x 2 ½ inch by 8 ½ inch strip (6.4 by 21.6 cm)(Piece 6) Light fabric.
- 1x 2 ½ inch by 8 ½ inch strip (6.4 by 21.6 cm) (Piece 7) Dark fabric.
- 1x 2 ½ inch by 10 ½ inch strip (6.4 by 26.7 cm) (Piece 8) Dark fabric.
- 1x 2 ½ inch by 10 ½ inch strip (6.4 by 26.7 cm) (Piece 9) Light fabric.
- 1x 2 ½ inch by 12 ½ inch strip (6.4 by 31.8 cm) (Piece 10) Light fabric.
If you are using a jelly roll you do not need to cut these exact measurements. You can simply measure your center block, add a strip to one side, then cut away the excess. Add the next strip, then cut away that excess and so on, working your way around that center block.
Remember to keep your light and dark fabrics on opposite sides! See assembly diagram.
Of course, if you want to alter the size of your log cabin quilt block, you can simply add more strips for a larger block or less for a smaller block.
Assembly of Light and Dark strips
The block arrangement is made up of strips, added in turn around the central square.
Use a ¼ inch (6mm) seam allowance and assemble in the following order:
Step 1 - Center Squares
Start with square number 1, place right sides together, and stitch rectangle 2 to square 1. Press the seam towards the darker colored side.
Step 2 - Rectangle Number 3
Sew rectangle 3 onto your new shape. Press the seam.
Step 3 - Rectangle Number 4
Then add rectangle 4 onto the side of your shape in the correct position. Keep referring to the diagram above for the correct order. Press.
Step 4 - Rectangle Number 5
Stitch rectangle number 5 onto the final, open side of the square, and your first ‘round’ is complete.
Sep 6 - Repeat
Continue sewing your strips on in this manner until your block has reached the required size.
Log Cabin Quilt Block Tips
As you add each strip, be sure to press the seam each time. It is worth having your iron and ironing board near to your sewing machine so that you are not tempted to skip this step! It really gives your blocks a neat, crisp finish, and keeps all your seam lines straight before you add the next strip. Try to press your seams towards the darker fabric so that it doesn’t show when you turn your block over to the right side.
Some quiltmakers like to ‘fussy cut ‘ their central block. This means that they choose a fabric with definite images on it, then cut their central square to size exactly around an image, so that the strips around each block frame that central image. If your image is larger than the standard 2 ½ inches (6.4 cm) square, you will then have to adjust the sizes of your strips accordingly.
When you feel your log cabin quilt blocks are complete and you have added enough strips to get to your desired size, you will need to square up your block and trim the edges so that all corners are 90degrees, and all sides are exactly straight. This will ensure that all your seams match up perfectly when you are assembling your quilt.
Before you start with that final assembly of your masterpiece quilt, arrange all your completed log cabin quilt blocks on a large, flat surface in various permutations, so that you can decide which final effect you enjoy the most, and which arrangement suits the colors you have chosen the best.
After all the blocks have been joined, you will need to bind your quilt. Read all about how to bind a quilt.
What can I make with my Log Cabin Quilt blocks?
- A good place to start is to use your first experimental block as a potholder. Simply sandwich it with batting and backing, and quilt it by stitching “in the ditch” This means you sew a line of stitching down the channel of each seam so that your stitching seems invisible. Then bind your block around the outside.
- You can make interesting square placemats using log cabin quilt blocks. (Read - how to make a placemat)
- A tote bag is always handy and makes a lovely gift.
- A bed runner to place at the bottom of a bed is a great idea if you want to have that patchwork look in a bedroom, but don’t want to create a full-size quilt.
- It is a quick method of stitching a baby quilt as a gift. (Read - how to make a baby quilt)
- Or a lap quilt to keep you cozy in winter.
- Of course, the ultimate final project is a full-size quilt. This allows the full effect of the arrangement of your Log Cabin Blocks to be seen.
Log Cabin Quilt Blocks - In Conclusion
Are you feeling inspired to make log cabin quilt blocks? Just writing this article inspired me to create a new quilt! I am thinking of making matching twin bed quilts for my guest bedroom. In shades of clear blue, with a yellow center block, to look like a summer sky ! You may choose to select special colors to suit your décor, or you may find this is an excellent way to use up that stash of scraps.