Thursday, December 6, 2007

Log Cabin Christmas

People who swear they know nothing about quilts will often recognize the old standard: The Log Cabin quilt. And it is a pattern recognized around the world. The quilt speaks of home and hearth, farming furrows, barn raisings, simpler times that revolved around family and home. The traditional block begins with a red center block to represent the hearth of the home or heart of the family.

My sons slept for several years under log cabin quilts made using Eleanor Burns 'Quilt-in-a-Day' directions. One of those twin-sized quilts made the trip with us to Florida and each time I see it, I think of Mom spending hours and hours quilting in the ditch by hand. I believe she vowed NEVER to do that again. We used the Sunshine and Shadow layout for their quilts, but there are so many variations.

By varying the color or the width of the strips you can change the entire look of the pattern. Variations include furrows, diamonds, court house steps, pinwheels, barn raising, sunshine and shadows, well, there seem to be an infinite way of organizing the pieces in a log cabin quilt.

I particularly like this pattern using a pinwheel version of the Log Cabin pattern for a Star of Wonder Christmas wall hanging featured on McCall's website. Directions for making this quilt are included at this site.

The Barn Raising variation reminds me of a Trip Around the World design only with Log Cabin technique. It makes a great basis for an art or illusion quilt.

The Log Cabin pattern seems as American as apple pie and hot dogs. Quilt groups across the country and around the world have turned to the Log Cabin quilt pattern as a logo or name of their organizations. Although we like to think of it as American, Jane Hall, in her article on the Log Cabin pattern's history found that the pattern existed long before Columbus even visited our shores. During the Civil War and around that time frame, the Log Cabin became quite popular with American quilters. And it was slightly before that when archaeologists discovered the pattern in the most unexpected location.

Jane Hall wrote, sometime early in the 19th Century, "when the tombs in Egypt were opened, the British found thousands of small animal mummies, put there as funerary objects of respect for the departed royalty. Some of these are housed in the British Museum today and you can easily see the Log Cabin patterning in the way the strips of linen are wound around the cat or ibex."

Some items in the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland feature the Log Cabin design and are dated in the 1700s. Early farmers in and around Edinburgh cultivated their fields in a pattern much resembling the log cabin design.

To make the piecing even simpler, Billie Lauder came up with the 'faux log cabin' pattern. A 'mock log cabin' pattern begins with a four-patch. I'm a fan of four and nine patch patterns, so this captured my interest. The piecing seems much easier and quicker using this technique, too.

If you want more variations, perhaps the definitive book is by quilter and designer Judy Martin.

Want another variation on the log cabin quilt? What about a story book for kids? Check out Ellen Howard's The Log Cabin Quilt with illustrations by Ronald Himler (Holiday House, 1996 ISBN 0823412474.)

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