Quilt Patterns Through Time

Doll & Crib Log Cabin Quilts From the Victorian Era

log cabin doll quilt
"As her father and brother constructed the simple, sturdy shelter that might house generations after her, a young girl at her mother's knee would work her own Log Cabin. It became the quintessential American quilt"1 Sandi Fox
History of Log Cabin Quilts

The earliest existing documented Log Cabin quilt was made in 1869 but it is unknown how much earlier quiltmakers used this block pattern. It is thought the pattern might have become popular during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. More likely it became a favorite pattern after the assassination of the "log cabin president" in 1865. During the post Civil War years Lincoln became a folk hero as the person who freed the slaves and prevented the country from splitting apart.

Many early Log Cabin quilts were made from dress materials especially the popular lightweight wool blends of the mid 1800s. Quilt historian, Barbara Brackman, tells how this changed over time, "In the 1870s, as cotton prices dropped and the Calico Craze was at its height, women began piecing cotton Log Cabins. In the 1880s, when the price of silks dropped and the fad for show quilts raged, Victorian era seamstresses stitched silk log cabins. Observation indicates that silk and fine wool log cabins pieced over foundations became passť about 1900. Twentieth-century log cabins are either of cotton or heavier wools and, after 1920 or so, of rayon, acetate and other artificial silk fabrics." 3

Log Cabin Quilt Construction

foundation piecing methodQuilt collector, Stella Rubin, observes, "There seems to be an infinite number of variations on the Log Cabin quilt. In all examples, though, the basic block is a square surrounded by rectangular strips of fabric. The center square is usually red, which in quilt lore represents the fire in the cabin's hearth. The rectangular strips are meant to represent the logs from which the cabin was built." 2

Log Cabin quilts were put together in a specific way. Each block is created on a square of fabric, often muslin. First the central square is put right side facing up in the center of the muslin. Then each "log" is sewn on with the reverse side facing upward. After the seam is sewn the strip is pressed outward before the next one is applied. Names for this technique are "foundation patchwork" or "pressed work".

Foundation pieced quilts were often tied. Decorative quilting would hardly be noticed on such a busy pattern as the Log cabin. They were tied either to the front or on the back depending on how much the quilt maker wanted her ties to show. When they were quilted it was often done in the ditch or with a simple utility pattern.

Making Your Log Cabin Doll or Crib Quilt

Log Cabin quilt with sawtooth borderFor the purpose of reproducing a child's quilt with modern materials I suggest using reproduction cottons from the latter nineteenth century with a thin batting. First check with your local quilt stores to see if they carry fabric typical of this period. Many do and it's nice to be able to pick out fabric from the bolt as well as to support your local quilt stores.

I've designed patterns for a crib and doll quilt. I've used the sawtooth border. Quilt historian, Sandi Fox, tells us, "No other border was applied with greater ingenuity and diversity than the Sawtoooth. It could be applied in one of three methods to a perfect turn and direction, but it is in its less precise applications that it often assumed its greatest charm." 3 So don't be concerned if you sawtooth border doesn't come out perfectly. Part ot the delight of making reproduction quilts can be in the imperfection. Sometimes Log Cabin quilts were made with a solid border or with no border at all so go without the sawtooth border if you prefer. That would be best if you are helping a child make this quilt

Detailed Instructions for Making Your Log Cabin Quilt

If you are inspired and ready to try your own Log Cabin doll or baby quilt go to Instructions for the Log Cabin Doll & Crib Quilts

1 p74 & 3 p132 "Small Endearments: 19th Century Quilts for Children", by Sandi Fox

2 p108 "Treasure or Not? How to compare & Value American Quilts", by Stella Rubin

3 "Foundation Piecing, Log Cabins & Delaine", "Barbara Brackman, The Quilt Detective: Clues in the Needlework, 2005, digital newsletter # 19.

Related Websites:
Log Cabin Quilts ~ Inspirations From the Past

Keeping us in Stitches: Foundation Piecing
a method for foundation piecing a log cabin quilt.

Keeping us in Stitches: Pieced Log Cabin
examples and history.

From the Sawtooth Border to the Bear's Paw Quilt
A bit of sawtooth history.