Saturday, December 24, 2011

Log Cabin Quilts
What NOT To Do!
Log cabin quilts have been around forever; it's a toss up as to which is older - patchwork or log cabin. So everyone thinks it's a great first quilt!  This is not a bad idea.  A log cabin quilt is made up of strips of material (the logs), that are sewn together around a square center.  How hard can this be?  

For the last couple of days I have been working on a new log cabin quilt (shown above).  It makes a great quilt with wonderful detail and uses up lots of scraps of material.  But there are common mistakes that get made over and over again that ruin the finished product.  There are hundreds of how to make a log cabin quilt directions on the 'net; I thought it was time to point out the common pitfalls with this age-old, simple quilt - many of them I made working on this quilt!

Running out of material - Stating the obvious?  Yes, but it happens all the time. It's incredibly deceptive how much material you're going to need.  Some simple math before you ever cut the first log will spare you tremendous grief later.  A simple rule of thumb is that you need one inch of material per block. So if your finished quilt will have 20 blocks, you need 20 inches of each material used in each block.  And don't forget that the quilt also has a back and binding!

It's okay that I didn't cut exactly straight - NO IT'S NOT!!!!  No matter what size your your logs are, they absolutely must be straight and identical.  Even something as tiny as a eighth of an inch will throw the entire quilt out of alignment.  Log cabin quilts are addictive; you'll make one and want to make another and another and another....  Scissors do work, but cutting all these strips with scissors is tedious and certainly not foolproof.  Do yourself a huge favor and invest in a cutting board and rotary cutter.  It will save you a ton of time and your cuts will be far more precise.

My seams are straight (almost) - Your seams need to be exactly straight if you want you blocks to be exactly square.  My common error is tailing off at the end of the seam, which makes the block a parallelogram when finished.  When I first made a log cabin quilt, I took a small piece of poster board, bent it to make an L-shape about 1/4 inch tall, and taped it to the deck of my sewing machine exactly 3/8 of an inch from the needle.  That way, I had a stop for the material to run against while sewing the seams.  In addition to being sewn straight, it's equally important to sew all the seams the same depth, otherwise, the blocks will be different sizes and won't line up correctly.

My blocks are lumpy/don't lay flat - all the seams must lay in the same direction.  Pressing each seam away from center as you go will fix this problem.  Check the back of the block often and if you find that you bent a seam and sewed it in place that way, fix it immediately.  Removing and resewing a couple of stitches to lay the seam back down flat now, will save you from tearing the whole thing apart later.

If I sew narrower seams, I'll use less material and decrease the bulk of the finished quilt - Don't be tempted to do this; you're asking for a material failure later.  The minimum seam allowance should be no less than 1/4 inch.  This gives the fabric enough 'meat' to keep the blocks stable for a long time through many washings.  Even though they will be inside the quilt against the batting, the edge of the fabric still frays. It's so sad to see a log cabin quilt fall apart because the fabric failed and there's nothing left to hold the seam together.  If you press as you go, the finished block will not be bulky at all despite the presence of hundreds of seams.

My blocks look different all of a sudden - Did the phone ring?  Did you stop working on this for a day or two?  Did something else distract you and when you came back to it your blocks look different even though nothing changed?  You probably worked your blocks in the other direction!  Starting with the center piece, you sew the strips of fabric to each side, working in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction.  It doesn't matter which way you go as long as you assemble all the squares going to same way.  Actually, it makes a really interesting quilt if half the squares are assembled counter-clockwise and half are clockwise.  But if you've got 19 squares that are clockwise and 1 that's counter-clockwise, that one will stand out like the proverbial sore thumb!

The blocks don't line up exactly, so I'll just stretch this one and that one a bit when I sew the whole thing together - You'll be incredibly unhappy with the results if you do!  You can stretch all you like, but once you release that tension the fabric is going to return to it's original size/shape.  If you find you've got a block or blocks that don't fit, you will be much better off  if you take that block apart and rebuild it.  Look at the back of the subject block and determine where the problem is.  Hopefully, there's one deep seam near the perimeter of the block that needs to be fixed, saving you from taking the whole block apart.

I'm bored/this is going to take forever/I give up - Don't do it!  Hang in there!  If you hit a point where it seems you'll never get all the blocks finished, stop making blocks!  Lay the blocks you have out and admire the work.  Sew some rows of blocks together so that you can see where you're going.  Play with the direction of the blocks in the finished quilt...  do they all sit the same way?  Do they rotate a quarter turn in sequence?  This bit of mental and physical activity will give you the drive to finish the blocks.  I actually put my log cabins together as I go so that I can see the progress being made.

Making a log cabin quilt is really so much fun.  Here's hoping that these tips will make your log cabin quilt go together easily and create a quilt that will last forever.



  1. You can do it Sandi!!! Go Go Go!!! Wow... it's Beautiful!

  2. Thanks Cari! Only two blocks left to quilt!