The Log Cabin Quilt

One of the amazing things about quilting is the ability to play with a block pattern to really make it your own. Using different combinations of coloured and patterned fabrics can drastically change the feel of a quilt design. The Log Cabin quilt block is a great example of this. This block shows up in history in the middle of the 19th century and though it is a common design it is such an interesting one. Beginning with a coloured “hearth” or “chimney” square in the middle, typically red, strips are added around it to build up the block. These strips are said to represent the walls of the log cabin.

log cabin quilt block

Standard Log Cabin Quilt Block Design

You could spend your whole life with this simple block by experimenting with the arrangement of light and dark colours against each other, the scale of the blocks within the quilt, and the myriad of pattern variations it provides. Log Cabin variations include Courthouse Steps, Light and Dark, Straight Furrow, Streak of Lightning, Barn Raising, and Pineapple or Windmill. Within these block designs is a world of experimentation and the ability for the quilter to make a traditional quilt unique to their own style.

light and dark pineapple courthouse

Light and Dark Variation (accession #2006.19.504), Pineapple Variation (accession #2006.19.3), Courthouse Steps Variation (accession #2006.19.615). Courtesy of the University of Alberta Museums Human Ecology Clothing and Textiles Collection.

There are multiple ways to look at a quilt and one of the first things I like to do is to take note of the quilt as a whole and then move on to the individual blocks. According to Robert Shaw, Pineapple (or Windmill Blades), Courthouse Steps, and Light and Dark are characteristic for their individual block while Barn Raising, Straight Furrow, Split Rail Fence, and Streak of Lighting are distinctive due to the overall light and dark design of the quilt as a whole.

barnraising straight furrow streak of lightning

Barn Raising Variation (accession #2006.19.267), Barn Raising Variation (accession #2006.19.351), Straight Furrow Variation (accession #2006.19.187), Streak of Lightning (accession #2006.19.463). Courtesy of the University of Alberta Museums Human Ecology Clothing and Textiles Collection.

Check out this video from the National Film Board of Canada: “Quilt” by Gayle Thomas. Hopefully it will inspire you to play with block pattern design!


American Quilts: The Democratic Art by Robert Shaw, Sterling Publishing Co. NY, 2014.

The History of the Patchwork Quilt: Origins, Traditions and Symbols of a textile art by Schnuppe von Gwinner, translated by Dr. Edward Force, Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Pennsylvania, 1988, accessed May 22, 2016.


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