Log cabin quilt pattern is a well-known and popular traditional quilt block, with strips sewn around a center square. Some sources claim that the log cabin design is the most popular quilt pattern in America!
The strips represent the ‘logs’ as they enclose the center square or center of the cabin, making a log cabin quilt block. The center square is also sometimes referred to as the hearth of the home.
The log cabin pattern originated in the 1860’s: it was a popular design during the Civil War and often used silk patchwork scraps. As it became more popular, quilters began making this design with cottons and wools.
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This is a perfect design for a beginner quilter. For a traditional log cabin block, simply sew fabric strips with straight lines around a square. Many quilters remember their first log cabin quilt – a classic block with simple construction of sewing straight seams.
Confident, experienced quilters enjoy the multitude of design opportunities offered with the basic log cabin quilt block. You can make any block size by adding additional strips around the center.
Looking for a scrap-busting project? This quilt block is perfect for those small pieces and left over strips of fabrics to make a log cabin quilt with a scrappy look.
Have a design idea in mind? Plan your fabric choices to create different geometric designs using the straight lines in this quilt block. In this article, I’ll cover the basics of making a log cabin quilt and tips and tricks for you to be successful.
What is a traditional log cabin quilt block?
Classic log cabin blocks start with a center square. The center squares can be a single fabric, a pieced block or fussy cut from a print fabric. Then, just sew strips around in a clockwise direction. This is a perfect beginner quilt! Start with a baby quilt size and enjoy the different ways you can make this pattern.
Below is a diagram of a traditional log cabin quilt block. Before you begin to sew, label each fabric strip in order around the center square. Sew all seams with a 1/4-inch seam allowance.
What is log cabin quilting?
Log cabin quilting refers to sewing strips of fabric around a center piece of fabric. Designs can be timeless and traditional, or modern. They can be square or wonky.
Variations of the typical log cabin quilt block include changing up the center shape from a square to a rectangle, triangle, diamond or any shape that can have strips sewn around all of the sides.
Want to make an impact? Make a super-sized log cabin quilt block! To make one large log cabin square as a quilt, start with a center square and continue to add strips of fabric until you’ve reached the desired finished size of your quilt.
Change up the log cabin quilt settings or the log cabin quilt design layouts to achieve different designs.
What size strips for a log cabin quilt?
The strips of fabric sewn around the center square can be any size. Use straight cut strips for a traditional log cabin or cut at angles for a wonky log cabin. All of the strips can be the same size, or use different sizes for a different look. Additional variations include sewing different size strips or sewing the strips in a non-symmetrical order, moving the starting shape off-center, making an off-kilter log cabin.
A traditional log cabin quilt block starts with a center block square. Add strips in a clockwise order, forming a symmetrical square.
An 8-inch traditional log cabin quilt block starts with a 2-1/2″ x 2-1/2″ center square. Below is a chart that outlines the pieces you need to cut to complete a finished 8-inch log cabin quilt block.
Tips for a successful log cabin quilt block
- To begin, cut each of the fabric strips. Be accurate in your cutting. If you are off by even 1/32-inch on each strip it will add up. Your blocks may not be the same finished size. This will make it challenging to put them together for your finished quilt. By cutting the fabric strips first, you can make slight adjustments with ease as you sew, making sure the block stays square and accurate.
- Use a range of colors and values of fabrics. Use light fabrics and dark fabrics for a more dramatic look. Your strip widths can vary for different looks.
- Pull out your fabric scraps! It’s a great way to use up scrap strips to make a scrap quilt – so much fun!
- Or, pick a color palette and use only fabrics in that palette. An easy way to pick a palette is to purchase a jelly roll, layer cake or fat quarter bundle with coordinating fabrics to make your perfect log cabin quilt block.
- Cut your strips from the lengthwise grain. This means, even with the selvedge of your fabric. First trim the selvage off your fabric piece, then cut your fabric strips. Cross grain cut is the width of the fabric and tends to have more ease or stretch. Length wise cuts tend to have less ease and produce more accurate sewing on the quilt blocks.
- Use a 1/4-inch quilting foot or mark the accurate 1/4-inch measurement on your sewing machine with a piece of painter’s tape or Washi tape. Accurate seam allowances make for great finished blocks.
What does a log cabin quilt symbolize?
A log cabin quilt symbolizes our home, built around the center shape. Different color centers had different symbols. A yellow center was thought to reflect the light shining through the window bringing light into the home. A red center was thought to represent the fire or hearth in the home.
What does the log cabin quilt mean in the underground railroad?
A log cabin quilt was used to let people know that they had reached a safe house. The quilt would boast a black center and hang on a clothesline placed outside of a church, home or other building to communicate that the travelers could have a warm place to stay for a night or two.
Log Cabin Block Inspiration
Here are some different color schemes and layouts made with a basic log cabin. It’s fun to make several quilt blocks and then put them on your design wall and move them around and in different directions until you find a layout that you like.
In the quilts below, you can see how lighter fabrics mixed with darker fabrics can make very interesting designs. Switch up the center block, too.
See also our tutorial for the courthouse steps quilt block. It uses similar techniques starting with square blocks but adding strip lengths to the sides equally.
This quilt block is included in our article with popular quilt patterns.