Book Review: Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
The Tale of Two Scrappy Log Cabin Quilts Part Two: Quilting and Binding

The Tale of Two Scrappy Log Cabin Quilts, Part One: Motivation and Process

When my mom passed away, one of the categories of stuff we had to deal with was her immense collection of fabric. When it was done—it went to so many different people and places—I resolved that I will never let my stash get that big. So for most of February I worked on gathering all of my little fabric stashes, organizing them by color, and cutting anything that would work in a baby quilt into 6" and 8.5". My fabric is now well-organized and my stash is manageable (I also got rid of some pieces); all of it is in one closet and neatly boxed.

When I cut the baby fabric, I was left with a ton of strips. I had two new grand-nephews on the way, though, so I decided to make a couple of scrappy log cabin quilts with my strips. Can you believe in all the time I’ve been quilting, I’ve only ever made two log cabin quilts, a Christmas one and the one I made this winter for my niece Lexie’s baby, and these were both just ONE square made into a large quilt? I was inspired by one of my favorite quilting bloggers, Amy Smart, whose vintage-inspired log cabin quilt is so beautifully scrappy. It made me realize that scrappy log cabins are a thing, so I dove in.

The basic design of a log cabin square is this: you begin with a central square. Traditionally, these are red, as they represent the hearth of the cabin. You sew one strip to one side of the square, turn it, and then sew the next strip to the next side of the square. The pattern is light, light, dark, dark. (Or the opposite, depending on how you want to do it.) As you build the square, the strips have to get longer and longer, because each strip adds its width to the overall size of the square.

Traditionally (the log cabin square is a very old, traditional pattern, with ties to colonial and Civil War America), the squares are the same size and the width of the strips (or “logs,” really) is also the same.

But I had strips of all different widths, so I decided to do a thoroughly scrappy version by using squares and strips of different sizes. I just kept adding logs until the squares were the right size. Sometimes this meant that the bigger logs were slightly out of order, or didn’t have a pair of dark or light, but I was OK with that. In fact, I think it added to the scrappy feel of the quilts.

Scrappy log cabin quilt sorted strips

The first quilt I made took me forever. This is because I would sew on a strip, walk over to the ironing board, iron the seam open, riffle through the strips for the next one, sew it on, walk to the ironing board…I guess I got my steps in, but that is a very slow way of making squares. I think it took me two weeks to make the 25 squares for that first log cabin. But, I really loved the process. It was a sort of meditation for me, looking for just the right pattern to go next, the heat and woosh of the steam from the iron, the rhythm of the process. And I love the clear delineation between the whites and the blues.

When I started the second quilt top, I decided to try to make the process faster. The squares in this quilt are all the same size, fussy cut from a baby flannel I took from my mom’s stash. Instead of the classic light and dark of the first one, I wanted this one to include more colors (partly because I used up quite a bit of the navy and dark blue strips I had). So, I sorted the strips into two piles: low volume (which is a print made with a white background and a pattern in a color; it “reads” as light in the quilt) and colors (which could include white, but which “read” as purple or aqua or blue or whatever). Then I sorted the colors more specifically, not by color but by intensity/darkness of the hues. Finally, I did one more sort so that the shorter strips were separated from the longer ones. I put these sorted strips into a box that I kept by my sewing machine, and then I started piecing. (I REALLY wish I had taken a photo of those sorted logs. They were lovely!)

For this second quilt, I did strip piecing. So, I started with a square, took a short, dark log (because the squares were lighter, I started with darks), sewed it on. Then I grabbed the next center square, another short, dark log, and sewed it together. When you strip pierce, you don’t lift up the presser foot on your machine, but just keep feeding the pieces through. When I was finished with all 16 squares, I’d cut them apart, pile them on my thigh, and start again. No ironing between each log, just a quick finger press of the seam to keep it open. I would add four logs this way, and then iron, and then keep going.

This process was much faster! It only took two days to finish all of the blocks for the second quilt.

There were many times during the process of making these two quilt tops that I wondered how they would actually turn out. Would the varying width of the logs give the quilts an improve feel, or would they just look sloppy? When I put the squares together and the logs didn’t line up neatly (like they would if the strips were the same width), would it just look weird? I wasn’t sure! I usually have these moments of doubt when I am making a quilt, because my approach isn’t exacting. I’ve made a few non-scrappy quilts (what would be the word for that? I’m not sure!), but mostly my approach is to bring in a whole bunch of different patterns, even if I am staying within a specific color scheme. These are my favorite kinds of quilts, both to make and to admire. But there is always at least one moment when I stop and think: what am I doing???? This is going to look ridiculous. But I think those moments are a natural part of the process, a spot in time when you stop to look and make sure the colors “go” (they don’t have to match) and that you’re balancing big and little prints well. Sometimes you have to wait for the whole thing to come together before you can see that it does, really, all work. Scrappy log cabin quilt sqare

Come back tomorrow for my next post, where I’ll show you the two finished scrappy log cabins I made for my two newest grand nephews and you can tell me if they work or not!

Comments

Margot

I can't believe you didn't strip piece the first quilt - I would have been driven mad watching you, so I'm glad I wasn't a fly on the wall of your sewing room, LOL!

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