For the love of the log cabin…

So…yeah, I like log cabin quilts. Who doesn’t? [See recent book review for an answer to that question.] And I love how they all look different for me. Since I seem to be a tad obsessed with these blocks this summer, it’s a fun idea to look back on the log cabins of my past. Right?

Eh, whatever. Let’s call this: The Evolution of a Quilter: Log Cabin Variations.

Note: Though I show some of the tops un-quilted, these are all completed quilts. I just didn’t always document finished works back then. And years mentioned here are when the quilt was finished. Some of these took a year or so to make.


This first one—made back in 2005—was among my first quilts. My mother chose the colors and fabrics. I doubted the colors because I would only piece with blues and whites at the time. [Glad I overcame that issue.] But it felt fun to just follow her whim in the shop. Then she fed my piecing fever by cutting strips for me all night. Finished the top in a day. We called it Night and Day and I kinda liked it lots.

Night and Day Log Cabin

This is the quilt I use the most. It’s always on the couch, has been laundered a zillion times, and shows little sign of wear or fading.


I made several quilts in that first year of patchworking, 2005, and then I had a dormant period in 2006-2007 of no sewing. We call this the Knitting Period (mainly socks). Came back to sewing in 2008 in profound grief as a way to connect with the past.


In the dormant time, I’d collected old clothes from my family…all members of my family. There were worn and threadbare denim jeans, splashed and crusty white painter’s pants, and preppy corduroys and khakis.

Heart/h: all done (C365:191)

The various recycled fabrics came together in great harmony in a celebration of the Heart/h of home. This one was inspired by a Gee’s Bend courthouse steps quilt, though I avoided wonkiness in piecing, yet reveled in handquilting with twine. This is a quilt with heft. Wrapping up under it always resembles a bear hug.

Counterpoint to Heart/h is this very pure, precision, white-on-white piecing using flour sacks.

White on White: patchwork done

…ahem…sorry I just swooned all over again. Piecing this got monotonous after a while, but I had (and apparently still have) a raging case of ProjectNarcissism over it. I couldn’t stop looking at it. Eventually this quilt went to live with a generous friend out in California. I haven’t gotten to see how it has aged. This might mean it’d be a good idea to make another one, right? You know…for science!


Then although I’d already begun to improvise in my patchwork back in late 2007, I’d not yet improvised with the log cabin motif. Miniquilts were and still are a nice way to play for a moment without committing to a big project. I used a small pack of Malka Dubrawsky‘s scraps of handdyed cottons. This was smack in the middle of my color renaissance and her reds and oranges and aquas just changed my outlook on life, in general.

mini malka: for mini quilt week

I pieced and quilted this miniquilt in a personal challenge to do something under constraints. That is, I could use only the baggie of scraps and had to finish in an hour and a half. [No binding here; it was "birthed" instead.]

Another improvised mini was this one. A swap with Kelly P. This was in the time of my Nancy Crow crush.

Kelly's Quilt

Thought that I’d eventually return to this idea and make something bigger, more interesting. Revisiting here now reminds me of that. Hmm…


Discovered that I’m rubbish at the wonky log cabin game. But I tend to find a way to play within my rigid grids.

for Anne

This one was a swap quilt for a knitter, Anne. It’s not really “me.” You know what I mean? I like it, but it lacks my personality and/or style.


However, this swap quilt for Heather seems to me to represent the quilter I have become. Someday I’ll need to be able to articulate what I mean by that, but…

a very good Crafturday indeed.

I called this one Charles. Sneaking off from work before sundown (well, at 4pm) on a Friday and spending all night sewing like mad felt a bit naughty and reminded me of the short short story of the same name by Shirley Jackson. That metaphor is thinly connected, but we could also say that this handsome quilt is named for my dad, if we prefer. Heck, my dad was a bit naughty too.

Then this Simple Insanity—made with the tiniest scraps that my friends double-dog dared me to find a way to use—pairs well with Charles to represent my more recreational sewing side.

Simple Insanity

Not only is it an insane exercise to turn such tiny scraps into fabric only to slice and dice it again, but I also completed this top in merely 5 days. Yep. Touched with the crazy brush.


The story of Sharecropper is kind of nice. Go read about it over here. It’s a tale of grief and reinvention.

Sharecropper quilt

The striped fabric is from a sharecropper’s shirt. The blues are my own handdyed indigos on flour sacks.

Another scrappy challenge thrown down by my friends, this was also my first use of text in a quilt.

TQTFB: all done

I kinda got some wonky to happen, but not much. And, well, it’s so scrappy that I want to smooch it.

Or maybe I’ll just get distracted by Squirrelzilla?

Squirrelzilla can't quit.

There’s really nothing that can be said about this one. LOL.


The perfect marriage of text and log cabin came to me in the form of this wedding quilt for my friends B & R.

Is This "Love"?

This was another of those feverish piecing projects. Using crowd-sourced verbs, I felt my heart increase from grinch-sized as I meditated during the sewing. All that positivity and creativity was restorative.


What’s next?


I kinda went small. More next time…

Thanks for indulging me in this reminiscence!


Thanks also for your comments on the book review. It was fun to read the book and an interesting exercise to write the review. There’ll be more of this in the future. If you ‘d like a copy of the book, definitely visit the book review post and leave a comment. That giveaway closes on Monday, June 9 at noon (EDT).

on reading backwards…and a giveaway

It is very much in keeping with the theme of the book review herein for me to start by saying that I am an academic and then wax on a bit about that. I’ll be brief though. When one spends inordinate amounts of time reading, mulling over, devouring, and living with texts, one can develop odd habits when approaching bound (and unbound!) hunks of printed paper. While book covers and authors are initial enticements, I always read the bibliography and the other reference lists in the back of nonfiction books first. What are the roots of the work? Who are the influences? Do they acknowledge contributors? And then…well, I typically work my way backwards through the book on the first pass. If it seems worthwhile, I’ll then read the book the regular way.

Yep. I want to know the punchline before I hear the joke. This actually makes some sense with the articles I read daily for RealJob. Before committing to read from start to finish, it’s nice to know where the authors are headed and have a bird’s-eye view of the path. Starting with a reverse-read gives me the chance to unravel it on my own, in a way.

Okay…so what does this have to do with quilting books? Yeah, I “read” them the same way.

For the most part, the quilting books on the market today are just cloned books of lifestyle photos of quilts, with patterns I mostly ignore, and with little to stimulate thought. It just is what they are. And they are that way because it’s what the publishers assume that the quilting masses are likely or willing to buy. One extremely well curated pseudo-example is the recent museum catalog, Quilts and Color. It flips well from back to front since there is practically no text and there isn’t necessarily a philosophical progression in the photos. That book is just purely delicious eye-candy. I recommend it if you’re looking for some inspiration. And I hope to get up to Boston to see the show at the MFA this summer.

When I finished flipping through that book—in a matter of just a few minutes, I picked up Modern Quilt Perspectives. This is another book that reads well backwards, but has some nice stop-and-linger points when the author explains his motivation for his designs.

Modern Quilt Perspectives

His overall theme of making meaningful quilts resonates well with my own approach to design and making right now. He encourages exploration of community, identity and politics often in deeply symbolic ways. Some of the designs miss the mark a bit in this measure, in my opinion, but they are still interesting quilts that are not all re-treads of the same old thing. It’s refreshing!

Modern Quilt Perspectives

Now, even though we agree about the foundational drive to make, there are several points on which we disagree. And that’s also part of what makes it a good book. Thomas and I might come to fisticuffs should we ever meet up and discuss log cabin quilts. [He says that "[log cabins] are definitively a nineteenth century reference; in the twenty-first century, log cabins are more a vanity than a necessity.” Of course, they were never a necessity; moreover he might not have considered that some of us are still burdened by 19th century values and actions and that the log cabin block and its variants are an appropriate symbol to riff on.] Of course, I joke about the fight…he opens up a debate. It’s been a while since a book regarding quilts made me slow down my page-flipping. It’s a bonus to want to argue with the book on a fairly deep level.

Modern Quilt Perspectives

Nuts and bolts? Unlike the usual overly-styled books, each pattern has a full-page full view of the finished quilt, so you know what you’re making and have a reference when reading the instructions. The patterns have schematics and most skip the ridiculous step-by-step structure many authors attempt. This publisher allowed the author to assume the quilter can reason through it all and still achieve satisfactory results. This means there is more room to hear the voice and stop and think. Particularly lovely to note is that the patterns don’t simply end with the cryptic directives: “Quilt. Bind.” There is a discussion of the quilting ideas, how they contribute to the thematic intent of the patchwork, and/or how the quilting stays out of the way of enjoyment of the ideas and patchwork.

Nice work, TK.

I have one book to give away. Would you like a free copy of the book? Just leave a comment here. Tell me about how you read, or a nice book you’ve read recently (I need ideas for summer vacation reading!), or whatever. The giveaway will close at noon (EDT) on Monday, June 9.
*** Giveaway is closed. ***
Disclosure: I do not use affiliate links for shops and I only link to a certain shop because it seems everyone does. There are better (and local!) bookshops one ought to frequent instead. Also…the publisher sent me a copy of the book to give away, however I’d already bought one at full price for myself. So I do feel free to speak honestly and stuff.


If I had my druthers, I’d handquilt all my qulits myself. But I make way too many tops and have such little time that this is a bit of an unreasonable expectation. Still, though, after about 9 years of patchworking, I’m a novice at machine quilting. I held out as long as possible—until just about 4 years ago—before even trying it. Straight lines (usually without using a walking foot) are just about the height of my ability right now.


One goal for the year ahead is to practice free-motion quilting and get back into more regular indulgence in handquilting. Anyway it makes sense that my first project is experimentation at the extremes of linear quilting. Why not know what little I know fairly well?

Matchstick quilting is just channel quilting where the channels are at most 1/8″ wide. It can be also characterized as “quilting the crap outta your top.” Sometimes it makes the quilt stiff, but with looser-weave fabrics, decent drape remains. Now, one ought to do this quilting parallel with the weave whenever possible.


Let’s explore what happens when we matchstick quilt on the bias…I made this improvised, but very square quilt top precisely to measure the warping lean that develops. Put a wide plain border on so that course corrections may be made later.


I like to do a first pass with 1/4″ channels. You see that there’s no perceptible bias; the square remains square.


The second pass to split the channels in half, however, stretches the square out of perpendicular at the same angle as the stitching. Mind you I did stitch the first pass in one direction and the second pass in the opposite direction so this balance of pull on the weave didn’t make it the perpendicular remain true. In fact, I might have reduced the lean a little, though just a little.


Embrace the lean. Square up and bind. And never do this accidentally in the future. I washed the quilt in the washer with hot water and then just let it lay flat to dry overnight. It’s almost truly square without blocking.


The paralellogram looks to me like an energized square winding up to start a sprint through the wind. It feels like the anticipation I have about my own year ahead.

Let’s go…!

The Details

Pattern: precision and improv patchwork
Materials:scraps from the bin: handdyed indigo flour sack and osnaburg
Techniques: machined pieced; “matchstick” machine quilted in lines about 1/8″ apart; and hand-bound
Finished size: 18.5″ x 21″
Started: May 27, 2014
Finished: May 28, 2014

wordless wednesday: a week in the life

(mouse over photos for a bit of info)

garden: week 1

got the blues?




garden: week 2