Sunny Log Cabin SAL

The idea for a Sunny Log Cabin Sew Along took root with the desire to put together another single block log cabin, similar to the one I made for the baby Norah. 

A few friends wanted to join in on the sewing,and before long we had the makings of a Sew Along! But what a perfect Sew Along! The log cabin is an old block, dating back to the time of the Civil War. In fact, the block likely was to pay homage to the humble beginnings of Abraham Lincoln. It's an easy block to sew, and, very often, the first block many quilters learned as beginners. 

A log cabin quilt was one of the first quilt classes I took as a newbie. I clearly remember working my way through Eleanor Burns, Quilt in A Day. The techniques I learned in that class, I still use today. If you don't know Eleanor Burns, her You-Tube video is worth a look! She has quite a sense of humor!       

We hope you will sew with us during the Sunny Log Cabin SAL! You can make a quilt or a coaster, a log cabin tote or even a zippy pouch. Make a single block quilt or use multiple blocks. Make it liberated (wonky) or use foundation paper piecing for crisp precision! There are no rules, just loads of inspiration and fun! Be sure to hashtag your log cabin shares using the hashtag #sunnylogcabinsal. We all want to see your fabulous makes!

I will be sharing instructions for the basic construction of a traditional log cabin block, templates for a foundation paper pieced block, and a tutorial on how to make your own foundation paper piece template. As well as, a simple tutorial for a courthouse steps block. 

Log Cabin Tutorial: Traditionally the center of the log cabin block is postitioned in the center and is red to signify the heart of the home. For my single block version, I off-set the center by adding 'logs' to just two sides of the center block....more on that later.

You can make the center any size you would like. In fact, the center doesn't even have to be square! For this tutorial we are going to make a square center. And to make it even easier, it will be a 2" square (remember you can cut your square and strips any width you desire). If your plan is to make a large quilt, you may want to increase the size of your logs to make the building go a bit faster...or perhaps consider using jelly rolls for your quilt! 

Begin with a 2" square for the center and add a 2" by 2" log to the top of the center. Using a quarter inch seam allowance, stitch and press the seam away from the center. Next we will add a 2" log to the side of the center. I begin by adding my first log at the top of the center piece and work counter clockwise, but it doesn't matter where you start or if you add logs counter clockwise or clockwise. Just be consistent!

Tip: Put a pin or a sticker on the first log as a reminder of the beginning log position    

Cut a length of fabric 2" wide and longer than the center + first log unit. Using a quarter inch seam allowance stitch the second log to the left side of the center + first log unit. Trim the length so it's even with the first unit.

TIP: It's important when you trim each log that there is a straight right angle at each corner. Line your acrylic ruler so the top edge is even with a horizontal line on your ruler and the edge of the ruler is even with the side of the unit you are trimming. This will help keep your quilt or block straight as it grows. 

Continue working your way around the center, adding a log and trimming. 

Tip: You will know that you are adding logs correctly (consistent in direction) if you pass over two seams once the first three blocks have been added. 

And that's it! Make your center and your logs as wide or as narrow as you like. Make your log cabin block as big or as small as you like. In the words of Bob Ross, it's your happy log cabin! Make it any way you like! Just keep adding logs, keeping the direction you work consistent, and build until your log cabin block until it's perfect!   

Courthouse Steps Block:

This Courthouse Steps quilt pattern can be found in Denyse Schmidt's - Modern Quilts Traditional Inspiration. 

Again, begin with a center. This time we will add steps on opposite sides of the center rather than wrapping the steps around the center. First add a 'step' to the top and bottom of the center (It doesn't matter if you start top and bottom or sides. Just be sure you add opposite sides). Then the next 'steps' are added to the sides of the center. Continue adding top and bottom, then side and side until you have a block as large as desired.

**Tip - I have found its helpful to press carefully when making a log cabin or courthouse steps. It's easy to distort the fabric and warp your strips with aggressive ironing. I begin by pressing the seam flat first, trim, and then press the seam to one side. I find by pressing the seam flat, it's more stable and less likely to warp.         


Foundation Paper Piecing:

Tip: reduce your stitch length to 1.5 - this helps perforate the paper for ease in removing.

Here is a template for a 7 inch block that you might want to foundation paper piece. Log Cabin: TEMPLATE Courthouse Steps: TEMPLATE

**Tip - search You Tube for great tutorials on foundation paper piecing

Begin with a piece of fabric for the center - A1 (ignore the incorrect numbering on my photo...I forgot to switch 1 and 2). You should have a piece of fabric that is at least 1/4 inch larger than the center on each side. Use a bit of glue, such as a glue stick or Roxanne's Glue Baste-It, to hold the fabric to the center. The wrong side of the fabric with be facing the wrong side of the template. All of the stitching will be done on the right side of the foundation paper template. 


Take a post card or piece of card stock and lay it on the line between 1 and 2, fold back the paper template. Using your acrylic ruler, cut a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Take the fabric for the first log (it should be at least a 1/4" larger than A2 on each side) place the fabrics right sides facing. Unfold the paper and stitch on the line between 1 and 2.

Repeat this process until you have added all the logs. 

Carefully remove the paper from the wrong side of the block. 

How to make your own paper foundation template:

Making your own template is very simple, and allows you to customize the log cabin block! All you need is a piece of paper, a sharp pencil and an acrylic ruler. 

Begin by using the acrylic ruler to make a square or a rectangle for the center. Add #1 to the center. 

Just like in constructing a log cabin block with fabric and thread, add a 'log' to the top of the center. Use your acrylic ruler to make the log a uniform width and even with the sides of the center. Mark it #2.

Working your way counter clockwise, use the acrylic ruler to add a log and number it in numerical order.

Once you have circled the center with all 4 logs, start again using the acrylic ruler to keep the width of the logs uniform and even with the edges of the block. Don't forget to number each block as you work your way around. 

Your block can be as large or as small as you like. I find this very handy if you plan to make a tiny block. Using Foundation Paper Piecing aids in the precision of the construction when handling tiny pieces of fabric. Use the same process in making a courthouse steps template, just remember to add your steps to opposite sides of the center.   

You may want to look at my original blog post about making this Courthouse Steps Pillow.You can find the blog post HERE.

Choosing colors and design:

For my single block, Norah baby quilt, I was inspired by a photo I saw on Pinterest. Isn't Pinterest amazing for inspiration?!

You can find our Pinterest Page Here - We have a board for Log Cabin Quilts and a Color board to help narrow down on the type of quilt you want to make and the colors you would like to use. 

As I said in the beginning of this post, I off-set my center. To do this, I simply added logs to only two perpendicular sides of my center. I added a total of 4 logs to each of these two sides. If you would like to off-set the center you can choose any number of logs to add to the two perpendicular sides. I then treated this unit as my center and started building from the top of this unit and worked my way around counter-clockwise. 

I choose to make my center more dramatic by using deep saturated colors. This was to make a clear statement that this is my center! Once I started building from the center my chosen colors were pink, mint, blue and a yellow-y cream. A traditional log cabin block will most likely be two-toned. A light half and a dark half, split diagonally across the block. With multiple blocks you then have the ability to rotate the light and dark sides to create different designs, such as, Barn Raising and Fields and Furrows. 

Here is an example of a Barn Raising Quilt. 

And here is an example of Fields and Furrows.

But for the Norah quilt choosing four colors gave the quilt a Courthouse Steps effect, even though it's wrapped around the center unit like a traditional log cabin.

Also, I did not place my fabrics so they were in a gradient color scale. I didn't begin with light colors, or less saturated colors, closer to the center unit and work my way to darker or more saturated colors or vice versa. I wanted this quilt to look more organic. So my choice of fabric placement within each color was to suggest the color with a muted print, or to fully embrace it with a saturated fabric. But I always added a punch of saturated color within a given quadrant to reinforce the color in that section!

If you are making a large quilt, be sure to keep your scraps! As you work your way out from the center, longer strips will need to be added. You will have to piece those strips as most quilting weight cotton is 42" wide. I chose to piece strips within the section closer to the center as well, so the pieced strips were not all concentrated toward the outside edges of the quilt. It makes the quilt more balanced. 

Add bold text! I love adding words to a quilt and if they are words that have some personal significance, it's even better. The Norah quilt has the word SEWING; boldy proclaiming the joy of sewing Norah's mom and I share! 

And finally, I pulled in the colors from the center and popped them into the outer body of the quilt. A fun pop of color and an unexpected surprise!    

**Tip: As your quilt grows, be sure to keep the weight of the quilt up so its not dragging. Your stitching will be be better served by having a large area to support the weight of this quilt. 

Liberated Log Cabin: Even though, I will be making a single block log cabin, I wanted to give you some ideas if you are  interested in making a liberated or wonky log cabin. If you have not been a follower of Gwen Marston, I encourage you to look into her work. In my mind, Gwen is the modern authority on liberated quiltmaking. Her unorthadox quiltmaking process is easy to follow with amazing results! You can find many books by Gwen on Amazon or in your local library. You might enjoy this little video about adding a wedge into your log cabin block. 

When making a liberated log cabin, you don't need to worry about cutting strips and squares straight until you get to the end and square it all up! In fact, you really don't need to worry about keeping an even 1/4 inch seam allowance!

Begin with a square-ish shape for the center. It can be a square or a rectangle, large or small. 


Just like in traditional log cabin making, sew a log next to the center. It doesn't have to have a particular dimension, in fact, you can just cut a 'log' with your scissors. And continue building around the center. The order doesn't matter and you don't have to stitch the same number of logs on each side! 

When you are finished, trim your blocks using an acrylic ruler or a square up ruler. You might want all you blocks to be the same size or you may want to vary the size. 

In my example of a liberated log cabin, I added a large field of white around each block. This creates the appearance of brightly colored blocks floating in a sea of fresh white kona! Simply frame each block with solid white. I over-sized my blocks so I had more options with placement of the log cabin when trimming. Then as I trimmed all of the blocks to the same size, some of the colorful log cabins are sitting higher in the 10" (finished) block and some are sitting lower, some are in the middle. I feel this gives the quilt more movement and a whimsical look.

As you make a wonky log cabin block, you may want to trim a side at an angle before you add another piece. Keep in mind the look you want, often trimming at a very sharp angle appears very severe or less organic. Perhaps a bit contrived. You may want to experiment with a few blocks before deciding the "look" that appeals to you most. 

You might also consider making your liberated log cabin as a single block quilt!   

Hopefully, this will get you started with your log cabin project. Be sure to use the hashtag #sunnylogcabinsal as you post photos!

I will have more blog posts as we go!  Happy building!