Log Cabin Settings: Making Tough Choices

Along with my Your First (Modern) Quilt class here in Atlanta, I’ve been working on a log cabin quilt top that I’m pretty excited about.   Our first block out of the nine we’ll make this year was a basic log cabin, and as we were making them during the month of February, I was also reading the Elm Creek Quilts books.  Now, say what you will about the book series, but I got pretty seriously addicted at one point.  Like, to the degree that I had to stop ordering them from Amazon (which is harder than it sounds–next day delivery! discounts galore! new and used!).  I especially like the volumes that are historic, and read three that take place during the Civil War era–a time period dear to the heart of every long-time Atlantan.

At various points in the novels, the author shares details about traditional and historic quilt blocks and settings, and one that particularly caught my attention was Sunshine and Shadows.  She writes about how every life contains both, and that a quilt can be a reminder that we can’t have one without the other, but that both have value and meaning for us and those we love.  I love the idea and the symbolism, and have always been a fan of meaningful messages that don’t hit you over the head–this one totally qualifies.

As I was thinking about it, it occurred to me that grey is all. over. the place. these days, and looks fabulous with my super-favorite color: sunny golden yellow.  Instant sunshine and shadows, yes?  I’ve been really drawn to all these juicy-and-blah color combinations–the Mason-Dixon girls talk about that idea in their book, that by combining really bright, bright colors with neutral, drabby colors, both of them are heightened and the design as a whole is much more pleasing.  Since my usual color palette (I’m a Spring) is lovely, bright colors, and I tend to shy away from neutrals, I like that these combinations push me beyond my comfort zone, and I love the results.

I put together twenty blocks, using 2.5″ strips with 4.5″ squares of red for the hearth.  Apparently I like things ittyittybitty or super-huge.  Go figure.

Trouble came when I went to put the quilt top together.  I did my research (I love me some good researching) and wasn’t really all that impressed with the images I found of the Sunshine and Shadows setting.  Like, at all.  I was so bummed–but making lemonade, realized this was a great chance to bring some images back to my class and talk about how enormous an impact you can make on a quilt simply by altering the arrangement of blocks.

The four settings–quilt-ese for layouts–below are all traditional log cabin settings, dating back to around 1810-1830.  But when you combine them with the grey/yellow block with its giant red hearth square, they become very modern, indeed.

This is a straight setting.  Each of the twenty blocks is oriented the same way, so that all the darks and all the lights create a repeat across the quilt top.  I like that in this setting, the red hearth blocks become the visual focal point.

This setting is called Fields and Furrows. The blocks are oriented so that the lights and darks are always in contact with themselves, creating a diagonal across the quilt top reminiscent of furrows in a freshly plowed field (most of these traditional quilts were developed in rural and agricultural communities, after all).  I really like the movement that this setting gives, and the way it draws your eye across the quilt.

This setting is Barn Raising, and forms concentric diamonds radiating outward from the midpoint of the quilt.  Initially, I thought this would be my favorite setting for these blocks, once I’d been disappointed by the Sunshine and Shadows diagrams I’d seen.  But with an odd number of rows/even number of columns, the design gets truncated here–see how the next light diamond isn’t balanced on top versus bottom?  Not visually pleasing.  Also: for whatever reason, in this color palette with the value changes as the log cabin rows work their way to the outer edge of each block, I think this setting has a softly Southwestern feel, and as lovely as it is, that’s not really my aesthetic.  So a surprised as I was, I rejected this setting as soon as I had the blocks all laid out.

This last one is the Sunshine and Shadows setting.  See the zigzaggy diagonals moving across the quilt?  As much as I disliked this setting in the line drawings I’d seen, I loved it once I got these particular blocks assembled and was able to back up enough to see the effect.  I really like that movement, but whereas the Rows and Furrows moved across the quilt, this seems to have a vibrancy and all-over movement that I really dig.  Maybe it’s the scale of the blocks–finished, they’re 16″ square–but it also seems to be the most modern-feeling of the four traditional settings.

Looking at thumbnails of the settings, you can really get a feel for just how bold the colors of these log cabins are, and how very different the quilt looks in the various settings.  Isn’t that awesome?  I feel so inspired to know that taking something super simple like solid colors in varying values, putting them together in a simple design that’s been around for nearly 200 years, and then shifting how those blocks relate to one another can make an immense impact on how the overall product makes you feel.

I’m off to stitch these seams so I can get this puppy ready to quilt.  Maybe we’ll talk some about planning out quilting designs, then, huh?  Fun!

11 Comments on “Log Cabin Settings: Making Tough Choices

  1. Love the colors. And the flexibility of the different layouts is amazing.

  2. Whoa – I had no idea!! Very awesome.

  3. I really like the zig-zag. . . did you happen to try the second zig-zag as a mirror image of the first one? I’m curious about how it would look.

  4. Wow, that’s amazing! Thanks for sharing this, it’s just what I needed to help me visualize a quilt design.

  5. That is absolutely gorgeous! Love your color choices. If I were to go by the shop how much would I need of each color to make a similar design?

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  7. I like the diagonals and the zig zags- excited to see what you choose!

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  9. Those blocks look so great. Very modern indeed. And I love the elm creek quilts series. I’ve read the first 5 and need to get going on some more (but sewing keeps taking up my time.)