The project I’m going to talk about here started several years ago, on one of many afternoons that I spent sewing at my grandmother’s house. My grandmother has sewn garments for decades and has accumulated a huge bag full of scraps. Often I would sit on the floor in her sewing room, empty the bag in front of me and let my imagination run free. I find that working with scraps makes it much easier to be creative and spontaneous, because there is no pressure to not messing up an nice, expensive piece of fabric.
I pulled out a whole bunch of different fabric scraps – ranging from polyester lining to linen – and cut them into semi-regular strips to prepare them for their transformation into a log cabin quilt. The overarching principle during fabric selection was the color palette rather than the material.
The color palette spans warm orange tones, greens, cool turquoise and light blues and clearly speaks “fall” to me: The time when leaves have not fully turned yet and when wind and rain have left the sky crisp and blue. Most of the colors are solids, but a good fraction are prints. All prints have a similar scale, namely one that shows up well on the scale of the individual strips (or later logs of the log cabin quilt blocks). A problem I’ll probably be running into soon as I continue building these blocks is a lack of orange and red tones. My own scrap collection is devoid of orange and my grandmothers collection is thousands of miles away in Germany.
Building the log cabins
Piecing log cabin blocks is relatively basic and there are many tutorials out there that do an excellent job at explaining how to do it. One atypical thing that I did here was to build the log cabin on a “base” fabric square. I used a square of neutral white color, slightly larger than my desired finished block size. The advantage of working on a fabric base is that I can more easily control the lighter and more slippery lining fabrics. In that regard it’s maybe similar to paper piecing. An additional advantage is that the base fabric provides a visual backdrop for some of the more transparent layers.
When making my blocks I didn’t plan much ahead. I’d just grab a few strips of the right length, sew them on and then step back to decide on the next round of strips. Below you can see one of the blocks grow over time.
Below are 6 of my first blocks. Some are not fully finished (you can see the white base-fabric peek out around the edges), but this will be sufficient to illustrate some basic ideas about how to arrange these to get an effective, balanced visual effect despite the scrappy nature of the blocks.
To get a balanced visual appearance, I would consider the distribution of the following features:
- warm and cool colors (i.e. orange vs. blue tones)
- color values (how dark a fabric is, but see below)
- patterns vs. solids
- wonkiness of the log cabins
Of course you could play with any of these features and purposefully keep them unbalanced to create for example a gradient from cooler to warmer colored blocks or make them go from wonky to straight log cabins.
In the image above you can see that I mixed up warm and cool colors pretty thoroughly. An easy way to check for balance of color values and patterns vs solids is to convert the image to grey scale:
We can now see that some blocks are well balanced in terms of value (e.g. the lower left and the middle top block). Many are not, and that’s okay. But I would like to counteract this a bit by how I place them next to each other.
To me the picture revealed two problematic areas. The first “problem area” one is on the left, where two log cabins with a more wonky frame are placed right next to each other. In a larger quilt I’d like to spread these out more to just occasionally break the symmetry. The second place that needs to be adjusted is on the lower right. Here I don’t like how the borders of the squares interact: On one side too many patterned fabrics are colliding. On the other side there is a cluster of very dark valued “logs”. Fortunately I think this can be easily fixed by rotating the lower right block by 180 degrees.
And what’s next?
I’m still contemplating how big I want to go with this. At least a lab sized quilt, I think. I also started thinking about how I should quilt this one. I don’t want the quilting to compete with the patchwork. Maybe just irregularly spaced straight lines? We’ll see.