How to Make a Log Cabin Quilt

By Jill Gardiner , last updated December 16, 2011

Whether you’re a beginning quilter or have been doing it for years, if you don’t already know how to make a log cabin quilt, it’s time you learned the ins and outs of this extremely versatile pattern. A small, central square surrounded by ever lengthening rectangular strips, the finished intricate look of a log cabin quilt belies the simple straight seams and easy construction it takes to create it. Learning how to make a basic log cabin quilting square opens up a world possibilities; by changing the fabric, strip thickness, and orientation of the individual squares you can make an infinite number of quilts based on one simple concept, none of which will look even remotely the same. Here’s how to get started on your own log cabin quilt.

Fabric Choice

To begin with, you’ll want to select your fabric. You should choose at least two different materials, one light and one dark, although you can certainly choose more than just two. Using only two materials will create a neat, elegant, and orderly look, while using a wide variety of different patterns and colors will create a more casual and fun finished product. Because the strips sizes needed for making a log cabin quilt are relatively narrow, this is a great way to use up all those bits and scraps of fabric leftover from other projects.

Cut Fabric

Start by deciding which fabrics you want to use for your center square. Using a rotary cutter, a quilting ruler, and a self-healing mat, cut them into 3.5” by 3.5” blocks. You’ll need about 49 of these center squares for a full size quilt. Use the cutter and ruler to cut the remainder of your fabric into strips that are two inches wide. Don’t worry about the lengths just yet. After you’ve gotten the hang of this quilt, you can try making one with smaller strips to create a more intricate pattern or go larger for a simple and modern look. If you’re using just two fabrics, keep the strips in two piles; if you’re using multiple fabrics, separate them either by dark and light colors or by color family. You’ll need about 69.5 yards of 2-inch strips in one fabric or group, 83 yards in the other.

Sew a Square

With right sides together, pin a center square and your first strip from the 83-yard pile together so that the strip overhangs the square by a bit on the top. Sew a ¼” seam. Unfold the piece and iron the right side flat, keeping the seams closed and folded away from the center square. Use your rotary cutter, quilting ruler, and self-healing mat to trim the edges of the strip so it’s even with the square. Rotate the square so that sewn strip is on the bottom. Place another strip from the 83-yard pile right side down on your square, again allowing some overhang. Sew a ¼” seam, press, and trim again. Next, do two strips from the 69.5-yard pile, then go back to the 83-yard pile. Continue until you have a 12.5” square.

Assemble

Once you have a block or two, you can start sewing them together to form the quilt top, although you may want to finish all 49 before you do that. Altering the orientation of different squares enables you to create all sorts of patterns, such as stripes, diamonds, triangles, and concentric diamonds. Try experimenting with arrangements a bit before you sew the finished top.

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