This article is the second in a series of beginner's guides to patchwork and quilting written by Kerry Green http://verykerryberry.blogspot.co.uk/. If you have always wanted to make a quilt and don’t know where to start, this series of ten posts will include instructions to make basic quilt blocks, introduce simple techniques and combine the blocks to make a small sampler quilt.
Log Cabin and Courthouse Steps are simple quilt blocks based on squares and rectangles that offer many possibilities for variations. To make both blocks we’ll be using relatively wide fabric strips to keep construction simple. The Log Cabin I’ve chosen is a traditional three-colour version and the addition of modern prints makes the block look more contemporary. For Courthouse Steps, I have used a variation which creates a series of squares in squares but by using different colour arrangements you can create a totally different look for this block and when multiplied across a whole quilt, both Log Cabin and Courthouse Steps can create lots of different design effects.
Log Cabin Block
Finished block size, 12” square. Finished size does not include the seam allowance so the unfinished size is 12½” square. Seam allowance is ¼” throughout.
You will need
- Scrap of red fabric at least 4” square for the centre. In traditional log cabin blocks, this square is usually red but you can use any colour as long as it contrasts to the other colours used around it.
- Two fat quarters of contrasting quilt cotton fabrics. One should be light and the other dark. There will be plenty of fabric left over for other blocks!
Centre square: Cut 3½” square from the red scrap.
Light strips: From the light fat quarter, rotary cut three strips, 2” x length of fabric (see tip below). Fat quarters are usually 18” long and 22” wide.
For most efficient fabric usage, sub-cut the strips in this order: 3½”, 5”, 6½” from one strip, 8”, and 9½” from the next strip and 11” from the final strip. There should be six strips in total.
Dark strips: From the dark fat quarter, rotary cut three strips, 2” x length of fabric. For most efficient fabric usage, sub-cut the strips in this order: 5” and 12½” from one strip, 6½” and 11” from the next strip and 8" and 9½” from the final strip. There should be six strips in total.
Tip : When cutting strips, the usual method is to cut across the width of the fabric, on the crosswise grain. However, on blocks like log cabin, as the block gets bigger, the larger strips can start to stretch creating wobbly and wavy edges. Cutting vertically down the length of fabric helps prevent this as there is less stretch running along the lengthwise grain. Try it for yourself! Take a large square of fabric; hold each vertical edge in your hands and pull. You should feel a slight give. Now take the top and bottom horizontal edges and repeat. It should feel tighter and more resistant. In quilting, and even in dressmaking, we can use this natural variation in woven fabric to our advantage!
Arrange your centre square and your strips on a board as shown in the photograph. The order in which each piece is added is shown in the schema diagram. We will start with the centre square and work clockwise around it.
With right sides together, sew the first light strip to the top edge of the centre square. Press the seam flat to set the stitching and then press the strip away from the centre square. For all subsequent strips, continue to press the seams to one side, away from the centre square and towards the strip just added.
Join the second strip to the right vertical edge of the centre square, right sides together. When sewing the seam, the wrong side of the red square should be facing you and the strip being added should be underneath. This is the same with all subsequent seams. Add the darker strips (3 and 4 on the diagram) working clockwise around the centre square. Press. The log cabin so far should measure 6 ½” square.
Continue adding the strips following the order in the diagram, press as before.
Give the block a final press. It is now complete!
Tip: You do not need to pin the whole seam when sewing this block. Pin at the end of the seam with the pin running at a right angle to where the seam will be sewn. Place the start of the seam under the machine foot and hold the strips together with your fingers over the pin: the strips should be slightly taut as you sew. Slip the pin out before you stitch the end of the seam.
Courthouse Steps Block
Finished block size, 12” square.
You will need
- Scrap of fabric at least 4” square for the centre.
- Three fat quarters of contrasting quilt cotton fabrics. They can be solid or print, as long as there is contrast. You will only use a little of each fat quarter.
Note before cutting - Do check your fabric length before cutting as you may be able to get it from fewer strips. For example if your fabric is 22' long you will only need two strips for colour C instead of four, or one strip for colour A.
Centre square: Cut 3½” square from your chosen scrap fabric.
Colour A: rotary cut two strips, 2” x length of fabric. From these strips cut a total of two rectangles measuring, 2” x 3½”, and two rectangles measuring 2” x 6½”.
Colour B: rotary cut two strips, 2” x length of fabric. From these strips cut a total of two rectangles measuring, 2” x 6½”, and two rectangles measuring 2” x 9½”. For most efficient fabric usage, cut in this order: 6½” rectangle and 9” rectangle from each strip.
Colour C: rotary cut up to four strips, 2” x length of fabric. From these strips cut a total of two rectangles measuring, 2” x 9½”, and two rectangles measuring 2” x 12½”.
Arrange your centre square and your strips on a board as shown in the photograph. The order in which each piece is added is shown in the schema diagram.
Place a colour A rectangle (2” x 3½”) right sides together against the right vertical edge of the centre square. Sew and press the seam away from the centre square as with the log cabin block. Take the second colour A rectangle (2” x 3½”) and repeat on the left side edge of the centre square. In the same way, add colour A rectangles (2” x 6½”) to the top and bottom edges of the square, pressing as before.
Continue adding rectangles around the centre block, starting with the vertical side edges in the same way, this time using colour B.
Repeat step 3 using colour C.
Your block is complete!
Log Cabin blocks can make many layouts. In this example from Dorchester Quilt Library, simple light/dark blocks with a red centre square are rotated to make a secondary on point pattern. This solid colour example by Tim Latimer is so simple and yet so effective. Cath Hall of Wombat Quilts has designed a fantastic modern scrappy version of a Log Cabin. There is also a simple scrappy Log Cabin tutorial here on Sewing Directory.
Courthouse Steps blocks are similarly effective. This mini quilt from Purl Bee is one of my favourite examples of the block, which does require a little planning when repeating the block over a quilt so that the colours can create a bead effect like this quilt by Rita Hodge of Red Pepper Quilts. Denyse Schmidt took a single Courthouse Steps block and expanded it to make a whole Courthouse Steps quilt for her Modern Quilts, Traditional Inspiration book.
Next time we’ll be looking at half-square triangles and I’ll be sharing a range of construction methods and creating more basic blocks. You can find me along with my sewing adventures, tips, quilt-alongs and tutorials at verykerryberry.blogspot.co.uk
Follow Kerry's quilt in progress with our 10-part series.