Quilt, Log Cabin pattern, Light and Dark variation, Wool and cotton, American

Quilt, Log Cabin pattern, Light and Dark variation

ca. 1865
Possibly made in Pennsylvania, United States
Wool and cotton
92 1/2 x 80 in. (235 x 203.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Eva Gebhard-Gourgaud Foundation Gift, 1973
Accession Number:
Not on view
The quilt's top is composed of pieced blocks of multicolored and patterned wools and cottons, each block with a center of red wool challis. The border is pieced of the same fabrics as the blocks. The back is of printed cotton. There is quilting along the edges of each small piece of fabric. There is no batting between the front and back layers.
This quilt, pieced mainly of printed-wool challises, is a good example of the American Log Cabin style first popular around the middle of the nineteenth century. A Log Cabin quilt is always made in square units or blocks, each with one diagonal half of dark strips and the other of light strips. These blocks can be set together in different ways to form any of a variety of overall patterns. In the Straight Furrow variation (1974.37), a pattern is created by alternating the direction of the square blocks as they are joined across the width of the quilt. In this Light and Dark variation, the squares are placed to create a pattern of light and dark diamond shapes. The technique of stitching a Log Cabin quilt differs from that employed for most pieced quilts (except for Crazy quilts) in that the small strips of fabric are anchored to a square of foundation fabric. Although both the Museum's bed covers are quilted around the edges of each small strip of fabric, it is not unusual for Log Cabin quilts to be unquilted. The quilt top is made up of what amounts to a double layer of wool strips in addition to the foundation layer and thus is heavier than most pieced tops. Therefore, Log Cabin quilts are commonly finished without batting between the layers and with decorative threads at intervals tying the front to the backing.
Although Log Cabin quilts have for many years been cited as the most American of all quilts, that judgment has recently undergone some revision. The traditional view was supported by Sophia Frances Anne Caulfeild and Blanche C. Saward's 1882 "Dictionary of Needlework," a British publication that referred to a patchwork similar to Log Cabin piecing but made up of small pieces of silk ribbons, as "American or Canadian Patchwork." Although the two are constructed in the same manner, the effect achieved with the silk ribbons is quite different from that of the wool Log Cabin quilts most commonly found in America, and in fact, "American or Canadian Patchwork" ribbon quilts are far rarer today than wool or cotton Log Cabin quilts.
Early examples of Log Cabin piecing that exist in Great Britain are cited in two well-known books about British quilts. In her 1958 book "Patchwork," Averil Colby describes a Log Cabin quilt of tweed and homespun wool made from a pattern that had been handed down through a single Scottish family since 1745 and in "Quilts of the British Isles," (1987) Janet Rae discusses a number of possible British origins for the pattern. For American works, it is commonly accepted that the strips of fabric represent the logs of an American cabin and the traditional red center square signifies the hearth. However, the most fascinating of Rae's theories holds that the pattern actually reproduces the appearance of strip-farmed land in the countryside of seventeenth-century Scotland. Extending this interpretation logically, she concludes that the red center square represents the sun shining on the fields rather than the glowing hearth of an American pioneer's home. According to this hypothesis, the Log Cabin quilt originated in Great Britain hundreds of years ago and was adopted by nineteenth-century Americans after it journeyed across the ocean.
[Peck 2015; adapted from Amelia Peck, "American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," 2007]