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Cutting Log Cabin Quilt patches!?

Answers:1   |   LastAnswerAt:2010.01  

Asked at 2010.01.03 22:17:41
I am wondering should I cut all the patches first calculating the length I will need of each patch? Or should I first cut the center square and then just eyeball the fabric "logs" as I go along? Also this may sound like a dumb question, but after I have sewn the centre square with the first log, I got to sew on the next log it always seems a little longer, is that because of the seam allowance? And if so do I centre the next piece , or do I leave all the extra on one side of the patch?
answer swbiblio  Answered at 2010.01.03 22:17:41
First, if your pre-cut logs are a little longer when you go to sew it to the block, it is either because your cutting wasn't accurate, or your seam wasn't accurate. You can check the accuracy of your seam by sewing two 1 3/4" strips together, pressing and measuring the finished width. It should be exactly 3". Keep in mind a couple of things when cutting and sewing. First, the seam takes up a few threads more than the actual width you sew. When you press it open, the pieces aren't perfectly flat at the stitch line. It takes a little space to fold back over the stitches and fabric. That is why many instructions say to sew a "scant" 1/4" seam. Make it just a little less than 1/4" and that should help. Also, when cutting the fabric, measure using the outside edge of the lines on the ruler, not the inside or center. If you consistently cut things 1/16" too small, it adds up. If you place a log that's a little longer, you have two options. You can start at the edge and leave the extra on one side, then trim it so the block so far is square. This is best if you don't care if your finished block is slightly smaller, as long as you are consistent. If you're going for a finished block that is the "correct" size, then you either need to take it apart and start over, or center the new log, do NOT trim it, and use the edge of the new log as a placement guide for the next piece (line up with that edge instead of the edge of the rest of the block).

I've made log cabin blocks every which way you can think of. The first time, I cut all of the individual logs out, then sewed them on one at a time. It was very time consuming, and getting the perfect size for the finished block was nearly impossible. My 1/4" seam was not very accurate (or even very consistent).

The second time, I chain pieced it (as mentioned above with the Eleanor Burns method). This made it much faster to piece several blocks at once. To do this, cut a long strip of each your fabrics (selvage to selvage - about 42"). Cut several center squares. Now put the strip of fabric for your first log on the bed of the sewing machine, right side up. Place the first center square on top of it, right side down. It should be right at the end of the strip, ready to feed into the machine. Make sure the right edges are lined up and carefully sew the square onto the strip. Don't remove it - now place the NEXT center square on the strip, just a hair below the bottom of the first square. Remember to place it right side down. Make sure it's lined up, sew it on, then place the next center, and so on until you have half a dozen or so centers sewn onto the strip. Take it out of your machine and use a rotary cutter and ruler to cut each separate center/log segment. Press the seam to the log side. Now take your second log strip and put it in the machine right side up. Take your stack of center/log segments and one at a time place them right side down on the strip and sew into place. Always check to be sure you're putting them the right way - you want to move in a counterclockwise direction. Make sure the last piece you sewed on is at the TOP when you place it on the strip. Cut the new segments apart, press to the new log side, and get your next log strip in place. Keep going, sewing all of the segments to the strip before trimming them and pressing open. When you finish, you'll have ALL of the blocks done at the same time.

If you have trouble with keeping your seam consistent, consider cutting the strips a little larger than they're supposed to be (1 3/4" instead of 1 1/2", for example), then trimming the block after each complete round (four logs sewn on). For example, if you're making a 9" finished block with 1" finished strips, cut 1 3/4" strips (instead of 1 1/2"). Sew the center to the first log, to the second log, to the third log, to the fourth log. You'll have a center with a log on each side. Press it flat, then use a square ruler to trim it to 3 1/2" square. Be sure you find the center point and trim all sides - don't just cut it from one side. Sew the next four logs on, press, and trim it to 5 1/2". Sew the next four, trim to 7 1/2", and sew the last four and trim to your final 9 1/2" (unfinished). When you sew the blocks together, your final block size will be 9". This takes a little more time, but is great for getting a "perfect" block.

You can also foundation piece your log cabin blocks. Print or trace the log cabin to a piece of lightweight paper, foundation paper, or even lightweight fabric, if you want to leave it in the quilt. You'll need to make one foundation for every block. I won't go into details on how to foundation piece - if this interests you, search for more info. There are many variations. The advantage to foundation piecing is the accuracy. You sew through the paper, on the lines. It doesn't matter how well you cut the pieces, or how accurate your seam is - you just follow the lines.

Finally, if you're interested in trying something a little less traditional, consider making "wonky" or "liberated" log cabins. You deliberately use angled logs, so the cabin looks like it's twisting back and forth. This is very forgiving for beginners. Check the link below for examples.
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