Follow the Thread

a textile & costume history blog from the Design Center at Thomas Jefferson University

Student Project: Reinterpreting a Log Cabin quilt, by Kate Kaufmann


This post is a continuation of our series featuring final student projects from our History of Costume and Textiles course.

My name is Kate Kaufmann and I am a second year Fashion Design student at Thomas Jefferson University. I have always been very interested in fiber arts, so I have dabbled in many of them, including quilting! If you would like to check out any of my work you can do so on my Instagram @_fabrikate or my portfolio website.

Because of my interest in quilting and my experience creating a quilt myself, I chose to examine a log cabin quilt from 1932 for this project. The type of block featured in this quilt is a log cabin block which was popular beginning around the time of the Civil War. Its popularity can be connected to then President, Abraham Lincoln, and his background living in a cabin. Another sign of this influence is the popular toy, Lincoln Logs, which stems from the same origins. In addition, a notable design element of log cabin quilts is that the center square piece of each block is typically all the same color. Traditionally, this color would be red to signify the warm hearth of a log cabin; however, the center squares of the 1932 quilt are all black. Log cabin quilts are notable for creating a sort of optical illusion when viewed from afar, based on the light and dark values of fabrics. While the 1932 quilt was not specifically made with this intention, it still has the effect to some degree.

Pieced quilt, 1932, T&CC 1976.61

Log cabin quilts are foundation pieced, meaning they are constructed and pieced together with a backing for each square. In addition, log cabin quilts typically do not have top stitching or quilting, nor do they have thick batting. This is evident in the 1932 quilt, as it has only a few points per square where the front is connected to the backing with small knots of embroidery thread that are not visible from the front. This quilt is almost entirely hand sewn besides the border, which was sewn by machine. There are well over 30 different fabrics used in this quilt of a wide variety of constructions, fibers, and prints. While many are floral, there are also a few more simple designs such as plain colors or checks, and some more elaborate designs including a jacquard. Additionally, the 1932 quilt does not have any batting, but it does have feedsack fabric, typically used during the Great Depression, as the foundation for each square (the image below on the left shows some feedsack fabric peeking through an area of the quilt top).

Creating a quilted jacket

After discovering all of this information about log cabin quilts in my research, I decided to create a quilted jacket with log cabin quilt blocks for the design element of the project. I chose this route because I had always wanted to make a quilted jacket and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity. To construct the jacket, I began by cutting strips of fabric from my stash that all fit into a Fall color scheme. I assembled my quilt blocks individually, although I did not foundation piece them as is typical for log cabin quilts. I assembled the blocks into panels, then cut out my pattern pieces from them, and assembled the jacket. I decided to make the jacket reversible, so I made the other side more Spring themed with yellow fabrics in a color blocked formation and quilted rows of stitching to attach the yellow side to the batting. I then put both sides of the jacket together, resulting in my reversible quilted jacket! I was really inspired by the 1932 quilt and I am so happy with how it influenced my final piece.

Log cabin quilted jacket, original design and construction by Kate Kaufmann
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