This Old Log Cabin
February 15, 2004
Much as I would hate to inhibit anybody’s journey of log cabin discovery with a tedious how-to lecture, I have spent too much time scanning swatches NOT to post a tedious how-to lecture. The subtitle to this letter should be “Another Long-Ass Post By Kay”. But like many long-ass things one has to endure in life, this one is Educational.
The basic Log Cabin method is to start with a central patch, and attach strips around it in concentric layers. After you’ve done a few layers, a pattern emerges that resembles the construction of a log cabin, in which the logs are notched so that they interlock at the corners. Once you get the hang of it, you can vary the order in which you attach the strips. Some traditional variations are called Courthouse Steps or Housetop. (Important note: I know next to nothing about traditional quilt patterns, so let’s just save this discussion for an upcoming MDK Design Workshop.)
The short-cut way to learn how to log cabin (I hereby declare that on this blog, ‘to log cabin’ is an intransitive verb) is to look at this picture:
See the taupe/brown patch in the middle? That’s the center patch. After casting off that patch, I picked up stitches in the row ends along its right side and knit the turquoise strip. After I cast off the turquoise strip, I turned the work again, and picked up stitches along the row ends of the turquoise strip and the cast-on edge of the taupe patch, and knit the slate blue strip. Then I cast off, turned the work, and in the same manner picked up row ends and stitches for the burgundy strip. And so forth, until the strips got too darn long and I decided I was done. For this basic pattern, the thing to remember is to keep turning in the same direction. Each strip is a bit longer than the previous strip, and no two strips are the same length.
Here’s a step-by-step breakdown in case the short-cut leaves too much out. (Click on the images to make them bigger.) Needless to say, all of the measurements could be varied to get the effect you’re looking for. In addition, here, I do all of my picking-up on the right side, which leaves a smooth seam. If you pick up on the wrong side, you get a cool, ticking-like effect where you see a dotted line of the new color. This is why it’s fun. Once you know how to do it, you can do it your way.
Make the center patch.
In the example, I made a 4 x 6 inch rectangle (I cast on 20 stitches and knit 29 garter ridges).
One rule throughout: Always cast off on a right side row, leaving one stitch in the upper left corner of your patch, as shown.
Pick up for the first strip.
With the right side of your center patch facing you, turn the patch to the right, so that the top of the piece has the single stitch on the far right, and the row ends along the top. Pick up one stitch in each horizontal loop between the garter ridges. (You will have 29 or 30 stitches, but the beauty of log cabinning is that you don’t have to count stitches.)
Now make the first strip. Knit 9 garter ridges, and then cast off on a right side row and turn the work to the right.
Pick up for the second strip.
The interesting thing here is that you first pick up stitches between the 9 garter ridges (the row ends) of the first strip, and then you continue picking up across the cast-on edge of your center patch.
Now knit the second strip. 9 garter ridges, cast off on a right side row.
Here’s the second strip:
The third strip.
If you were going to continue with this blanket, your next step would be to complete the enclosure of the center patch. You would turn the pink strip to the right, pick up between the garter ridges of the pink strip, pick up along the cast-off edge of the center patch, and pick up between the garter ridges of the slate blue strip. (I didn’t continue because this patch is 8 x 8 inches, and I am making a bunch of these for afghan squares. Note: If you want to do a four-sided log cabin patch, start with a 4 x 4 inch center patch and do strips on all four sides; it should work out to 8 x 8 if your strips are 2 inches thick.)
Now it’s clear sailing, nothing but zen, zen, zen. Every time you finish a strip, you do the same things:
1. Turn the work to the right.
2. Pick up between the garter ridges.
3. Pick up along the cast-off edge of the adjoining strip.
4. Pick up between the garter ridges of the adjoining strip.
5. Knit a new strip.
6. Do this until you run out of colors, or yarn, or energy, or surfaces to cover with glorious log cabin textiles.
Have fun! Love, Kay