Monday, August 8, 2011

Log Cabin Quilts

Log Cabin Quilts.  Ahhh, the possibilities are endless.  Take a look at some of the 37,700 images that pop up when you do a Google Images search.  Gorgeous, aren’t they?

As I said, the possibilities are endless.  You can follow the same pattern but use different colors and get totally different results.  You can use the same pattern and same colors but rotate your squares differently and wind up with a completely different look.  Instead of having a group of squares sewn together, you can create one huge square.  If you make the stripes more like blocks than stripes, your end result is hardly recognizable as being a Log Cabin pattern.  And when knitting, you can use short rows which will make your stripes wider at one end than the other.   When using short rows, your finished piece will look like a Log Cabin but it will have a non-traditional shape.  

When knitting a Log Cabin quilt, you also have the option of stitch pattern.  You could use all garter stitches, or all stockinette, or even a combination of the two.  Perhaps you may choose to knit the dark stripes in garter and the light in stockinette, for example.   And then there’s the yarn itself.  Darks and lights?  Pastels?  Every color of the rainbow?  Or perhaps you may choose to simply close your eyes, reach into your stash pile (I know you have one!) and use what ever you happen to grab.
As I said, the possibilities are endless.  And the Log Cabin is the one time I actually enjoy swatching.  Swatching has always seemed so pointless to me.  I’m a process knitter, meaning I enjoy the process more than being the owner of a finished piece, although that may be because, due to my lack of swatching, my finished pieces frequently don’t fit exactly right.  I’m reminded here of that “40 inch chest” sweater I once knit that turned out to fit someone with a 64 inch chest.  I did wonder why I kept running out of yarn.....  
Digression, once again.  
Swatching.  It’s actually fun with the Log Cabin pattern.  Unless your swatch turns out to be hideous, you can use it as a coaster, sew some fabric to the back of it and call it a pot-holder.  Pad the pot-holder a little more, add a drop or two of essential oil, or not, and call it a trivet.  Make lots of swatches, sew them together and presto-magic.  You have yourself a scarf, a table runner, or maybe even an afghan, depending on how swatch crazy you get.   And if your swatch does turn out to be hideous, you can always use it as a dust rag.
So, how do you create a Log Cabin square?  It’s simple.  So simple, you don’t need a pattern.  The only thing you need is to determine whether you want to knit a group of small squares to then sew together, or one large piece that needs no sewing.  
I’m lazy and generally go for the non-sewing version.  When choosing the non-sewing, one huge block version, you then have one more choice to make.  Do you want your finished piece to be a square or a rectangle?
Ok, there is one more thing to consider.  Your yarn.  Will you be using baby weight or super bulky or something in between?  The yarn’s weight will affect the number of stitches you start with - maybe.  For example, ten stitches in baby weight may give you a one inch  wide piece while 10 stitches in super bulky may give you 4 inches.  How big do you want your center block?  Swatching will definitely help you with this decision.

After you’ve made all those decisions, it’s time to cast on your stitches, say 20 of them, but again, that will probably depend on the weight of your yarn.  Now, knit back and forth on those 20 stitches, either in garter or stockinette stitch until you have either a square or a pronounced rectangle. In the piece above, I cast on 22 stitches using a sport weight yarn and knit 20 garter ridges, or 40 rows.  There’s no set formula though.  Generally, I knit the center block as long as I can stand to knit on it before the urge to change colors becomes so strong I can’t stand it anymore.  When you are done knitting the center block, bind off the stitches but leave the final stitch “live”.  Cut your yarn, but don’t pull it through that last stitch.  This lone, live stitch will be your first stitch in the next stripe.
Now, you are ready to start your first stripe.  Choose your yarn, rotate the center block a quarter turn and using the new yarn, pick up the stitches down the side.  The number of stitches you pick up will be determined by the length of the block.  If you are using a variety of weights of yarn in this project, you may need to add or skip a few stitches to adjust for the difference in yarn.  You won’t want your knitting to be puckered or stretched due to combining baby weight with worsted weight yarns, for example.  And again, your swatch will have given you some insight as to what to do here.
Once you’ve picked up your stitches, knit in either garter or stockinette, until you have a strip wide enough to please you.  In the piece pictured above, I knit eight garter stitch ridges, or 16 rows.  Now, bind those stitches off, leaving the final stitch live.  Pick a new yarn, rotate your fabric a quarter turn, pick up all of the stitches down the side and knit the same number of rows as in the first stripe.  Or not.  If you want it to have an uneven, non-traditional Log Cabin feel to it, vary the number of rows you knit.
Continue knitting the rows, binding off, turning your fabric, picking up stitches and knitting until you have what you want - a coaster, a pillow top, a king sized blanket or even a tarp to cover your house.  When the piece is as large as you want it, bind off the stitches, including that final one.  Weave in your ends and you’ve got yourself a Log Cabin coaster, pillow top, blanket or tarp.
If you choose to make a bunch of small squares and sew them together, you’ll follow the same process, only start with fewer stitches and make smaller squares.  Again, the number of stitches you start with will be based on the yarn you choose and how big you want that center block to be compared to the size of the square.  How big you make the individual squares will be based on how many of them you want to knit and how big you want your finished piece to be.  Again, swatching is quite helpful here.
Good luck!  You can do it.  Even the swatching!  Log Cabins are very simple, much more simple than they look.  And addicting.  Very addicting.  This blog post should probably come with a warning.  You may find that after you’ve knit your first one, you can’t stop.  In fact, just typing this has give me the urge to start another.  A very, very strong urge.  In fact, that Fair Isle sweater I was planning to start today just may end up being a Log Cabin blanket instead.
Hey - I have an idea.  How about a Log Cabin knit-along?  Anyone want to join me?  No rules, just knit some form of Log Cabin.  Send me a photo and I'll post it here.  

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