Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Log Cabin

I've had to find something to do with my hands so I can get off that darn iPad game that has consumed me.  Oh yea, I used to do a lot of this stuff, knitting, crocheting, sewing, quilting.  That's why I had originally named this blog "Mixed Threads."  It's been awhile.  When I was on bed rest, pregnant with my son, I knit up a storm.  Then he was born and I haven't completed a single project except the little pink scarf he recently begged me to make (in the summer!).

My upstairs neighbor recently had a baby girl so I decided to get a project going for the new baby (shhh, don't tell), and I've had log cabins on my mind recently. 

One sister is putting together a memory book and asked for submissions.  I wrote about log cabin quilts.  (I like writing about quilting.  Here's another quilting story that follows a similar history.)  It is a profound memory from childhood and throughout my life.  Following is an edited version.

As a kid, there were many times when our basement playroom was overtaken with quilting stilts with a patchwork top tacked to it.  Often mom would decide that someone needed a quilt.  I honestly don't remember who they went to, or what the reason was behind it.  I'm guessing that it might have been a part of compassionate service at Relief Society, the women's organization from the Mormon Church.  The church may have institutionalized the term, "compassionate service", but it was from my mom that I learned compassion as I saw her frequently in service to others. 

Each of us six kids had our own log cabin style quilt made up of odds and ends, probably worn out clothing or scraps from sewing projects.  These were made and given to us by Mom's grandmother, a woman that I met, but have little memory of.  They were crazy quilts with bright colors and every print imaginable.  I absolutely loved my quilt and memorized every piece of it, including the frayed corners and uneven stitches.  To me my quilt was like Joseph's coat of many colors, only each of us kids had one, no need for jealousies or lion's dens.

The next generation under a quilt fort.

On rainy days, we'd turn the basement into a labyrinth of tunnels and forts made from the quilts.  We'd stay there for hours staging battles between stuffed animals, green army men and barbie dolls.  On sunny days, they were often dragged outside to be used as picnic blankets or put up as makeshift tents.  They came along on many road trips across the country, warming our bodies on chilly nights camping out or huddled together, trying to sleep in the backseat of the car.

At some point, that magnificent quilt was replaced by the one my mother made with a simpler design.  I remember yellow and green calico squares with lace along with matching curtains.  I may have even helped tie that quilt, but I don't have that memory, as all the quilts we've tied have melded into each other.  My childhood bedroom grew up a bit with the new quilt, but not too much.  During high school, I decided it was time for me to make my own quilt.  Often having great plans, but little resolution, my yards of gray, cream and mauve calico eventually moved to the bottom of my storage chest.

The heart quilt along with a rag rug made to match.
When I left home, the quilts stayed - the crazy log cabin quilt, the green and yellow calico and my unfinished project.  I was off to a short stint in college, and then on to a new life in New York City.  I took very few possessions with me, thinking that I'd come back when I settled down to gather those physical memories.  Years passed while I built a life for myself.  I was living in a crummy, cold water flat in the East Village.  My bathtub was in the kitchen and toilet in a closet.  The gates that covered my windows didn't keep out the crack addict who broke in and stole my (not precious) jewelry and tried to make out with my air conditioner.  My fabulous job at that time paid very little and so, like many New Yorkers, I lived from pay check to pay check, just covering the rent, food and subway fare.  I didn't even have the money to put proper curtains on my windows, so I kept my clothes on when in the street side of the house.

At some point (a little to my embarrassment) my father had come to visit, bringing with him my chest full of keepsakes.  In it was some journals, photos, congratulation cards from when I was born, and the unfinished quilt I had attempted in high school.  I was grateful for the fabric, and borrowing my neighbor's sewing machine, I promptly made curtains.  I had saved a bit of wrapping paper that had a quaint design of stitched hearts on a patchwork quilt.  I was still single, and in spite of developing a sharp edge from living in the city, I still liked the romantic girlishness of the design.  From the scraps of my curtains, I set to work, hand sewing hundreds of hearts upon hundreds of squares.  The perfect moveable project to pass the time during my morning commute.

Like many of my grand schemes, I had lost interest in the quilt.  Eventually it went back in the box with the other dusty memories of childhood.

Fast forward several years and I meet my husband to be.  It was only one month into our courtship that my high school reunion came up.  I didn't even like high school, and I was certain that there was no one there looking forward to seeing me.  Nevertheless, he insisted that we go.  I'm pretty certain that he was scheming to meet my family.  One of my best memories from that trip was visiting my grandmother.  She was hard at work on a quilt for my brother.  She was making a log cabin quilt much like the ones I had growing up, only my brother's wife picked out beautifully, coordinated fabrics.  No odds and ends.  I admit, I was a little jealous then.  The fabrics looked gorgeous together (I've always had a hard time with patterns and colors - getting the right combination) and it was turning into a lovely design.  While she worked, I sat beside Grandma as she taught me how to piece together a log cabin.  Sharing that process with her was a part of her love and compassion for her family.  The bit of quilting legacy that begun with her mother (perhaps her mother before), passed to her daughter, had been passed along to me, her granddaughter. 

I was so jazzed up from learning this new skill, that when my sister was getting married, I stitched up a log cabin quilt for her (sorry Thea, my color/pattern coordination never improved much) and her husband.  I made log cabin pillow covers.  I made log cabin wall hangings.  I was a little log cabin crazy, and then phew, I burned out. 

Eventually, I had my own daughter.  I resurrected the sleepy heart quilt project.  It seemed perfect for her, and so I sewed all those hundreds of squares together, tacked it to the quilting stilts and tied it.  She still sleeps with it every night to this day.

My grandmother's log cabin quilt to me with a sleepy Jasper.

After my grandmother had passed away, my mother brought me a beautiful log cabin quilt top that she finished up for me.  Grandma had made it for me before she had died.  I can imaging it tacked to the stilts, propped up by dining chairs as she and others worked around the quilt, sewing a pattern of large crisscrosses that would be cut and tied.  It was beautiful in the way that it suits me and my personality the most.  I could not have purchased a finer selection.  The fabrics were a crazy, mismatched array of odds and ends.  I recognized green and yellow calico scraps from the quilt my mother had made for me in my youth.  There was the candy colored strips from a summer top I had stitched together for camp.  There was scraps from dresses that my mother had stayed up all night sewing before a church dance.  There were bits from worn out clothing.  I hugged the fabric to me, breathing in my youth, surrounding myself with the generations of women who loved to stitch blankets to warm their loved ones.

I finished the edging on the blanket and put it into circulation in my home.  It is sometimes on the kids' beds and sometimes with guests.  I've had to shake off ants and crumbs when bringing it in from a picnic.  And there are times I will wake up to find the playroom turned into a labyrinth of tunnels and forts and my precious log cabin is among them - just as my grandmother remains with me in my memories.


  1. This is a beautiful post! I love hearing about the traditions that are passed down in families, especially those that we don't take to right away, until we're adults. I love the forts too- my house was full of fort last week!

  2. These are beautiful! I love log cabin quilts and these are perfect for rustic mood of your log homes. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Very nice! Handmade quilts can be simple in design or as complex as desired. Often times a quilt is passed down from generation to generation with stories and tales told down the line to each lucky recipient. A lovely gesture if making a quilt is a memory quilt.

  4. I am amazed when most people find that they spend a lot more quality time in a log cabin than other types of home. I'm not sure if you're aware. Maybe because of the warmth it exudes?