Log cabin, one of the most well-known quilt patterns, became popular around the beginning of the Civil War and have since retained their popularity. Shortly before the Civil War, the log cabin rose as an icon in American culture. In the 1840s, William Henry Harrison’s presidential race, or “Log Cabin Campaign,” drew on the wholesome, homely, and ordinary qualities of the American log cabin. This created a lasting association between the “common man” and the symbol of the log cabin, imagery that was perpetuated during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. During the Civil War and the late Victorian era, the log cabin became symbolic of the reunion of the States and celebrated dominant American values. The log cabin quilt increased in popularity throughout this time period, likely in association with these larger cultural ideals.
The log cabin pattern has many variations, but is made from rectangles of increasing lengths around a center square. The design of the pattern is easy to replicate and a good use of scrap fabric. The center square was traditionally made from red fabric. This symbolized the hearth of the home. Yellow center squares were also common, and were representative of the light from the cabin’s windows. Folklore suggests that during the Civil War, log cabins with black center squares would be hung on clotheslines to identify safe houses along the Underground Railroad. In the later Victorian period, log cabin quilts shifted from being primarily made from cotton to being composed of wools, velvets, and silks, like this quilt. Though the date of this particular textile is unknown, the variation of fabrics featured in the design suggest it is from the second half of the nineteenth century, possibly into the early twentieth century. This quilt features varying fabrics for the center blocks and “logs,” also suggesting that this quilt was pieced from leftover fabrics.
A quilt pieced in a log cabin variation. The quilt is made from a variety of fabrics including velvet, cotton, flannel, wool, and silk blends. Several silk pieces have shattered; other similar fabrics are fraying. The binding is made of dark blue wool, backing is made of a red, green, and white flannel.