How to Paper Piece a Log Cabin Quilt Block

Log Cabin Quilt
Log cabin quilt. Andrea Rugg​ / Getty Images
  • 01 of 08

    Start Paper Piecing with an Easy Log Cabin Block

    Paper Piecing a Log Cabin Quilt Block
    Log cabin block and log cabin template, color values marked (mirror image). © Janet Wickell

    The best way to learn paper piecing is to start making paper pieced quilt blocks. My Log Cabin quilt block pattern is a good place to start because its rectangular patches are a bit easier for beginners to position than the triangles found in other paper pieced patterns.

    Most people use the term paper piecing when talking about this technique, but it's actually a method that falls under the umbrella of foundation piecing -- where fabrics are sewn onto permanent or temporary foundations.

    Read my paper piecing basic instructions before making the log cabin if you aren't familiar with the technique, and then gather your supplies and start sewing.

    Paper Pieced Log Cabin Template

    Download the log cabin template. The instructions are for the 6-inch finished log cabin block on page 1, but you'll find an extra 3-inch block on page 2. Print the template onto lightweight paper or another foundation material, and then cut it out, but leave a little excess around the outermost edges.

    Log Cabin Block Fabrics

    Traditional log cabin blocks are assembled with a split color value arrangement, lights on one side and darks on the other. A few traditional layout options are illustrated on page 8 and offer a preview of the dramatic arrangements that can be created with log cabin quilt blocks.

    Choose a scrappy assortment of light fabrics and another assortment of dark fabrics. Fabrics can vary within each assortment, but try to keep values (contrast) consistent for each group.

    Log cabin blocks sometimes have a red center to represent the "heart" of the cabin. Choose red or any other color you wish to use for centers.

    Cutting instructions allow a 1/4" seam allowance around each piece, but it's fine to use slightly larger pieces from your fabric stash, especially for your first paper pieced quilt block.

    Mark the template so that you'll remember which block half is dark and which half is light.

    1. Cut a 1-1/2" square for the block center.
    2. Cut several 1-inch wide strips from dark and light fabrics. Strips that are at least 7-inches long will work in any position, but shorter strips will work for short logs.

     

    Continue to 2 of 8 below.
  • 02 of 08

    Position the First Pieces on the Log Cabin Foundation

    Paper Piecing a Log Cabin Quilt Block
    The first piece is the only fabric placed right side up. © Janet Wickell

    Start Paper Piecing the Log Cabin Block

    1. Place the red center square right side up on the unprinted side of the log cabin foundation. Be sure to center it over the area for piece 1. Hold in place or secure the square with a bit of glue stick. ​The first piece is the only fabric positioned right side up.
    2. Hold the foundation up to the light with the printed side facing you. Can you see the shadow of the fabric square? Its raw edges should overlap the outermost lines of the area for piece 1 fairly evenly -- to provide an ample seam allowance on all sides.
    3. Choose a light fabric for piece 2 and place the strip right side down on top of piece 1, matching its upper and left edges. You should be able to see the shadow of a backward 2 above the patch edges. Trim away excess length from piece 2, making it flush with the right edge of piece 1.

    Some quilters prefer to sew the strip in place before they trim away the excess length. Try both methods to see which you like best.

    Continue to 3 of 8 below.
  • 03 of 08

    Sew More Pieces to the Log Cabin Foundation

    Log Cabin Quilt Block Pattern
    Seam extends a few stitches on each side of the line; piece 2 overlaps drawn lines. © Janet Wickell

    Sew More Pieces to the Log Cabin Foundation

    1. Hold the fabrics in place and turn the foundation over to the printed side. Sew a seam on the line that separates piece 1 from piece 2, beginning and ending the seam 3 or 4 stitches on each side of the line.
    2. Remove the unit from the sewing machine and turn it over. Is the seam allowance adequate? It should be anywhere from 3/16" to 1/4". If it's okay, flip piece 2 right side up and finger press in place.
    3. Hold the block up to the light again, printed side facing you. The shadow of piece 2 should overlap all unsewn lines around its edges. The overlap should be enough to create a sturdy seam allowance on all sides when the seams are sewn.

     

    Continue to 4 of 8 below.
  • 04 of 08

    Continue Adding Patches to the Log Cabin Block

    Log Cabin Quilt Block Pattern
    Keep adding fabric to the Log Cabin quilt block. © Janet Wickell

    Add More Patchwork to the Log Cabin Block

    1. Choose another light fabric for piece 3, positioning it right side down and aligning it with the combined left edges of pieces 1 and 2. Don't be concerned if the edges of pieces 1 and 2 aren't exactly even.
    2. Trim the excess tail of fabric flush with the top of piece 2.
    3. Hold the fabrics in place and turn to the printed side of the foundation. Sew a seam on the line that separates pieces 1 and 2 from piece 3, beginning and ending it a few stitches on each side of the line.
    4. Remove the foundation from the sewing machine and turn it over to make sure the new seam allowance is adequate.
    5. Flip piece 3 right side up. Hold the foundation up to the light and verify that piece 3's unsewn edges overlap its boundaries adequately enough to create stable seam allowances when sewn. Finger press in place.

    If you are using strips that allow for more than a 1/4" seam, trim back seam allowances as you work to reduce bulk.

     

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Add More Fabrics to the Log Cabin Quilt Block

    Paper Piece a Log Cabin Quilt Block
    Continue sewing the Log Cabin quilt block. © Janet Wickell

    Continue Sewing the Log Cabin Block

    1. Choose a dark fabric strip and place it right side down along the lower edges of pieces 3 and 1. Trim the strip flush or just beyond the right edge of piece 1.
    2. Turn the foundation over and sew on the line that separates pieces 1 and 3 from piece 4, beginning and ending a few stitches on each side of the line.

     

    Continue to 6 of 8 below.
  • 06 of 08

    Check Fabric Placement and Seams

    Paper Piecing Instructions
    It's important to check the log placement and seams as you sew the Log Cabin block. © Janet Wickell

    Check the Log Cabin Blocks' Fabric and Seams

    1. Remove the log cabin block from the sewing machine and check the placement of the new piece as you did before. Trim the seam, then finger press the new piece in place.
    2. Select a dark strip for piece 5 and place it right side down along the right edges of pieces 1, 2 and 4. Trim excess length if necessary.

     

    Continue to 7 of 8 below.
  • 07 of 08

    Finish Paper Piecing the Log Cabin Block

    Learn How to Paper Piece
    Finish making the Log Cabin quilt block. Janet Wickell

    Finish the Log Cabin Block

    1. Flip the quilt block over and sew on the line that separates pieces 1, 2 and 4 from piece 5, extending your seam at the beginning and end as before.
    2. Check placement and trim the seam allowance if necessary. Flip piece 5 right side up and finger press in place.

    Sew the remaining pieces to the foundation in the same way, moving in a circular motion around the center of the block. When the block is finished, the edges of the outermost pieces should extend slightly past the dotted line on the foundation.

    Press the block, then use scissors or rotary cutting equipment to trim through all layers on the outer edge of the dotted line. The final step creates a 1/4" seam allowance around the block.

    Make additional blocks if you want to make a quilt, wallhanging, or another project.

    To Make the 3-inch Finished Block

    Cutting Strips

    Strip Widths: approximately 3/4"

    Center Square: approximately 1"

    Paper Piecing Tips

    • Remember to monitor seam allowances as you work, especially if you're using patches that are wider than necessary. Large patches make it more difficult to visualize where seam lines are on the reverse side of the template.

      Keep a straight pin handy. If you're ever in doubt about where a marked line is located, stick the pin through a seam line on the front of the unit to see where it emerges through the fabric on the back.

    • Keep an iron and ironing pad next to your work area and press blocks as you work -- pressed patches are crisper than finger pressed units.
    • Try pressing with a mini iron if space is tight. Many types are available at fabric shops, both online and off.

    Continue to 8 of 8 below.
  • 08 of 08

    Log Cabin Quilt Block Layout Options

    Paper Piece a Log Cabin Quilt Block
    Just two of the numerous traditional layouts for log cabin quilts. © Janet Wickell

    The drawings above illustration just a few of the many layout options possible for traditional log cabin blocks.