Choosing Fabric for Log Cabin Quilts

Choosing Fabric for Log Cabin

One of my favourite steps in making a quilt (amongst others) is choosing the fabric. I have never bought a kit, and if I did I bet I would have to change at least one fabric, probably at least half, not because I think I would make it better, but I don’t ever want to make a quilt just like someone else.

How do you learn to put fabric together?


As children we learn most of our life skills through play, so why should we stop playing, and therefore learning, when we grow up? Most quilters become quilters because they love touching fabric as well as the colour and prints, and so we should indulge that love of feeling the texture of fabric and re arrange them on the shelf or in the drawer as often as we can in the name of self education.

The basic Log Cabin block, and all the variations I have used in thousands of virtual designs, all need strong, clear contrast between light and dark. Any colour combination will work, and as many, or few, fabrics as you want will work, providing the contrast is there.

Even if you intend buying fabric for a quilt, allow some time to play with your stash so you understand contrast. At the end of the playtime you will have sorted scraps from your stash ready for use in a scrap quilt and may not have to buy the new fabric anyway.

Discard most of the really busy prints, the ones with multi colours, the conversation prints, half light/half dark fabrics, and any fabric with strong contrast between elements of the design.

However, used sparingly they will make the quilt come alive.

I would allow no more than one busy fabric in each block, and I would try to restrict them to either the light or the dark side, not both. Busy prints will attract attention and the design immediately loses focus. Too many and the design will be totally blurred.

Sort at least a dozen fabrics into light, medium and dark piles. Preferably many more!

Put the mediums back into storage, or use them with one very light or one very dark fabric as the contrast fabric

Now arrange the remaining light and dark in order, light to dark, in both the light and dark piles.

The centre squares I have varied a little bit, sometimes using light, sometimes dark, sometimes when I want to add a bright spark to the quilt I look for something to sparkle …… often a light bright fabric, though if it is surrounded by light fabrics a deep dark fabric might be needed.

Look at the four quarters of the quilt below …… which one do you think shows the design most clearly, which one would you choose, and would you change anything.

This is not a written test, but you can add your answer as a comment if you wish, and what ever your answer is, it is your choice anyway!

My choice would be bottom left, but with lighter lights!

Best one as shown in my opinion is the bottom right. That multi colour fabric makes the whole corner sparkle.

Most of this lecture is based on twenty five years of using a mixture of fabrics in quilts, but I have gained a lot of extra experience playing with the fabric choices on the computer, and trying to make sure my fabric choices still work in a quilt design out there on the web. I prefer to show the designs without the patches and pieces being outlined on the screen and it has made me focus much more on the fabric choice than I do making a real quilt.


6 Responses to Choosing Fabric for Log Cabin Quilts

  1. Billie Reed says:

    Thanks for sharing your information. I would love to make log cabin quilt in colors of green, brown, red, orange and yellow but I want to get that warm cabin feeling. 🙂


  2. colette keaveney says:

    thank you i have nevef made one and would love to try it. i would not have any knowledge in choosing colours or contasts. very good work above. well done


  3. Kim Kunkle says:

    This will be my first quilt and i love blues but thats all i know.


    • Kim,

      I think I should warn you that quilting in any form is highly addictive, but despite that you will rarely, if ever, meet a quilter looking for a cure, and we certainly could not go cold turkey!

      However, as a beginner, go to a class and learn all you can from the teacher. Repeat that prescription as often as you want to! Include lessons in shops, on the internet, in books and magazines, but do try to listen to one teacher at a time. The methods that I teach don’t always convert to other methods easily.

      I got excited many years ago when I heard there was a book to be published with 12 methods of doing applique. I wrote down all the methods I could do, and ones I knew about, and had a list of fifteen. There were about 7 of the methods on my list which were in the book, but there were 5 more methods to add to my list. Learn one method, then a few more, and work out which bits work for you.

      Welcome to the quilting world!

      Judy B


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