If you're a fan of this pieced pattern...
it may be a lot older than you think.
No, not this Log Cabin -- though it's nice, too.
This one! (The quilt on the left.)
That's the general design.The 'logs' can be arranged in all sorts of widths and variations -- and the blocks themselves can be arranged in all sorts of settings, from Sunshine & Shadow to Courthouse Steps. (The setting version you're seeing in the photo above is often called Barn Raising.)
Colors are important, too. If the central square in the basic block is red, it's said to represent 'hearth and home,' a fireplace or chimney. Abolitionists during the Civil War era reportedly also used black as the central square to signal their beliefs.
I've heard (and read) that the basic block was inspired by plowed fields, hedges...and of course, the ubiquitous shelter made out of logs. One historian insists that the pattern originally comes from the Isle of Man. American Log Cabin quilts were definitely influenced by their European forebears, but ranged into a new category all their own, thanks to the wild frontier, pioneer emigration and the general scarcity of fabric, until the advent of the railroad in the mid-19th century.
Using up scraps, particularly strips, meant the Log Cabin was economical, as well as useful. Earlier quilters often stitched their Log Cabin strips onto a fabric background, a method similar to traditional Victorian era Crazy quilt construction. Today's Log Cabin quilts, though, are squares and strips pieced together in ever-expanding rows of color.
But did the Log Cabin pattern start a hundred years or so ago? Couldn't be, because...
The design is thousands of years old, at the very least. I had heard about it being pictured as a pharoah's vest in Egyptian tomb paintings. Then I came across these mummified cats, originally from Egypt but now in the British Museum, while researching other (ahem) 'stuffed' items.
Check out the pattern of the weaving on the cat on the left. Is it...?
Yes...yes, it is. Good 'ol Log Cabin. And the woven design on the cat mummy next to it is reminiscent of Rail Fence, also called Roman Rail.