Wednesday, January 30, 2013

review: "Build Your Best Log Cabin" ebook by Fons & Porter

I, like many other quilting bloggers, received an email request from Eric Wolf, the Online Media Coordinator for Fons and Porter, to review their recent Log Cabin Book, given in a PDF format.  I was not as prompt as I should have been in reviewing their book, so I am rectifying that lack of good manners now.

The Log Cabin layout was one of the very first quilts that I made (way back in 1978 or so).  Over the years, I have made others, in variations of the basic layout.  Log Cabin is a wonderful layout to make, for both the novice and experienced quilter.

The Fons & Porter "Build Your Best Log Cabin" ebook presents an interesting collection of Log Cabin history, antique and modern photographs, traditional patterns and patterns for modern variations and technique tips.

The basic patterns they provide are for the Traditional, Courthouse Steps and Chevron blocks.

Using the Traditional block, they provide six different layouts, most of which experienced quilters will be familiar with.   A strip cutting chart to create the Traditional block in five different sizes is provided. 

Then, for a contemporary twist on the Traditional block, a thoroughly delightful layout by Ricky Tims is provided.  Ricky Tims' quilt pattern combines a Bear Paw block with the Traditional Log Cabin block for a unique look.  Combining the Log Cabin block with a pieced block is sheer genius.  Of course, Ricky's marvelous quilting in the wide borders sets the whole quilt off.  I was pleased to see that a section of the book was devoted to the technique that Ricky used to do his quilting, which involves using specialty thread in the bobbin and quilting from the back.

A second contemporary layout using the Traditional Block by Shon McMain was provided that presents the illusion of woven strips.  It is a simply outstanding layout. 

Accompanying the layout are tips that make creating this quilt easier.

A pattern for a conventional quilt using the Courthouse Steps version of the Log Cabin block is given.  You can make the blocks in 5 different sizes.

A contemporary layout for the Courthouse Steps block is provided.  Although it really, really, really is the Courthouse Steps layout, this version is simply framed squares.  You might get a better handle on making these blocks if you think of them as framed squares rather than Courthouse Steps.

The last version of the Log Cabin block is the Chevron.  This is just a half Log Cabin, set on-point.  Or, you could think of it as the center window of the Log Cabin being shoved into a corner and the rest of the block built around it. 

The sample layout shown is a scrappy version, which is probably historically accurate.  I can see this version done in a monochromatic palette with the steps going from light to dark, which would result a modern twist.

The alternative version for the Chevron block is provided by master quilter, Marti Michell, in a doll quilt size.  Marti's layout gives the illusion of a chain link fence.

At the end of the book, detailed directions are given for binding.  One set of directions is how to include a strip of piping along with the binding for a shot of color.  I've seen this technique used in real quilts and think it provides a subtle detail that might not initially register but subliminally you think, "wow ... that's an interesting quilt!".  It's that small amount of color in the binding that does it.  It's a detail that is definitely worth remembering for your next quilt.

Unfortunately, I don't care for the directions that are presented in this book.  They have you sew an actual piping strip, which makes the binding area very bulky and stiff.  While I did *not* make a sample using their directions, I will assume that if you follow them, you will end up with a lovely piped binding.  But it will be bulky. 

Instead, I prefer to use the 'faux piping' technique, which yields the same visual result without the bulk.  There really isn't any reason to use actual *piping* alongside the binding when all you really want is the color spot.  There have been several blogs that give you excellent tutorials on sewing the 'faux piping' ... just Google for them.

The next section on binding is how to make that last seam .. the one that joins the two tails .. so it looks the same as all the other seams in the binding.  If you have joined your binding strips in a diagonal seam, then these directions will show you how to make that last seam a diagonal one also.  A diagonal seam distributes the bulk of the seam allowances over a distance so there is no ugly lump at that last seam.  This is the preferred method to joining the tails.

The theory is excellent; I use a diagonal seam for joining the tails myself.  BUT ... the technique presented here is unnecessarily convoluted and complicated.  A beginning quilter is going to be intimidated by all the picky little steps that need to be done; an experienced quilter is going to know there is a better, simpler method to achieve the same result.

I do not recommend the book's technique for joining the tails of the binding.

In conclusion, I can say that if you obtain this book for the patterns themselves, you won't be disappointed.   While the directions for creating the Log Cabin blocks do not lead you by the nose in the assembly process, anyone with a modicum of common sense will be able to follow the graphic presentation of what strip to sew where and when.

This book also assumes the quilter is not a rank beginner.  It does not give you the basic "this is a 1/4" seam allowance" sort of direction.  But once you've gone beyond being the "Beginning Quilter", anyone will be able to follow the directions given in this book.

I truly enjoyed seeing the contemporary versions presented by Ricky Tims, Shon McMain and Marti Michell.  It's always wonderful to see how others are able to think outside the box (or out of the Log Cabin, in this case!).

As part of this review from me, I am able to provide you, my Dear Reader, with a link for you to download a free PDF version for yourself here


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