Sunday, October 31, 2010

Barn Raising Log Cabin Top, C. 1890

Barn Raising Log Cabin Top, c. 1890
The Palmer/Wirfs Antiques Expo is happening this weekend at the Expo Center in Portland, and for the first time in years, I found a treasure. Two, actually. Here's one of them. It's a Barn Raising Log Cabin top, c. 1890, made of fine wools, silks, and marvelous printed paisleys pieced on fabric foundation squares and bound for presentation.

I saw it from far away. How could you not see it? The Quilt was hanging in a booth, draped over something that was acting as a barrier between booths. If you haven't been to the Expo, it's one of the largest anywhere. Three huge buildings full of collectibles and junque, as I sometimes call it. My mother would take one look and say, "Well, there's a lot of it!"

I've always admired the Barn Raising Log Cabin, and wonder why I haven't collected more of them. Just like other quilts I enjoy, this one sings and dances. The curious thing about the pattern is how it is really the sum of all the blocks. If I had never seen this type of quilt and you handed me one block, I wouldn't have imagined it adding up this way visually. It is dazzling.

The foundation looks like a patchwork utility quilt.
A big surprise was being able to see the foundation on the back of the quilt top. It made me think I should be collecting more tops, so I can learn a thing or two about how quilts are made. I won't have this top finished because the back is wonderful! People can learn from it, and when displayed on a wall, as I feel it's meant to be, nobody will be bothered by the humble back revealing the quilt's inner workings. It's like a patchwork utility quilt hiding behind a fancy parlor display piece.

Detail of back foundation with printed words on one square.
Although the back was really never meant to be seen, I love it just as much as the front. It is the supporting cast and crew, the underlings who usually never get their day in the sun, or even 15 minutes of fame. Some people might see this top and think, "What can I do to fix it?" In my opinion, it doesn't need fixing. I'm grateful that it was never finished. It taught me things.


  1. I think it is just as well left alone. Not that I am a professional. Finishing it would bring up a couple of questions. What would you do with the paper? Remove it? It would not be fun to hand quilt through it. Then how would it be finished? Plus the backing and binding to finish it? I am unsure of the quilt size but backing usually takes up a fair amount of fabric especially if you were trying to find something from that time period.

    I think it is beautiful. Did you get a chance to go to the V and A exhibit of quilts? They had a quilt that was on display where the top was pieced using paper and they had it hanging up so that you could enjoy both sides. When I saw the back of your quilt that was what came to mind.
    I am not usually this wordy. When I saw your quilt I guess I got excited.

  2. Great quilt...log cabins are stunners. The first time I found and antique log cabin that was foundation pieces like yours I was gobsmacked. A book on foundation piecing(which is on fabric that is left in the quilt vs paperpiecing where the paper is removed)was just published. All things old are new again!

  3. What a fantastic find!!It is so graphic and appealing!! I think a lot of log cabin quilts were not finished, but laid on the bed for "looks". There wasn't a reason to put any sort of backing on it. I'd leave it as is too.

  4. It is amazing! One note in case I didn't describe it clearly. The foundation is fabric, not paper. Those fabrics on the back are every bit as intriguing and revealing as those on the front.

  5. Beautiful ʻquiltʻ, which also bears the great tradition of the intentional mistake. A highly recommended maneuver, even if not intentional.

  6. Eagle eye! I didn't even notice that, but now I see it.

    OK, I really am going to the Expo now!!

  7. The paisleys ARE stunning - as is the whole quilt. What a great find. The foundation fabrics are sometimes old worn clothing - your printed piece (with words) would probably have been cut from a feed sack.
    What are the dimensions of the blocks and width of the logs?

  8. Stunning quilt. (I had to go back up to have a look for the mistake too.)

    I can see a new twist of making Log Cabin quilts on foundation fabric, with the last round wider than the rest to allow for a wider seam allowance ..... then clipping to make the wrong side into a raggy quilt.

    Judy B

  9. The blocks are about 5" square, and each strip is about 1/2" wide. The strips appear to be folded and sewn in place. <3 the idea of intentionally making a two-sided quilt with the wrong side being a raggy quilt. Of course, the maker would probably be horrified that I have such admiration for the back, but it's because it tells a story and teaches. I always love to see the inner workings of a quilt. Sewing is a mystery to me, even more so because I have ten thumbs. For me, seeing how a quilt was made helps unlock these mysteries.

  10. I love log cabin quilts this one is beautiful. WOW graphic quilts just speak to me and this one is just beautiful. YES please leave it as it is. a great study piece.
    I saw a few beauties at the American Folk art Museum a few weeks ago
    I will send you pictures of them.
    I may just have to start a log cabin quilt today!
    thanks :)