Thursday, June 29, 2017

Log Cabin Love

As novice quilt collectors, Teri and I (Kara) have stumbled upon some wonderful finds in our early collecting days. We do not have infinite budgets, so the quilts we have purchased have been on the low end of the cost spectrum, but usually appraise well above what we paid. I make sure my husband knows that little fact when I come home with an old (new to me) treasure. 

While vacationing in Maine in the fall of 2016, a friend and I did some antiquing in and around Wells, Maine. I wrote about some of the things we saw here, but what I didn't write about was my purchase. When I go to an antique mall and see a booth with any type of linen or fabric, I usually scour the booth from top to bottom. In this case, my intense perusal paid off, and I found this beautiful, log cabin summer quilt.

This particular log cabin is the "Sunshine and Shadows" variation.

Over the course of the last year, I have been fascinated by reproduction fabrics, so when I saw this, my first thought was, "Oh! Someone made a quilt with reproduction fabrics." Then I realized they weren't reproductions! I looked at it closely—it was in good shape, but my knowledge of dating fabrics was minimal at the time. While the price was reasonable, I wanted to think about it some more, as this would be the first time I had purchased a quilt for my collection. After seeing pictures, Teri encouraged me (as a good friend should) to hightail it back to the booth and buy it. Thankfully when I got there, the booth owner was tidying the booth, and I was able to get a little information from her. She had purchased the quilt from another dealer in Maine, who said it came from Dover, New Hampshire, and was made with Cocheco Mills fabrics. Unfortunately, that was all the information she had.

At the time, I had no knowledge of Cocheco Mills and the important part they played in the history of American fabrics. As soon as I got home, I researched the name and found this wonderful article by Kimberly Wulfert, PhD. You can read her article here. Regardless of the type of fabrics, I fell in love with this quiltmaker's use of fabrics.

I love the blue centers, some of which are made from silk.

Of all the reproduction fabrics we have available to us today, I think the pinks are the easiest to find.
The above block contains a good example of a popular pink of that era.

You can still see a little glimpse of the purple in the brownish fabric.

After visiting my favorite appraiser, Phyllis Hatcher, I was able to find out that indeed, this quilt was made from fabrics from the 1870s-1890s. There is no batting, which given its location origin, indicates that it was made to be a summer quilt. The backing is pieced blocks of muslin, and it is evident that the maker was quite thrifty and used up even the smallest scrap of muslin.

Pieced muslin backing 

Closer detail of the stitching

One of the shadow blocks looks like it may have been a mistake—I wondered if the maker just ran out of dark materials. At the appraisal, Phyllis and I discovered that the fabric that looked to be part of the mistake, had indeed been a darker purple that had faded through the years.

The block on the upper left appears to be a mistake.

A close-up of the light fabric

Here you can see the
original purple.

This quilt was a good start to my antique quilt collection; little did I know that eight months later, I would find another log cabin quilt. This time my find was a bit closer to home in Emmitsburg, MD. Teri and I were meeting her parents for lunch as a good-bye before I moved to Germany. We were there a little early, and there just happened to be an antique mall off we went. I wandered into a booth near the entrance and found this gem.

Quite a bit different from the previous log cabin quilt

My quilt-dating skills had improved somewhat since my first log cabin purchase, so I guesstimated the age of the quilt as closer to the turn of the century. My guess was confirmed at the appraisal, as most of the fabrics dated in the range of 1880s-1900s. Whereas the first log cabin quilt consisted of almost exclusively cotton, this quilt had a wide range of fabrics: cotton, silk, fouillard, and faille, just to name a few.

The navy fabric pictured was a striped print which allowed the maker
to use the same fabric, but with different looks.

The piecing of this quilt wasn't the most skilled, but that certainly
added to its charm.

A classic red center, and in this block you can see the use of the navy fabric;
this time more of the print is shown.

An interesting thing I discovered when the quilt was appraised, was that it had never been washed! Based on some areas on the edges that were dirtier, we surmised that it had possibly been used on a bed, but had then been put away, since there is little fading of the colors.

A picture of the quilting from the back side

These two quilts were purchased with very little information about their origins. We can make deductions about what they are made of, how old the fabrics are, and even some information about the way they were quilted, but we still don't know their full stories. I certainly wish quilts could talk and tell us all about who made them and why, but for now, we will have to let our imaginations come up with their tale.

If you would like to read more about some of the quilts we have added to our collection, you can read about them in these posts:


  1. I love them both! I love antiquing in Wells too. There is a wonderful book about Cocheco called "Just New From The Mills". I think it was published in the late 1990's but might still be available. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I will have to check that book out! Thank you for the tip!