The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn. —Ralph Waldo Emerson
The creation of a thousand log cabin blankets is in one dishrag. —Kay Gardiner
I’m pretty sure that if Emerson were alive today, and a knitter, he would agree with me.
In our latest little book, MDK Field Guide No. 4: Log Cabin, we were inspired not so much by Emerson as by another New Englander, Julia Child. My favorite quotation from our matron saint is this one: “Find something you’re passionate about, and keep tremendously interested in it.”
Here at Mason-Dixon Knitting, we are tremendously interested in log cabin knitting. Like Julia Child’s recipe for boeuf bourgignon in her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, log cabin knitting is in our own ancient tome of a first book.
Also like Julia’s fancy beef stew, the first version was longer than it needed to be. We’ve learned some handy things since then that we’re eager to share with today’s log cabin knitters.
The first project in Field Guide No. 4 is one of the simplest knitting patterns you will ever see: six garter stitch cloths. Each cloth teaches a basic log cabin technique or a tool for constructing or finishing a log cabin project.
Each cloth also is a useful Finished Object in its own right. (Is anyone else impatient with swatches that can’t be used for anything?) Just as some knitters start a sweater with a sleeve that serves as a gauge swatch, we recommend that first-time log cabin knitters start with a washcloth or two to get the hang of how log cabin works, and be ready to jump in with both feet on a bigger project.
Looking around my house, I took a census of log cabin blankets. I’ve made a lot of log cabin blankets in my day. Being a process knitter, I give most of them away, eventually, but the ones that have stayed home are my pride and joy.
I was delighted to see that three of the blankets sitting on the furniture in my apartment are perfect illustrations of the acorn-to-oak theory behind our log cabin cloths.
Cloth 1: Classic Log Cabin
Here’s the cloth:
Pretty classic. You start in the center (white patch), bind off, turn it on its side, and pick up stitches to knit a patch onto that edge (small beige patch), bind off, turn that piece on its side, and on and on. If you kept going with this cloth, adding strip after strip in a spiral, you’d get a mesmerizing one-patch log cabin. If you make a whole stack of classic log cabin blocks, and join them together, you get this:
Pattern: Fussy Cuts. (Coming soon as an individual PDF pattern download.)
Gah! This one was not in my apartment; it’s Ann’s Fussy Cuts, chilling on her porch. That beautiful blanket is just a stack of classic log cabin cloths, a heap of fun, easy color play, framed and joined.
Cloth 2: Courthouse Steps
Here’s the cloth:
At first glance, you might not see much of a difference between Cloth 1 and Cloth 2, but it’s there. Instead of knitting on strips in a spiral, turning and knitting a new strips onto the next adjacent side, after completing a strip on one side of the center, you go to the opposite side and add a matching strip there, and only after doing these mirrored strips do you knit a strip onto the adjacent side (and then its own opposite side).
It’s much easier to see the difference when the process is repeated:
Pattern: Courthouse Steps. (Coming soon as an individual PDF pattern download.)
Here’s another, more colorful version I made for a baby boy in 2010.
This was the first pattern I ever wrote, inspired by an important fabric quilt. At the time, my log cabin skills and my knitting logic were in their infancy. I didn’t yet realize that picking up the correct number of stitches on an edge was important to the squareness of the piece as it grew: if you pick up too few, you are decreasing, and if you pick up too many, you are increasing. On this first blanket, I must have picked up too many, because the lines in my Courthouse Steps gently bow outwards.
It’s a teachable moment, in blanket form.
This blanket is one of my most precious possessions. The Rowan Denim, once crisp, is silky soft now, its black edging washed to whisper gray. It has fade lines from lying folded at the foot of a bunk bed in front of a window. It has been a steadfast companion to a boy’s after-school progression from Spongebob Squarepants to Arrested Development. Just go ahead and wrap me up in it when I die.
Cloth 3: L-shape
Here’s the cloth:
The principle here is that the strips of a log cabin do not need to be uniform in size, or arranged symmetrically. So what?
So what is that when the strips can be in any width or arrangement, a lot of possibilities open up. Log cabin is not just a graphic pattern, it’s a seamless construction method.
Pattern: Moderne Log Cabin.
There is no sewing in the Moderne, and only one instance of two-colors-in-one-row (technically, intarsia, but the very simplest intarsia). Today, I’d avoid even that bit of intarsia, but back then, I had yet to figure out parquet squares, or how to knit a miter into a corner. Live and learn.
Or as Julia Child would say, keep tremendously interested.
There are three more cloths—so much excitement!— but we will visit them later.