BLOCK Friday: Log Cabin Quilt Block – Courthouse Steps Variation – Fons & Porter

From Log Cabin…

Madison County, Iowa courthouse in Winterset
to Courthouse?

Here’s a riddle – can you turn a log cabin in to a courthouse? Put down the hammers and saws – the solution is all about block design! In this BLOCK Friday post we’re taking a closer look at a special kind of Log Cabin – the Courthouse Steps variation.

Are you interested in other variations of the Log Cabin block? Be sure to check out our BLOCK Friday posts on the Pineapple variation and Barn Raising setting!

Courthouse step block detailThe construction of the Courthouse Steps block is only a little different from the basic Log Cabin, but the difference is clear. Where you might describe the standard Log Cabin construction as composed of fabric strips “wrapped” around a center block, the Courthouse Steps variation uses matching strips on opposite sides of its center block. When created using light and dark fabrics (see the block to the right, from Courthouse Stars), it’s easy to see that the contrasting values appear on opposite sides of the quilt block instead of on the diagonals.

Courthouse Stars, a courthouse steps Quilt
Courthouse Stars

According to Marin Hanson of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum and Patricia Crews of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the Courthouse Steps variation is accepted as the easiest of the Log Cabin variations to sew, and would have made a great block for an inexperienced quilter.¹ Hanson and Crews said Courthouse Steps quilts were likely made as early as the 1860s, and began to gain more popularity in the late nineteenth century. Most Courthouse Steps quilts were made with foundation piecing, and may have led to other foundation pieced designs like crazy quilts and string-pieced quilts.¹

We’ve like to share three quilts to illustrate the Courthouse variation in action (click on each image for a larger version). First, Courthouse Stars (above, left) is a great summer project and makes for a fantastic scrap-busting quilt. Second, the modern quilt, Courtside (below, left), from Mary Fons was designed with beginners in mind (piecing is a snap for this project!) and its stark blue and orange solids make the variation very easy to identify. And third, let’s scale the pattern back a bit and take a look at Pennsylvania Puzzle (below, right). Do you think this was paper pieced? Its itty bitty pieces lead me to believe the answer is yes!

Courtside, a mega courthouse steps quilt

Pennsylvania Puzzle, a Courthouse Steps mini quilt
Pennsylvania Puzzle

Happy Quilting!

¹ p90, p100-101, “American Quilts in the Modern Age, 1870-1940: The International Quilt Study Center Collections”, by Marin F. Hanson (Editor), Patricia Cox Crews

Note: this post was originally published on Feb 20, 2015

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