Saturday, June 5, 2021

Housetops, Pigpen & Bird Traps


In the last post we looked at Housetops or Pigpen log cabin variations as a whole top.

 The design of concentric squares is most often seen as a block. Above a four-block version from Western Kentucky University.

Most of the pictures are from online auctions.

Typical taste in fabrics after 1900

The pattern looks to have developed about 1880 or so.

The new BlockBase+ tells us the Ladies Art Company
published the pattern as White House Steps.
#221 is in their early catalog, 1890s, and that's probably
the source for many of these quilts.

Although you see earlier versions, this one in wools
and combination fabrics, is perhaps the 1880s.

Logs are folded and attached to a foundation square.

In its organized fashion a very neat and orderly design.

Minimal version.

But not always

Arlonzia Pettway, 1982, from the book
Gees Bend: the Women & Their Quilts

Gearldine Westbrook, 1982

Gearldine used scraps of corduroy from the Freedom Quilting Bee's Sears pillow project. That color saturated corduroy is one reason the quilts of Gees Bend are so appealing.

When folklorists and collectors were interviewing the Alabama quiltmakers they heard other names for the design: Pig in a Pen, Hog Pen,  Chicken Coop and Bird Trap. 
                                    William Ferris, Gees Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt

Traditional bird trap made of sticks.

Louise Tieman has been collecting references to Bird Trap as a name for log cabins and has found several sources, her favorite being police reports where she's found two accounts of Bird Trap quilts being stolen.
"There was also taken a worsted quilt, black and red, of the log-cabin or bird-trap design, with blue buttons sprinkled over it. We hope that everyone seeing this notice will be on the look-out for the quilt, -- as the finding of it may lead to the detection of the thief.”
Louise's blog post: http://quiltpapers.blogspot.com/2020/

In 1933 folklorists Vance Randolph & Isabell Spradlin mentioned Bird Trap in "Quilt Names in the Ozarks."

In 1871 the Nashville Union remarked on a fair display with "a bird-trap quilt made of silk that was greatly admired."

But whether Bird Trap refers to a type of log cabin design
is unknown.


  1. This series is so timely for me since I'm currently working on a mini version of a quilt shown in Eleanor Levie's book Great Little Quilts that was called Bull's-Eye Square. Looks like a Bird-Trap quilt to me. These old quilt pattern names are fascinating.

  2. One of my favorite blocks. I did an AQSG study quilt in 2018 based on a terrific yellow Court House Steps Variation quilt in NEQM. It was so fun to study. I'd never heard the Alabama names - those are so fun.

  3. I recently read about Manx log cabin quilts, a design originating on the Isle of Man. They were described as log cabins with the strips sewn to a foundation (no batting or wadding) and they had a pleat folded in each strip as it was sewn. They were assembled in a quilt-as-you-go method.

  4. I was going to mention the Isle of Man quilting too, I've seen a tutorial on you-tube. It is a method I just cannot quite wrap my brain around. There are so many variations of traditional blocks that one wonders which came first?