Keyword Exclusive - Quilt patterns and their secret meanings
Supplement to “Quilted Code to Freedom”
Source: Clarice Boswell
Here are just a few of the quilt patterns and their meanings used in the Underground Railroad Quilt Guide that Clarice Boswell discusses at her oral presentations:
It’s believed that this pattern was sometimes used to help fugitives follow the path of the bear, and to identify landmarks on the edge of the plantation.
A symbol directing the children on the Underground Railroad to come and secure clothes in order to blend into the community of freed people.
Carpenter’s Wheel (Wagon Wheel variation)
This pattern would have particular significance to slaves skilled in a craft—such as carpentry. (Other such patterns might be: an Anvil, Circular Saw, Square, and Compass.) It was also a sympbol to “steel away”—a visual equivalent to the popular spiritual Steal Away, which many slaves knew and sang. The pattern told slaves to “run with faith” to the west—northwest territories.
Once through the mountains, slaves were to travel to the crossroads. The main crossroad was Cleveland, Ohio. Any quilt hung before this one would have given directions to Ohio.
This was a clear warning for the slaves to move in a staggering fashion so as to elude any following slave hunters. It was suggested that slaves even double back to elude their pursuers.
Ring of Roses
The beautiful ring of roses was used as a quilt of celebration given to families that made it to freedom.
A symbol of traveling by water. The sailboat may represent several means of traveling from one safe house to another. Canoe, barge, steamship, or raft.
Little is known about this pattern. It is believed that Shoofly refers to an actual person who might have aided escaping slaves.
To read the Kentucky Living February 2005 feature that goes along with this supplement, click here: Quilted Code to Freedom