Construction underway for the Signs to freedom

                                                                                                                         Photo by Christy Porter
Working in small groups, mentors and students construct Underground Railroad quilt blocks. From left: Margaret Burch is helping Sadie Hutsell with a Dutchman’s Puzzle and Jaxon Kuhn with the Bear Paw. Reggia Ward works with Addison Floyd on the LeMoyne Star.
By Christy Porter
Managing Editor

Construction of the Underground Railroad Quilt is again underway by sixth graders at Licking Elementary School. Supervising the quilt for her second year is Michelle Meizler, Social Studies teacher at the school. During regular class time the students are studying the Civil War, including slavery; the quilt project reinforces what is being learned in school curriculum.
Each year sixth graders participate in the learning experience of constructing the quilt-top. This year 14 volunteer students are participating in the creation of a sampler quilt comprised of 14 blocks. They diligently work after school in a Monday or Wednesday group.

                                                              Photo by Christy Porter
Sixth grade students are working diligently on their individual quilt blocks.
The students complete each aspect of hand-piecing a quilt block, often times while learning the basics of sewing. Some of the students are not completely new to the sewing concept, such as Addison Floyd who says, “I have made doll clothes with my grandma.” 
In addition to their teacher, Meizler, there are very experienced mentors to help the students, such as;
                                       Photo by Christy Porter
Suzie Blackburn is helping Katelyn Mitchell 
on the North Star block.
Suzie Blackburn, who initiated the ongoing project and is in her 17th year; Margaret Burch, 8 years; Jan Rensch, 5-6 years;
                                      Photo by Christy Porter
Left: Kiara Nelson and Jan Rensch discuss the 
finer details of the Bow Tie quilt pattern.
Reggia Ward, 4 years plus several years quilting the Underground Railroad quilts; and Carolyn Wulff, 16 years. The students have picked their pattern and fabric colors, practiced with a paper patch and chosen the material. Currently they are cutting the pieces and have begun sewing.
The quilt is only one aspect of the project; they will also document their participation with a personal experience, a report that includes history of the quilt block and pictures.
The quilt will be auctioned off as a fund-raiser for the Texas County Museum of Art & History in 2026, the senior year of the students. Over the past 17-years the quilts have raised anywhere from $100 to over $800 each.

                                                              Photo by Christy Porter
From left: Beverly Tommory is making the Monkey Wrench block 
with Carolyn Wulff’s help and Abby Penn is working on the Wagon Wheel.

Photos by Christy Porter
Signs to freedom
By Christy Porter
Managing Editor

Visual display has been a source of communication since the beginning of mankind, whether it is smoke signals, handkerchiefs hung on the clothesline during the Revolutionary War or marker trees.
While not historically recorded, there is a belief that quilt codes gave direction to the Underground Railroad, leading slaves to freedom. One needs to remember that slaves were largely forbidden to read and write.
The Underground Railroad was a vanishing route to freedom: it had stations, a network of safe houses; station masters, providing food and resting stops; railroad workers, those that helped along the route, all to achieve safe passage out of slavery.
The legend exists that quilts and songs were used as a form of communication to help them make it safely. A Sampler quilt was used to teach fugitives what each block meant on the route before they set out on their journey. While there are many variations of how many blocks were used and how the quilt blocks were interpreted, they all tend towards logic. En route a quilt with a particular block pattern was “aired” out a window or on a clothesline as a directive to the fugitives on their way to freedom.
Quilt block shapes, symbols, colors, names, knots, textures and colors all supposedly carried a message. Even the stitching on the quilt may have designated roads on the route or acted as a road map.
The messages for several blocks are as follows: North Star or Star - Go north; Sailboat – Safe passage; Bear Paw – Follow the bear trails into or through the mountains; Monkey Wrench – Gather necessary supplies and tools; Bow Tie – Dress in disguise to appear of a higher status; Log Cabin – Seek shelter now, the people here are safe to speak with; Drunkard’s Path – Zigzag as you go to avoid hounds; Double Wedding Ring – It is safe to remove your chains; Wagon Wheel – Pack belongings for a journey; Tumbling blocks – When conditions were right to pack and go; Flying Geese - Going north using color (of the sky) as a directive.
Some quilt blocks were not named as they are today, have had numerous names or the name has been intentionally changed due to events in history.
Even today many quilts commemorate important or special occasions for family and friends, such as marriages and births. Scrap quilts especially oftentimes tell a family’s story. Regardless of its verifiability, the Underground Railroad Quilt is a hands-on and useful teaching tool about our people and a pivotal time in our United States history.



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