I’ve happily returned to quilt-making, to the quilt that will, along with my memoir, represent much of the story of my life. The quilt is comprised of a variety of patterns ranging from the early 1800s, the 1900s, and also some of my own design.
Today I completed my Flying Geese square, known also as a Code Pattern, one of several designs used in the Civil War’s Underground Railroad Quilts that hung on clotheslines or lay on windowsills of Southern Abolitionists committed to helping slaves escape to the North. Because slaves were not taught to read or write, Abolitionists needed a secret system to communicate to slaves how they should travel north by following the geese. Code patterns became an important solution.
Flying Geese was just one of several code patterns. Others can be seen here. The large triangle with the darker color represents the goose; the two smaller side triangles, light in color, represent the sky. Quilts were arranged so that the “geese” direction pointed north to another safe house, which were reportedly about ten miles apart.
The Edwards History and Genealogy Center tells us in this link that “With this quilt the slaves learned they were to take their direction, timing, and behavior from the migrating geese. Since geese fly north in the spring, it was also the best time for slaves to escape. Geese have to stop at waterways along their journey in order to rest and eat. Especially since geese make loud honking noises it was easy for runaways to follow their flight pattern.”
Some patterns are arranged so the geese all flying in the same direction as shown in the lovely illustration here. Others are arranged as I chose to do mine: the geese arranged in four different directions. This varied-direction configuration reflected, for me, how I was tugged in several directions at that particular time in my life, unsure about which direction to travel next in my personal journey.
One of the finest rewards of my quilt work, aside from creating story squares richly meaningful to me, is that, as I work at piecing, I frequently think with gratitude about the Abolitionist women so committed to freeing people from slavery. Yet, more viscerally, I am keenly aware I follow in the footsteps of slave women and all women who made story quilts. I’m filled with a deep reverence and affinity for these amazing women with their profound desire to create and leave their story in fabric form for their families, future generations, historians, and those of us who are passionate about women’s stories.