Flying Geese Quilt Pattern


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.



About Mary Jo Doig

Mary Jo Doig was the first in her family to attend college and graduated from the State University at Oneonta in New York’s Catskill Mountains with a degree in Secondary English Education/Educational Psychology. There she fell in love with rural life, remained, and eventually transitioned from city girl to country woman when she married a dairy farmer and raised their three children on their small family farm. A life-long lover of reading and writing, Mary Jo has for nearly twenty years been a member of the Story Circle Network. There she has been an editor, a women’s writing circle facilitator, a book reviewer, and life-writing enthusiast, working extensively with women writing their life-stories while writing her own memoir. Presently, she is a three-time Program Chair for SCNs national Stories from the Heart conference and a board member. She also facilitates Older Women’s Legacy workshops and a women’s life-writing circle in her area communities. Her stories have appeared in Kitchen Table Stories anthology, Story Circle Annual Anthologies, and most recently her story “I Can’t Breathe” was published in the Anthology, Inside and Out: Women’s Truths, Women’s Stories. Her work also appears in varied blogs and periodicals, on her blog Musings from a Patchwork Quilt Life (, Facebook, and Twitter. Her son and two daughters grown, Mary Jo presently treasures her country life in Virginia’s Central Shenandoah Valley. She loves cooking (and eating!) healthy food, reading, writing, quilting, hiking, and spending quality time with her rescue cats, Button and Xena, and beagle, Addie, who each dream of being only children. Her first book, Patchwork: A Memoir of Love and Loss, will be published in October, 2018 by She Writes Press.
This entry was posted in Gifts, Mystery, Quilts, The Writing Life. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Flying Geese Quilt Pattern

  1. I didn’t know about the slaves and the quilts. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing, MJ.

    Liked by 1 person

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