Flying Geese Quilt Pattern

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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.

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About Mary Jo Doig

At the turn of the millennium, I arrived at a cross-road that brought me a splendid, if unforeseen place, almost as if I were a traveler on Robert Frost's The Road Less Traveled. I was single again, my three children were grown and building their lives, I'd experienced a health issue and was working on an improved lifestyle. I also ached to do two other things: (1) change my long human services career in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains, where winter seemed to be at least seven months out of every year, and (2) move to a warmer place in the universe. My decision: did I want to continue on the path I'd been following pretty much all my life, or could I gather my then-fragile courage and start life brand new somewhere else? These were scary thoughts for a single woman in her late 50s. Five hundred miles away, though, I fell in love with a new mountain range, Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, where I knew not a soul except my daughter who was attending college in the Shenandoah Valley, and I moved. I rented a tiny cabin on a mountain in the woods and lived there in solitude for two years, working in a new career by day and, when home, communing with the incredible natural beauty that surrounded me. There I also began to write my life stories, which were aching for release. I joined the Story Circle Network in early 2001, a rich place in cyberspace for women life writers, where I strengthened my written voice and began sharing my stories. I grew there in so many ways and today I'm a long-time editor for the "True Words from Real Women" section of the quarterly Journal, as well as a reader and reviewer of women's memoirs for the SCN Book Review site, another unique place in cyberspace. Then, next year, I’ll again be honored to be program chair for our Stories from the Heart national conference in Austin, TX. I have so many loves: first, my three children: my son, Chip and daughter, Polly, both in Virginia; and my youngest daughter, Susan, in Florida, and also dear family and friends. I must also include my cats Hilary (20) and Button (5). Sometimes I foster cats and kittens for the Humane Society, but Button prefers me not to. My hobbies include reading, writing, editing, cooking, gardening, quilting, knitting, biking, and simply being with the profound beauty of the mountains that embrace my small two acres in the Blue Ridge. The life stories I began writing in 2001 have grown deeper with time, re-writes, and personal growth. Now, all these years later, I believe I've sliced through the layers to reach the heart of my story, and am presently working on the final revision of my memoir, Stitching a Patchwork Life.
This entry was posted in Gifts, Mystery, Quilts, The Writing Life. Bookmark the permalink.

One 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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