mindlovemisery’s menagerie, tale weaver #23 underground railway: a stitch to freedom

The Underground Railroad

Theodor Kaufmann

a stitch to freedom

We spent the winter cutting pieces from dresses, linens, bedding, any thing fabric. We held quilting bees, the women of the community working together regardless of status, politics or religion.

We quilted maps, safe houses, warnings, gathering spots, the next depot on the underground railway. Each stitch held a meaning pointing towards the purpose of the quilt.

We memorized the codes and messages contained in the carefully arranged and quilted squares. Nothing was written down; no record of our work and it’s meaning.* We were simply a community holding quilting bees to pass the slow, dreary days of winter.

Hung on the clothes line in the sweet spring air, the quilts were signposts for safe journeys to the North. Maps for freedom.


*Many believe that the idea of quilts as symbols to escaped slaves is a 20th construct. No where in the annals of slavery is there a mention of quilts. Nor recorded by the white underground railway workers. While books have been written supporting this idea, the story is often built on suppositions, analyzing quilts from the time period, and suggested by detractors, perhaps a little bit of fantasy.

When I read the prompt, the quilt story came to mind.


26 thoughts on “mindlovemisery’s menagerie, tale weaver #23 underground railway: a stitch to freedom

  1. Suzanne February 5, 2015 / 11:52 pm

    What a great story. You have written it beautifully. I do hope it’s true – it’s just too good not to be.


    • phylor February 5, 2015 / 11:59 pm

      Thank you Suzanne — I hope it’s true too.


  2. phylor February 5, 2015 / 4:37 pm

    Reblogged this on Phylor's Blog and commented:

    February is black history month. Time to think of those who suffered in bondage with the hope that some day their children might be free.


  3. wendy September 2, 2014 / 2:12 pm

    I love this for many reasons. The possibility of it. The empowerment it would have given women to help. I love the idea of quilts telling stories…..giving clues…being part of something grand. I love seeing quilts on the Antique Roadshow that tell stories of the past. More quilt stories.


    • phylor September 2, 2014 / 5:51 pm

      More quilt stories it is. There is a woman in NS whose quilts look like paintings. I’ll scan one and see if I can do another quilt story.


  4. Pat August 31, 2014 / 5:43 pm

    Whether there is truth or fact regarding the info you shared in response to the prompt, it lends itself very well as a strong point of interest to the story – so much of the Railroad was left hidden – for good reasons, of course. Your little piece adds another wonderful element to it, suggested from the p.o.v. of those trying to help the cause. :)


    • phylor August 31, 2014 / 10:35 pm

      If the story was true, I like the empowerment it gives to female abolitionist by actively participating through the “womanly arts.”

      Liked by 2 people

      • Pat September 1, 2014 / 6:29 am

        Yes,I agree. Empowerment, even in the “smallest” of ways, for the general good, is often a very positive thing.


  5. Bastet August 31, 2014 / 1:50 am

    Excellent Phyor … I’d never heard of this original way to help the fleeing slaves. A great read!


    • phylor August 31, 2014 / 10:57 pm

      Thanks! Whether it is historically true or no, it makes for an interesting story.


      • Bastet September 1, 2014 / 2:01 am

        I do so agree and love the idea!


    • phylor August 29, 2014 / 5:15 am

      I came across the story through reading a critique of the theory. I like the term “potential history;” it allows for future “pasts” to be uncovered!


  6. Blog It Or Lose It August 28, 2014 / 11:55 pm

    Very nice!
    True or untrue, I love the story of quilts having this special meaning. This was a rewarding piece of writing to read.


  7. Colline August 28, 2014 / 5:01 pm

    I like the idea of quilts being used as a way to communicate secretly. They must have communicated in some way and this method, to me, seems to be an effective one that the ‘owners’ would not realize.


    • phylor August 29, 2014 / 5:22 am

      I like the idea, too. And that it could be a community effort to create the signposts, and be workers on the Underground Railway!


  8. summerstommy2 August 28, 2014 / 4:42 pm

    Dear phylor, this is a remarkable story. I didn’t know about this but I can see some truth in it. Quilting is a great art form, my artist son has successfully made quilts. Have a good day.


    • phylor August 29, 2014 / 5:24 am

      A while ago, the US post service issued stamps with quilts from a community with a long history of self-designed quilting.


        • phylor August 29, 2014 / 10:19 am

          Thanks! I must admit, even though it’s probably invented history, I would like the story of the quilts to be true.


          • phylor August 29, 2014 / 10:21 am

            PS: Could you use one of your son’s quilts as the visual to a post? I like the idea of quilts as art; there is a woman in Nova Scotia who makes quilts that look like photographs.


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