Part Six of the PP forum Block of the Month - Underground Railroad
“Pack Your Provisions”
Last month’s block, ‘The Bears Paw’ was a very significant signal. It indicated where to go, and what to watch out for. Keeping an eye out for the path of the bear, heading in the direction of food and fresh water, as well as staying out of sight, would have been first and foremost in the fugitives minds.
But what if they had only just left the security and shelter of a ‘safehouse’? What if they had just climbed off the back of the wagon after hours of jouncy riding? Finding food and feeding themselves along the way was one of the most difficult things that faced escaping slaves.
Detroit/Ontario Underground Railroad Memorial, This detail from the sculpture shows the "conductor' pointing the way to Canada and freedom.
February’s Underground Railroad Block is simply called, ‘The Basket’.
The Basket block was suggested as a symbol of the supplies and provisions needed for the long journey north. As food and water were the most difficult and dangerous commodity to retrieve safely, safe houses are alleged to have displayed this basket quilt signifying that food could be obtained there. You certainly wouldn’t see an escaped slave walking into a grocery store asking for rations of any kind.
So with the help of Abolitionists, the refugee slaves would carry what was given to them in baskets. If the runaways had just arrived at a ‘safehouse’ and were hiding in the woods, the food would be carried to them in clothes baskets. Likely to raise a little suspicion, the bottom of the baskets would be filled with food, while piled on top would be laundry ready for the clothes line.
In other instances where the basket would have been used is when there were escapees hiding upstairs within the walls of a safe house. So not to arouse suspicion, provisions would be carried to the hidden escapees with either a laundry basket or a sewing basket. The lady of the house could carry food to her charges, looking as though she was going about her normal daily chores.
So, once again, each participant must find a block pattern with the name ‘The Basket’. The size of your finished block is completely up to you. If you have any trouble drafting a block to your required size, email Katy with your original block diagram, and the finished size that you want, and she will redraft it for you. When you have finished your block, post a picture on the forum for everyone to enjoy or email a photo to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Underground Railroad Sampler quilts grew from the belief that quilts made with specific block patterns were used as signals to communicate a message to the African American people escaping from slavery in the US by travelling in secret to Canada. In recent years quilt historians and academics have debated over whether quilts really did feature as a widespread method of communication, and you can read about this in Xenia Cord's article, The Underground Railroad