“Deliver me....”

Quilts have many layers of fabric. One technique for fastening these layers is still used today. This method is sewing a string or heavy thread through all the layers and tying it off with knots. In most cases one or two knots would be sufficient to secure a quilt, and yet in some older quilts unusual knot patterns were found, some with as many as five knots. This was much more than would be needed.

Could this have been a way of signalling escaping slaves of the distance to travel between safe houses or hiding places? The more knots, the greater the distance.

Taking that into consideration and then needing to add the trajectory of travel, we now come to this month's block. It is in fact another directional pattern, similar to that of the Flying Geese and yet very distinctive. The Flying Geese pattern used one set of geese within a single block to show direction. Our new block pattern, ‘Birds in the Air’, uses several blocks within the full quilt to show the path. It is suggested that by looking at a completed quilt top, several blocks of lighter shades and colours would stand out amongst the darker patterns creating an arrow, thus indicating the direction of travel.

Quaker Lindley Coates and his wife Deborah, of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania were abolitionists and ran a safe house on the Underground Railroad. An original Birds in the Air quilt was designed by Deborah and may have been used as a directional quilt. According to the story, two granddaughters of Deborah could not agree as to who should inherit the quilt, so it was cut in half. When the two pieces of the quilt were eventually handed down to a single descendant, the bindings of the quilt were opened and the raw edges were sewn back together. There, once again, on the back was a small central image of a bound slave. Underneath the image were the words, “Deliver me from the oppression of man.”
So, once again, each participant must find a block pattern with the name ‘Birds in the Air’. 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: katy.purvis@myhobbystore.com
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