The hotly anticipated second installment of the PP forum Block of the Month - Underground Railroad
Our Journey Begins.....
September kick started our new sampler quilt with the ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ block. As you all know this block is also known as ‘The Underground Railroad’. It is named this because it speaks of going somewhere. The block was used for directional purposes as the alternating path of dark and light fabrics could be used to show the direction in which a ‘passenger’ was to travel.
Each plantation in the United States had a blacksmith, and these men were known to be quite knowledgeable, strong and skillful and thus were nicknamed the ‘Monkey Wrench’. Due to their strength and trained hands it wasn’t unusual for these men to be loaned to neighbouring plantations thus allowing the blacksmith to study the lay of the land. This information would be passed back to future runaways.
The Monkey Wrench
October’s block takes us to the next stage of our journey. It is a block, that when seen in a quilt, would give the future escapes the signal to commence gathering the necessities for the trip.
This block is called the ‘Monkey Wrench’, a heavy metal tool used by the blacksmith. This pattern symbolized that it was time to collect what would be needed to endure physical and mental hardships. Runaway slaves needed tools for shelter construction, implements to defend themselves, as well as devices for determining direction. Wrapping these items along with a few coins and some food in a bandanna, the slaves would ready themselves for their journey north.
A family quilt made from Monkey Wrench blocks was found in the home of Frederick Douglass who lived in Cedar Hill, Washington, D. C. He was a free black ‘monkey wrench’.
So, once again, each participant must find a block pattern with the name of ‘Monkey Wrench’. 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