27 Feb


My 4th and 5th grade students created a freedom quilt square for their class quilts last year during Black History Month. We started out the project by reading The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom by Bettye Stroud, a powerful story of a girl and her father escaping slavery to freedom on the Underground Railroad. The designs on the freedom quilts were said to have secret messages, helping to guide and protect the slaves on their way to freedom. I gave each student a printout with some of the designs and their meanings and they chose their favorite to recreate as a paper collage. We discovered that the designs were very precise, using mostly squares and triangles that had to be laid out just right. It was a good way for the students to incorporate some of their math skills into the art room.

After they completed their quilt squares, each student wrote a poem or short descriptive story imagining what it would be like escaping to freedom. I wish I would have made some copies because some students truly had some thoughtful, beautiful words to share.




  1. Valerie Huggins July 1, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    I was looking at designs online that referred to the Underground Railway but was rather depressed by the traditional way in which the quilt blocks had been interpreted in recent years. And then I came across these pictures. Wonderful! What verve and creativity! My congratulations to the pupils who came up with these inspiring collages. I am a quilt maker in London, England, and send my best wishes across the Atlantic to some very talented young artists.

    • colorsofmyday July 11, 2013 at 6:30 pm #

      Thank you so much Valerie! My students truly felt connected to this lesson and amazed me with their creativity and imagination! It was their idea to layer the shapes to create a more complex design. I really admire true quilt makers as we discovered just how complex it can be to create such geometric designs. Glad you found some inspiration, thanks again!

  2. Hulagirl October 5, 2013 at 9:28 am #

    I love these! They are beautiful! I taught a similar lesson until a few years ago, when I discovered “freedom quilts” are largely a myth. Apparently during the “quilting Rennaisance” of the 1970’s, someone decided to market a “freedom quilt” kit by packaging it with the story that the quilts contained secret messages and instructions hidden in the quilt patterns for slaves escaping along the Underground Railroad. The story is inspiring and exciting until you begin to research it. Historians found there is really no historic evidence to support this legend. As a teacher, I feel it is important to be as accurate as possible in the information I give my students, so I changed my lesson up. Now I talk about quilting in the African American community and its roots in African textiles. I show the students examples of quilts made by slaves, and how some of those African textile influences can be seen. We also discuss how the quilts served as practical items and forms if expression for the (often) illiterate slaves. I also show the students Gee’s Bend quilts and read “Stitchin’ and Pullin'”, a story about Gee’s Bend quilts and their ties to that community, inter-generational connection and black history. The story is told from the point of view of a little girl in the community as she engages in the artistic process of creating her own quilt, with the help of her grandmother. As the quilt is constructed, stories unfold about her community, its history and of the larger African American experience. I also show the students an actual quilt my own great grandmother made from scraps and we discuss how art can be a connection to our family and our community for all of us. I feel I am giving my students a deeper and richer lesson now!

    • Rachel Evans September 29, 2017 at 12:35 am #

      Thank you. I had the same experience but I haven’t found a good way to share the excitement of quilt making with my art students. I will look into that book “Stitchin and Pullin'”

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