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According to legend, quilts, hung out on the clothesline at a "safe" house along the underground railroad, served as a means of passing information along to the runaway slaves who were trying to get North to freedom. For example:

The Monkey Wrench [get your tools ready for we are leaving soon] turns the Wagon Wheel [we are going by wagon] toward Canada.


  With help from Jesus the Carpenter follow the Bear's Trail [Bear's Paw] through the woods.



  Fill your Baskets with enough supplies and provisions to get you to the Crossroads.




  Once you get to the Crossroads,
dig a Log Cabin [dig a shelter or draw the pattern in the dirt to prove that he/she was a safe person].


  Shoofly [scatter to avoid being captured] told us to dress up in cotton and satin Bow Ties [dress up as to avoid suspicion].



Follow the Flying Geese [above left] and Birds in the Air [above right] [who are migrating North]

Stay on the Drunkard's Path [do not follow a straight line to avoid capture].

  Take the Boat [across the river, across the lake].


  Follow the North Star which will led you to Canada.

The "North Star" or "Evening Star" referred to the Big Dipper which served as a way of telling which direction the escapees should go.

Some contention is that the placement of knots on the quilt served as a map, telling the escapees the distance to travel from one point to another.

Since 1999, the secret quilt code has been marketed to the American public as a proven fact. To date, there are no diaries, journals, or letters which support the theory of secret quilt block codes. Nor did any oral testimony from the WPA interviews of the 1930's support this theory. Consequently, the legend of secret messages through quilt blocks remains to be a subject of controversy.

One contention of this controversy is that the monkey wrench wasn't invented until the latter part of the 1860's.

Secondary Patterns in the Quilt Code

TUMBLING BLOCKS or BOXES - When displayed to be "aired" out gave a signal to pack up and be ready to move on.


  SUE BONNETS and bandanas were garment worn by ladies to show social standing and also hiding the face in modesty, which was a Quaker custom.



  CRAZY PATCH - A frugal way of using up everything. A family belief that the haphazard way of piecing would confuse an "evil" spirit.



  DRESDEN PLATE - A secret code name for a "safe" haven in Dresden, Ontario, more often confused with Dresden, Ohio.



  NINE PATCH - In old Africa, the number "9" is a sacred number, a favorite design of the Africans. Could also signal the number of "safe" houses.



Contribution by Sheryl Harrison & Norma G. (Foland) Becker, June of 2009


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