Part Eight of the PP forum Block of the Month - Underground Railroad
“A Safe Haven”
We are now on our 8th block in our series of the Underground Railroad. We are travelling the rails with much enthusiasm in our block patterns and full of curiosity in their meanings.
Our next block pattern dates back into the early 1800's. Information from the British Quilt Heritage Project found Log Cabin quilts were made as early as the second quarter of the 19th century. The earliest signed and dated Log Cabin quilt recorded in the United States was made in 1869.
The traditional method in sewing a log cabin block was to place the ‘log’ strips around a centre square. Early quilts would have used materials from old clothes or blankets so the hand sewn strips would have been attached to a backing or foundation fabric for stability.
The sight of a Log Cabin quilt may have indicated that there was a ‘safe house’ nearby. The quilt may also have given the slaves instruction to build a log cabin to weather out the cold of winter before heading further north.
Speculation on display methods and colours used on older quilts has made for interesting discussion over the years. The Log Cabin quilt block normally has a light and a dark side as part of its design. Apparently, when hung on a clothes line with the light side of the block design facing up, this meant that there were fugitive slaves running by the light of day, and the running by night signified by the dark side pointing up. Another piece of folklore states that the light and dark strips relate to happiness and sorrow. Whereas some myths describe the darker strips of fabric representing the shaded side of the building and the lighter strips implying the sunny side.
The basic Log Cabin block is said to have a centre piece which is usually a square. These centre squares have been known to signify the intent or purpose of the home or cabin nearby. A red centre block was believed to stand for the hearth or fire in the home. The warm inviting light seen through cabin windows was indicated by a yellow centre similar to that of a light or beacon seen from a distance. The yellow centre could also have meant a ‘safe house’ as the colour yellow in Africa is used to signify life. A black centre also announced the possibility of a ‘safe house’. In only one reference area did I find that the black centre of a block mean that the home nearby was not safe, and that the black centre was in fact a warning.
A Log Cabin quilt with a ‘yellow’ centre was found in the home of William Lloyd Still in Philadelphia. He was a famous black Underground Railroad Conductor.
So, once again, each participant must find a block pattern with the name ‘Log Cabin’. 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: email@example.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