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Underground Railroad quilt codes

quilt code graphic outlines 8 of the 10 quilt codes

Let’s talk about the Underground Railroad and quilts.

Collection Delaware Agricultural Museum

This lovely quilt, based on the Log Cabin pattern, is actually a coded symbol to slaves on the run. It would have hung on a clothesline of a safe house.

The traditional log cabin pattern, which emerged in the 1830s, featured a red square at the center of each individual pattern. Sure enough, all the squares around the perimeter have that red center. But the rest have various shades of yellow, and THAT’S the indication to runaways of a safe house.

Furthermore, quilts in which black and yellow predominate are another indication of a safe house. Squint your eyes looking at this quilt, and suddenly black & yellow diagonal stripes pop right out. From a distance, that would’ve been the first thing a person would notice about this quilt.

If you’re interested in the other 9 quilt symbols used in Underground Railroad quilts, spend some time reading Stefanie Bohde Norlin’s paper “The Underground Railroad Quilt Code”

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