Quilts in Children’s Books, Part Two: The Underground Railroad Quilt Code

 

Underground Railroad Quilt CodeThe Monkey Wrench turns the Wagon Wheel toward Canada on a Bear’s Paw trail to the Crossroads. Once they got to the Crossroads, they dug a Log Cabin on the ground. Shoofly told them to dress up in cotton and satin Bow Ties and go to the cathedral church, get married and exchange Double Wedding Rings. Flying Geese stay on the Drunkard’s Path and follow the Stars.

–The Underground Railroad Quilt Code, according to Ozella Williams, reported in Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad by Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard, Ph.D.


It’s no big surprise that the Quilt Code story caught on. Slaves escaping to freedom via the Underground Railroad in the dark of night, their way mapped for them by quilts hanging on clotheslines or low-hanging branches–all the elements of a great saga are here: heroes, villains, dangerous journeys, secret knowledge, the dream of freedom.

Underground Railroad Quilt CodeGiven what a marvelous story this is, it’s also no surprise that more than one children’s book writer has latched onto it. Books that feature quilts as guides for slaves making their way north to freedom include Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad Quilt in the Sky by Faith Ringgold, Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson, The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom by Bettye Stroud, Under the Quilt of Dark by Deborah Hopkinson, The Secret to Freedom by Marcia Vaughan, Unspoken: A Story of the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole … and the list goes on.

One of the most beautiful (and beautifully written) of these books is Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson, which follows an African-American family through many generations, from slavery to freedom to the Civil Rights movement to the present day.

 

While Show Way is about more than the Underground Railroad Quilt Code, it relies on the idea of the code to frame the story. Given the beautiful illustrations by Hudson Talbott and the silver Newbery Honor Book sticker on the book’s cover, Show Way will perpetuate the myth of the Quilt Code for years to come.

Underground Railroad Quilt CodeIt’s hard to accept that the Quilt Code is a myth, and many people don’t. When doing research for this post, I found fairly recent YouTube videos of lectures that posited the Code as a historical truth. Amazon.com reviews of Hidden in Plain View written as recently as 2016 applaud it for what it reveals about our country’s history during slavery, even though quilt and Underground Railroad historians have been refuting the historicity of the Code since the book’s publication.

In a Time magazine article, folklorist Laurel Horton, who has done extensive research about the Quilt Code, told a reporter she had stopped trying to convince people that the code never existed. Instead she’s focused on why people continue to believe even though there is almost no historical evidence that quilts were used to guide slaves to freedom.

“This whole issue made me realize it’s not a matter of one group having the truth and another not,” Horton says in the article. “It’s matter of two different sets of beliefs. It’s made me realize that belief doesn’t have a lot to do with factual representation. People feel in their gut that it’s true so no one can convince them in their head that it’s otherwise.”

The picture books I’ve read about the Underground Railroad quilts offer compelling stories and are visually lovely. I suspect they’ll be used in elementary school classrooms for a long time to come. But as we seem to be moving ever closer to a time when facts are relative and need not be based on anything more than belief, I hope that this myth will be busted sooner rather than later.

 

For more about the Underground Railroad Quilt Code controversy, follow this link to read Leigh Fellner’s booklength investigation, Betsy Ross Redux, available as a downloadable PDF:

https://web.archive.org/web/20130120160626/http://ugrrquilt.hartcottagequilts.com/betsy%20ross%20redux.pdf

To watch Laurel Horton’s lecture at the International Quilt Study Center on the Quilt Code, just hit play:

To watch a video reading of Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLmiRkdIWI0

Underground Railroad historian Eric Giles on the UGRR Quilt Code Myth: http://www.historiccamdencounty.com/ccnews11_doc_01a.shtml

Birds in the Air

From Frances O’Roark Dowell — bestselling author of Dovey Coe, The Secret Language of Girls, Trouble the Water and other “beloved books for tweens and teenagers” (New York Times Sunday Book Review) — comes Birds in the Air, Dowell’s first novel for adults.

“A truly enjoyable read! Quilters will relive their own first patchwork steps along with Emma as she searches for her place in a new community. Non-quilters will experience vicariously Emma’s discovery of the power of quilts to connect, heal, and restore the soul.” –Marianne Fons

In the tradition of Marie Bostwick and Jennifer Chiaverini, Dowell combines her deep connection to the quilting life and her love of storytelling to create a novel about the abiding friendships that bind together a community of women who share a passion for making quilts.

When Emma Byrd moves into the house of her dreams in the small mountain community of Sweet Anne’s Gap, she knows that making friends may prove to be her biggest challenge. Her husband loves his new job and her kids are finding their way at school. But Emma — no natural when it comes to talking to strangers — will have to try a little harder, especially after the sweet, white-haired neighbor she first visits slams the door in her face.

Luckily, a few of the quilters of Sweet Anne’s Gap adopt Emma and she soon finds herself organizing the quilt show for the town’s centennial celebration. But not everyone is happy to see the job go to an outsider, especially one who has befriended an outcast pursuing her own last best chance at redemption.

With Birds in the Air, Frances O’Roark Dowell (winner of the Edgar Award, the William Allen White Award and the Christopher Medal) has created a warm, funny novel about fitting in, falling out and mending frayed relationships one stitch at a time.


What a delightful book! … As I read, I was transported out of my chair and into the town of Sweet Anne’s Gap and the lives of the quilters that I can understand so well.”  –Annie Smith

Birds in the Air is a great book and quilt block — it’s as unusual as liking the book and the movie! It was such a pleasurable read. I cared about the characters and what happened to them. I enjoyed revisiting what it is like to be a brand new quilter.” –Kathy Mathews, ChicagoNow


A Quilting Q&A with Author Frances O’Roark Dowell

  • Why did you decide to write about quilters? There’s a rule of thumb for writers: Write the books you want to read. I’m so happy whenever writers like Jennifer Chivavirini, Marie Bostwick and Sandra Dallas come out with new quilting novels–I wish more quilters wrote books! So it makes sense that if I love reading books about quilting, I should write one.
  • What draws you to quilting? I’ve always loved quilts. For many years I was convinced that I’d never be able to make a quilt (I’m math phobic, for one thing), and when I finally realized I could, quilting became my new passion. I recently interviewed novelist Marie Bostwick for my blog and asked her why she made quilts. Her answer: Because I can’t paint. I totally got it. Making quilts satisfies my artist soul (the one that can’t paint, alas).
  • How are quilting and writing similar; in what ways do they differ? With both quilting and writing, I revise a lot. I find this especially true now that I’m designing more of my own quilts. I mess up a lot in both endeavors, but find that sometimes my failures lead to good, unexpected places. Neither books nor quilts always end up being exactly what you intended them to be — for better and for worse. One thing that’s different about making quilts is that you’re constantly in motion, going from the cutting board to the sewing machine to the ironing board and back again. It’s great to move while I’m making something instead of just sitting in front of a computer.
  • How did the “Off-Kilter Quilt” podcast come about? I’d been making quilts for a few years when I discovered quilting podcasts. For the most part, these podcasts were homey and conversational, and I loved listening to the hosts talk about their projects and guild meetings, and hearing about the books they were reading and what they were having for dinner. For me, starting a podcast was like joining an ongoing conversation with other podcasters, which then became an ongoing conversation with my listeners, who leave comments, send me emails, and sometimes even come through town and have a cup of coffee with me. It’s a really wonderful, supportive community.

See what readers have been saying about Birds in the Air

“It is a wonderfully written novel with characters that I continue to think about long after I finished it. I found the characters charming and the plot intriguing–I’d love to move in right next door to Emma in Sweet Anne’s Gap.”

“I’m not a quilter but I enjoyed this tale of friendships and small town life… I’d like to see more from Dowell, as she has a nice touch.”

“As an elementary school librarian, I have read and enjoyed Dowell’s children’s book and was eager to read her first foray into adult fiction. So it should be no surprise that this awarding winning queen of exploring the ins and outs of friendships and not fitting in for the tween reader would see fertile ground for exploring the same themes in an adult book.”

“This was a wonderfully warm, exceptionally well-written novel and I couldn’t believe it when I noted I was almost finished with it.”

“I read it in one day, finding plenty of reasons not to do any of the housework (other than laundry) so that I could finish it.”

“Captivating story for those who love and appreciate how the art of quilting weaves people and lives together like a good novel does.”

“Quilting, quilt shows, writing, friendships, fitting in . . . throw in a bit of mystery. What more could a avid reading woman ask for?!”

“I love quilting but rarely read quilting fiction. This book was a happy exception.”

“It’s not the quilting that gets one hooked – it’s the quilters and their stories that keep us engaged.”

“I enjoyed this book by a new author (to me anyway) and hope she makes it the first of a series.”

“The author brings past quilting history and highlights how it functions in a community both in the past and in current times.”

“I really commend Francis for moving outside the square – of her writing genre – she certainly has shown she can write adult novels as well as children’s.”

“I tucked up under a quilt by the fire and spent many enjoyable hours with this book.”

“I would recommend this book to quilters and crafters of all sorts, as it examines the dynamics of how we get along with others as we meander down creative paths.”

“Put this on your Must Read list.”

“I can so identity with Emma, Angie, and even Christine. Keep them coming, Frances.”

“As a quilter it was fun to read a book written by someone who understands the social ties and sense of community we quilters have with each other.”

“I love how Frances uses quilt-isms throughout the book!”

“Dowell was able to get my mind into that town and its drama easily enough for me to lose track of time.”

“Enjoyable read that starts out deceptively simple and then starts to layer on the plot and draws you in even more.”

“Quilters would definitely enjoy this story, but so would the uninitiated, because it’s really about a woman finding her “people.””

“Frances … created a smart story where the characters see like real people.”

“I found myself smiling along reading about Emma’s journey as a new quilter.”

“I enjoyed being transported to Sweet Anne’s Gap, NC.”

Such an enjoyable read!

Delightful. A great mystery with history and drama thrown in.

I hope to see more books for adults from Mrs. Dowell soon.

“Loved the story hope there are more to come”

It is a great read and hard to put down”

“Great slice of life story involving small town America, new beginnings, and quilts.”

“It was great. Love the characters and the quilting.”

“The characters are fascinating, alive, and wonderfully believable.”

Birds in the Air was a pleasure to read, beginning to end”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Quilting Novels of Marie Bostwick

“As far as writing, I’d like to live long enough to write 50 full-length novels. I’ve got 38 to go.

I’d like to do that well, too. Really well.” –An Interview with Marie Bostwick on The Off-Kilter Quilt blog

A Single Thread (Cobbled Quilt #1) by Marie Bostwick

A Single Thread (Cobbled Quilt #1)

by Marie Bostwick

Marie Bostwick weaves the unforgettable story of four very different women whose paths cross, changing their lives forever . . . It’s a long way from Fort Worth, Texas, to New Bern, Connecticut, yet it only takes a day in the charming Yankee town to make Evelyn Dixon realize she’s found her new home. The abrupt end of her marriage was Evelyn’s wake-up call to get busy chasing her dream of opening a quilt shop. Finding a storefront is easy enough; starting a new life isn’t. Little does Evelyn imagine it will bring a trio like Abigail Burgess, her niece Liza, and Margot Matthews through her door . . . Troubled and angry after her mother’s death, Liza threatens to embarrass her Aunt Abigail all over town unless she joins her for quilting classes. A victim of downsizing at the peak of her career, Margot hopes an event hosted by the quilt shop could be a great chance to network-and keep from dying of boredom . . . As they stitch their unique creations, Evelyn, Abigail, Liza, and Margot form a sisterhood they never sought-but one that they’ll be grateful for when the unexpected provides a poignant reminder of the single thread that binds us all.

Marie Bostwick was born and raised in the northwest. In the three decades since her marriage, Marie and her family have moved frequently, living in eight different states at eighteen different addresses, three of them in Texas. These experiences have given Marie a unique perspective that enables her to write about people from all walks of life and corners of the country with insight and authenticity. Marie currently resides in Connecticut where she enjoys writing, spending time with family, helping out at church, gardening, collecting fabric, and stitching quilts.


A Thread of Truth (Cobbled Quilt #2) by Marie Bostwick

A Thread of Truth (Cobbled Quilt #2)

by Marie Bostwick

Come home to Marie Bostwick’s poignant novel of new beginnings, old friends, and the rich, varied tapestry of lives fully lived. . .

At twenty-seven, having fled an abusive marriage with little more than her kids and the clothes on her back, Ivy Peterman figures she has nowhere to go but up. Quaint, historic New Bern, Connecticut, seems as good a place as any to start fresh. With a part-time job at the Cobbled Court Quilt Shop and budding friendships, Ivy feels hopeful for the first time in ages.

But when a popular quilting TV show is taped at the quilt shop, Ivy’s unwitting appearance in an on-air promo alerts her ex-husband to her whereabouts. Suddenly, Ivy is facing the fight of her life–one that forces her to face her deepest fears as a woman and a mother. This time, however, she’s got a sisterhood behind her: companions as complex, strong, and lasting as the quilts they stitch.


A Thread So Thin (Cobbled Quilt #3) by Marie Bostwick

A Thread So Thin (Cobbled Quilt #3)

by Marie Bostwick

While New Bern, Connecticut, lies under a blanket of snow, the Cobbled Court Quilt Shop remains a cozy haven for its owner, Evelyn Dixon, and her friends. Evelyn relishes winter’s slower pace–besides, internet sales are hopping, thanks to her son Garrett’s efforts. In addition to helping out at the shop, Garrett has also been patiently waiting for his girlfriend, Liza, to finish art school in New York City. But as much as Evelyn loves Liza, she wonders if it’s a good idea for her son to be so serious, so soon, with a young woman who’s just getting ready to spread her wings. . .

Liza’s wondering the same thing–especially after Garrett rolls out the red carpet for a super-romantic New Year’s Eve–complete with marriage proposal. Garrett’s the closest thing to perfect she’s ever known, but what about her own imperfections? The only happy marriage Liza’s ever seen is her Aunt Abigail’s, and it took her decades to tie the knot. Soon, Liza is not only struggling with her own fears, but with the mixed reactions of her friends and family. And when she finds herself torn between a rare career opportunity and her love for Garrett, Liza must grasp at the thinnest of threads–and pray it holds. . .


Threading the Needle (Cobbled Quilt #4) by Marie Bostwick

Threading the Needle (Cobbled Quilt #4)

by Marie Bostwick

From New York Times bestselling author Marie Bostwick comes a beautiful novel of sisterhood lost and found–and of the ways we create the rich tapestries that encompass the past and the future…

The economic downturn has hit New Bern, Connecticut, and Tessa Woodruff’s herbal apothecary shop, For the Love of Lavender, is suffering. So is her once-happy thirty-four-year marriage to Lee. They’d given up everything to come back to New Bern from Boston and start their business, but now they’re wondering if they made the right decision. To relieve the strain, Tessa signs up for a quilting class at the Cobbled Court Quilt Shop, and to her surprise, rediscovers the power of sisterhood–along with the childhood friend she thought she’d lost forever…

Madelyn Beecher left New Bern twenty years ago and never looked back. But when her husband is convicted of running a Ponzi scheme and she’s left with nothing but her late grandmother’s cottage, she is forced to return to the town she fled. Unfortunately, the cottage is in terrible shape. Madelyn’s only hope is to transform it into an inn. But to succeed, she’ll need the help of her fellow quilters, including the one friend she never thought she’d see again–or forgive. Now Madelyn and Tessa will have to relive old memories, forge new ones, and realize it’s possible to start over, one stitch at a time–as long as you’re surrounded by friends…


Ties That Bind (Cobbled Quilt #5) by Marie Bostwick

Ties That Bind (Cobbled Quilt #5)

by Marie Bostwick

Christmas is fast approaching, and New Bern, Connecticut, is about to receive the gift of a new pastor, hired sight unseen to fill in while Reverend Tucker is on sabbatical. Meanwhile, Margot Matthews’ friend, Abigail, is trying to match-make even though Margot has all but given up on romance. She loves her job at the Cobbled Court Quilt Shop and the life and friendships she’s made in New Bern; she just never thought she’d still be single on her fortieth birthday.

It’s a shock to the entire town when Phillip A. Clarkson turns out to be Philippa. Truth be told, not everyone is happy about having a female pastor. Yet despite a rocky start, Philippa begins to settle in–finding ways to ease the townspeople’s burdens, joining the quilting circle, and forging a fast friendship with Margot. When tragedy threatens to tear Margot’s family apart, that bond–and the help of her quilting sisterhood–will prove a saving grace. And as she untangles her feelings for another new arrival in town, Margot begins to realize that it is the surprising detours woven into life’s fabric that provide its richest hues and deepest meaning.


Between Heaven and Texas (Cobbled Quilt, #6)

Between Heaven and Texas (Cobbled Quilt, #6)

by Marie Bostwick

In this luminous prequel to her beloved Cobbled Court Quilts series, New York Times bestselling author Marie Bostwick takes readers into the heart of a small Texas town and the soul of a woman who discovers her destiny there.

Welcome to Too Much–where the women are strong-willed and the men are handsome yet shiftless. Ever since Mary Dell Templeton and her twin sister Lydia Dale were children, their Aunt Velvet has warned them away from local boys. But it’s well known that the females in Mary Dell’s family have two traits in common–superior sewing skills and a fatal weakness for men.

While Lydia Dale grows up petite and pretty, Mary Dell just keeps growing. Tall, smart, and sassy, she is determined to one day turn her love of sewing into a business. Meanwhile, she’ll settle for raising babies with her new husband, Donny. But that dream proves elusive too, until finally, Mary Dell gets the son she always wanted–a child as different as he is wonderful. And as Mary Dell is forced to reconsider what truly matters in her family and her marriage, she begins to piece together a life that, like the colorful quilts she creates, will prove vibrant, rich, and absolutely unforgettable.


Apart at The Seams (Cobbled Quilt, #7) by Marie Bostwick

Apart at The Seams (Cobbled Quilt, #7)

by Marie Bostwick

New York Times bestselling author Marie Bostwick welcomes readers back to picturesque New Bern, Connecticut–a perfect place for a woman whose marriage is in turmoil to discover a new pattern for living. . .

Twice in her life, college counselor Gayla Oliver fell in love at first sight. The first time was with Brian–a lean, longhaired, British bass player. Marriage followed quickly, then twins, and gradually their bohemian lifestyle gave way to busy careers in New York. Gayla’s second love affair is with New Bern, Connecticut. Like Brian, the laid back town is charming without trying too hard. It’s the ideal place to buy a second home and reignite the spark in their twenty-six year marriage. Not that Gayla is worried. At least, not until she finds a discarded memo in which Brian admits to a past affair and suggests an amicable divorce.

Devastated, Gayla flees to New Bern. Though Brian insists he’s since recommitted to his family, Gayla’s feelings of betrayal may go too deep for forgiveness. Besides, her solo sabbatical is a chance to explore the creative impulses she sidelined long ago–quilting, gardening, and striking up new friendships with the women of the Cobbled Court circle–particularly Ivy, a single mother confronting fresh starts and past hurts of her own. With all of their support, Gayla just might find the courage to look ahead, decide which fragments of her old life she wants to keep, which are beyond repair–and how to knot the fraying ends until a bold new design reveals itself. . .

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