“The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses used by 19th-century slaves of African descent in the United States to escape to free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause.[1] The term is also applied to the abolitionists, both black and white, free and enslaved, who aided the fugitives.”  (wikipedia)

Some of my ancestors were slave owners (something I didn’t learn until I was in my 30s) and some fought in the Confederate army.   Growing up in a small, rural Southern town within a stone’s throw of Andersonville, I had a somewhat skewed historical education about what happened during “The War of Northern Oppression.”  As a teenager, I lived in Utah and heard a somewhat less romanticized version.  And probably more accurate.

One thing I didn’t learn about in school was the theory of the Underground Railroad quilts.  The idea is that safe houses along the Underground Railroad hung quilts with specific blocks or patterns from their windows so the fugitives would know which house to go to.  There is no evidence this really happened, and there are experts who argue both that this did take place and that it didn’t.  Since everyone involved has passed away, there’s no way we’ll know for certain.  But I love the idea of it.  The sight of a quilt in a window, offering the promise of a meal, of comfort.  Of Hope.

Every stitch of this block had me thinking about those slaves and the conductors and untold bravery.

2014-01-31 08.19.49To make the HST units, I cut two strips of contrasting colors, 2 1/2″ wide and 12″ long.  I sewed a 1/4″ seam along both sides.  I then used a small 4 1/2″ square ruler and placed the diagonal line along the bottom seam and trimmed away the right side.  Then I slid the ruler up and matched the line with the top seam, and trimmed along the right edge of the ruler.  I repeated this all the way down the strip, leaving me with my 4 HST units, just waiting to have their seams pressed.




2014-01-31 08.21.57Before I pressed them, though, I took my #3 template, laid it on top of the triangles and trimmed them down to size.  My quilting math skills are still very much in their infancy.  Still, I quite like this method.





2014-01-31 08.40.58To make the 4-patches, I sewed two strips 1 1/2″ wide by 20″ long, then I pressed the whole strip to the dark side  Once pressed, I cut my strip-set into 1 1/2″ segments.  This gave me 10 segments that just needed to be paired up and have their seams nested together to match them up.  A quick bit of chain stitching, a good press, and all my four patches were done.

2014-01-31 08.55.41The block gets laid out with the top and bottom rows going 4-patch/HST/4-patch, and the center row going HST/4-patch/HST.  The light points of the HSTs all point toward the center.  The upper right/center/lower left 4-patches all have the dark fabric pointing to the upper right and lower left.  The two remaining 4-patches point the opposite direction.

Sew the mini blocks together in rows and press the seams.  Then sew the rows together, matching the seam lines, and give it a good press.

2014-01-31 09.00.27I don’t know why I didn’t realize this before, but if you made a bunch of these, you’d have a Jacob’s Ladder quilt.  Ladder, Railroad, no matter what you call it, it’s a striking block.