Making the Connection With Quilts


Julia Chambers




Otterbein Elementary


Otterbein    IN


(Overall theme)

Underground Railroad Quilt Code

Classroom sessions or estimated time

Three to four  40 minute class sessions

Grade Level(s)



To integrate the study of the Underground Railroad in Indiana with a Language Arts unit on quilts.

*Geography Standards Addressed

4.The physical and human characteristics of place

6. How culture and experience influence people’s perception of places and regions

9. The characteristics, distribution, and migration of human population on earth’s service

13. How the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of earth’s surface

17 How to use geography to interpret the past


*Indiana Social Studies Academic Standards addressed

 4.1.12 Explain the roles of various individuals, groups, and movement in the social conflicts leading to the Civil War.

4.1.16 Identify various social and political movements and explain the roles they play in the state’s development.

4.1.20 Describe how changes in immigration, migration, transportation, and the economy influenced the continued development of Indiana.

4.1.21 Identify social and political movements and events that changed life in Indiana in the twentieth century.

4.5.8 Identify the contributions and challenges experienced by people from various cultural, racial, and religious groups in Indiana during different historical periods by reading biographies, historical accounts, and stories.

4.5.10 Plan and carry out activities that will contribute to the cultural life of the school and community using museums, theaters, libraries, historical and architectural sites, and other cultural institutions.


*To integrate the study of the Underground Railroad into a language arts unit about quilts

*While studying the Underground Railroad students will discover how slaves were assisted on their journey to freedom with the use of a code that was displayed in different quilt blocks.

*Students will also read a variety of literature about quilts and quilting.

*Through the study of Indiana history and literature students will discover the connection quilts have to ancestry and family legacies as well as immigration.

*Students will work with pattern blocks to discover the lines, angles, shapes, patterns, and symmetry used in quilt design.

*Students will design or reproduce a quilt block on the computer (or paper) to be sewn (to be pasted) into a classroom quilt.

*Students or and adult volunteer will assemble of the quilt blocks into a finished quilt.

* The quilt will be displayed at the school to serve as a reminder of Indiana’s role in the Underground Railroad.


*Teacher Background Materials

*Collection of children’s literature (fiction, non-fiction, and biographies) about quilts, see list on resource page

*Variety of books on quilt design and quilt history from the school or public library

*Quilts to display in the classroom

*Pattern blocks

*Black lined masters of quilt blocks

*Materials for printing quilt blocks on the computer- freezer paper, lightweight muslin, and iron.  Directions for putting this together are attached.

*A computer draw/paint program (AppleWorks or Kid Pix), and a color printer

**There is a great teacher resource I ordered from Really Good Stuff that contained black lined masters, background information, and a quilt code key that made this activity extremely easy.  Check out the link below  and look for the Underground Railroad Quilt Set  item #120018 $5.95



Teacher Resources

Underground Railroad Quilt Set, available from reallygoodstuff.com

Quilting Activities Across the Curriculum by Wendy Buchberg, published by Scholastic ISBN 0-590-96558-1

Easy Literature-Based Quilts Around the Year by Mariann Cigrand and Phyllis Howard, published by Scholastic ISBN 0-439-13898-1

Thematic Unit Quilts by Susan A Zimmerman, published by Teacher Created Materials, Inc. ISBN 1-57690-116-5

Hidden In Plain View by Jacqueline l. Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard, Ph.D. ISBN 0-385-49767-9


Avery, Kristin. The Crazy Quilt. Goodyear Books, 1994.

Coerr, Eleanor. The Josephina Story Quilt. HarperCollins, 1989.

Ernst, Lisa Campbell. Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt. Lothrop LB, 1983.

Flournoy, Valerie. The Patchwork Quilt. Dial LB, 1985

Hopkinson, Deborah. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. Knopf, 1993.

Jonas, Ann. The Quilt Story. Putnam Publications, 1992.

Mills, Lauren. The Rag Coat. Little, Brown, 1991.

Paul, An W. Eight Hands Round. HarperCollins, 1991.

Polacco, Patricia. The Keeping Quilt. Simon & Schuster, 1993.

Winter, Jeanette. Follow the Drinking Gourd.






Picture of the Quilt created by my class:

*Purpose of Materials

*Using fiction, non-fiction, and biographies the students will acquire an understanding of quilts and the significance of quilts in their history and heritage.

*Looking at and touching actual quilts will give the students a better understanding and appreciation of quilts and the work that goes into making one.

*Using the pattern blocks students will be able to manipulate colors and shapes as they explore and design quilt blocks.

*Muslin and freezer paper allow you to transfer your colored design from your computer onto cloth instead of paper.

*You need to have a computer program that will allow you to draw and manipulate lines and shapes that also includes a paint program.


It would be nice to time this project so that the quilt would be finished in February for Black History month.  You may also want to call your local newspaper and ask them to do a story on your class and the quilt.

Students have been studying the Underground Railroad in their Indiana History class

Prior to your first session ask the students or other teachers if they could bring in quilts to be displayed in the classroom.  If there is someone that quilts in the community it would be great to have them come to the class to give a demonstration on quilting.

Session 1 Teacher will read and discuss a variety of quilt stories with the students.  A great book to end with is Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. After reading and discussion allow time for students to reread the books by themselves or with a partner.   Also give the students a chance to look at books you have on quilt design.  This will give them a chance to see many quilt designs and the beautiful combination of colors used by various quilters.

Session 2 Review Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt.  Tell students that they will be making a quilt.  The quilt will contain quilt blocks that slaves used as a code on their journey of freedom on the Underground Railroad.  Show the students a variety of quilt blocks from your teacher resources and discuss the meaning of each one.  Tell them the meanings may not be accurate since nothing was ever written down about the code or the designs.  The code was passed through word of mouth from generation to generation and may not have had the same meaning in all areas.  We will be using meanings that are available to us at this time. They are not necessarily ones used by runaway slaves in Indiana.

Allow each student to pick a quilt block to reproduce on the computer or assign them.  I asked for volunteers to reproduce the more difficult ones. I give the students a black lined copy of their quilt block and ask them to color it with crayons.  The colors they choose will be the same colors they use with the paint program on the computer.  This will save them time when they get to the computer.  Have some extra copies for those that change their minds.

Session 3 and 4 Using AppleWorks or Kid Pix have the students go to the draw program.  Make a 6X6 square with a heavy black outline. Everyone must have the same size square to make the quilt uniform.  Inside the square use lines and shapes to reproduce their design and then color it with the paint program.  I had them each type the name of the quilt block and their own name on the block under the design. Save the design.  Using the muslin/freezer paper print out the design.  Allow the ink to dry for about 30 minutes before removing the paper from the cloth.

Finishing quilt  The quilt blocks are then joined together to make one large quilt.  My mother-in-law was kind enough to assemble the quilt for my class.  Ask around the community for a volunteer to assemble the quilt.  If you are brave and have a lot of time you can have the students do the work.  The quilt we made had 20 blocks.  I repeated some to make an even number and added a description block with the year and class on it. 

Quilt party-Once the quilt is all finished and ready to hang have a quilt party to celebrate.  Invite the person that assembled the quilt for you, parents, and the principal.


*Teaching Strategies

Direct instruction, peer reading, discussion, computers, manipulation of shapes and color, making a finished product, and oral presentation

*Assessments (key questions to simulate critical thinking)

Each student will write a book report on one of the quilt books we read in class.  The report will be shared with the class.

Each student will design a quilt block for the classroom quilt.

Each student will be able to tell the class and visitors the meaning of their quilt block.

The quilt will then be hung in a prominent place in the school for the students and community to view.


Adaptations and/or Extensions

If you do not have computers or a draw program available the quilt could be made out of paper, material, or felt and glued onto paper.  You could also use fabric crayons if a color printer is not available.

As an extension students could:

*Produce a Power Point presentation using all of the quilt block designs. 

*Research other codes used by runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad.

*Research quilts

*Do further research on the Underground Railroad