Signs in the Stitching


Karen Anderson




Hall Elementary


Monrovia, IN


(Overall theme)

Quilts as Signposts on the Underground Railroad

Underground Railroad routes through Indiana

Classroom sessions or estimated time

3-5 sessions of 45 minutes each

Prior exposure to literature of the Civil War era, both fiction and nonfiction, would enhance the lesson.

Grade Level(s)



*      To familiarize students with Underground Railroad routes through Indiana

*      To introduce students to oral traditions in history

*      To allow students to utilize creative expression through art and story-writing

*Geography Standards Addressed

2. How to use mental maps to organize information about people, places, and environments in a spatial context

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

9. The characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations on earth’s surface

12. The processes, patterns, and functions of human settlement

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

*Indiana Social Studies Academic Standards addressed

4.1.11 Describe how changes in politics, immigration, migration, early transportation, and the economy influenced the early growth of the new state of Indiana.

Example: Formation of counties, movement of state capitol from Corydon to Indianapolis, Internal Improvement Act (1836), the 1837 Depression, canal and road

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

Examples: Levi and Catherine Coffin, The Underground Railroad, religious groups, the abolition and anti-slavery movement.

4.1.13 Explain the participation of Indiana citizens in the Civil War. Examples: Indiana’s volunteer soldiers, the Twenty-eighth Regiment of the United States Colored Troops, Camp Morton, resistance movements, and women on the home front.

4.3.2 Estimate distances between two places on a map, using a scale of miles, and use cardinal* and intermediate* directions when referring to relative location.  *Cardinal directions: North, south, east, and west  *Intermediate directions: Northeast, southeast, northwest, and southwest

4.3.10 On a map, trace the routes and methods of travel used by settlers to reach Indiana, and identify ways in which settlers have changed the landscape in Indiana over the past two hundred years.


4.5.1 Identify ways that social groups* influence individual behavior and responsibilities.  *Social group: A group of people who share common goals and interests.  Example: When people belong to a group they usually interact with each other frequently and follow the rules of the group.

4.5.2 Give possible reasons that individuals decide to become members of social groups and give examples of the responsibilities people have when they belong to a group.

Examples: People may join social groups to have fun, be with other people, play a sport or a musical instrument, develop talents, learn new things, help others, work for a particular goal, etc. When individuals belong to a social group, they are responsible for participating in group activities.

4.5.3 Identify the different types of social groups to which people belong and the functions these groups perform.

Example: Social groups may have social, religious, recreational, cultural, educational, service, civic, political, or other functions.

4.5.4 Define the term cultural group*, identify the challenges faced by diverse cultural groups in Indiana history, and give examples of both conflict and cooperation among groups.  *Cultural group: A group of people who share common language, religion, customs

4.5.5 Locate and explain the settlement patterns of various cultural, racial, and religious groups in Indiana of the past and present.

4.5.6 Give examples of the impacts of science and technology* on the migration and settlement patterns of various groups.  *Technology: The knowledge of how to make things, as well as the invention and development of tools, machines, and skills by humans.  Example: The invention of the steam engine changed the technology of travel and made it easier for immigrants to reach Indiana.

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.

4.5.9 Use primary sources, such as artifacts*, interviews, and documents* to acquire information about cultural life in Indiana.  *Artifact: A three-dimensional object made by human beings, such as a tool or musical instrument   *Document: A two-dimensional object, such as a letter, chart, map, drawing, painting, or photograph

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.



1.      Students will use primary sources to develop an understanding of Underground Railroad routes through Indiana.

2.      Students will be introduced to the tradition of oral histories regarding use of quilts as signposts for these routes.

3.      Students will exercise their creativity by designing an original quilt and a written explanation of its meaning.

4.      Students will utilize media/technology skills by developing a media presentation of the finished product using a format of his/her choice.




*Teacher Background Materials

Primary Sources

*      Ayres, Edward L. “The Valley of the Shadow: Living the Civil War in Pennsylvania and Virginia. http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/vshadow/vshadow.html as accessed 8/26/01 2:05 PM.

This project interweaves the histories of two communities on either side of the Mason-Dixon line during the era of the American Civil War. It also combines a narrative and an electronic archive of the sources on which the narrative is based.


*      “Documenting the American South” http://metalab.unc.edu/docsouth/dasmain.html as accessed 8/26/01 at 1:00 pm.  University of North Carolina.

This website provides primary sources on Southern history, culture, and literature from the colonial period through 1920.  I became aware of this site as a result of the UGRR Institute.


*      Exploring a Common Past: Researching and Interpreting the Underground Railroad. U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, History Office, National Register, History and Education. 1998.

Excellent site for researching the Underground Railroad.  I became aware of this site as a result of the UGRR Institute.


*      Underground Railroad. Official National Park Handbook, No. 156. Division of Publications, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. 1996.

Excellent outline of the Underground Railroad with good illustrations.  I became aware of this site as a result of the UGRR Institute.


*      The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. http://www.undergroundrailroad.org/index.asp as accessed 8/26/01 at 1:15 pm.

This is a good site for collaborative learning projects in the classroom.  I became aware of this site as a result of the UGRR Institute.


*      Taking the Train to Freedom—Underground Railroad: Special Resources Study from the National Park Service. http://www.nps.gov/undergroundrr/  as accessed 8/26/01 at 1:20 PM.

Good site for tracing routes taken by fugitive slaves.  I became aware of this site as a result of the UGRR Institute.


*      Jacobs, Harriet A.  Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. New York: Signet. 2000. 


*      Howell, Donna Wyant. I Was a Slave: True Life Stories Dictated by Former American Slaves in the 1930’s Book 1: Descriptions of Plantation Life. Washington, DC American Legacy Books. 1995.

This book is part one of a series of various aspects of slave life.  I purchased this book during the UGRR Institute.


*      Bentley, Judith. “Dear Friend” Thomas Garrett & William Still: Collaborators on the Underground Railroad. Lodestar Books. 1997.

Based on correspondence between William Still and Thomas Garrett demonstrating the efforts of the two men to help slaves escape to freedom.


*      Tobin, Jacqueline L. and Dobard, Raymond G.  Hidden In Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad. New York. Doubleday. 1999.

Based on an oral history passed down through the generations and on other research, this book outlines a quilt code by which messages were relayed for slaves escaping on the Underground Railroad.


Sites to Visit

*      “Follow the North Star” program at Connor Prairie Pioneer Settlement, 13400 Allisonville Rd., Fishers, IN 46038 phone: 317.776.6006 or 1.800.966.1836  http://www.connerprairie.org

In this immersion program, older students and adults will portray fugitives attempting to escape on the Underground Railroad.


*      Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum, Monument Circle, Indianapolis, IN phone: 317.232.7615 http://www.indianacivilwar.org

The museum reflects the war experiences of residents from all regions of Indiana.


*      Levi Coffin State Historic Site, P.O. Box 77, 113 U.S. 27 N, Fountain City, IN 47431 phone 765.847.2432

This site is the home of Levi Coffin, reputed ‘president of the Underground Railroad.’


*      Menno-Hof Mennonite-Amish Visitors Center, Box 701, Shipshewana, IN  46565  phone 219.768.4117

Although this center reflects the Amish culture, it is an interesting source for information on quilts and quilt patterns.


*      Making of America webpage http://moa.umdl.umich.edu/ as accessed 8/26/01 at 1:57 PM.

Making of America (MOA) is a digital library of primary sources in American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction.


*      Quilt Designs, 1100 Chicago Ave., Goshen, IN  46528  phone: 219.534.5111

This shop offers quilts for sale as well as demonstrations of the craft of quiltmaking.


*      The Lincoln Museum 200 E. Berry St., P.O. Box 7838, Fort Wayne, IN  45801-7838  phone: 219.455.3864  http://www.TheLincolnMuseum.org

A good collection of artifacts of the life of Abraham Lincoln, including information regarding the Underground Railroad.  I became aware of this site during the UGRR Institute.


Secondary Sources

*      “African American Quilting Traditions” http://xroads.virginia.edu/~UG97/quilt/atrads.html as accessed 8/26/01 2:55 PM.

Interesting site for quilts specific to African Americans.


*      “Design a Safe House Floor Plan” http://www.mmhschool.com/teach/ss/adventuresintimeandplace/teachres/weblesson/NY-4-4-3-8-1.html as accessed 8/26/01 3:05 PM.

Lesson plan for an Underground Railroad activity by MacMillan/McGraw Hill.


*      “Geography - Economics Lessons Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt” http://www.mcps.k12.md.us/curriculum/socialstd/grade5/Sweet_Clara.html as accessed 8/26/01 3:02 PM.

Lots of ideas for lessons on the Underground Railroad.


*      “Our Virtual Underground Railroad Quilt.” Mr. Leahy’s Class http://www.beavton.k12.or.us/Greenway/leahy/ugrr/index.htm as accessed 8/26/01 at 2:52 PM.

Class project on the Underground Railroad and a virtual quilt they created.


*      “Paint a Quilt.”  “Teacher’s Stuff” from the Michigan Historical Center. http://www.sos.state.mi.us/history/museum/techstuf/civilwar/quilt.html as accessed 8/26/01 2:54 PM.

A lesson plan for creating an Underground Railroad quilt, including background information.


*      “The Underground Railroad” http://tlc.ai.org/undergro.htm as accessed 8/26/01 3:08 PM.

Page of links by the K-12 teaching and Learning Center.


*      American Memory Library of Congress Selected Civil War Photographs. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/cwphtml/cwphome.html as accessed 8/26/01 at 1:52 PM.

Site contains links to photographs of the Civil War.


*      Asante, Molefi K.  Historical and Cultural Atlas of African Americans. New York: MacMillan. 1992.

An excellent resource for all aspects of African American culture.


*      Bonesteel, Georgia.  Lap Quilting With Georgia Bonesteel.

Another good source for quilt designs and patterns.


*      Brackman, Barbara.  Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns.  American Quilters Society. 1993.

Good source for patterns.


*      Herbert, Janis. The Civil War for Kids: A History with 21 Activities. Chicago: Chicago Review Press. 1999.

Good source of activities to use with kids.  I purchased this book during the UGRR Institute.


*      http://education.ucdavis.edu/NEW/STC/lesson/socstud/railroad/contents.htm as accessed 8/26/01 at 1:50 PM.  This site was produced as a distance learning project for the U.C. Davis Division of Education. Although it is no longer updated, it contains links to lots of information regarding the Underground Railroad.


*      http://ericir.syr.edu/Virtual/Lessons/crossroads/sec3/gr4/unit6/u6-G4-HEAD.html as accessed 8/26/01 2:00 PM.

Lesson plan for the Civil War.


*      http://womenfolk.com/grandmothers/civilwar.htm as accessed 8/26/01 3:10 PM.

Interesting article about use of quilts during the Civil War era.


*      King, David C. Civil War Days: Discover the Past with Exciting Projects, Games, Activities, and Recipes. New York: John Wiley and Sons. 1999.

Another good source of activities to use with kids.  I purchased this book during the UGRR Institute.


*      Leahy, David. “Underground Railroad” Teacher resources. http://www.beavton.k12.or.us/Greenway/leahy/ugrr/resource.htm as accessed 8/26/01 1:58 PM.



*      Multnomah County Library Homework Center African American Sites. http://www.multnomah.lib.or.us/lib/homework/aframhc.html#underRR as accessed 8/26/01 at 1:55 PM.

Numerous links to sites regarding African American history and culture.


*      The Civil War Home Page http://www.civil-war.net/ as accessed 8/26/01 2:03 PM.  Links to Civil War sites.

*      The North Kenwood/Oakland Charter School resents A Gateway to African American History - SLAVERY TIMES http://charter.uchicago.edu/AAH/slave.htm

Links to websites on slavery and related topics.


*      Themes: The Underground Railroad.  Connecting Students. http://www.connectingstudents.com/themes/ugrr.htm as accessed 8/26/01 at 2:50 PM.

Numerous links to sites regarding the Underground Railroad.


*      Thomas, Velma Maia. Freedom's Children: the Passage from Emancipation to the Great Migration. New York: Random House. 2000

An excellent interactive book with facsimiles of original documents.  I purchased this book during the UGRR Institute.

*      Wayne, Renee Lucas.  “Threads of history?
Researcher says encoded quilts signaled slaves along the Underground Railroad” http://www.philly.com/packages/history/life/railroad/FCOV02.asp  Article regarding quilts as symbols on the Underground Railroad.




*      Beatty, Patricia. Who Comes With Cannons?  Greenwillow Books. 1992.

In 1861 twelve-year-old Truth, a Quaker girl from Indiana, is staying with relatives who run a North Carolina station of the Underground Railroad, when her world is changed by the beginning of the Civil War.


*          Brill, Marlene Targ.  Allen Jay and the Underground Railroad.  First Avenue Editions. 1993.

Recounts how Allen Jay, a young Quaker boy living in Ohio during the 1840s, helped a fleeing slave escape his master and make it to freedom through the Underground Railroad.


*      Carbone, Elisa. Stealing Freedom. Knopf: 1998.

This story is based on the events in the life of a young slave girl from Maryland who endures all sorts of mistreatment but eventually escapes to freedom in Canada.


*          Hopkinson, Deborah. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. New York: Random House. 1995. 

Clara’s quilted map helped many slaves find their way to freedom in Canada.


*      Houston, Gloria. Bright Freedom’s Song: A Story of the Underground Railroad. Silver Whistle. 1998.

In the years before the Civil War, Bright discovers that her parents are providing a safe house for the Underground Railroad.


*      McKissack, Patricia. A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl. Belmont Plantation,1859 (Dear America : 5)  Scholastic Trade. 1997.

Story of the life of a slave girl in a journal format.


*      Smucker, Barbara. Runaway to Freedom: A Story of the Underground Railway. Harper. 1979.

This story of escape from Mississippi to Canada by Julilli and Liza is based on first-hand experiences found in the narratives of fugitive slaves; on a careful study of the Underground Railroad routes; and on the activities of two Abolitionists: Alexander M. Ross of Canada and Levi Coffin of Ohio.


*      Turner, Glennette Turner. Running for Our Lives. Holiday House. 1994.

A family of fugitive slaves becomes separated while escaping to freedom on the Underground Railroad.


*          Vande Velde, Vivian. There’s a Dead Person Following My Sister Around. New York: Puffin. 2001.

Eleven-year-old Ted becomes concerned when his five-year-old sister, Vicki, claims to have seen two female ghosts.  He later learns their house was once a stop on the Underground Railroad. 


*      Winter, Jeanette. Follow the Drinking Gourd. Knopf. 1992.

By following the directions in a song, “The Drinking Gourd”, taught them by an old sailor named Peg Leg Joe, runaway slaves journey north along the Underground Railroad to freedom in Canada.


*      Wright, Courtni C.  Journey to Freedom: A Story of the Underground Railroad. Holiday House. 1997.

Joshua and his family, runaway slaves from a tobacco plantation in Kentucky, follow the Underground Railroad with Harriet Tubman as their guide to freedom.


*Purpose of Materials

In this lesson, the teacher acts as a facilitator for students as they research the topics related to the dual theme of Underground Railroad routes through Indiana and quilts as signposts on these routes.  By becoming familiar with the Civil War era in general and the Underground Railroad specifically, the teacher is better able to assist the students in their search for resources and in examining the validity of the information they find.


The teacher should be aware that while several of these resources are appropriate for students, some are more suited for use by the teacher as background information.


The instructor (teacher or media specialist) will assign each student to a small group or to a partner.  The instructor should suggest that the group members/partners divide the research topics among themselves, then meet to share the results.  The students will collaborate on the quilt design and the presentation.

There are five main components to the lesson.  The tasks for each step may be accomplished during class time, as “homework,” or a combination.

1.      The students will be instructed to use sources such as maps and written accounts to research known Underground Railroad routes (through their state, if possible).  They will choose one route and note its length as well as major cities and landforms along the way. 

2.      The second task is for the students to research the various uses of quilts during the Civil War era (allow them to use fiction as well as nonfiction).  Point out that although the symbolism varies from one region to another, they should try to find some generalizations.  The students should note that individual aspects, such as the color, number and placement of stitching or knots, a pattern, or the placement of a quilt may have had its own significance.

3.      The third component is for the student group to choose patterns (or design their own) for nine quilt blocks.  For each of them, they students will establish a meaning and how it relates to the route they have chosen.  The group should make a rough sketch arranging your blocks into a quilt three blocks wide and three blocks long.

4.      Now the groups will make a quilt.  Students should be allowed to choose whether they accomplish this by drawing or painting their design, by using construction paper or gift wrap and gluing pieces together, or by making the quilt from fabric.  (The teacher may want to limit choices depending on the amount of time available to complete the lesson.)

5.      The students will be sharing their 'stitched signpost' with others through a media presentation.  Some suggested media for the presentation include a PowerPoint or HyperStudio project, a video, an oral documentary, or a written document.  If the students have another idea for their presentation, allow them to discuss it with you.

Presentations may be done within the class, before a larger group including students, parents, and community members, as a display or website, or in any other manner by which their work may be shared.



*Teaching Strategies

*      This lesson is planned to be presented as a WebQuest, which may be presented by the classroom teacher or the media specialist.  Media/ technology skills are integrated, as are fine arts, literature, and creative writing.

*      The teacher may choose to print out the lesson from the web and present each step as a separate lesson.

*      The teacher may choose to assign the lesson to individual students as an enrichment extended research project.

*      This lesson may be presented by a team of teachers including the teachers for art, language arts, social studies, library/media, etc.  Spirituals and other songs of the area may by presented by including the music teacher.

*Assessments (key questions to simulate critical thinking)

It is essential that the students are made aware of the expectations for the lesson and the final project early in the process.  This allows the students to budget their time to plan and carry out the required tasks and meet the established deadlines.


For students, self-evaluation is a valuable experience which allows them to reflect on their thought processes and their work throughout the project.  This evaluation may be accomplished through strategies such as checklists, a rubric, or daily journaling activities.


The teacher should evaluate the daily progress of the students and their effectiveness in working with others as well as the final product.  Suggested strategies for teacher evaluation are periodic conferences/interviews, daily observation, checklists, or a rubric.


Adaptations and/or Extensions

This lesson may be modified for younger students or those who have special learning needs.  For example, routes through Indiana may be presented by the teacher rather than researched by the students.  The teacher may choose to have each student complete one block, then combine them into a class quilt.


“Signs in the Stitching” may be used by the teacher as a culminating activity for a longer unit of study of the Civil War.


Students may find it interesting to investigate the use of quilts and the development of quilt patterns throughout various time periods in United States history and the teacher may want to use quilts as an underlying year-long theme.


Secondary teachers of Indiana History, Geography, or United States History may use “Signs in the Stitching” by examining Underground Railroad routes in all areas of the United States.


By its nature, of a WebQuest integrates media/technology skills including conducting research through online and traditional methods, as well as presentation skills.  This thematic lesson also integrates curricular areas of literature, language arts, and creative writing as well as fine arts.



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