Sunday, November 21, 2010

By Popular Demand, More About the Quilt Barns

In the post below this one, the Shadow Shot Sunday offering, there seemed to be a lot of questions and surprise about the subject matter, Quilt Barns. Here are more facts about Quilt Barns in general and how this whole mess started.

In my Shadow Shot Sunday post, I used a couple of photos I took on a recent trip through the Southeast USA. These shots were of Quilt Barns, a barn where someone has either painted on a quilt pattern, or where the pattern was painted on wood and hung up at the peak of the barn roof.

One of the Quilt Barns I saw in Southeastern Tennessee while on a recent road trip
What amazed me, was that there were so many people who made comments to the effect that they had never seen this before, and also there were those that had never heard of it. I did a little research and found out it is a bit regional. Mostly in the Midwest and Eastern parts of the United States.
As I mentioned in my Shadow Shot post, my friend Mel, who pens the Mel’s Dream blog, has posted photos of Quilt Barns on her site. I’ve seen these before and when I saw so many in Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, I stopped and took a few photos to send to her. I noticed the shadows on the photos I took and decided to include these particular photos for Shadow Shot Sunday, a photo meme that comes from Tracy in Queensland, Australia.
Ironically, when I was in Clarks Hill, SC, the destination and reason for the trip I took in the first place, I had the honor of seeing the Georgia C. Scott Museum there. This small 100 plus year old school house has been transformed into a showcase of the memoirs of Mrs. Scott. More about this and the trip to Clarks Hill to come in the days ahead. Mrs. Scott is the 94 year old Elder, former school teacher and Matriarch of the Clarks Hill community.
But in that museum, Mrs. Scott, whose Grandparents, parents and herself as a child picked cotton, there was a display of quilts and quilt patterns. The story was told about how the pattern that was sewn actually gave out information and was a code used by slaves amongst themselves during the days of the underground railroad.
This excellent site, Owen Sound’s Black History, has a whole section about the Underground Railroad and the use of code in quilt patterns. These pattern messages would be sewn into quilts and hung for others to see and get information about traveling escape routes. When you go to the site, be sure to click on the More about Underground Railroad Quilt Code at the bottom of the page. The actual patterns will be shown and their meaning described.
This symbol is called Britches and indicates the escaping slave needed to dress as a free person
The above picture is the kind is of display Mrs. Scott had in her museum. Samples of the quilt patterns. More irony is that my journey down to Clarks Hill was for the purpose of seeing friends and family of a friend of mine that I had held in my arms as he died on the battlefield in Vietnam in 1969. In a synchronistic way, the family of my friend and I were joined a few years ago. Now, I make the trip yearly to stand with them as they honor Veterans.
In years past, an Ojibwe Spiritual Elder friend of mine from Northern Wisconsin, also a Veteran of the American war in Vietnam, has had me bring down gifts to the Elder Mrs. Scott. One gift was an Eagle feather. The traditional Ojibwe teaching is that the feather represented the Warrior Spirit of my friend and that I have been carrying that spirit with me for so many years. By bringing the Eagle feather to them, I was returning his spirit back to his community.
This year, my friend had a dream. In that dream,  I was to bring a blanket to the community. He chose the blanket. It was a Star Quilt pattern, showing the four directions. The number four represents many things. The four winds or directions, for example, and that the spirits are all around us and come from all directions and in all colors of mankind.

My friend Anthony and I holding up the Star Quilt given to Mrs. Scott for the Clarks Hill community

The blanket itself is given for many reasons. Mainly, I have seen it to honor people or as a gift to honor the dead. The Star Quilt I brought to Clarks Hill was for the whole community to honor the death of one of their own Veteran Warriors, my friend, Frazier T. Dixon. Mrs. Scott, being an Elder and held in high regard of that community, received the quilt on their behalf.
I brought this Star Quilt Blanket down with me to present to the Clarks Hill Community. In my travels I spotted the Quilt Barns and remembered my friend in Iowa and how much she likes the barns. I took photos. Then, in the small museum, I see this display of quilt patterns and how they were used as code in slavery days down South.
A lot of quilt business going down during this entire process. Now, I post a Shadow Shot and find many people interested in finding out more. Well, I did some searching and found page after page of material, (no pun intended), about Quilt Barns. Here are a few sites:

This one is a fantastic blog called Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail
Here’s one from Western Iowa

American Quilt Barns has many links to images and trails in over 25 states

And Here is another from Greenfield, Ohio

Anyway, This turned out to be such an interesting and thought provoking subject. And just yesterday, as I was sitting around the house relaxing, my phone rang and it was a reporter from the small town of McCormick, South Carolina. McCormick is a scant 20 miles North of Clarks Hill.
Last time I was in Clarks Hill, this woman did a story about the Veterans Program that Mrs. Scott puts on every year. She wrote about my visit and the importance of getting together and sharing the memory of Frazier Dixon, my friend, who perished in battle in the Republic of Vietnam on December 3, 1969.
Now, she was doing a story about the museum and Mrs. Scott had showed her the quilt I had given to them. The reporter asked me to tell her the meaning of the quilt pattern, the Star Quilt. I tell you, this quilt stuff just doesn’t quit. I might even learn to sew.
By the way, I have  Star Quilt that was given to me. I’ll post a photo of it and tell you about it and the mysterious journey it traveled some other time.

The Star Quilt gifted to me years ago, hanging in my old Westside Warehouse gallery and shop



urban muser said...

very interesting. we certainly don't have those where i live.

Dimple said...

Hi Spadoman,
I'm glad I came back, this post is really interesting. I followed the link to the Owen Sound page, it's info on quilt patterns is fascinating. I recognized some of the patterns I have seen and admired, but never knew their history. Thanks for the lesson!

Diane AZ said...

As a quiltmaker I am always interested in learning the history of quilt patterns. Quilt barns are new to me, but fascinating. Your star quilt is a beauty!

Noelle Clearwater said...

I am very happy that I dropped by your blog today. I looked at the post from yesterday to see the earlier photos. This post resonates deeply with me on a number of levels. I was first struck deeply by the history of the Quilt Barns and the use of certain patterns as "code" during the days of the Underground Railroad. I was reminded of a short story by Alice Walker called "Everyday Use". It is a modern story but it has to do with the history of quilts and their unique value to each member of an African American family. I think you might like it. Here is the link.
The second part of your post, regarding the Vietnam vet, who died in your arms moved me to tears. I know that the eagle feather is a very powerful symbol in Native American spirituality. I had an Ojibwe friend, years ago, who used to speak of seeing one and knowing that his day was going to be the better for it. I like knowing that it meant you were returning the spirit of your friend to his community. I love the symbolism of the quilt you brought as a gift and the four directions: "the spirits are all around us and come from all directions and in all colors of mankind." Finally, I really liked learning about quilt barns because, quite frankly, I knew nothing about them either so you have taught me a great deal today! Thank you my friend!

Suzi Parron said...


What a touching story today. I am glad that I found your blog so that I could share it.

With respect to your mention of barn quilts, I am pleased to see that you have discovered them. Some people (most) also call them barn quilts. There are about 3000 of them across 29 states coast to coast and also in Ontario, CA

I have been researching these beautiful quilts for over two years and my book on the subject--Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail--will be published by Ohio University Press next year.

There is so much to be told; I have included a bit about my journey of discovery as I have traveled the trail on my blog.

To learn more and to see my photos, visit

Best Regards,

Suzi Parron

Mel said...

*chuckling* No wonder you were feeling a bit 'strange' about all these quilt things getting in your path over and over and over again.

I think to myself 'How loud does it have to get' when that happens to me.
I'm guessing you've connected some of the dots by now....if not, I'm of the belief that they'll get connected for you in time. I'm a gal of faith yaknow.

In the meantime, I'm thrilled with the links and the visits to other places which speak the quilt barn's message about living simply, loving deeply and a deep abiding pride in who we are as human beings.

Now--that's just my take on the quilt barns/barn quilts.
Call it the 'feel' they have...or maybe it's the 'feel' they stir up in me.

Btw--have I ever mentioned I enjoy hand piecing/quilting? *laughing*
And need I mention my love affair with the eagle?
Oh....What about the space in my heart for kind, loving folks who knock their socks off to bring to the life of another human being?


And you wonder how it is that I keep finding my way back here?!
Silly man........

Hey Harriet said...

This is just so fascinating! Thanks so much for following up on the previous post for those of us who were interested to know more about these quilt barns! The world truly is an amazing place! I love blogging due to all the wonderful things I discover via my fellow bloggers! It's awesome! You're awesome! Thank you! :D

Jeannie said...

This is really interesting. Besides the fact that my sister quilts yet I have never heard her say anything about common patterns being codes. I wonder if they were adapted as codes rather than specifically "made up" as it takes some time to make a quilt...

Also, you mentioned Owen Sound - I went to school there. At the time, I wondered that there were so many blacks there (while the much larger city I had moved from had very very few) and blacks held many prominent positions (those who taught at the school were among the better teachers there) - although we heard a lot about troubles in the States at the time, there was no obvious racism there although I'm sure there was some with people being people. In fact, colour was surprisingly never mentioned anywhere. I worked a number of years at the restaurant in Harrison Park (where the commemorating cairn was placed in the history you linked to). (My boss was mixed black). I did not learn about the connection to the underground railroad until much much later.

rebecca said...

thank you my friend for all the effort and time you use to tell your powerful stories.
i love quilts...things made by hand and heart.
especially taken with more information on the underground railroad.
i like to believe that had i lived during that time i would have been one of those willing to guide, harbor and assist others to freedom.
you are a true offering of peace and support.
thank you for your place in my life.


joco said...

Happy THANKSGIVING to you and thanks for being a CYBER friend.

Good read. I love American Quilts. We have a lot of them here in the UK, in Bath, the American Museum.

Mel said...

((((((((( Spadoman )))))))))))

Abundant blessings to you and yours on this Thanksgiving, sir.

Gobble til ya wobble! ;-)

mig said...

The whole story of quilt barns is fascinating. It's always a pleasure to know what's behind the pretty folk art things that one encounters (if only on the web)
I'm glad to have had your explanation and links because I know they'll be genuine information.
Your star quilt is gorgeous.