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Civl War Quilts

September 11, 2013

Title of Lesson:
Civil War Quilts
Author of Lesson:
Lonna Tucker
Grade Level:
Resources: (Includes websites, handouts, tables, charts, maps, primary sources, etc.
Teacher Resource Books:
Quilts from the Civil War: Nine Projects, Historic Notes, Diary Entries by Barbara Brackman
Civil War Quilts by Pam Weeks and Don Beld
Barbara Brackman's Civil War Sampler: 50 Quilt Blocks with Stories from History by Barbara
The Blue and the Gray: Quilt Patterns using Civil War Fabrics by Mary Etherington and Connie
http://www.thecraftstudio.com/qwc/ The Craft Studio’s Quilting with Kids page
Quilt Design Template
Classroom Materials:
Pencils and erasers
Colored pencils
Additional Materials:
It would be especially effective to have the following:
A quilt to show to students (a sampler quilt would be best)
A few pieced blocks to show construction (hand sewn would be best)
Reproductions of Civil War era fabrics (available in many quilt shops and online)
Lesson Summary:
This lesson examines the Civil War through the eyes and hearts of those who were left to maintain the
home front. Aid societies sprung up all over the North and a few were formed in the South. In this
lesson, the quilt is used to illustrate the effort, organization, and time required to provide for the needs
of thousands of soldiers, as well as the creativity of crafters who made beautifully sewn quilts out of bits
of cloth and an abundance of patriotism. Students look at quilt blocks and identify lines of symmetry,
and then they will design their own quilt block and find the lines of symmetry.
Grade level Expectation and/or Common Core Standard in Literacy in History/Social Studies:
CCSS.Math.Content.4.G.A.1 Draw points, lines, line segments, rays, angles (right, acute, obtuse), and
perpendicular and parallel lines. Identify these in two-dimensional figures.
CCSS.Math.Content.4.G.A.3 Recognize a line of symmetry for a two-dimensional figure as a line across
the figure such that the figure can be folded along the line into matching parts. Identify line-symmetric
figures and draw lines of symmetry.
Key Terms:
Aid Society


Title of Lesson:
Civil War Quilts
Author of Lesson:
Lonna Tucker
Grade Level:
Children’s Books:
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson
Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter
The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom by Bettye Stroud
The Secret to Freedom by Marcia Vaughan and Larry Johnson
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2VzlC‐hOBA The Underground Railroad Freedom Quilt
Codes video
Discussion of the quilt code as a hoax
http://pathways.thinkport.org/flash_home.cfm Pathways to Freedom: Maryland & the
Underground Railroad – Includes a discussion of African traditions of symbolism.
http://poster.4teachers.org/imgFilePoster/375100.jpg Map indicating major routes of the
Underground Railroad
http://www.kidsclick.org/ A kid‐friendly search engine
http://www.kidclicks.org/ Another kid‐friendly search engine
http://www.kyvl.org/kids/homebase.html Kentucky Virtual Library How to do Research page
Teacher Resource Books:
Facts and Fabrications: Unraveling the history of quilts and slavery by Barbara Brackman
Hidden in Plain View: a secret story of quilts and the Underground Railroad by Jacqueline L.
Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard, Ph. D.
Quilts from the Civil War by Barbara Brackman
Classroom Materials:
KWL chart produced poster sized or drawn on board (May stay up throughout project)
US Map or projected image from http://poster.4teachers.org/imgFilePoster/375100.jpg
Computers with Internet access and printer
Persuasive Essay Rubric
Lesson Summary:
This lesson examines the controversial topic of Freedom Quilts. Freedom Quilts are described as quilts
composed of specific block patterns that were used to signal, direct, and inform runaway slaves as they
made their way to freedom. Students are going to research the issue, examine any evidence available,
and then prepare a short paper defending their own opinion on the subject.
Grade level Expectation and/or Common Core Standard in Literacy in History/Social Studies:
CCSS.ELA‐Literacy.RI.4.1 Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says
explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
CCSS.ELA‐Literacy.RI.4.7 Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts,
graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the
information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.
CCSS.ELA‐Literacy.RI.4.8 Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in
a text.
CCSS.ELA‐Literacy.RI.4.9 Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or
speak about the subject knowledgeably.
Key Terms:
Quilt Block
Underground Railroad
Historical Background:
Well after the Civil War was over, stories began to circulate about so‐called Freedom Quilts or
Slave Quilts. The stories said that slaves who were escaping through the Underground Railroad were
guided on their journey by quilts that were hung on clotheslines or out of windows, ostensibly to air
them out. The patterns of the quilts were used as symbols to communicate important messages,
directions, and warnings to those escaped slaves that saw them.
The tales of freedom quilts and a quilt code have been controversial from the beginning.
However, proving their existence and the extent of their use is nearly impossible due to the inherently
secretive nature of their use. It is further complicated because the reports surfaced so long after the war
that they were difficult to substantiate (accounts vary from as early as just before the turn of the 20th
century to as late as 1987).
The primary argument of those who question the existence of the quilts is that the idea of a
quilt code was far too elaborate to be used by slaves who were generally both illiterate and isolated. The
opportunity to spread the word effectively simply was not there. Most importantly, there is no historical
evidence that quilts were ever used as signals or maps to help slaves escape to freedom.
Proponents of the quilt code point out that the idea of using patterns in cloth to communicate
messages is a tradition that predates the slave trade in America. For centuries, many African cultures
have created textiles that use symbols remarkably similar to popular quilt block patterns. Because much
of the needlework in the South was created by slave women and girls, the opportunity was there to
create quilts that communicated a widely understood message using a repetition of a single quilt block
or a more elaborate message using a combination of several block patterns.
Anticipatory Set:
Show students a number of common non‐verbal symbols. These can be hand signals that are used in the
classroom, road signs, etc. Ask them to brainstorm other symbols that are used in their everyday lives.
Some of the symbols will be identifiable by all, while others will be specialized to a student’s interests.
Do Now Activity:
Read the book Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson to the class. Discuss the book
with the students and tell them that it is, as far as it is verifiable, the first ever mention of the use of a
quilt code among runaway slaves. Tell students that some people feel that freedom quilts make a nice
story, but they did not really exist. They feel that it would have been impossible for such an elaborate
system of symbolism to have existed without being detected by slave owners or those tracking escaped
After a discussion, have students create a class KWL chart about freedom quilts and the Underground
Using a US map or a projected chart (see resources), discuss with students the routes that were followed
by slaves escaping to freedom on the Underground Railroad. Discuss how far some slaves had to travel
before they were free and how hard it would have been to make a trip of that distance. How would they
have found their way? How could they know who to trust?
Tell students that they are going to do some research on both the Underground Railroad and freedom
quilts. Because it has been so long since the freedom quilts were used, and because their use was kept
secret, it may be impossible to determine definitively if freedom quilts were real or a modern hoax.
However, after they have done their research, they will form an opinion about whether freedom quilts
were plausible. After they have formed their opinion, they will use their research to write a persuasive
essay supporting their opinion and encouraging others to come to the same conclusion. To be truly
convincing, they must cite evidence, not just opinions. Utilizing a computer lab for research, students
will use kid friendly search engines as well as specific teacher approved sites to find information and
evidence. They will then compile the evidence into a persuasive essay.
Students may fill in gaps on the KWL chart as the project continues. As with many controversial topics,
don’t be surprised if the number of questions grows with no real answers forthcoming.
Completed persuasive essay compared to rubric, participation in discussion, and teacher observation
1. Bring in carved gourd Adinkra stamps and samples of Adinkra cloth, Fon banners, mud cloth,
Kente cloth, and other items showing the use of symbols and symbolism in African culture.
2. If you have a fairly evenly split class regarding the issue, have students engage in a friendly




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