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The threads of history

Sit N’ Stitch Club recreates Underground Railroad quilt

Created date

April 26th, 2011

Every Monday afternoon as many as 50 members of the Ann s Choice Sit N Stitch Club gather for two hours in the Village Clubhouse crafts room where sewing machines, fabric, yarn, and sewing supplies are close at hand. The women usually work on individual knitting, quilting, or mending projects. But last year, We were looking for a group project that everyone who wanted to could participate in so we could get together and work together, says Bonnie Bustard, the club s chairperson. It could have been any project. It turned out to be an Underground Railroad sampler quilt. Fact and legend intertwine in Underground Railroad quilts. The stories within the blocks and the story of the Underground Railroad itself now dominate conversation at Sit N Stitch. According to oral histories, the names and designs of the block patterns held coded messages that enabled escaping slaves to locate safe houses on the way to Canada. Casually hung on fences and clotheslines, the quilts discreetly served as road maps to freedom.

History comes to life

The idea for the quilt began last November after several Stitchers attended an Ann s Choice Questers meeting and heard a presentation about Underground Railroad quilts. Then other members recommended a book with directions for making such a quilt. Enthusiasm mounted and everyone approved. About a dozen women are participating in what is a group effort every step of the way. Last December they selected period fabric cream-colored lights and deep, rich darks designed to replicate early 19th century print material. In January they worked as a team to cut the material and prepare fabric packets, one packet for each of the 15 different blocks in the quilt. In February they started sewing. We decided to do the piecing and quilting all by hand so we could do it together on Mondays, says Bustard. If it s machine done, it kind of isolates you from the group. As they sew they discuss the slaves journey and the messages hidden in their individual blocks. There are blocks for every skill level. Even people who were a little intimidated have been pleased with what they ve accomplished, Bustard says. She experienced the same cooperative spirit when she joined the group nearly six years ago. I thought, I really want to make a quilt. And three people taught me! Bustard is compiling a photo display to document the quilt project. When it s completed, Sit N Stitch will exhibit the quilt at Ann s Choice and perhaps at historic sites in the county.

Stories Are Told Secrets Unfold

Members of Sit N Stitch and the Ann s Choice Questers weren t the only groups inspired by Ruth Keiser s presentation about Underground Railroad quilts. The former president of the Pennsylvania Questers, Keiser presented Stories Are Told Secrets Unfold to a soldout audience of the Ann s Choice Lifelong Learning Academy. Because the presentation was so popular, the academy has booked Keiser to present it again this fall.