The underground Railroad by Xenia Cord, March 2006
After the Civil War, many African American women went to work in households as domestics while others helped out on small farms. It was still a difficult life of working from dawn to dusk. Quilts were made for everyday use out of necessity. Scraps, discarded clothing, and feed sacks were the materials used. In making “string quilts” strips of various fabrics were sewn together.
The result was then cut into blocks and made into a quilt. African American women’s quilting are linked to their African roots. Strip construction, large-scale designs, strong contrasting colors and variations from symmetrical patterns all appear to reflect textile patterns found in parts of Africa.
Women made pipes with designs matching African pottery art which indicates women used African textile designs in their quilts. Story quilts, the technique of creating a story with appliqué has been handed down through the generations and these folk quilts are still made by African American women today.
Women always had to make do with scraps and discarded clothing so they found “string” quilting to be an efficient way to use this fabric. The intricate making of patchwork quilts demonstrates the degree to which many of the African women could sew, and because many of such quilts were made over generations within families, the obvious conclusion is that the techniques for sewing were passed from grandmother, to mother, and to daughter.