Quilts of the Underground Railroad

Subjects: Social Studies, Math, Art

Grade: Fifth

Time: 3 days (50 min each day)


Students will be able to work as a class to create a quilt mapping a route on the underground railroad.

Each student will be able to create one quilt block using quilt symbols to contribute to the quilt.


Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson, Hidden in Plain View by Jacqueline Tobin, Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter, examples of quilt blocks, master plan, construction paper, scissors, glue, markers, string, bulletin board, sample blocks at each stage of development


Day One

1. Begin by introducing the book Sweet Clara and The Freedom Quilt. Tell students that this is a book about one method slaves used to communicate with each other on the Underground Railroad. Read the story aloud. Discuss how Clara made a quilt showing a route for the slaves to take to escape to freedom. Point out how the map had to be hidden in the quilt so the slave masters wouldn't discover it. Tell the class that they will be making their own freedom quilt, showing one route to freedom that slaves might have followed.

2. Share information from Hidden in Plain View about how the slaves put codes into their quilts. Show examples of some of the blocks they might have used and what they meant.

3. Help class plan their own freedom quilt for a bulletin board. Use the route from Follow the Drinking Gourd or another similar story about the underground railroad. Give each student a copy of the words and have them underline important locations and symbols mentioned in the story. Then have them share locations and symbols they underlined. Decide as a class what important locations and symbols to include.

4. Draw map on the board, with the help of the class, showing all the important locations. Make sure everyone agrees on the resulting map. Create a master plan from this.

Day Two

5. Have students work in their team figure out what size the quilt should be to fit the bulletin board, the number of blocks, and the size of each block. Encourage them to come up with different answers. Let them share their answers. Then decide on what results to use. (It may be useful to decide this yourself ahead of time.

6. Section off the master plan into blocks and number them. Assign each student a block to create.

7. Show an example of how you went from the map to creating a plan to the actual quilt block.

8. Have students draw a plan for their own block. Have them work with other students whose blocks are near their's to line up any rivers or lakes. Then have them decide on some quilt symbols for other objects on their map such as mountains, trees, cities, safe houses, etc. If their block doesn't have much more than a river on it, then have them come up with a symbol to remind runaway slaves of dangers or other ideas to help slaves along.

Day Three

9. Give students time to work on their own blocks. When they finish their own block, have them write which block it is, the name of any rivers (if available) and what any symbols represent on the back.

10. As the blocks are completed, punch holes in each side of the blocks and tie the quilt together. Hang the quilt on a bulletin board.


1. For students who need extra assistance, allow them to work in a partnership.

2. If students don't finish their blocks in class, have them take it home to finish. Make sure they have some sort of deadline though.

3. For students who finish more quickly either assign more blocks if more are needed or have that student help other students with their blocks.


1. Each student contributed their own block

2. Students worked as a class to create a readable map with waterbodies lining up.

3. Used symbols to represent important locations on the quilt.



Hopkinson, Deborah. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. New York: Knopf 1993.

Tobin, Jeanette, et al. Hidden in Plain View. New York: Doubleday 1999.

Winter, Jeanette. Follow the Drinking Gourd. New York: Knopf 1992.

Web Sites

Using Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt in the Classroom http://whitman.edu/~hopkinda/SWEET~1.HTM

Always There: The African American Presence in American Quilts http://www.si.edu/resource/faq/nmah/always.htm

Southern Quilting - http://xroads.virginia.edu/~UG97/quilt/table.html

This lesson created by Tara Timothy