I had a really great San Francisco day today. I met friends for brunch in the Castro, and then went to the main branch of the public library to pick up some crafty books I had on hold.
I happened upon the Following the North Star: African American Quilts exhibit! This quilt is a detail from their graphic. It’s quilts that tell the story of the Underground Railroad. I guess my history knowledge certainly isn’t my specialty because I had no idea of the history of quilting in guiding slaves running north. Certain quilt blocks had different meanings, like the “Monkey’s Wrench” which told slaves to gather tools. Bear tracks, which meant that people should follow bear’s tracks through the mountains. Some blocks I had heard of – the Log Cabin block, with a black center, was meant to tell slaves traveling that there was a safe house nearby. The Drunkard’s path meant to tell slaves which way to go. And finally, the North Star told them to follow the North Star all the way to Canada.
The exhibit is up for the rest of the month, on the third floor, and I really encourage anyone local to check it out.
I happened to arrive at 2 p.m., just in time for a talk and demonstration on African American quilt-making history. There was even lots of free food! A great turn out – I would guess over 75 people. I got lots of advice and inspiration for when I finally start quiltmaking. Vivian, one of the presenters, commented that choosing color is the first step, deciding what you want your quilt to say. She was working on a *gorgeous* quilt for a hoped for grandbaby. It was all applique scenes depicting nursery ryhmes.
I never thought about making a quilt that “said” something. This lecture and exhibit gave me a lot to think about it. I hope to have children a few years from now, and the idea of using a quilt to teach them the stories and values that I cherish never occured to me, but it was standard in the history of slave quilt craftsmanship. There were two children’s books that made me get teary and gave me the chills. I will definitely get them for when my first crafty friend has a baby to read to! They were The Secret to Freedom and I think the other title was Shoo Way. There was also the book, Hidden in Plain View, about the whole history of using quilts as instructions and sign posts in the Underground Railroad.
If you are in the East Bay, the Oakland Public Library will have an event later this month of quilting instruction and demonstration. It’s February 24th, noon -3:30. Quilting will be demonstrated by the Oakland African American Quilter’s Guild. ANd it’s free! I hope to be there! For all the Oakland Black History Month activities, check out their calendar.