Sometimes in my travels, I find quilts in unexpected places. Such is the occurrence of rest stop quilts in Iowa. There was no expectation of quilts in the rest stop on I-80 near Davenport, Iowa. All of these photos were taken inside this rest stop.

Rest Stop Quilts in Iowa

Many years ago, a woman in the quilt guild was raving about a book discussing how quilts were used as signals for the Underground Railroad. My first thought was why has this never been discussed in any of the books I have read over the years about the Underground Railroad.

Quilt blocks in the floor

But I continued to find articles about this subject or hear other quilters discuss it. I purchased a book of patterns for an Underground Railroad quilt at Paducah one year.

Rest stop quilts in Iowa

When it comes to historical quilts, my favorite time period tends to be pre-1820. There are many surviving quilts from the 1850’s to current and I guess that I don’t pay as much attention to those.

Wonderful display:

But this wonderful display of ceramic quilt blocks woke up a tired mind and stiff body. What a fascinating subject to put in a rest stop on a busy interstate.

Ceramic quilt blocks on the wall

I do not claim to be any kind of expert on this period of quilts or on the Underground Railroad. However, it does make a lot of sense to use quilts as signals.

After all, they were common objects that would have caused no suspicion if hung over a fence or bush. Quilts hung on a wash line only told most people that bedding was being washed or aired by the females of that house on that certain day.

More ceramic quilt blocks

Common sense says that if quilts were truly used as signals, they would have been one of the least noticed items anyone could have outside. As my grandma said many times – keep it simple, and it really applies in this case.

Notice the needle and thread under the quilt blocks

If nothing else, the majority of these blocks are easy to make and can be great beginner projects. Most of the patterns can be found on Quilter’s Cache.

There is just something about the bold designs that speaks to most of us. Planned or scrap, these blocks are very visually appealing.

Rest stop quilts in Iowa

Some controversy:

I do know there is some controversy about this topic, especially among scholars. Whether or not you believe or don’t that quilts were used as signals for escaping slaves – it is an interesting theory.

Controversy or not, if you are interested in this, or any other type or period of quilt then do some research. Not only will you come away with a greater appreciation and understanding of previous quilters, but you will add to your own knowledge. And knowledge of quilts can give you more ideas to make quilts from.

There had to be some sort of signal for people to follow. And it had to be something so common that most people would not notice.

Translating the meaning of the blocks

More block meanings

The above two photos translate the supposed meaning of the quilt blocks.

Here is a woman talking about the Underground Railroad at a historical event.

Rest stop quilts in Iowa
Rest stop quilts in Iowa

This plaque describes the Underground Railroad in this county in Iowa.

The moral to Rest stop quilts in Iowa:

Look around you when you are out and about. Or when you are traveling. Quilts turn up in many unexpected places. Inspiration for our quilting journey can come from anywhere. And the ideas that inspire us can be totally out of the blue.

Enjoy your quilting journey. Find joy in the ideas and inspiration.

Underground railroad quilts
Source: Bing clip art




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