Connecting through quilting

In honor of Black History Month, everyone at PSCS—students, administrators, interns, and teachers—completed an individual project; each of us researched a person, event, or movement in celebration of Black culture, contribution, and activism.

The result was many individual art pieces in the form of a cardstock square, a smaller block of what’s to become a large paper quilt in the entrance of the school.

In Black American history, quilting dates as far back as the 17th century, and began primarily as a utilitarian practice among enslaved women, gradually advancing as a form of artistic expression and storytelling.

Unlike the organized, precise patterns that many white quilters made from Dutch and English designs, African American quilts were often raw and vibrant. They were stitched by hand with imagination and resourcefulness; old cotton dresses, frayed ribbon, and cotton seed bags offered unusual color palettes and textures.”

As the practice of quilting has been passed down for generations, so have the stories that are sewn into it. Most quilting was done in secret and used patterns created with symbols intended to show runaway enslaved folks where to go find safe passage or which areas to steer clear of.

“Enslaved people weren’t allowed an education, so quilting lessons were passed down from family member to family member. Some patterns were made based on the amount of cloth available. Others, like the bear claws and log cabin designs the Pettway slaves learned, may have hung outside as signposts along the Underground Railroad, their symbols telling runaway slaves which routes to take, which homes to avoid, and where they could find food and shelter on the road to freedom.”

Based on this history, PSCS staff offered this quilt project to emphasize the relationship between individuals, artists, activists, and movements that have led us here today. Black stories are not only shared history, not only to be recognized one month of the year, certainly not only a series of separate people or narratives—Black history and truths, like the blocks on a quilt, are interconnected, representing our shared present and future.

[Robyne Robinson in their article “Quilts that embody the legacy of Black America,” National Gallery of Art]