In the Birds In The Air quilt block, we will be using Half Square Triangles. When you get to be more familiar with sewing HSTs, you will absolutely adore this block. It is also featured as a block on the Farmer’s Wife Quilt, and it is really beautiful.
In 1861, as Southern states seceded, leaders justified their actions by expressing fears their Northern sisters were determined to abolish slavery in the entire Union. Florida’s secession proclamation cited, “recent indications of the strength of the anti-slavery sentiment of the free States.”
In fact, most Northerners continued to ignore slavery’s injustices and posed no threat to the South’s “peculiar institution.” Yet the minority who felt obligated to oppose human bondage were persistent and vocal.
Abolitionist was the name for an activist who demanded the end of slavery. In 1784 the “Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage” was organized to reflect Quaker resistance to slavery. Abolitionists used a symbolic image of a kneeling slave, which had been designed to represent English anti-slavery societies and produced as a ceramic medallion by English potter Josiah Wedgwood in 1787. The idea of a durable, small china logo was brilliant publicity.
Copies of the kneeling slave (and a female equivalent) are found on all manner of goods—posters, dinnerware, and textiles—on both sides of the Atlantic. One antislavery activist recalled purchasing “children’s handkerchiefs at auction. Among them were those on the subjects of temperance, Sunday-schools, and abolition of slavery. The latter were particularly striking—a negro kneeling and chained, with the motto, ‘Am I Not A Man and A Brother?’ “
Quaker Deborah Coates might have cut a piece from a similar handkerchief for her silk quilt, one of the few surviving quilts with a reference to slavery. Deborah and her husband Lindley were active in anti-slavery politics and the Underground Railroad.
After Deborah’s death in the 1880s, her offspring cut the abolitionist quilt in half, one side for each branch of the family. When their descendants decided to rejoin the pieces, they removed the binding and found the small image of the African man, which had been cut in half and hidden for decades.
The quilt pattern she used was a variation of a popular block pieced of triangles. In 1929 quilt historian Ruth Finley listed names: Birds in the Air, Flying Birds or Flock of Geese. Although we cannot know what Deborah Coates called the pattern, the idea of birds in the air seems particularly appropriate for a block to recall the abolition societies.
Cutting Instructions for the Birds In The Air quilt block
You should always remember FINISHED SIZE means the size it will be in a completed quilt. The measurements given already have the ¼ inch allowance included.
Finished block size
*SQ = Square/Squares
Cut 2 SQ from Dark fabric & 4 SQ from Light Fabric
Cut 1 SQ from Dark fabric
Names of the block
Birds of the air, Flock of geese, Flying birds, Flying geese
To find out more, including how to control cookies, see here:
Modern quilts by Zafiro Vaxevanidou
Zarkadia Quilting Co. is a home-based company that focuses on making special and unique quilts that hug and caress. Quilts are love, tenderness, warmth and cure. Enjoy and be inspired by this art form and know yourself in the process.