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Hobo Quilts: 55 Original Blocks Based on the Secret Language of Riding the Rails

Updated on September 14, 2014

Great book on the Depression Era and the quilts it inspired

Hobo Quilts, by Debra G. Henninger. is a great history book for the Depression Era hobo codes. It is full of pictures and quotes. Along with that, there are more than 55 symbols transformed into quilting patterns. The book suggests 20 projects but it would be just as easy to decide who you would be and create your own quilt. Even if you never make the quilt, the pictures and the history are educational and informative. The pictures and the codes give us a peek into the hobo culture.

This is the 4th in a series by Krause Publications. The series combines history with quilt patterns. There are some complaints that the pattens in this book do not work well and that is instantly visible when looking at the patterns. However, anyone can size them to fit correctly.

The Depression changed a generation. Nothing was easy for the hobo's or the people living along the rails. Some tend to romanticize the time but it was a hard life. This is the best book in recent times on this part of American history. On top of that, there are scaled drawing of the quilts with the signs that let the hobo's know if the town was friendly, where to find food and which places to skip all together.

Hobo codes and the quilts that guided them

Quilts would be hung in places visible to the hobos who jumped from the trains. It told them where there was food, if the people were friendly and whether they were likely to be shot at. This book, combines the codes into quilt blocks.

A quote from one of the hobo's

"The most spectacular sight that I ever seen was at least a thousand men sitting, if they could find a space, atop this mile long freight train. They were headed for California, looking for work, any kind of work, even for fifty cents a day." Paul Booker

The Railroad Police - Seldom friendly, one more thing for hobo's to watch for

Wikipedia has a very good definition or a least a way to determine why someone was called a Hobo. This is a direct quote from the site. "A hobo is a migratory worker or homeless vagabond, often penniless.[1] The term originated in the western-probably northwestern-United States during the last decade of the 19th century.[2] Unlike tramps, who work only when they are forced to, and bums, who don't work at all, hobos are workers who wander"

The Railroad Police were often vigilant in the attempts to remove Hobo's from the trains. The site for the Railroad Police is below as well as the full Wikipedia article.

Learn more about the railroad police

The Railroad Police
The Railroad Police

Railroad police are every bit as busy today as they were in the 1940's and every bit as feared today as they were then.



I am finally going to choose the signs and make the quilt

This is a great book and I have been dithering for over a year on the signs I want to use for a quilt. This is the year. I have decided that they would be the ones I would use if we lived in that era. My quilt will be a reflection of who I am. It's an exciting project.

Other quilt books in the series - Quilts based on history

"The Farmer's Wife Sampler Quilt: Letters from 1920s Farm Wives and the 111 Blocks They Inspired" is another well-done history book with the added bonus of quilt patterns. I have this but am not even going to try to make any of them until I do something about the Hobo Quilt patterns I have chosen.

I have a friend who loaned me these books. Unfortunately, I had to give them back. The two civil war books are just as inspiring. "The Civil War Diary Quilt: 121 Stories and The Quilt Blocks They Inspired" and "The Civil War Love Letter Quilt: 121 Quilt Blocks Inspired by Love and War" are also something that every quilter who loves history and love stories should have in their libraries.

Opinions welcomed

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    • JanTUB profile image

      Jan T Urquhart Baillie 

      3 years ago from Australia

      In a small historical town near me, where Henry Lawson the poet (Man from Snowy River) grew up, in the footpaths there are paving blocks fashioned by a potter to mimic the signs that the tramps placed on people's fences to say whether it was worthwhile knocking. Never thought of making a quilt with warnings on it!

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Hazelton 

      3 years ago from Sunny Florida

      This is a wonderful piece of history. I had never heard of Hobo quilts.

    • artshock profile image


      6 years ago


    • accfuller profile image


      7 years ago

      Really great lens!

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 

      7 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      Wow, this is such a great topic. Not only did I not know about the book but your making the hobo quilt is a great way to keep this slice of America alive for future generations.

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image


      7 years ago

      I'd heard of the hobo codes, but not hobo quilts! How cool! I hope you post pictures of your quilt when you complete it... I'd love to see!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 

      8 years ago from United States

      Adding a kiss for luck on this St. Patrick's Day!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Dropping back by to leave a St Valentine's Day blessing.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image


      8 years ago

      Sounds like an interesting book. I had heard about "signs" that let hobos know safe places to visit, but did not realize there were so many or that they had been developed into an art form. What a great history lesson!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 

      8 years ago from United States

      I am quite sure this book would be a very interesting read. Thank you for the recommendation.

    • Kailua-KonaGirl profile image

      June Parker 

      8 years ago from New York

      I had heard of the hobo codes being left on fence post, but had never heard of the hobo quilts before. I found the link to the The Railroad Police very interesting.

    • Sensational Color profile image

      Kate Smith 

      8 years ago from Ashburn, VA

      I've never been aware of Hobo Quilts but am now want to know more. Thanks for the lens on the topic!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I've never heard of the hobo quilts. It sounds very interesting.

    • Clairwil LM profile image

      Clairwil LM 

      8 years ago

      fascinating topic. That looks a really good book.

    • Kimsworld LM profile image

      Kimsworld LM 

      8 years ago

      This book sounds very interesting. I haven't made a quilt in years. My grandmother could make one out of anything.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I need to read this book. I have always been intrigued by the stories of hobos that hopped trains and the dangers they faced in riding the rails. Thanks for sharing the book reviews.

    • sheilamarie78 profile image


      8 years ago from British Columbia

      Interesting choice of a book! I find this fascinating!

    • DesignedbyLisa LM profile image

      DesignedbyLisa LM 

      8 years ago

      Wow, cool book. I'll send your link to my quilting friend.

    • VSP profile image


      8 years ago

      Very interesting, my husband would like this for the history part. He loves trains and history. I've lensrolled this to my The Harvey Girls lens.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      8 years ago from Central Florida

      I love old quits. At one time, I thought I'd become a quilter, until I realized how much patience it required. I have lots of fabric stashed away, in case I decide to try again.

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 

      8 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      Interesting topic. Congrats on your first RocketMoms lens.

    • capriliz lm profile image

      capriliz lm 

      8 years ago

      Welcome to RocketMoms and congratulations on your first lens for this group! Well done and an interesting topic, for sure. I love history books with a "twist".

    • retta719 profile image


      8 years ago from United States

      What a cool combination of crafty and history ~ love it! <3

    • Ann Hinds profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Hinds 

      8 years ago from So Cal

      @bdkz: Thanks, I love the book, have decided what codes I would use and when I have time will start on it.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Congratulations on your first RocketMoms lens! What an interesting book!


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