Charlotte is the seamstress for the Grimkés, but she also uses sewing to assert her own autonomy. Charlotte sews a story quilt that tells the experiences of her life as a slave. This quilt gives Charlotte a voice in a world that constantly tries to silence slaves and women (and particularly female slaves). Using this quilt, Charlotte can take back some agency to share her specific perspective no matter what other people may say about the proper place of Black women. The quilt gives Charlotte hope to keep fighting for a better life, and later gives Handful the same inspiration when Charlotte disappears. Handful finishes the quilt for her mother, completing the story that Charlotte wants to tell that teaches Handful about her own background and history. Handful takes strength from the quilt to continue rebelling against slavery the way her mother did.
A prominent feature of the quilt’s design is black triangles, which stand for blackbird wings. The wings symbolize Charlotte and Handful’s desire to fly free from the boundaries of their lives as slaves. The imagery of freedom as blackbird wings follows through the novel at each turn when Handful confronts the limits placed on her life. Handful covers the quilt she sews for Denmark Vesey with black triangle wings to symbolize the hope she places in the slave revolt to reach freedom. Yet the revolt fails and Handful imagines that the birds have died the next time she sees the quilt. Still, Handful keeps her hope for freedom alive and continues to sew black triangles on quilts, adding more to her mother’s quilt when Charlotte returns. Though Charlotte passes on before reaching freedom, Handful and Sky take Charlotte’s quilt, with all the black triangles on it, to the North when they escape to freedom.
Charlotte’s Quilt and Black Triangles Quotes in The Invention of Wings
There were ten good-size squares. I spread them out cross the frame. The colors she'd used outdid God and the rainbow. Reds, purples, oranges, pinks, yellows, blacks, and browns. They hit my ears more than my eyes. They sounded like she was laughing and crying in the same breath. It was the finest work ever to come from mauma’s hands.
Sarah put her hand on my arm and left it there while the city heaved away. It was the last square on the quilt… I thought of mauma then, how her bones would always be here. People say don’t look back, the past is past, but I would always look back… When we left the mouth of the harbor, the wind swelled and the veils round us flapped, and I heard the blackbird wings. We rode onto the shining water onto the far distance.