What is a barn quilt? A barn quilt is a large piece of wood that is painted to look like a quilt block. Traditionally outdoor art, barn quilts have now come inside to be part of home décor. Barn quilts can be coaster size to 8 x 8 feet. 1 x 1s are nice for indoor décor, or next to the front door or a mailbox. 2 x 2s are nice for fences, garages, sheds, or even over a mantelpiece. 4 x 4s and 8 x 8s look grand on barns exteriors and other large buildings. Some businesses use barn quilts much as historic Europeans did - as a type of guild sign or emblem outside their stores. There are no creative limits in designing these works of art, or where you choose to display them. Most barn quilts are simple geometric patterns, like squares, rectangles and triangles. They are usually painted in solid colors, although I have used sponges, rags, and stenciling to simulate fabric. Their simple shapes and vibrant colors make quilt blocks easy to see from afar.
History of Barn Quilt Squares The unique history of the American Barn Quilt can be traced back almost 300 years to the arrival of immigrants from Europe. While barns were not painted back in those days (paint was too costly), they were decorated with different types of folk art. Beyond their beauty, the designs were believed to protect the farm and bring good fortune. Patterns celebrated immigrant heritage and helped identify individual farms. In the 1830s paint became more affordable allowing barn quilt painting to become commercial. Artisans combined folk designs as well as specific geometric patterns from quilt squares. Decorating barns peaked by the beginning of the 20th century and slowly gave way to a more pragmatic form of barn painting: advertisement. Colorful quilt squares were replaced by paid ads for chewing tobacco, Coca Cola, and Texaco. Today barn quilts are regaining popularity. Local extension services offer classes on barn quilts. The art is once more proudly displayed on barns across the country. Farmers have developed “Barn Quilt Trails” to promote rural tourism and educate the public about farming. These trails can be found from New York and Pennsylvania to Washington and Oregon!
If you would like to learn more about barn quilt trails, I have included links to maps and descriptions below.
"What was any art but a mould in which to imprison for a moment the shining elusive element which is life itself - life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose." - Willa Cather
Books Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail Movement by Donna Sue Groves; Suzi Parron Barn Quilts Coloring Book by Marian Parsons From the Bedroom to the Barnyard: A 9 Block Sampler Honoring Barn Quilts by Kansas City Star Q Wisconsin Barn Quilts Coloring Book Two by John H. Lettau The Barn: A Vanishing Landmark in North America by Eric Arthur and Dudley Witney