Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Barn Quilts - an Artful Heritage

Choose a state where farming is important, and you’re sure to find barn quilts, single, giant, painted quilt blocks decorating barns and outbuildings. You might even be able to locate a road map for a barn quilt tour. Here in Wisconsin, just drive across the middle or southern portions of the state, and like a child playing a road trip game, you can look for and count the number of beautiful barn quilts splashed across the countryside—magnificent pieces of art that will have you saying ooh and ahh for miles. In fact, my first introduction to the beauty of barn quilts happened some years back while driving across Wisconsin’s Shawano County, renowned for hosting more of those beautiful 8’ by 8’ canvases than any other county in the United States.

The primary barn quilt size is 8 feet by 8 feet, though quilt block designs can be found of every size and on structures other than barns.
Photo Credits: William Sturgell from Pixabay

Barn quilts have a quite recent history of renewed popularity, but they date back nearly 300 years, well before barns were fully covered in paint at all. They arrived along with immigrants from the central regions of Europe; Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands who brought the idea of decorating their buildings with folk art designs representing their heritage, or in some cases their superstitions.

The Pennsylvania Dutch settlers who arrived primarily from Germany sought religious freedom and new beginnings. They incorporated folk art throughout their homes. Beautiful carvings, drawings, and paintings decorated everything from birth certificates to dower chests—and even tombstones. So why not barns? Some of the more secular-minded settlers, or those of superstitious religious backgrounds, decorated their barns with colorful six-pointed stars, sometimes set in a circle known as a hex sign. The hex signs were said to represent everything from good luck to fertility. Other paintings—those of stricter religious peoples—were simply beautiful designs that reflected a love of nature and beauty, or they were family symbols passed down for generations.

This one reminds me of a maple leaf. I wonder what it's meaning is.

I like how this one incorporates the date 1805, possibly the year of the farm's founding.

Gradually (and as the availability and cost of paint came down) the practice of painting designs on buildings spread throughout other parts of the country, particularly the Midwest. 

The popular resurgence of barn quilts began as recently as 2001, when a woman named Donna Sue Groves painted a quilt block on her tobacco barn in memory of her mother, and soon the idea spread. It has since become a movement. You can search for “barn quilt maps” that feature driving routes to viewing barn quilts all throughout the country. In fact, if you'd like to try your hand at design, barn quilt printables are available on line for anyone to create their own barn quilt.

This lovely barn quilt is on my cousin Barry's barn in central Wisconsin, painted by his wife Michelle.
Photo credit: Barry D Sparks

How about you? Do you have a barn quilt? Or have you ever thought about painting one on your outbuilding, home—or even a mailbox? Maybe now you will!

Loving life on the farm,

Please join me July 1st and 2nd as multiple authors "Fall into Summer" with a Facebook event featuring book or swag giveaways with every author post! Find the event here: 

Looking for a change of pace? Try Heart Not Taken, a contemporary novella that'll fire up your 4th of July reading list.


  1. Northern Indiana has several Barn Quilt Trails! I've never followed a whole trail, but I love seeing the barn quilts that I happen across.

    1. I'd also like to visit Elkhart's Quilt Gardens someday. https://www.visitelkhartcounty.com/things-to-do/attractions/quilt-gardens/

    2. Like you, I've never intentionally taken a barn quilt trail, but have mostly happened upon them. I did see some when we traveled through N. Indiana to our son's home too! I checked the link...wow! Those would be beautiful to see. What a clever and creative idea.

  2. Thanks for the post! I love these, I've never seen any in Maine. I guess I'll have to Google it and see if there are any mentioned.

  3. Yes, do check and see. They seem mostly a midwestern thing, but neat ideas do spread around.

  4. Thanks for the post. I love barn star quilts. We have a number of them in our area. We painted one last year (9-2021) and put it on our building. Go here to see how we made it. http://janetsmart.blogspot.com/search?q=barn+star+quilt