Driving across rural America, you are likely to see old barns littering the flat, green countryside. These structures have been around for at least decades and were originally built to be used as storage buildings for farm equipment, or livestock.
Nowadays, some remain parts of a working farm, and some have been left to the countryside. Occasionally, an old barn is even converted into a living space, for the chic and Bohemian among us.
You have probably seen large, colorful squares, diamonds or rectangles adorning the sides of these buildings, showing great big versions of traditional quilt patterns, in traditional rural America colors.
Seeing them for the first time, you are bound to wonder what they are, and who would go to all the time and effort of hanging one on.
Thankfully for you, we have written this informative article to help guide you through their cultural significance, and importance in the spirit of country pride. Read on to find out everything you need to know about barn quilts here.
What Is A Barn Quilt?
Barn quilts are a unique type of quilt that originated in the Midwest region of the United States. They are made from a variety of materials, but traditionally they are painted wood, which is then attached to the front of a barn.
Barn quilts are a type of art, where a traditional quilt pattern is painted onto a large wooden plank. Often, a community will come together to make one, and they will stay up on the face of the barn for years.
They are a homegrown form of art, and represent true Americana, adorning dairy barns throughout the Midwest.
They combine a lot of things that spring to mind when you think of the rural American planes – think farming, homemade quilts, and road trips. Barn quilts can be found all the way down in Ohio, and all the way up in Canada.
They are now widely recognized as a unique form of art, craft, and design. They are typically made from scrap wood, by the whole family.
What Makes Them Special?
Barn quilts are a very special form of Americana art – totally epitomizing how we see America in the past.
A barn quilt wouldn’t look out of place in the Kansas of ‘The Wizard of Oz’, or the Oklahoma of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, or in the North Carolina of ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’.
It’s not just because they’re painted on wood, but also because they’ve become so popular that people often drive hundreds of miles to visit them!
‘Quilt Trails’ have been created, where there are multiple pieces along one simple and scenic route, to entice travelers through the region.
Barn quilts have become a staple of the tourism industry in small Midwestern towns, helping to keep diners, shops and cafés that are along the road afloat.
They are completely handmade, and can take months to complete for the most intricate designs. The process starts with making the base, which is usually a wooden board, and then painting it.
This is done using different techniques, depending on the style of quilt being created. After the base has dried, the next step
What Is The Meaning Behind Barn Quilts?
Barn quilts are a type of folk art that can have a few different meanings, though they typically represent the family that makes them. Some can represent a whole community – think a beloved reading group, a church, or a union.
Anyone who can get together to make a barn quilt can be the meaning behind it. They symbolize friendship and connection, in the spread out landscapes of the rural Midwest.
Why Are Barn Quilts Made?
Barn quilts are made for the meaning behind them – to symbolize the family or community that is behind them.
They are like a family photo, and originate from a time before photography was an easily accessible artistic medium to capture a family or group in their prime.
Nowadays, the barn quilt has become interwoven with the culture of these Midwest regions, and are less made out of necessity (now, you can capture a family with a photo or video), but more made out of love of the art, and a desire to keep the traditional cultural practices going.
Additionally, as we already touched upon, barn quilts are of huge importance to the tourism industry of small Midwestern towns.
So, sometimes they are made intentionally, to go on barn quilt trails, and attract those who love Americana and appreciate maintenance of the arts of yore.
What Kind Of Wood Is Typically Used For Barn Quilts?
If you are thinking of making your own barn quilt, then we suggest that you use a light, pliable kind of wood that you can buy fairly cheaply. Plywood is a great material to make your barn quilting projects.
You can buy plywood at any store, and it is usually cost-effective too. Some stores sell sign boards made out of plywood, which can be repurposed and repainted into a quilt design.
You can paint them however you want – though we love a good traditional pattern, such as a saw tooth quilt.
If you can’t get plywood, you can use MDF board (Medium Density Fiberboard) or Sand Plywood, both of which are light, cheap, and absorbent.
The History Of Barn Quilts
Barn quilts were invented by Donna Sue Groves – a dedicated quilter from Ohio. At first, barn quilts started out as a game. As a child, she started counting barns while she was driving around West Virginia.
Each time she saw a new type of building, she would determine how many points it was worth. Barns that were covered in artwork or advertisements were worth more than plain barns, and barns with hex signs on them were worth the most.
A hex sign is a form of Dutch art found in Pennsylvania, and looks like a circle enclosed star, flower or emblem, much like a barn quilt.
This gave Donna Sue a true appreciation of the kind of barns through the Midwest, and how to improve the way that they look.
This meant that Sue wanted to do something about a particularly ugly looking tobacco barn that the family owned. Her mother suggested a quilt pattern on the side, a very popular pattern on the side.
That’s how barn quilts came about. Nowadays, many people make them to decorate their homes or give as gifts.
They are also made in the traditional sense, and they are used to decorate barns and brighten up the rolling rural hills. People even use them to advertise products and services.
What Is A Barn Quilt Trail?
Donna Sue got a job with an arts council in Ohio, to help bolster the frequency of barn quilts. She saw how murals painted onto buildings give the people a sense of pride and bring tourists into the town.
She wanted to do more than just paint quilt squares on one tobacco barn. Instead, she decided to paint her old mission: quilt-style patterns on a bunch of local tobacco barns, and eventually barns across the state.
The Arts council liked this idea, and they thought tourists would also enjoy the concept. So in 2001, the Adams County Arts council painted the first quilt pattern on a local tobacco barn.
Many people love them because they are unique pieces of art. There are more than 40 states that have a barn quilt trail.
These trails follow the guidelines set up by the Adams County Council, and each state has a different theme. Local communities make barn quilts across 43 states now.
Make Your Own Barn Quilt
A barn quilt is usually an 8 x 8 foot large plywood square, which has been attached to the side or face of a barn, and can attract quilt lovers from across the whole world – so why don’t you make your own?
Quilters often create their own designs when making a barn quilt, and attaching one to your barn or building shows that you are using your creativity and ingenuity.
These handmade creations express love, affection, and support. People create these quilts because they want to give something back to the community.
In conclusion, there are several ways that you can get involved with barn quilts. You can either buy a pre-made barn quilt, or you can make your own.
If you decide to make your own, then you should know that you will need some tools and materials. The best thing to do is to start small and work your way up. Once you feel comfortable, then you can move on to bigger projects.
Barn quilts are a great form of folk art – displaying community and creativity for all to see.
Frequently Asked Question
How Much Does It Cost To Make A Barn Quilt?
It costs anywhere between $50-$300 depending on the size and complexity of the design. You can make them at an even cheaper price by reusing scrap wood, and the end parts of pots of paint.
How Many Barn Quilts Are There?
There are around 7000 quilts on barns as parts of organized trails, though there are probably hundreds more that are scattered throughout the countryside farmland just waiting to be discovered by eager quilt lovers.