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Frequently Asked Questions:
How did the barn quilt trail begin?
The first quilt trail was created in Adams County, Ohio, in 2001. Donna Sue Groves wanted
to honor her mother, Maxine, and her quilting art by painting a quilt block on their tobacco
barn. In talking with friends and neighbors, Donna Sue realized that the project had wide
appeal and also could be beneficial to the community as a means to bring tourism and
economic development. Instead of a single personal tribute, she worked with the community
to create a “clothesline of quilts,” which began with an Ohio Star, dedicated in 2001. Though
many believe that the first barn quilt was on the Groves barn, the Snail’s Trail quilt block was
not, in fact, added to Donna Sue and Maxine’s barn until 2003.
Who paints barn quilts?
Usually a quilt trail committee is formed to facilitate painting and mounting barn quilts. The
committee may simply be made up of interested residents who want to bring a quilt trail to
their area. Often the local arts council or tourism board participates, as well as the extension
office. And in many communities, 4H, scouts, and schools have been active in the projects.
There are even quilt trails that have been created by just one or two energetic painters. And
some enlist the barn owners themselves to complete the task. Carrying the boards can require
some muscle, but once the boards are in place, anyone from a child to a senior citizen can
How are patterns chosen?
Often a family quilt will serve as the model for a barn quilt, with a single block from the
pattern used and often the same colors used. For those who don’t have a family quilt, barn
quilts are most often designed using traditional geometric blocks that can be found in
quilting encylopedia or books. There are thousands of existing patterns, and of course the
choices in colors create even more possibilities. A pattern may be chosen for the name: Corn
and Beans to signify crops, or Jacob’s ladder for the founder of the farm. Sometimes a quilt
block will be a tribute to a lost loved one; a floral pattern might be chosen to honor a beloved
gardener. Many barn owners choose a red, white, and blue motif so that their patriotism is on
display, or green/yellow or red/black to match their favorite farm equipment. A set of school
colors may be worked into the design, often with the image of a mascot inserted. Often an
image or the family’s intials are added to the center of a block to create a unique barn quilt.
How are barn quilts made?
The very first barn quilts were painted directly on the surface of the barn. Local artists were
employed in painting the blocks, but the process was time consuming. Soon the method was
changed, and painters began creating quilt blocks on wood, which was then mounted on the
barns. A full-sized barn quilt is eight-by-eight feet, which requires two full sheets of
plywood, mounted side by side. Many barn quilts are simply painted on plywood, which is
first sanded and primed. More recently, barn quilt painters have been using MDO sign
board, which is a bit more expensive but easier to work with, as the surface is smooth. The
paint used is exterior latex or acrylic, the same type of paint that is used for houses. Once the
design is drawn onto the boards, each section is outlined with painters’ tape and then
painted with several coats.
What is a quilt trail?
A quilt trail is a collection of quilt blocks mounted on locations such that a driving or walking
tour is possible. Usually a quilt trail will be confined to one county, but there are some
exceptions. The quilt blocks do not have to be on barns; many are on buildings or mounted
on posts in public places. A quilt trail will include a map--either printed or electronic--of the
locations so that travelers can locate the quilts. Some are elaborate mult-page magazines, and
some are a single sheet of plain paper. As long as there are some directions so that the quilt
squares can be found, the group of quilt blocks is considered a quilt trail.
Is my design considered a quilt? May I hang a quilt on my house?
Some barn quilts are custom designed, with a more artistic eye or designs that may not seem
quilt-able are chosen. A painted flag might be labeled as a barn quilt. The question arises: “Is
that a quilt?” Technically, any design that can be painted could be reproduced in cloth, and
there is no national quilt trail authority to dictate whether your design is acceptable. But if
you are going to be part of a local quilt trail, they may have rules that would determine the
suitability of the pattern you have chosen. Some don’t allow for logos or words, as they want
to avoid including paintings that might be considered signs, rather than quilts. Be sure to
check with the local committee before starting your project. If no local quilt trail exists,
whatever you call a quilt IS a quilt!
As for where your quilt block can be mounted--it’s your property and your painting! Of
course you may have a neighborhood or community code or covenant to be concerned with,
but there are no general rules as to design or location. Again, a local quilt trail committee
may have rules as to location and visibility; if you intend to be part of a community project,
you will want to coordinate with them.
How do I get on the quilt trail?
Paint a barn quilt! Or have one painted for you. Every painted quilt is on the quilt trail. Only
community projects are placed on the map, as it is intended to aid travelers in finding barn
quilts. But every single quilt block is part of the American Quilt Trail Movement.
Barn Quilt Info