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 participate.
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 encyclopedias 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 initials 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 to paint the blocks, but the process was time-consuming. Soon the method was changed, and painters began creating quilt blocks on wood, which were 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. Some are using aluminum, which is becoming the standard. 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 painter’s 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 multi-page magazines, and some are on 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.