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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

What's the Story with Barn Quilts?

The story of the barn quilt is vague and fairly undocumented until the early 2000's. Some say it began in 2001 with an Ohio lady that started the first barn quilt trail to boost rural tourism. More on those later. Some say it was a Dutch tradition that has been around for hundreds of years. Others say they were used to mark the underground railroad. As with many conflicting histories, it was most likely a combination somewhere in the middle.

 Pennsylvania Dutch Barn starThe Pennsylvanian Dutch had a tradition of painting stars or flowers on their barns. These became popular around in the 1830s when paint was affordable enough to use on larger areas. However, the symmetrical and often geometric designs came from the smaller motifs already used on marriage and birth certificates, around the home and, yes, from their quilts.  The symbolism in these designs was steeped in superstition particularly for farmers, as most life and death professions depend to a degree on luck. Some symbols that makes sense are eight pointed stars for abundance, rosettes to protect from famine, pomegranates for fertility, oak leaves for strength and tulips for faith. Later they became even more specific such as a horse to protect livestock from disease. 

 Art history board
As superstition became more and more frowned upon by the puritan neighbors the designs became more decorative and personal. They started to serve as landmarks to draw the attention of tourists which revived the art that was threatening to die out.

It is easy to make the jump from the quilts and folk art of the past to the quilters and folk artists of today. 

What's the Story with Barn QuiltsThe Modern Barn Quilt began as an enlarged version on a single block from a real quilt. These were often made to commemorate a heritage of quilting such as design passed down from a grandmother. Since elaborate quilting traditions have deep roots in our European ancestry, it stands to reason that it would surface in this way as Americans have become so interested in genealogy and the cultures that once defined them.    
As always we began to put our own spin on the barn quilts and today you can find artisans creating everything from enormous displays of precise optical illusions and color plays to quaint shelf size decorator items to bring that farmhouse chic look into the kitchen or nursery. 

This variety is what make the Barn Quilt Trails such a fun and enriching way to see the countryside.  A Barn Quilt trail consists of a map that is put together of a county or region that connects all the barn quilts in view from the road.  It is a great way to increase agritourism in the less population dense farmlands of America. Many of the stops on the maps lead the traveler to little farm stands, U-pick orchards, wineries, small business owners, and craftsman's shops. On the way it helps one gain an appreciation for the beauty of the land and work that goes into some of our basic necessities. 

If you know of a barn Quilt trail near you please comment or email me. I would love to put together a list that that anyone can find a trail near them. 

Here is a List of Barn Quilt trails I have found as of Aug 2018. 

Gibson County, Princeton IN 
Miame County Peru IN/
LaGange County Shipshewana, IN
Kentucky map of Barn Quilt trails

Commission your own Barn Quilt for your Farm, Shed, Small business, Home, or mailbox at Earthshaper Arts on Etsy.  



  1. Maryland: Garrett County, Carroll County, Calvert County, Harford County.
    The barn quilt on my barn is part of the Carrol County MD trail which consists of 39 (?) quilts now.

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  3. Newberry Quilt Trail (SC); Upstate Heritage Quilt Trail (Anderson, Pickens, and Oconee Counties - SC); York County Quilt Trail (SC);

  4. Wisconsin: shawano county driving tour. Red river quilted splendor. Also check out bonduel and beyond in shawano county. Fabulous barn quilts!


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