Flickr/ Don O'Brien

Ever See a Quilt Pattern on a Barn? Here's Where the Tradition Came From

Have you ever drove past a barn with a quilt block pattern and wondered about the meaning behind it? Barn quilts began as a way to honor a loved one with a gorgeous piece of folk art.

While barn quilts have been around for many years, there's been a spike in popularity in the last two decades. In Adams County, Ohio, in 2001, Donna Sue Groves set out to honor her mother, Maxine, and her quilt art by painting a quilt block on her tobacco barn. The idea was a hit, and soon friends and neighbors wanted painted quilts of their own. Donna realized that her unique quilting could have quite the effect on the area, so she decided to paint barns with quilt squares all over, and soon the first barn quilt trail was born.

So what is a quilt trail, you ask? Great question! According to Barn Quilt Info, it's a collection of quilt blocks on a series of barns that are on a walking or driving trail. The quilt patterns don't have to be on barns, though. The quilt designs can be on the side of any buildings the quilter sees fit to put them on.

The barn quilts are generally chosen from a family's own colorful quilt pattern that has been passed down through the years. Then the family's quilt pattern is turned into public art on their own barn or other building, and it becomes part of a quilt trail.

Since its beginning, the barn quilt project has launched many quilt trails, and these works of art have brought serious tourism boosts to rural communities. The scenic drives across rural areas to see the colorful sides of barns have become a beloved folk art tradition in several areas, but Ohio is still the king (or queen!) of barn quilt squares. There's now 43 quilt trails in the United States and three in Canada, with the US trails found in states ranging from Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin to Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Thanks to Donna Sue Groves and the Ohio Arts Council, old barns are now a must-see for anyone who enjoys small towns, American art, and family-friendly tourist attractions that kids and adults will love. Find a barn quilt trail map near you and get out on the road!

This story previously ran on June 5, 2020.

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