What Are Barn Quilts? Here’s Everything You Need To Know

Have you ever been on a road trip in rural America and glance up at an old, dilapidated barn that has a brightly painted quilt block on the front of it?

Why would someone take the time to put something like that upon a barn that looks like it’s about to fall over, right?

This post will go over the significance of these beautiful art pieces hung up on unique canvas and why rural Americans love to display them on their barns.

What Are Barn Quilts?

Quilt signs on barns are innovative messages that bring people together in the spirit of country pride.

A paintbrush and several colors of paint can make strangers, friends and once a barn quilt stands tall and bright, those friends become accomplices.

They rally around these impressive works of rural art and look for a paintbrush so they can experience the same down-home feeling of pride and accomplishment.

So What Gives Barn Quilts That Down-Home Feeling?

Before you can understand the feeling attached to barn quilts, you have to understand what a barn quilt looks like and how they attract such a loyal following.

old barn in field during winter barn quilts

The people who don’t understand the art call barn quilts strange painted squares on the sides and fronts of buildings.

They don’t get immersed in the flavor or the intensity behind those painted squares until they take the time to understand the meaning in those brightly colored rectangles, triangles, squares and other designs.

Those designs turn barns, garages, homes, and other buildings into basic yet modern versions of Michelangelo-type messages.

Quilters understand the intensity behind the simple, yet colorful, geometric squares that come together to meet and greet.

The painted squares are usually solid colors and some barn quilts looked like vibrantly printed fabric that attract the attention of the young and the old.

Barn quilts give people from all walks of life something to think about if only for a fleeting moment in time.

The best way to answer the question, “What are barn quilts?” is to say they are messages from artists who use paint and old rural buildings to express emotions in a non-ordinary way.

Common Questions About Barn Quilts:

What is the meaning of barn quilts?

Barn quilts are a form of Americana folk art that can have a couple of different meanings. Some are made in dedication to a specific person and hung up on a family barn. Others may represent a family as a whole or a community.

What is the reason for barn quilts?

Barn quilts are a reminder of family, community, and love. They truly are their own art form.

How big should a barn quilt be?

Recommended sizes for barn quilts are 8′ X 8′ or 4′ X 4′. But you can make a barn quilt any size you want! Even if you don’t have a barn to hang it on, you can create a barn quilt and hang up in your home or have it outside on your porch. 

What kind of wood is used for barn quilts?

Plywood will be the best choice for creating your barn quilt. Some home improvement stores carry signboard which is nice and smooth for painting. If you can’t find signboard, you can use MDF or sand plywood smooth.

The History Of Barn Quilts

Our ancestors gave us the art of painting different messages and shapes on buildings, homes, barns, and other structures because there’s something innately human about that art form.

The art of painting barn quilts is an expansion of that ancient form of expression.

The actual barn quilt movement was the brainchild of Ohio quilter Donna Sue Groves. During her early years, Donna would visit her grandmother in West Virginia and each road trip would turn into a car game.

Donna would count different types of barns and each one was worth a certain number of points.

Barns with advertising messages on them were worth more than plain barns, and red barns were worth even more points. But the barns with the hex sign on them were the big point finds.

In 1989, Donna Sue wanted to do something about the old, nasty-looking tobacco barn on the family’s land in rural Adams County, Ohio, so Donna told her mother she would paint quilt squares on it someday.

The urge to turn a plain, ugly barn into a canvas for quilt art became a mission for Donna Sue.

Even though Donna Sue never got the chance to paint a quilt on her family’s mouse-infested tobacco barn, her desire to turn something plain into something extraordinary became the art we call “barn quilts” a few years later.

So What’s A Barn Quilt Trail?

Donna Sue got a job with the Ohio Arts Council. While working with the council, she saw how murals painted on buildings gave the locals a sense of pride and tourists something to talk about.

The murals gave her the idea to follow through on her old mission to paint quilt-type squares on that family tobacco barn. But instead of painting quilt squares on one barn, she decided to paint quilt designs on a bunch of local barns.

The Arts Council thought that was a great idea. Plus the council thought tourists would enjoy the concept, so in 2001, the Adams County Arts Council painted the first quilt square on a local barn.

And as fate would have it, the first quilt-painted barn became the showpiece for what is now the barn quilt trail. This local barn quilt trail undertaking is now a 43-state phenomenon.

The multi-state barn quilt trail is now a well-planned project that follows the guidelines established by the Adams County Council.

Barns along the trail usually have 8 x 8-foot plywood squares mounted on the face or side of a barn, and there’s an advertising campaign set up that attracts barn quit trail lovers from around the world.

Courtesy of Appalachian RCD Council: https://arcd.org/quilt-trail/

And it’s not just women who paint quilts patterns on these barns. Men, kids, and the old folks around these rural towns like to play a part in creating their version of a local barn quilt trail.

Some people quilt-paint their barns even though they are not part of the official local barn quilt trail.

Why Not Make Your Own Barn Quilt?

Making barn quilts is addictive, according to quilt lovers. It gives them a reason to get out of the house and use their creative talents to show the world that there’s creativity in every choice we make.

The best way to make your own barn quilt is to do what people all over the world do these days.

Check out this video tutorial and learn how to be part of the barn quilt painting craze.

Or if Youtube is not your thing, there are plenty of ideas on Pinterest that will inspire you to get started and finish your personal barn quilting project.

So the answer to the question, “What are barn quilts?” is simple.

They are human expressions of togetherness and pride.

What Are the Benefits of Quilt Paintings On Barns?

There are many reasons why someone would want to add a barn quilt to the barn or home exterior. Just because you don’t have a barn doesn’t mean you can’t add a bit of American folk art to your home. Let’s look at some of the benefits of having one of these eye-catching pieces displayed.

  • Decoration– A barn quilt doesn’t necessarily need a deep, hidden meaning behind it. You could add one to your home just because you want a pop of color.
  • Representation- If you have a family emblem or quilt block that means a great deal to you, you can display it for the world to see. Another example is if you love to garden or love animals, you could paint a barn quilt with your favorite flower or pet to represent what is unique to you.
  • Remembrance– Perhaps your grandmother had a favorite quilt block, and you want to have something to remember her by. By painting a barn quilt of her favorite design, you can have a constant reminder of her and the sweet memories you cherish.
  • Disguise– If the barn or shed has an “ ugly area,” you could easily cover it with a beautiful barn quilt. No one will even notice the dents or knots in the wood if you place a colorful barn quilt over them.
  • Display– Sometimes, you just want to show off! If you’ve spent hours painting a barn quilt, why not hang it up and let passersby enjoy your artwork? 

What Is a Barn Quilt Made Of?

Traditionally, a barn quilt is made from wood. You could use other options, but consider whether the material will withstand the elements. I recommend using sealant to protect the artwork.

  • Shiplap
  • Pressure-treated lumber
  • Smooth steel 
  • Reclaimed barn wood

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Barn quilts are the Picasso's and the Matisse’s of the 21st-century. They bring out human emotion, and they put a smile on the face of the people who understand the messages within them.

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