Barn Quilts Across the Country
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Barn Quilt Beginnings
The American barn quilt trail movement started with a simple promise. Wishing to honor her mother by painting a quilt on the side of her barn, Donna Sue Groves organized her rural Ohio community to create not one, but 20 colorful barn quilt blocks in 2001. The trail of barn quilts brought her neighbors together, increased tourism, and developed pride in a new form of public art. Author Suzi Parron first documented Donna Sue's story in Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail Movement. The lengthening thread of this uniquely American art phenomenon motivated Suzi to take to the road for a second time. Her result is Following the Barn Quilt Trail, where she tells the story of traveling the country to collect stories of families, quilts, and rural creativity.
Here, author Suzi Parron shares what she has learned about barn quilts on her cross-country journey.Date Published: November 3, 2017Date Updated: November 8, 2017
Q: It has taken only 16 years for the barn quilt trail idea to spread to over 40 states and into Canada. Why do you think barn quilts have become so popular?
A: A lot of different reasons contribute to that success. Barn quilts work on so many different levels: pride of place, tourism, public art. When the idea was first developed, Donna Sue Groves was very active in organizing it, and afterward she talked about the Ohio quilt trail with all kinds of people in rural areas, meeting with community groups and even extension agents. As the quilts caught people's eyes and imaginations, others began to ask themselves if they could do it. It's something that even a small group of people can do, and it shows that you can do something to instill pride in a community and bring people together. Part of the inital idea was to only use professional artists in the local communities, but that changed when people realized they could make their own and have fun, too.Date Published: November 3, 2017Date Updated: November 8, 2017
Q: How do barn owners decide on their quilt patterns?
A: Many barn owners respond to a local committee that comes up with a collection of designs representative of the region. This way, there is an organized regional connection and less chance of repeated designs. Some owners choose a design based on an heirloom pattern. In South Carolina, many barn quilts are created to document cloth quilts, some dating back to the 19th century.
[Several Louisiana] blocks were designed by a local artist. She created geometric representations of all kinds of things that represent the community. In Canada, some First Nations quilters use traditional iconography. North Carolina artists created a star of socks for a sock factory, and other designs made of gears and saw blades.Date Published: November 3, 2017Date Updated: November 8, 2017
Q: What are some of your favorite barn quilt designs?
A: One of the quilt blocks in my new book that really stands out for me is a replica of a 1930s Dresden Plate friendship quilt from Nebraska that had dozens of signatures embroidered on it.
Another that I loved was in my first book. High school art students in Kankakee, Illinois, painted barn quilts with trompe l'oeil techniques so the blocks look like actual fabric. When I first saw one of them, I knew it was painted, but I just had to geet under it and look up at it to make sure it really was painted wood.Date Published: November 3, 2017Date Updated: November 8, 2017
Making a Quilt
Q: What are the basic materials needed to make a barn quilt?
A: Most are made with two sheets of exterior-grade plywood or MDO (medium-density overlay) singboard, which make an 8x8-foot square. The boards are primed before painting and may be framed on the back or just screwed directly onto the side of the barn. A barn quilt takes about a gallon of exterior paint, so many barn quiltmakers share paint colors for their projects. At about the 10-year mark most quilts need to be repainted.Date Published: November 3, 2017Date Updated: November 8, 2017
Serving as Keepsakes
Q: How have barn quilts affected the concern for barn preservation?
A: Many barns have been obsolete for years now because new equipment doesn't fit in them. Also, large barns are expensive to maintain, so many of the oldest get torn down. But some owners take care of their old barns as a labor of love. Aside from adding a colorful barn quilt, they sometimes replace the roof or siding, paint the barn, and add a new fence or windows. Neighbors see that and make a few repairs, and others follow as they show pride in their barns, too.Date Published: November 3, 2017Date Updated: November 8, 2017
Q: What was the most surprising thing that you came across in your travels?
A: One important thing I discovered was how alike we all really are. Scenery may be unique in different areas, but it's surprising how people in rural Washington State are not really much different than those in tural Tennessee.Date Published: November 3, 2017Date Updated: November 8, 2017
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