Backroads: Barn Quilts: Trails of Beauty

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Kay Campbell painting a barn quilt. Photo: Lynn Coffey.

When early Swedish and German settlers first came to Pennsylvania in the 17th century they brought a rich cultural tradition of painting round hex signs to display on the sides of barns. They could be symbols of good luck and happiness, but, mostly they were thought to ward off charms and evil spells.

In 2020 a new and colorful trend is catching on much like the old hex signs. Under the umbrella of “Barn Quilts,” replicas of early quilt patterns are hand-painted on a wooden surface and hung not only on barns but outbuildings, homes, fences and interiors as well.  

The movement was started by Donna Sue Groves when she and her mother bought a farm in Adams County, Ohio, in 1989. There was a plain tobacco barn on the property and she told her mother, a quilt maker, she was going to spruce it up by painting a quilt to hang on the front of it.  Locals driving by loved looking at her barn quilt and soon Donna was painting them for others in the area.

Jenny Kiser standing by her shed quilt. Photo: Lynn Coffey.

The painted quilts began attracting the attention of tourists and in 2001 turned into a tourism project implemented in Ohio. The result was the first “barn quilt trail,” a series of painted quilt patterns installed along a certain route for people to follow and enjoy looking at.

Currently North America has quilt trails in 43 states and three in Canada.

In our own area, Greene County boasts over 100 of the barn quilts and their visitor center gladly gives information and a map for visitors to follow. Monterey also has a quilt trail, but the barns are farther apart. Other localities have barn quilts on display but not on any particular route.

Two creative women in our area are now painting the colorful quilts. The first is Beech Grove resident Kay Campbell, who is known for her beautiful and functional floor cloths. This past February Kay decided to try painting the barn quilts because they are similar to the floor cloth application. She uses exterior acrylic paint on half-inch plyboard cut to eighteen by eighteen and twenty-four by twenty-four-inch squares but can do larger sizes as well.  

An Ohio Star quilt pattern. Photo: Lynn Coffey.

To start, Kay caulks around the edges of the wood to seal it from the weather.  She then adds her base coat and sketches the design onto the square before taping each section off before she begins painting.  When the paint has set, she finishes by putting on a waterproof sealer. Kay plans to take her barn quilts to the various local craft shows and farmers markets, along with her floor cloths. Anyone wishing to contact Kay for more information can do so through her email: [email protected]

Jennifer “Jenny” Kiser, our neighbor here in Love, started a business in 2013 called Painted Stitches and has painted over 50 barn quilts for people wishing to display the signs on their property. After watching a TV program about the quilts, Jenny went online and found the materials needed to start her business. She paints on three-quarter inch sign board and uses Dura-Max exterior paint for longevity. The process is the same as Kay Campbell’s: first caulking the edges and painting on a base coat to which she pencils in the grids where the colors will be. Using Frog Tape to mark off each section, Jenny paints the dark colors first and fills in the others as she goes. She has done some smaller, twelve-by-twelve-inch pieces, but the largest was an eight-by-eight-foot painting of the Virginia Tech Logo with the distinctive maroon and orange colors of the college. Her favorite pattern is called the “Carpenter’s Wheel.”  Jennifer can be reached at her email: [email protected] if you would like to commission her to make a colorful barn quilt of your own.

Why not start a barn quilt trail in our own area? They are an aesthetic addition to any property and always seem to garner smiles from sharp-sighted observers.  

A colorful quilt on a local barn. Photo: Lynn Coffey.

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