I have been fascinated by barn quilts since I saw my first one in rural Michigan this past Christmas. I made my husband drive up a snow covered path so I could hop out of the car, scamper through the snow and snap a photo. You can see that photo below.
You may be just like me circa 2016 so imagine this: you are lost, and roaming through the rural country roads of Pocahontas County, West Virginia. In between repeatedly rebooting your GPS and reminding your travel buddy in the passenger seat that you are trying to get back to the highway, you start to see beautifully painted symbols on the side of barns that look suspiciously like quilt blocks.
They are quilt blocks. This may have actually happened to you, either in West Virginia, or Ohio, or 46 other states in the country that have their own, distinct “Quilt Trail.” But in the stress and confusion of being lost in middle America, you may have not taken the time to find out what on earth these barn quilts actually are.
That’s why I’m here. Get ready to hear the very heartwarming story of the Barn Quilt, as well as where to check out some of our country’s most famous quilt trails.
Barn Quilts: The Beginning
Barn Quilts Started with Donna Sue Groves in 2001. Contrary to common myth, Donna Sue was not a renown Amish quilter from generations past, but a contemporary quilter in Adams County, Ohio. Donna Sue, being the sweetheart she was, wanted to create a project to honor her mother, Maxine, and her Appalachian heritage.
She decided to use her biggest, most visible canvas: the side of her barn. She partnered with some local artists to create not only a quilt block on her own barn, but a completed “sampler” of twenty quilt blocks, encouraging people to follow the trail and travel through the beautiful Ohio countryside.
The project was a homey, heartwarming success, and Donna Sue was asked by other quilt enthusiasts, artists, and historians to help develop quilt trails in their states as well.
Tennessee, Iowa and Kentucky were the first to jump onboard, all eager to take pride in their networks of old barns, and their rich cultural histories. Now, you can run into quilt trails in rural areas all around the country, each with their own unique symbols and stories.
Modern Barn Quilt Squares with Historic Significance
Even though the history of quilt trails are rooted in the surprisingly recent past, the blocks themselves tell stories from much longer ago.
The Trail in Pocahontas, West Virginia, is actually a great example. Crafted in 2013 when West Virginia was celebrating its 150th Birthday, the Pocahontas County Quilt Trail tells the story of the history of the region by using famous, historic quilt squares. You’ll probably recognize most of them, but here are a few that the West Virginians included and their historical meaning:
- Bear’s Paw: Early American Pioneers coming across a bear track would know that they needed to proceed cautiously, but that the bear’s tracks would lead to water and food.
- Bow Tie: Though it may symbolize morning, midday, evening, and night, this pattern also reminds us of the bow ties that were given to many slaves running toward freedom as part of a disguise.
- Flying Geese: Also a signal for slaves intending to escape, this pattern was a reminder to follow the direction of the geese also headed North.
- Rail Fence: This pattern is reminiscent of the fences that divided many of the fields in West Virginia… and still do!
- Churn Dash: The Churn Dash quilt pattern is a reminder that quilts are both beautiful and practical.
Quilt trails around the country have chosen their own blocks to tell the story of the people and places surrounding the trail. Using quilt squares to narrate history is almost like using a special code for an exclusive group of awesome crafters (like quilters!) It’s pretty cool to consider yourself part of the inner circle.
Where to Find the Best Barn Quilt Trails in the US
(I called this “the best” because I can’t find a list of all of them… so here are the better known ones.)
- Colorado: The Colorado Classic Quilt Trail
- Georgia: The Southern Quilt Trail
- Iowa: The Barn Quilts of Sac County
- Kentucky: The Boone County Quilt Trail
- Michigan: The Barns of Old Mission Quilt Block Trail (Fun fact! I got married on Old Mission Peninsula at a beautiful winery. What was that? You want to see a pictures? awwww ok. Here's one...and because I can't help myself, I'll throw a few more at the end of this post too. Muah!)
- Mississippi: The Oktibbeha County Barn Trail
- Missouri: The Boonslick Area Quilt Trail
- New York: The Country Barn Quilt Trail of Western New York
- North Carolina: The Quilt Trails of Western North Carolina
- Ohio: The Adams County Quilt Trail
- South Carolina: The Upstate Heritage Quilt Trail
- Tennessee: The Upper Cumberland Quilt Trail
- Texas: The Terry County Quilt Trail
Barn Quilt Trails fill my heart with warmth. A movement created to honor mothers, quilters, and rich American history through the diverse, colorful patterns of quilt squares? I'm in.
Now for a few more wedding photos because...well just because :)
And that super cute man in between John and me is my dad! He married us. Awwwww 🙂
Below is our quirky band that drove up from Chicago. John heard them play at the California Clipper and then asked if they wanted another gig. This funky crew was so low maintenance, they camped all weekend!
One thing that made that day extra special was that I got to wear my mother's dress. It was over 30 years old and aside from changing its hue from white to ivory, it still looked beautiful. My mom is one of my most favorite people and I loved being able to honor her like that on my wedding day.
A year and a half after my wedding my mom began a series of eye surgeries that tragically failed. She can no longer see, but we still love this memory of our shared wedding dress. I wrote a blog post about her, if you'd like to read more.