If You See a Quilt Pattern on a Barn, This Is What It Means

There's a story behind every barn quilt.

If you’re from a rural area—especially if you’re from the Midwest—barns are no sight to see. You’re probably more than used to the chickens, cows and rolling fields, and of course, hearty farmhouse meals. But what about barn quilts?

You read that right—some farmers paint quilt squares on a barn, displayed for the world to see. The squares add a pop of color to a faded red barn, but the meaning of each barn quilt is rooted in family tradition.

What Is a Barn Quilt?

In the early 2000s, Donna Sue Groves painted a quilt square on her Ohio tobacco barn to honor her mother, who was a quilter herself. The quilt square painted on Groves’ barn wasn’t a one-hit wonder, though. Her idea took off and she turned it into a way for rural communities to promote folk art as well as tourism.

According to The Seattle Times, communities have come together to follow the guidelines set by Groves’ concept. First, a barn (or any building—it doesn’t have to be a barn) is identified for display. Then, a quilt pattern is painted on 8-foot-by-8-foot plywood squares and mounted for the public.

Because quilting is equal parts art and family tradition, many quilt patterns are passed down through generations. A family’s unique pattern often inspires the barn quilt squares put on display.

Have a quilter in mind? Here are our recommendations for the best gifts to buy a quilter.

Where Can I Find Barn Quilts?

People travel all over the country—not just throughout the Midwest—to see barn quilts. If rural exploration, road trips and folk art are your thing, the quilt trail is extensive. Barn Quilt Info shares that this type of artwork appears in 48 states and Canada!

And if cross-country travel isn’t in the cards, don’t worry. You can find quilt trails in your county or state, like the Boone County Quilt Trail or the Colorado Quilt Trail. Depending on where you’re located, you could pencil in a relaxing Sunday drive to see barn quilts.

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Hannah Twietmeyer
Hannah is a writer and content creator based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with a passion for all things food, health, community and lifestyle. She is a journalism graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a previous dining and drink contributor for Madison Magazine.