In 2001, in Adams County, Ohio, Donna Sue Grove wanted to honor her mother. So she painted a quilt block and hung it on her barn. Other people in the community saw the barn quilt hanging on her door and wanted to have barn quilts painted on their barns too. Soon, the barn quilts became a community project, and the barn quilts as we know today was born. Now, at least forty states and part of Canada, have barn quilts.

What are barn quilts?

A barn quilt is a large, hand-painted wooden block. When the paint is dry, the painter will hang it on the front of the barn for decoration, or honor a loved one. Typically, these blocks are 8 x 8 feet. Contrary to its name, a barn quilt doesn’t have to be hanging off the barn. If the owner of the barn quilt doesn’t have a barn, they can hang it off of their house, or any building people pass by while going down a road.

Barn quilts are a tradition dating back to the 1800s, from German and Swiss immigrants settling in the Pennsylvania Dutch area of Southern Pennsylvania. Settlers would hand paint small quilt blocks on their barns for decoration and to bring good fortune to the community.

Today, barn quilts started a quilt trail. When Donna Sue Graves first hung her barn quilt, at least twenty more appeared to create the first quilt trail. As people drive through the countryside, they can see the different barn quilt designs hanging off the buildings.

Barn quilt designs

When the barn quilts originally appeared in the nineteenth century, the designs were simple. They would usually be simple stars, compass roses, and birds from traditional folk art. It was a way for families to see the art passed down from generation to generation. The barn quilts at the time were a way to show the heritage of a household.

Today, the simple stars are still a part of a barn quilt design, but there are other quilt designs that people can paint on their quilt blocks, too. They can be as colorful or as simple as the barn quilter would like them to be.


Donna Sue Graves revived an art form almost forgotten in history. What she thought was honoring her mother turned into a community art project to encourage people to drive through the countryside. Websites offer maps of these different quilt trails. It’s a beautiful road trip for art enthusiasts.

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