For decades, I’ve admired the colorful, painted quilts adorning rural barns in my travels. The hand-painted wooden decor is a nod towards heirloom quilting, and quite literally can be described as an ornate quilt design that is applied to a barn as an outdoor decoration. Barn quilting became a thing with the help of Donna Sue Groves, as she sought a way to commemorate her mother. The popularity of barn quilting continued to grow as a means for community togetherness (so hygge!) and spurs agri-tourism around the United States and Canada. More than 7,000 barn quilts are mapped on quilt trails through both private and public property, and sought after by niche travelers. A barn quilt can be anything you want it to be – simple or ornate – but its elements of color, contrast and symmetry are always prevalent, and visually tie it back to the art of heirloom quilting.
Whitney at Local Color Quilts in Buffalo, NY was the brains behind the design I used for this barn quilt. An accomplished quilter with a unique perspective on color, she modernized a traditional star design with a refreshingly bright color palette that would work perfectly on my dark brown-stained barn. Matching paint colors to the palette that she selected for the design was easy; many paint manufacturers have apps that help you match colors in your photos to paint chips in their respective line of colors, so I was able to go to the paint store armed with the paint codes for the 18 shades that I needed for the design. I only needed to purchase the $3 sample containers for the project – so keep in mind to choose the smallest samples sold in-store.
Bear in mind the size of the barn quilt you want to make when selecting your lumber. Many traditional barn quilts are eight-foot squares, but the space available on my barn wasn’t quite so big. I scaled down so that my quilt was built upon a 4’ x 4’ piece of 1/4” plywood base, and planed 1x8 pine boards. Before making any cuts, I dry-fit seven of the pine boards together, and measured to find that the quilt could, at max, be a 50” square. I cut all boards to that length.
Staining is optional, really. It’s perfectly awesome to leave the boards natural since they will weather with time, and no judgement if you decide to paint the base either. I stained the pine boards in my project, but with enough transparency to allow the grain of the wood to show through. Once the stain has dried, flip the boards over, line them up into a perfect square, and lay the plywood on top of them. Drill 1-1/4” screws through the plywood and into each board, all the while making sure that the boards aren’t shifting. I put six screws into each board.
If you’re applying stain, don't forget to coat the edges of the boards, as well as any areas of the 4' x 4' base plywood that might be visible.
Following the modern star design from Local Color Quilts, I blocked off the base of the barn quilt into 16 even squares. For demonstration purposes here, I used blue tape in the first photo, but you’ll just need to make accurate marks using a pencil, ruler, and long straight-edge (a 4’ level is usually my go-to for long straight lines).
Painter’s tape will be your BFF. The painting process will probably take you a couple of days, but it could be done in one day with some patience. It’s really easy to make quick progress at the beginning of the project because you can mask painter’s tape along your pencil lines in different areas of your design, and apply several colors at the same time. Towards the end of the project is where I started to slow down – my final spaces were in close proximity, so I needed to wait for one color to try before taping off the next section.
Each space will require 2-3 coats of paint, but working outdoors with nice air flow helps the paint dry fast.
Certainly one of the most attractive pieces of art I’ve ever painted! Also one of the heaviest. As a 50” square, the barn quilt weighed easily 50 pounds, and I knew it would be a challenge to install it on the side of our barn. You’re definitely going to want to get the barn quilt into some studs. I pre-determined where to anchor it by drilling out from the inside of the barn beside my target studs, and then installed a 2x6 board as a ledger for the barn quilt to sit upon while we attached it into those studs using 5” bolts. Once the art is installed, I used two bolts on the top and two on the bottom. You can remove the ledger and step back to admire your beautiful, modern barn quilt. (I’m officially obsessed – paint quilts onto all of the things!)