Barns adorned by quilts

            As the Barn Quilt Heritage Trail-McLean County started making headway on its project, someone said to Kay Henrichs, a Barn Quilt Heritage Trail committee chair and Bloomington resident, “it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to raise a barn quilt.” Henrichs said, laughing, “Yeah, that’s true.”

             When Henrichs and her friend Karen Gottlieb took a bus tour to Kankakee and saw the barn quilt tour in that area, Henrichs said, “McLean County has got to get on board.” When they returned, Henrichs attended a Barn Keepers meeting, an organization that hosts an annual barn tour to promote appreciation and preservation of barns, where she met Jo Morrison, a barn quilter and local farm owner.

            Henrichs and Morrison started talking about the project in November of 2011. Afterwards, Henrichs brought in people and organizations from the community to form a committee; organizations such as the McLean County Historical Society, David Davis Mansion, Barn Keepers, Bloomington-Normal Visitors Bureau and the Hands All Around Quilt Guild. With people from so many backgrounds and community projects on the board, Henrichs says there is a nice tie to the agricultural and historical heritage of the community.

            Gordon Ropp, a former Director of Agriculture in Ill., 4-H Club leader, Sunday school teacher and active community member, attended a Barn Quilt Heritage Trail meeting and volunteered to recruit barn owners for the project. He told the committee that he thought he could get at least 10 barns to commit to a quilt, so he started with the first place that came to mind, his brothers farm, Ropp Farms in Normal. From there he followed the Barn Keepers tour booklet and arranged for 10 barn quilts to be mounted on barns just northwest of Normal in the Danvers and Carlock area. Many of the barn owners that Ropp visited were excited about the project. He says, “they were all happy to participate.” One barn owner had already been thinking about constructing a quilt for their barn, as well. Ropp says the barn owners were all welcoming and pleased to show off their barns and businesses. “These people are proud of their farm and their operation and are willing to display it in the form of a barn quilt,” he says.

             Each quilt is 8 ft. by 8 ft. and is made with two 8 ft. by 4 ft. sheets of exterior grade plywood that are primed and then taped off and painted with the design and colors of the barn owner’s choice. Henrichs says most patterns are geometrical and some quilts have included things such as the head of a Jersey cow or an alpaca to highlight the barn owner’s business or family heritage. When the quilt is framed and finished, it is taken to the site, hoisted up with ropes, and then screwed into the structure by volunteers from Corn Belt Energy using bucket trucks.

            A few barn owners had to fix up doors or add a coat of paint to the barn before putting up the quilts, so it “helps barn preservation too,” says Morrison.

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  1. I have been interested in getting a barn quilt, I live in McDonough Cty. there is one Lady near Colchester that has one. Where do you get the pattern for the quilt. how do you get started on it, and how do you frame it. please email me on all the information you have. kind of paint to use ect. thank you Karen Chatterton

  2. Hi Karen, Delighted to hear of your interest in barn quilts! Where is McDonough County? The first barn quilts I made were 3×3 in 2008. I enjoy working with this project and can help you with some information. Designs can be found in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are original, made up by the owners. Other options are a block from an actual quilt, online search for barn quilts, or online search for specific counties that have them such as Green County WI and Kankakee County IL. They are all over the country! The person credited with started them is in OH so that is a good place to look as well. I am a quilter and have dealt with all the “math” that goes into the design. We know we have 96″ to deal with. Some have 3 inch border around, so that leaves us with 92″. We just have to play with the design and make it fit the size. We use good painter’s tape to mark the design. There are 2 coats of good primer on high quality exterior plywood. Then each color has at least 4 coats of satin or semi-gloss exterior paint. Color choices are endless! That is what makes them unique. We are also one of, if not the only, that add “words on quilts” which is our poets creating unique poems about each barn quilt/owner/structure. The poems are delightful.
    Thanks again for your interest. Email me for more info if you’d like and I can forward to our chair Kay Henrichs.