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History of the barn quilt

November 3, 2009
Fairmont Sentinel

To the Editor:

Since the displaying of several barn quilts in the Truman area, there has been quite a few questions by locals as well as passers-by. Just what is a barn quilt anyway?

The history of the barn quilt begins about 300 years ago with the arrival of immigrants from the Rhine region of Germany. They came for religious freedom. These groups included Amish, Mennonites, Lutherans and other Reform groups.

Many settled in Pennsylvania, especially in Berks, Lancaster and Lehigh counties.

Today, octagonal and hexagonal star-like patterns are seen on the Pennsylvania Dutch (Deutche) barns.

Prior to the 1830s, most barns were unpainted because of the cost of paint. As paint became more affordable, the Pennsylvania Dutch began to paint and decorate their barns.

Barn decorating peaked in the early 20th century. There were many artists who specialized in barn decorating. These artists combined many folk designs, including geometric patterns from quilt squares. Many of the symbols used had a special meaning such as: circle - eternity or infinity; four-pointed star - bright day; triple star - success, wealth and happiness; and star - good luck. Quilt squares have special names and meanings also.

Today barn quilts have become popular again with more and more becoming visible. Quilt trails have been developed in many states. After a number of barn quilts have been displayed in an area, a map is developed that guides the viewers to the location. The map will have an address, maybe a picture of the square and a name or explanation of its meaning. A few of the states that have developed quilt trails include, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and our close neighbor, Iowa. Barn quilts can be ordered on-line or you can make your own for less cost. They are not difficult to make since geometric shapes are used for most. If you want to get ideas for a pattern, go online and search

The quilts can be put on any type of building, from houses, garages, sheds or just mounted on two posts and displayed in the yard or a park.

The Truman Museum has directions on how to make a barn quilt. We hope the "Barn Quilt Fever" catches on. The museum would like to develop a barn quilt trail in the future. We hope to promote agri-tourism and draw visitors to our rural community. Barn quilts enhance the beauty of the countryside and give joy to the passer-by.

Marilyn Carrigan,

executive director

Truman Museum



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