If you see a colorful quilt block hanging on the side of a barn in the Pennsylvania countryside, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. Pennsylvania has hundreds of these “barn quilts” scattered across the commonwealth, paying tribute to our Germanic and agricultural backgrounds. While barn quilts exist in other areas, the PA countryside is especially a hotspot for this form of art. Read on to learn more about the origins of barn quilts and the popularity of barn quilts in PA today, and discover barn quilt trails throughout the state.
What Is a Barn Quilt?
A barn quilt is a large piece of wood, typically 8-by-8 feet, painted with geometric motifs to look like a single quilted block and hung on the exterior of a barn, house, garage, or other building. The design, which is usually made of simple polygonal shapes, is often chosen from a family heirloom quilt that has been passed down through generations. Because of this, many consist of traditional quilt patterns such as the Compass Star or Pinwheel, while others are inspired by nature or local industry. These barn quilts help to celebrate the local establishments and culture.
Today’s barn quilts have Pennsylvania Dutch farmers to thank for inspiration. Mennonite and other Germanic farmers brought hex signs to America in the 17th century. Reminiscent of Scandinavian folk art designs, hex signs are circular decorative designs hung on the exteriors of barns. While six-pointed stars were the most popular design, other common hex signs designs include birds, grains, hearts, and flowers. Some historians say hex signs are spiritual in nature and provided protection to the contents of the building, while others believe hex signs to be purely decorative. Hex signs and other basic quilt patterns created the foundation for barn quilts, and many quilt square and hex sign designs can still be found in Pennsylvania Dutch communities today.
Barn Quilt Boom
Though Pennsylvania farmers have been using hex signs and quilt patterns to decorate their barns for decades, a spike in barn quilt popularity occurred in 2001 after an Ohio woman decided to honor her mother by painting a quilt and hanging it on the side of her tobacco barn. Her work of art inspired her friends, neighbors, and the town eventually allowing her to expand her designs throughout the area and creating the very first barn quilt trail – The American Quilt Trail. Similar trails have been adopted in agricultural communities across the country as more farmers sought to honor their heritage by adding quilt blocks to their barns. Travelers can now find barn quilts in 48 states and Canada.
Find a Pennsylvania Barn Quilts
Pennsylvania has hundreds of barn quilts scattered across its scenic countryside. Many communities have organized these barn quilts into trails, making it easy to find one to check out while enroute to another destination or to make a day out of searching out enough to make an entire quilt. Some of the most prominent regional and statewide barn quilt trails are:
Pennsylvania State Grange Heritage Quilt Trail
With more than 200 wooden quilt blocks on display, Pennsylvania Grangers created the state-wide State Grange Heritage Quilt Trail to showcase the heritage of quilting through design and patterns. The mission of this trail is to highlight the heritage of quilting through design and patterns. The most well-known stop on the trail is the permanent display at the PA Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg.
Stitches in Time: Franklin County Barn Quilt Trail
Travel through the farmlands and forests of Franklin County on the Stitches in Time: Franklin County Barn Quilt Trail. The trail includes more than three dozen quilt squares, some inspired by traditional quilt patterns or family designs while others tell a piece of local history or family stories. Start at the Franklin County 11/30 Visitors Center, or anywhere along the trail, and make your way through as you discover stories of the quilt square, beautiful views, and history in between each site.
Barn Quilts in Lancaster County
Take a journey back to the origins of the quilt barns and hex signs and explore barn quilts throughout Amish Country in Lancaster. Journey along the Barn Quilts in Lancaster County trail to admire eight quilt barns throughout the area and discover the unique stories of each.
Quilt Mural Trail
Loop through 29 painted quilts that are mounted on barns and buildings throughout Perry, Juniata, and Mifflin county roadways. Students from each county participated and their works of art are on display on the Quilt Mural Trail. This community project aimed to combine history, geometry, and art and allowed the students to research, design, and paint each quilt with great care and pride under the guidance of quilt artist, Denise Hoke.
Frontier Barn Quilt Trail
Founded in 2014, the Frontier Barn Quilt Trail serves three essential functions, Conservation, Recreation/Rural/Lifestyle, Cultural/Historical Heritage. The mission of the trail is to encourage community involvement to help in barn preservation, to celebrate rural culture, pride in farm property and conservation, to educate youth and visitors on the value of the agricultural economy, to celebrate the quilting tradition, and to create a year-round attraction, fostering other community events and projects.
Quilted Corners of Wyalusing
The Quilted Corners of Wyalusing is a public art project that brings the spirit of the arts to the Wyalusing community and reveals the community-wide expression of their farming and quilt heritage. The Quilted Corners of Wyalusing contains almost 200 wooden, colorful squares available for all to enjoy.
Check out even more beautiful scenery along our Beautiful Byways Road Trips in Pennsylvania. Be sure to check out the visitPA website and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more PA inspiration. Do not forget to sign up for our monthly Happy Thoughts e-newsletter so you never miss an update.