The history of the American Barn Quilt can be traced back almost 300 years to the arrival of immigrants from the central regions of Europe; Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.
It is widely believed that barn painting/quilting originated in Pennsylvania with these immigrants and then spread too much of the New England and Midwestern states. Paint was very expensive in those days and painting a decorative and distinctive quilt pattern on their barns was a wonderful way of allowing for decoration. It also became an excellent way for travelers to find particular families or cross roads as towns people would just tell them which pattern to look for.
Paint became less costly around the 1830 to 1840’s and at this point barn painting/decorating became an actual trade with specialized artisans. These artists combined many folk designs as well as specific geometric patterns from quilt squares: Snail trail, Bear claw, Mariners compass and Drunkards path.
Decorating barns with colorful designs and quilt squares peaked by the beginning of the 20th century and slowly gave way to a more pragmatic form of barn painting; advertisement. Gone were the colorful quilts and in their place came the paid ads for Red Man Chewing Tobacco, Ceresota Flour, and Mail Pouch: A nostalgic part of the history of American barns in their own right.
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, Iowa and of course, Michigan.
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.