Barn quilts have become a colorful addition to rural USA, crowning barns and other outbuildings in small towns and across the countryside.
The growing popularity of painting the design of a quilt block onto a board as outdoor decor means that barn quilts will also be a colorful addition to the Kansas State Fair this year.
The fair’s Agriculture Department will offer two new competitions this September: an open class in which anyone can enter a barn quilt, and a class for the winners of barn-quilt contests that are being held in individual counties, including Sedgwick County in July.
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A workshop for those who want to learn to make a barn quilt will be April 9 at the fairgrounds in Hutchinson.
“Lately it has really caught on fire,” said the workshop teacher, Sandy Heyman of Burns. She’s a quilter of note who got into barn quilts five years ago. “It’s been really amazing.”
The barn-quilt phenomenon is part outdoor decoration, adorning not only barns but garages, sheds and sides of houses; part tourism, with towns and regions promoting visits to their barn quilts; and part hobby, both in making and visiting them.
“There are people who their hobby is driving around looking at barn quilts and taking photos,” said Connie Larson of the Kansas Flint Hills Quilt Trail, a part of the Kansas Flint Hills Tourism Coalition that promotes quilt art in 22 counties – currently numbering about 400. “If I’m going to Eskridge today, I might check for barn quilts in the counties on my way.”
Barn quilts are available for sale, including at Heyman’s Sticks & Twigs store in Burns. But “I think more people just really want to do their own,” Heyman said.
Enter the fair competition.
“It’s been an idea they’ve been going around with here the past few years because it’s become such a popular thing to do,” said Nicole Jaskoski, who works on the fair’s competitive exhibits. “I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries. I’m expecting a pretty good turn-out. I’m excited about it.”
The beauty of barn quilts is that you don’t have to be a quilter or a painter to make one, though quilters and painters are interested in them.
“We’ve had 80-year-olds do it. We’ve had 90-year-olds do it,” Larson said. The design of a quilt block is traced onto signboard in a geometric grid and then painted in exterior paint.
“We use FrogTape (painters tape) so … anybody can make a straight line. If you’re not familiar with patterns, choose something simple. Anybody can do it. That’s kind of been the fun thing.”
The state-fair competition specifies that barn quilts should be 2 feet by 2 feet, and participants in the daylong workshop April 9 will receive the materials to make a barn quilt of that size. Participants can bring their own quilt-block design, or there will be designs to choose from. The workshop, which will be at the fairgrounds in Hutchinson, costs $40; the registration deadline is April 1.
Sedgwick County also will have a barn-quilt competition during the county fair July 6 to 9 in Cheney. Registration opens April 15; go to ourcountyfair.com starting that day for the registration deadline and an entry form.
Barn quilts will be judged on appearance, creativity and construction, and prizes will be awarded in both adult and youth (under 18) divisions.
It’s a misconception that those who don’t win at the county level can’t enter the state fair, Jaskoski said. They can.
“This is so interesting for a quilter,” Heyman, who will be teaching the workshop and has been quilting for 30 years, said of barn quilting. She compares the painters tape used on a barn quilt to the seams of a cloth quilt. She says the background of barn quilts is often painted off-white, to mimic unbleached muslin. “You use all the colors and all the design work you’d use on a quilt.”
There may be be a vendor of barn quilts at the Common Threads Regional Quilt Show sponsored by Wichita’s Prairie Quilt Guild from June 16 to June 18 at Century II.
“It’s something quilters are interested in,” said Jan Hutchison of the guild.
Heyman usually uses her own designs for barn quilts, but she advises keeping them simple in any event, “because you’re going to be looking at it from a distance. You wouldn’t see all the intricacies.”
Sizes start at 1-by-1 foot and double from there: 2-by-2, 4-by-4, 8-by-8. While a barn quilt can loom large on the ground, “if you get it outside on a big building, it wouldn’t look big at all,” Heyman said.
She is one of the few barn-quilters who actually has a barn that’s still in need of a barn quilt. Those who have the championship barn quilts at the Kansas State Fair will have to leave their quilts behind; they will become part of a new permanent display on the fairgrounds.
And for those who just like to look at the quilts, opportunities are increasing, Larson said.
“I think as we get more established there will be more publicized trail days,” she said. People might meet up at a quilt shop, tour the barn quilts in, say, Riley and Pottawatomie counties, eat lunch along the way, and then meet back up at the quilt shop.
Barn quilt workshop
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 9
Where: Kansas Fairs Hall in the Encampment Building at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson
How much: $40 in advance, $50 at the door; includes materials to make a 2-by-2-foot barn quilt. Optional lunch $7 for those who pre-register.
To register and for more information: 620-669-3621; registration form can be printed at www.kansasstatefair.com and mailed to the address indicated on the form.
▪ Rules for barn-quilt competitions: www.kansasstatefair.com; click on “competitions” then “county fair contest” (same rules for county fairs and state fair)
▪ To register for Sedgwick County Fair: Registration opens April 15; go to ourcountyfair.com starting that day for the registration deadline and an entry form.
More about barn quilt trails