The barn quilt idea originated in Adams County, Ohio. Grundy County was the first county in Iowa to paint barn quilts. Kevin Peyton was looking for a project that he could develop for the Herbert Hoover Uncommon Student program, as well as a 4-H leadership project when he learned about the Grundy County barn quilts. Sac County became the second county in Iowa to paint barn quilts and the first to develop a web site and write a book about the barn quilts.
When Kevin decided he would take this on as a project, the first thing he did was brainstorm all the partners that he thought would need to be involved in order to make the project successful. With his family, he planned some goals (10 barn quilts the first summer), the steps he would need to work through to reach those goals, and a timetable to follow. Kevin put together a PowerPoint presentation that he could take to all the potential partners, showing what a barn quilt is, what he was proposing, and asking for their cooperation and help.
The first presentation was to the local REC (Sac County Rural Electric Cooperative). Kevin Peyton asked for their in-kind contribution to mount the quilts on the barns with their boom trucks. This was the most essential partner; without the help they gave in mounting the barn quilts, the project likely would have stopped at the idea stage. Putting the quilts on the peaks of the barns is quite a job and most farmers don't have the equipment to reach that high safely.
Other early presentations were to a local quilters group, who agreed to choose the patterns and colors, and actually mark the patterns on the wood. He gave a presentation to the local Extension staff and council, asking for their help in forming a Barn Quilt Committee to give leadership to the project, as well as to manage the finances and to help with correspondence and publicity. He met with the local economic development and tourism directors to get their input and cooperation, as well as the Arts Council and Historical Society volunteers. Another key presentation was to the Sac County Farm Bureau...asking for their cooperation and financial support. Recruiting the partners and getting them involved in the early stages of the project were very important to the success of this project.
Kevin Peyton and his family recruited key people from all over the county to be on the barn quilt committee. This is the group that made decisions about which barns to "quilt", what criteria to use in making those choices, and hundreds of other decisions along the way. Farm Bureau, Arts Council, 4-H, Tourism, and Iowa Barn Foundation were all represented on the committee. Most of the communities in the county were also represented on the committee.
The committee determined the criteria that were used to place the barn quilts. These criteria included: historic barns or corncribs that were at least 50 years old; on hard surface roads; visible from either direction; and on building sites that were active, well-kept farms.
Kevin Peyton and a retired county Extension director drove all the hard surface roads in the county to scout for potential barns that met the criteria identified by the committee. They photographed and "rated" the barns, then brought their recommendations back to the committee. Since the success rate on responses from property owners was unknown, letters of invitation were sent to about 16 or 17 property owners, asking them to participate by placing a barn quilt on their barn or crib. Location was very important. The committee wanted barn quilts located about every 5 to 10 miles along a tour route around the county.
Property owners received a brochure that described what a barn quilt was and what their obligation would be. They were not asked to contribute anything financially...although the brochure stated that the estimated cost of a barn quilt was about $250. We didn't ask them to take any responsibility for painting it, putting it up or caring for it; only to allow it to be there and to give the barn quilt committee permission to market any photographs, etc. Also they were asked to notify the committee if there was damage to the barn quilt that needed repairing. They were asked to complete a survey form with historical information about the barn, and sign a consent and release form.
Some of the barn quilts in other counties or states are actually painted directly on the barns. For the Sac County, Iowa project, the decision was made to paint the barn quilts on two 4' x 8' sheets of plywood, then eventually mount the plywood on the barn. One of the main reasons for doing this is that the committee wanted a lot of volunteers to be involved, particularly youth. Obviously, they didn't want to put a lot of kids up on scaffolding and risk injury from falls. Some counties have actually hired artists to paint on the barns, but the painting is pretty easy to do once the pattern is drawn. Children as young as 8 or 9 have helped paint barn quilts in Sac County. Most painting volunteers have been students in art and agriculture classes, 4-H clubs, retirees, families, and other individuals who volunteered.
The Sac County Barn Quilts were painted with high quality semi-gloss exterior latex paint. The exterior grade plywood was ¾ inch AA or AC, meaning that it was finished on one or both sides. The plywood was primed with two coats of paint, with four coats on the edges. Once the pattern was marked, the pattern was taped with painters' tape to assure straight lines. Two or more coats of the colored paint were used to create solid blocks of color. The committee chose NOT to add any kind of sealant, based on the recommendation of the paint distributor.
After 10-12 years, Sac County barn quilts are now being repainted. We have decided not to take the original quilt blocks down; we are painting the same pattern on new MDO sign board and attaching it on top of the original plywood.
The quilters group recommended that primary and secondary colors be used to make the barn quilt designs bright and bold. That was a good move; the barn quilts really catch your eye, even when driving down the road at the speed limit. Drawing the patterns on the wood turned out to be much easier than the quilters had thought. They used a quilt pattern data base called Blockbase (Electric Quilt Co.) to select the patterns. They searched the data base for quilt patterns based on key words like farming, agriculture, animals, etc. They selected patterns with only straight lines and patterns that had some connection to agriculture or rural life. The program allowed them to print out a line drawing of the block in any size. The outside dimensions of the barn quilts were determined by the size of the plywood. Two sheets of plywood created an 8-foot square block. The quilters decided that all the barn quilts would have a 3-inch border all the way around. That left 7 1/2 feet for the pattern itself. They printed out a 7 1/2 inch line drawing...then just used a scale of 1 inch = 1 foot to transfer the pattern to the wood. The barn quilts were painted on two separate sheets. Volunteers learned through experience that the best way to assemble the entire quilt was on-site.
This project had excellent success with property owners and also with groups volunteering to paint. By the time school was out in 2005, more than 10 barn quilts were already painted, and 4-H Clubs had not even been invited to participate yet. So the initial goals grew throughout the first summer. By the end of summer 2005, Sac County had 23 barn quilts. The committee also came up with the idea of the community quilts, which are smaller and designed to draw the traveler into the community museums, public parks and other points of interest. With continuing interest from property owners, the project grew in the summer of 2006 to a total of 55 barn quilts and 19 community quilts. Many families also designed and painted their own house quilts, typically using a half-sheet of plywood.
Kevin Peyton wrote proposals for a paint grant from the Diamond Vogel paint company; for a bank foundation, for funding; for the Farm Bureau community enhancement grant. All gave something, but the project really started on a shoestring. Kevin and his family believed that donations and financing would come through, so the family really just started on faith and paid bills themselves until the committee had the resources to pay all the bills and reimburse the family. Many of the property owners who received barn quilts made donations, ranging from $50 to $250.
Over 1200 volunteers worked together in some facet of this project, everything from coloring contests; marking, painting and constructing barn quilts and frames; to designing and updating the website. The people of Sac County have embraced the barn quilt concept by volunteering, supporting, and publicizing this new tourist attraction.
Publicity was really crucial to the success of the Sac County Barn Quilt project. Once the project started, the committee tried to have something in the county newspapers almost every week about the barn quilts, either photos of the quilts going up, or progress reports, plans, etc. Photographs were sent electronically to all local and regional newspapers on a regular basis. People through out the county became more aware of the project and what it was all about. This made it easier to recruit property owners to be a part of the project.
Brochures about the Barn Quilts of Sac County are available in many of Iowa's Welcome Centers throughout the state. In 2006, the Sac County Barn Quilt Committee published a map showing locations of the 55 existing barn quilts and the 19 community quilts. Since that time, the quilts have appeared on many other structures throughout the county as other farm families, businesses and community home owners added the striking quilts to their property. These quilt locations do not appear on the printed maps; you just have to keep your eyes open as you travel rural roads. Maps of the Sac County Barn Quilts are available at convenience stores, camp sites, motels, tourism offices, and various other sites in Sac County. Roadside signs at each barn quilt location identify the name of the quilt pattern, and carry the barn quilt logo to alert travelers to the proximity of a barn quilt. The signs also direct travelers to the web site. The web site (www.barnquilts.com) displays images of all the barn and community quilt blocks that are noted on our printed map. A printable map can be downloaded from the web site as well.
If you want to create a barn quilt for your own barn or farm building, you can request a supply list and diagrams of how to build the frame and mount the quilt on the barn. Just use the Contact Us link on the barn quilt web site to request these materials. We would appreciate a donation payable to Barn Quilts of Sac County, mailed to 2537 Xavier Avenue, Sac City, IA 50583. Please specify size of barn quilt you are planning to paint, whether you prefer the block with or without a painted border, and if you have any preferences for sample patterns with the instructions. These donations will make it possible for the committee to continue providing assistance and maintain the web site.
If you want someone else to create a barn quilt for you contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a referral.
Sac County has welcomed numerous motor coach groups from Iowa and other states to make the barn quilt tour. Although there is no way to document the number of private vehicles that drive around the county to see the barn quilts, the property owners have many anecdotes to share about increased traffic on their roads, vehicles stopping in their driveways and lanes to take photographs, and visits they have had with tourists who stop by to admire the quilted barn. In addition, the barn quilts led to the creation of a major event called the Sac County Quilt-A-Fair. A biennial quilt show that started in 2007, the Sac County Quilt-a-Fair, attracts 1000 –1500 visitors to each show.
When Donna Sue Groves of Adams County, Ohio, decided to paint a large quilt block on her tobacco barn to honor her mother who was a master quilter, she had no idea that the idea would spread like wildfire. Barn quilts have been called the largest grassroots public art project in this country. You can spot barn quilts in most counties throughout Iowa. Many have organized quilt trails. Barn quilts have been documented in at least 48 states and several Canadian provinces.