Fort Atkinson student turns love of art into business venture

Amber Burke
Wisconsin State Farmer

Fort Atkinson High School student Tawney Hadler fell in love with barn quilt artwork at age 12. The unique signs she spotted across the countryside piqued the interest of her entire family, which led them to look into purchasing one for their own barn. Instead, a family friend and local artist showed Hadler how to create one herself.

Tawney Hadler stands in front of a sign she painted for the barn on her family's farm.

She initially painted two 3-by-3-foot wooden quilts and entered them as 4-H projects at the Jefferson County Fair. One advanced into competition at the Wisconsin State Fair.

While the quilt was on display at the county fair, the president of Jones Dairy Farm (a manufacturer of premium meat products in Fort Atkinson) happened to see the artwork and commissioned one for the company's barn. According to Hadler, "From there it turned into a business idea of selling custom barn quilt signs."

Thus Cold Spring Custom Barn Quilts was born in the summer of 2018.  Since then, she has sold about 20 wooden barn quilt signs ranging in size from 2-by-2-feet up to 8-by-8-feet. She also created a website for her business where customers can order the artwork online.

MORE: Piecing together a growing barn quilt legacy in Shawano County

Prices vary depending on the size of the sign and complexity of the artwork. Hadler said she can provide design ideas, or customers may also submit their own color and pattern requests. "I have always tried to build a personal relationship with my customers. I communicate with them as much as possible to ensure they are happy with the design, and then I personally deliver their order," she said. 

The process begins with plywood boards, Hadler explained. "I use three coats of primer so the sign can withstand harsh weather conditions."

Then she draws and measures the pattern and applies tape for each individual color. "I use exterior paint, so it doesn't need to be sealed," Hadler said. Because she uses weather-resistant paint, the life span of each custom-made sign is about 10 years.

Hadler peels tape off of one of the barn quilt signs she is currently working on.

Although she doesn't have a favorite design, she prefers to use rich, dark colors, which tend to stand out more from a distance.

Hadler said it's also important to consider where the artwork will be hung before choosing a color palette. Adding a border helps to accentuate the design, depending on the color of the barn or building. 

Hadler typically works on the quilts by painting one color at a time, so the colors are able to cure overnight and then the next color will go on crisp and clear.

Tawney Hadler uses a small roller brush for the artwork she is working on.

Most of her sales have been within the Jefferson County area, thanks to word of mouth and local publicity. She has also created and donated signs for local fundraisers and has shared her skills with young 4-H members during the county 4-H program's Project Learning Day.

Hadler is working on a number of projects, including a 4-H themed quilt pattern sign that she plans to enter at this summer's county fair. After the fair, she plans to donate it to the Jefferson County UW-Extension (4-H) Office.

“The entire process has developed into something I really enjoy,” Hadler said of creating and painting the signs. Passing the craft on to others also brings her pleasure.

For more information about Cold Spring Custom Barn Quilts or to get in touch with Hadler, visit coldspringcustombarnquilts.com.