Project a patchwork of beauty

Colleen Kottke
Now Media Group


While traveling through her home state of Iowa, Peg Reedy was enchanted by the barn quilts she saw mounted on barns out in the rural areas.

Curious to learn more, the Walworth County UW-Extension Ag Educator discovered that the premise of barn quilts originated in Adams County, Ohio in 2001.

'It was conceived as a way to draw traffic off a busy four-lane highway as it wound through the economically depressed area of southern Ohio,' Reedy said. 'I thought to myself, Walworth County needs this.'

Reedy said local Ohio artists painted traditional block quilts on weathered tobacco barns, and the project began to attract travelers to the area, increasing business for local establishments, she said.

In 2003, Grundy County, Iowas started a similar barn quilt project to draw traffic back to rural areas bypassed when a major highway was rerouted.

'Their Barn Quilt Loop is designed to highlight the agriculture heritage of the county, as well as the folk art of quilting,' Reedy said. 'There are over 30 states that have barn quilt projects including Wisconsin.'

Apparently Reedy wasn't the only resident in Walworth County with the idea of starting a Barn Quilt Project. Putting thei efforts together in 2009, Walworth County launched its own project which has continued to grow over the past seven years.

Reedy hopes that each quilt is personal to the owner of each farm.

'There are some really unique ones out there that have names that mean something special to the people that put them up. One quilt with a spinning spool was put up by a woman who was in charge of a lot of sewing projects in 4-H, and there's a cake stand from a lady who entered cakes at the Fair each year,' Reedy said. 'We also have several Mariner's Compasses and some that incorporate the names of the business in the pattern.'

Those visiting Farm Technology Days will be able to access a pamphlet containing a map for a self-guided tour of the 75 barns displaying a hand-painted quilt on a 4-by-8-foot piece of signboard. Designs range from circling swallows, sunflowers with bees, tractors, cake stands and more.

The greater goal of the project is to promote the rural heritage of the county by highlighting the architecture and history of barns and by encouraging preservation of these structures for future generations.

'In turn, the project encourages economic development by promoting ag-tourism and other local businesses,' Reedy said.