Thursday, May 14, 2015

Garden and Barn Quilts

Let’s get a little quilt history before taking off on quilts for outdoors.

Today blanket quilts are typically made from new material by folks who have art, precision and sewing skills.  Old quilts were often made from material no longer usable for clothes.  It’s why we see them made from mixed materials, the colors and patterns aren’t always coordinated and most are faded from repeated washings.  The exception was the quilt specifically made as a gift, especially weddings.  It was a gift of love.

Maybe you didn’t realize there was a subculture of quilting all around us: It’s barn quilts and garden quilts.

I’ve been around barn quilts for years because I’m from Indiana where they’ve incorporated them into tourism.  Loosely connected to the large Indiana Amish population, the beauty and skill of traditional bedding quilts has been transferred to a quilt square on the side of barns and now into flower gardens.

The Illinois Tourism Board is hoping to capitalize on already established barn quilts.  The Princeton area is embracing it and the ITB is releasing a list of all Illinois barn quilts (submitted by county tourism boards) in hopes of generating more exposure.

OK, let’s get it out there:  I love bed quilts!  I love barn quilts!  I love garden quilts!

Barn quilts:  Many barn quilts use the pattern from one square of an old quilt.  That one square pattern is then painted on a square of plywood, coated in sealer and hung on the side of a barn.  Others may use a new pattern or a picture that pertains to their family or business.  Whether traditional or newly innovated, they are bright and fun.

I’m hoping the barn quilt squares idea takes off in Henry County.  Barn squares are typically 8 x 8 foot.  You may wish to have a smaller variety on your shed, garage, or posts. 

Garden quilts:  I was first exposed to garden quilts through the Elkhart County, Indiana, quilt garden tours.  It’s an amazing tourism effort embracing local quilting, barn quilts, heritage and garden beauty.  Check out or Quilt Gardens – along the Heritage Trail. 

A quilt garden is developed using a quilt square pattern and then planting that pattern in flowers.  Like all quilting, it is meticulous, complex, takes loads of planning and is wildly beautiful.

Preparing the land:  Clear a square area of all vegetation.  Till the plot.  Make sure the edges are sharp and defined.  Keep in mind a large square will take a lot of flowers because they must be planed close to get the coverage. Since it will be filled with annuals, it will need to be watered and weeded regularly. 

Decide on a pattern: Simple is best for a first try.  Transfer that pattern to your soil using non-oil based spray paint to outline.

Flowers:  Use flowers that don’t vine and are all the same height when mature.  All must be really hardy and bloom all summer.


If you have a barn quilt you’d like to have listed on the Illinois tourism page, contact your county’s tourism council.  In Indiana, they have what they call a “barn quilt trail”.  Quilts may be seen from the road and you won’t be hosting carloads of visitors all over your property.  Check out our local barn quilts; there are several around Bishop Hill.  Or, create one of your own! 

Garden quilt tours are viewed from the road or sidewalk.  Because of the size, labor needed and expense of large garden quilts many are on public or corporate land.  It doesn’t mean you can’t try a small one on your property for your own enjoyment.

Whether bed quilts, barn quilts or garden quilts, enjoy!

NOTE:  The 2015 Bishop Hill Quilt Show will be from May 15 to 17 at the old Colony School and displays at other shops around town. 

Credits:  All pictures are from the Elkhart and other Indiana barn and garden quilt sites.


  1. Bureau County has a listing of barn quilts-Barn Quilts of Bureau County-of which we have one on our barn, not far from I-80, north of Red Barn Nursery. I think they are up to 20 or 25 now.

    1. Thanks Linda for the Bureau County information and web site. I think a trip around the area with my camera is in need!

  2. Delighted to read your blog and nice comments about the Quilt Gardens along the Heritage Trail.
    The 2015 Quilt Gardens are planted,blooming and ready for viewing pleasure.. Hope you and your readers have the chance to visit this summer to take in the eye-popping views.

  3. Jackie, Thanks for visiting. As a gardener, I'm certainly in awe of the amount of work and the end beauty of the Quilt Gardens. Tks. for your note. Diane