What Are the Designs on the Sides of Barns?

Patriotic designs adorned barns during World War II.
Patriotic designs adorned barns during World War II. (Image: Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Barns with quilt-like designs adorning their sides began appearing in the United States in the early 1800s. These octagonal and hexagonal star-like patterns can still be seen today and have even become a tourist attraction in many towns. Although barn quilts died down in the 19th century, as barn sides became a popular advertising space for commercial goods, they have experienced a revival in the 21st century.

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Barn quilts, as they are referred to, began to appear in the 1830s as a result of Dutch farmers settling in and around eastern Pennsylvania. The Dutch immigrants, arriving from the Rhine region of Germany, began the tradition that would eventually spread throughout the country. The quilt-like designs often represented folklore or geometric patterns from quilt squares traditional of their culture.


Barn quilt designs often have a cultural or historic significance, much like their cloth counterparts. A few common designs exist, and you can find them repeated on barn sides from Pennsylvania to Indiana. Some of the most common symbols are circles to represent eternity or infinity; four-pointed stars to portray a bright day; three stars to signify success, wealth and happiness; and a single star to mean good luck.

Popular Quilt Trails

In recent years, barn quilt enthusiasts have resurfaced, and counties known for their quilt prevalence have began endorsing "quilt trails" as tourist attractions. These counties proudly display their barn quilts and offer road maps for self-guided tours of their back roads. The counties may offer printed trail guides that explain the history and symbolic relevance of each quilt. Quilt trails can be found in the 24 states across the United States, including the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Maryland, Tennessee and New York.

Your Own Barn Quilt

Just because you don't have a barn does not mean you can't have a quilt of your own. If you are a fan of barn quilts, you can can hire a painter that specializes in barn quilts. Many of these painters have adapted their technique to paint on garage doors or house siding. Or you could paint one yourself. The geometric, non-detailed designs of barn quilts make them easy to paint with just a bit of paint and masking tape.


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