Families cooped up indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic can travel across the countryside on a self-guided tour of DeKalb County’s barn quilts.
The DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the DeKalb County Farm Bureau created the tour that features more than 40 barn quilts.
On the DCCVB's website, there are turn-by-turn driving directions for the five legs of the tour. There also are directions to link the trails together.
“The barn quilt tour is a fun way to explore DeKalb County,” said Katherine McLaughlin, DCCVB sales and marketing coordinator. “You don’t even have to leave your car, you can see everything from the road.”
A barn quilt is a wood, metal or canvas square block painted to resemble a quilt square design. Barn quilts are hung on an exterior farm structure, such as a barn, machine shed or garage.
The current barn quilt movement was started by Donna Sue Groves in 2001 in Ohio. Groves honored her mother and her love of quilting by painting a quilt block on their tobacco barn. She then began painting barn quilts around her community, leading to the formation of the first barn quilt trail. Groves' project quickly became a popular way to honor family history and loved ones. Now there are more than 40 barn quilt trails in North America.
At first, barn quilt designs were chosen from the family’s quilt that was passed down from generation to generation.
“Barn quilts can be any color and design,” McLaughlin said. “Some include a favorite quilt pattern, but others feature an aspect from the family’s farm or even their pet.”
Randy and Kay Thorsen of Waterman received their barn quilt from their daughter as a gift. Their design’s name is Lonestar II, features patriotic red, white and blue colors and hangs on their farm’s machine shed.
“My wife always wanted one, and I like how it adds color,” Randy Thorsen said. “It’s like a starburst, I love the design. It’s almost like hanging a picture on your wall in the house, except it’s outside on our machine shed.”
Mark Tuttle, president of the DeKalb County Farm Bureau, has a barn quilt on his machine shed in Somonauk. His children painted it for him as a Christmas gift 10 to 15 years ago.
“I think barn quilts catch your eye and draw your attention in,” Tuttle said. “They really spruce up the countryside.”
Joni Osterhout of Waterman used to travel throughout the Midwest with her mom, Dorothy Walker, who loved seeing barn quilts.
After attending a seminar about barn quilts in Sycamore, Osterhout painted a 4-by-4-foot design on plywood for her mother. The barn quilt hangs above the family’s garage.
“My experience with quilts has been more textile, but I love that, throughout history, quilters have been able to come together to make something grand out of a variety of small pieces,” Osterhout said.
“Quilts symbolize togetherness and a collective expressionism that allows any possibility. Quilters take what they have and put it together in a creative fashion that’s straight from the heart,” she said. “Quilts are essential, they keep you warm and are utilitarian. It’s not surprising that something so iconic began fueling the popularity of barn quilts.”
Osterhout said that while traveling to view barn quilts on a tour, families are able to see the beauty of nature and the agricultural landscape.
“The creativity of barn quilts is something to keep your eyes open for,” Osterhout said. “During your adventures, you also get to enjoy the magnificent countryside.”
McLaughlin said she hopes the barn tour inspires creativity.
“I’d love for the tour to encourage kids to design their own barn quilts,” she said. “They can be anything they want it to be, any color, any pattern or design. The possibilities are limitless.”