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A Bigger Quilt

I've always loved Barn Quilts, those giant quilt blocks painted on wooden panels, posted on the end of a barn for passers by to appreciate.

While paintings of quilts may have existed for centuries in American folk art, the concept of barn quilts and barn quilt trails is more recent than you might think. In 2001, Donna Sue Groves, working for the Ohio Arts Council, had the idea to create a trail of barn quilts. Her goal was to build community, preserve historic barns and increase tourism in Adams County, Ohio. The Barn Quilt Trail was born and since then, other trails have sprung up all across North America.

Donna Sue Groves passed away in 2021. The documentary 'Pieced Together' is well worth watching. You can find it online through your local library.

There's also a book about Donna Sue's passion project, 'Following the Barn Quilt Trail' by Suzi Parron.

Thus inspired, I set about painting a giant quilt mural on the outside of my studio.

This little building is a curiously constructed 'bonus room', plunked down in the middle of our back yard, and partly covered with a grapevine. It's an ice box in winter, a sauna in summer but it's my space and I love it!

I chose to copy a favorite quilt I have made a couple of times; a composition of Grandmother's Fan and Flying Geese blocks.

In unsophisticated fashion, I outlined my quilt design onto tracing paper, overlaid it onto a photo of the studio wall, took a photo of that, and once it got dark, projected it onto the studio wall.

(I was standing in the flower beds, with a long extension cord and a projector precariously balanced on a stool to get sufficiently far back for the design to fit!)

I set the quilt design a little off kilter because I was certain that none of the angles of the building itself were 90 degrees, and that my own painting might be inaccurate in parts, so I figured using a jaunty angle would cancel out those problems.

I traced the projected design onto the wall with a thick graphite pencil, opting to fade the design out as it reached the foliage of the grapevine.

Now, here's the crucial element that led to the completion of this project: I got help.

For several years I had the assistance of Teresa, a high school student. She would come for two or three hours a week and help me cut pieces, hand sew bindings, sort fabrics etc. I found that having her turn up each week made me clean up my studio, review my To Do list and move projects forward efficiently. And she enjoyed the work and the money! It was a win win. Then came the pandemic, Teresa graduated, and I was alone again.

Remembering how much I appreciated having a side-kick, I searched again for a local young person and found Geneva. I've known her since she was born - and now she's headed for university! Free for the summer, I hired her on. The week we painted the studio was a very hot one. I would set to work at 6 am, Geneva would arrive at 9 and take over for a few hours before it got too hot to be up a ladder in the sun.

We experimented with using or not using masking tape. The texture of the wooden surface was a challenge in parts, and had to be touched up by hand.

Gradually, the quilt design took shape. The white, black and cream exterior grade paints covered in just a couple of coats. I think red and gold needed three coats in total.

We used water-based acrylic exterior paint, but I have since used oil-based paint in another project and although I hate the clean-up, there's no doubt it's a hardier product.

The finished result is very bold and graphic. I'm going to enjoy it as is for a while, and then take the next step of adding pattern to the painting. My own patchwork follows the more-is-more philosophy when it comes to mixing patterns, so I'd like my barn quilt mural to reflect that.

Here's the finished-so-far piece. I love my big, bold Barn Quilt!

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