Barn Quilts. I’d never heard of them. I knew I about fabric quilts and had an assortment from two grandmothers, one mother, and many Mennonite Relief Sales. Grandma Leppke preferred appliqued, embroidered, and hand-painted quilt blocks. Grandma Gaede chose pieced blocks. I would love to know the story behind the friendship quilt with a middle block that says, “God Is Love 1937.” The women who stitched embroidered their names: Minnie Cornelsen, Mrs. Ben B. Funk Mrs. Barthel Reiswig, Mrs. Henry Seibel. I wondered why Minnie used her first name and not her husband’s. Even if she were a widow, most likely she’d still carry his.
In June 2014, four of us Colorado women packed up an ice chest, homemade cinnamon rolls, print-outs from http://barnquiltinfo.com/map-CO.html and headed to northeast Colorado. Morgan County has a reputation for hail and tornadoes. We watched the skies. We were excited. It was like a treasure hunt.
Our barn quilt adventure took us down dirt roads. We got lost. We didn’t know barn quilts could be found on silos. We reveled in nostalgic old barns against broad blue skies. We accidentally ended up at a buffalo feedlot. We saw cornfields shredded by recent hail. We stumbled upon cute ranchettes and bet that the next-generation saw dollars in grandpa’s farm, so sub-divided. We experienced local dining where we were the obvious non-locals. And, we ended up at a deteriorated house with paint-peeled outbuildings, old cars on cinder blocks, and something shroud-like on the clothesline. Curtains fluttered in open windows. Was anyone home? No quilts anywhere, even though the tour map indicted so. We figured it was part of the Bates Motel Chain. We locked out doors, rolled up the windows, and got outta there!
What we learned:
- The Barn Quilt tour offered an up-close view of a part of Colorado we knew little about.
- Weather reports of tornadoes at Ft. Morgan and Wiggins have more meaning now.
- We all want a Quilt Block hanging on our house or garage!
- Take a map. Your GPS might not work in off-grid areas where Barn Quilts may be found.
- Don’t expect absolute directions and destinations. Wandering around happens.
- Don’t be afraid to get dirty.
- Take along binoculars for barns that may not be accessible on very private property.
- At least one person in the group needs to be familiar with quilt block patterns. I was not. I was familiar with driving on dirt roads, identifying what was growing in the fields, and I had a sense of direction.
– Website we Ft. Morgan, CO: http://barnquiltinfo.com/map-CO.htm.
– Every Barn Tells a Story by Ann Zemke and Diane Entrikin
We left Ft. Morgan and drove home to black skies and rain. That evening1 to 2-inch diameter hail pounded Morgan County. The farms were no longer a vague space on the map. We visualized smashed cornfields and remembered the farm folks we’d talked to.
Check out barn quilt tours in your state. Gather friends or like-minded quilt enthusiasts and take a field trip. Anticipate adventures.
(This was printed in “The Country Register” (Kansas), Aug./Sept. 2014)