Quilting in Kentucky is a functional art form. Country women saved scrap pieces of fabric and sewed them, usually by hand, into bed covers that provided warmth and beauty for their homes. Mothers taught their daughters to cut out, piece, and quilt these traditional bedcovers. The patterns were handed down through the generations. The quilt designs had names like: Flower Basket, Little Dutch Girl, Log Cabin, Flying Geese, Bowtie, Grandma's Wedding Ring.
The idea for barn quilts probably originated with the hex signs that were painted on barns in Pennsylvania. Painting quilt patterns on barns was first done in the mountains of West Virginia and then spread to Kentucky and North Carolina as a way to celebrate rural life. Kentucky's Quilt Trails were organized by the Kentucky Arts Council.
We had not been driving long on KY-460, a quilt trail that runs through eight eastern Kentucky counties, when we spotted our first barn quilt: I pulled off the road and tried to get photos without getting run over by the traffic. My photos aren't great because the barns were usually at a distance from the highway, but you can see the variety of barns and patterns that we spotted.
The next quilt was the flower basket on the tin-roofed barn above--which was my favorite for it's rough weathered beauty. Next we spotted this newer barn with the Bowtie pattern painted in bright orange, green and yellow: As I mentioned earlier, we made this trip in mid-December so there were Christmas decorations out. Look closely at the barn and you'll see a simple star over the quilt. At night it's quite common to see barns lit with these huge stars. A lovely sight when you're driving through the country on a winter's night.
We were having good luck with our barn quilt hunt. In less than 100 miles we spotted five barns with quilt paintings--all very different. The next one was in a small community by the highway. It was painted to resemble print fabric which would commonly be used for quilts:
Once we got into Pike County we had to leave the main highway and drive this narrow road to the end of Joe's Creek hollow. If we met an oncoming car, one driver would have to pull off the road--please not me--to let the other car pass. My Aunt Draxie, who is in her late 80s, lives alone on the family homeplace which is nearly a hundred years old. She is a true mountain woman in the best sense. She is a keen quilter so after lunch we admired her latest creations, including this pansy appliqued quilt top: Aunt Draxie was really enjoying sharing her quilts so we kept digging through the quilt chest and found this treasure. This embroidered muslin bedspread was over a hundred years old and had been a gift to my Aunt Draxie from her aunt. This cover would have only been used for special occasions like when the house was cleaned for Sunday or when company came. I was fascinated by the embroidery stitches--quite different from modern embroidery, perhaps because of the heavy thread used many years ago.
Late in the day we reluctantly left my Aunt Draxie and drove into Pikeville so my sister could see her old apartment building. She was satisfied with just a passing look at the building and said she was happy to be a city "girl" in Louisville. We drove back home and before leaving the KY-460 Quilt Trail we ended the barn quilt search with this last example, a patriotic red, white and blue:Although I've been a city dweller for over thirty years, these beautiful quilts and visiting my dear Aunt Draxie reminded me that I'll always be proud of my mountain roots.