Every barn needs a quilt of its own

I believe the barn is the heart of the ranch. Whether it's a traditional red barn with white trim and a hay loft or a more modern steel barn, the barn is where livestock are tended to and memories are made as a family. Every barn tells a story an...
Barn stars, like this one on the Radke barn, are common in farming settlements with German heritage, and they’re believed to bring good luck. Amanda Radke / Special to Forum News Service

I believe the barn is the heart of the ranch. Whether it's a traditional red barn with white trim and a hay loft or a more modern steel barn, the barn is where livestock are tended to and memories are made as a family. Every barn tells a story and within its walls, you'll often find that barns have a way of preserving our heritage and sharing the history of families who have dedicated their lives to agricultural pursuits.

While every barn is great, I'm often drawn to the barns that feature a beautiful barn quilt (or barn star) on the front side of the building. Visible from highways and interstates, these barn quilts seem to communicate a message with passing travelers, but what is the message? What do these barn quilts really signify?

I started asking these questions several years ago, and while researching the meaning behind barn quilts, I ultimately found a new purpose and meaning for the barn quilt my husband, Tyler, and I would hang on our own barn at home.

According to an article written by Elizabeth Abrahamsen for Wide Open Country, "Barn stars, as they're known, are common in farming settlements with German heritage and they're believed to bring good luck. Like the superstition of hanging a horseshoe on a barn, barn stars began as an attempt to ward off evil. The original paintings resembled Amish quilt squares more so than what we classically think of as a star."

Abrahmesen adds, "In the 1930s and '40s, the trend changed from being painted on the barn to being pieces of art that farmers could purchase and hang. The color of the barn star is also significant. Each color had a different meaning. For example, black and blue both mean protection. Green signifies fertility and a hope for growth on the farm. White stands for purity, and violet was considered holy. Brown means friendship and strength and pays homage to Mother Earth."

Following my research, I was determined to make my own barn quilt. At the time, Tyler and I were in the midst of a long fertility battle that we rarely talked about to anyone else. With our hearts and minds so focused on starting our family, we kept busy with projects around the ranch. We worked on our house, spent plenty of time outside with the cattle and in the garden and built things together in the shop.

The barn quilt was not only a labor of love but a measure for healing, as we prayed for a little bundle of joy. Thankfully, our prayers were answered with a baby girl the following year, and our journey as parents officially began.

Now, with two kids and a third on the way, when I look outside my kitchen window, I have a perfect view of the barn quilt. It's a little weathered now, but it tells a story - our story. One of great hope as we bought this ranch and our cattle as a young married couple; one of heartbreak and despair as we wondered if God would ever bless us with children; and one of gratitude at the life we have built together on this beautiful slice of heaven.

So when someone asks me what my barn quilt really signifies, it's tough to answer. I think it's not only deeply rooted in tradition, but, just like the barn itself, it's very personal to the family who lives there. There's history. There are trials and tribulations. There are joy and great blessings. There are hard work and sacrifice. There's a love for the land and the livestock. There's family. There's faith. And everything in between.

When you drive down the road, see if you can spot a barn quilt or two. Enjoy the colors and designs and perhaps get an idea for a quilt of your own. No two barn quilts are exactly alike, but every barn needs one, don't you think?