The Story Behind Sampson County’s Barn Quilt Trail

Barn quilts are a passion in Sampson County.  Their appeal has brought visitors from far and wide to our community. Visitors and residents alike enjoy the bright signs that perk up not only the barns of our county but also the rural landscape.

What many may not know is that the majority of these signs have been created by two local residents: Kay Raynor and Kellie Tew.  Both Kay and Kellie fell in love with barn quilts during visits to the North Carolina mountains where the signs are a common sight.

The pastime of farmers painting quilt patterns on barns can be traced back to colonial America. After the colonists became established and had spare income, they painted small patterns on the ends of the barns as a way to celebrate their heritage.

Today, barn quilts can be found in 43 states. Many of these states designed Barn Quilt Trails to increase tourism and spur economic revival. Although an emerging concept, a U.S. national quilt trail has rapidly spread across the Midwest, the Northeast, the Dakotas, and as far west as Oregon.

There are now more than 260 beautiful and majestic barn quilts scattered across Sampson County, adding a whimsical touch to the miles and miles of farmland, where barns are as common as mailboxes. Many of the barns in Sampson County are as large as two and three stories high where the barn quilts provide a bold splash of color amidst the green fields and pastoral landscape found in North Carolina’s coastal plains for much of the year.

Kay, a native of Newton Grove, can be credited with suggesting the idea that Sampson County start a barn quilt trail in 2013. Getting the idea off the ground required numerous Sampson County organizations to work together. The Sampson County Arts Council, The Sampson County Extension Service, History Museum, and the Convention & Visitors Bureau all were involved to make the vision a reality.

The committee first decided upon 28 traditional patterns. Working together, they spread the word looking for barn owners who might be interested in having a barn quilt.

As word of the project grew, so did the number of folks who requested a quilt. Most of the barn quilts are either 4’ by 4’or 8’ by 8’. The Barn owners had the opportunity to choose both the pattern and colors they desired. Volunteers painted the signs. Kay still donates her time to the project, an ongoing passion.

Making the signs has turned from trial-and-error to a process that combines drawing geometric designs, painting techniques, color balance, and combination.  The signs are painted on wood and are treated with several coats of base primer. Kay first sketches her designs on graph paper. Kellie’s husband who has a math background draws her designs on the wood blanks for her.

Kay knows a good bit about what traditional quilt blocks look like as she has sewn fabric quilts for most of her life. Through that talent, she has learned about color selection, design, and perhaps most of all, patience.

Patience is vital as each coat of each color used on the signs needs to dry for a minimum of 24 hours.

Kellie uses 4 coats of base paint followed by 3-to-6 coats of paint for every color selected by the client in the design. She works with barn owners to pick both the pattern and the colors wisely because the signs last up to 10 years or more.

Kellie, who sells the barn quilts that she paints, has barn quilt signs in Texas, Kentucky, Missouri, Florida, Virginia, and West Virginia. She estimates that she has painted about 130 in total.  For more information on her barn quilts visit Tew Barn Quilts.

Barn quilt trails are a relatively new tourism trend in America — and it’s easy to see why. In Sampson County, barn quilts spruce up barns, provide a means for the community to work together to promote the trail, and at the same time pay tribute to the cultural identity and agricultural foundation of the rural community. In addition, both Kay and Kellie feel that their signs show visitors a slice of the pride and community service of those involved in creating and promoting have for the way of life in Sampson County.

New barn quilts are being added to the Sampson County Barn Quilt Trail every month!  Be sure to visit our website to see our online barn quilt tour mapping tool, or contact the Sampson County Convention and Visitors Bureau for a copy of our printed brochure.