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Landscape of quilts

These barn quilts serve as table tops at Kansas Street Deli in Afton. Judy Hopkins makes barn quilts for many different uses.

Quilts have traditionally been used as bed covers, but a newer trend in quilting reveals this art form in public display. Barn quilts are popping up all over Union County.

The history of the barn quilt begins about 300 years ago with the arrival of immigrants from the Rhine region of Germany. They came for religious freedom. These groups included Amish, Mennonites, Lutherans and other Reform groups.

Prior to the 1830s, most barns were unpainted because of the cost of paint. As paint became more affordable, the Pennsylvania Dutch began to paint and decorate their barns.

Barn decorating peaked in the early 20th century.

There were many artists who specialized in barn decorating. These artists combined folk designs, including geometric patterns from quilt squares.


Today, Judy Hopkins of rural Creston can be counted among those artists.

"I started in 2010, when Callista Wilkey opened her little shop over in Afton," Hopkins said. "The idea for her was she wanted to do consignment things, and I thought it was the perfect outlet to just see how they would go."

Hopkins has designed and produced more than 100 barn quilts since then.

She said barn quilts can be any shape, any pattern and any color, and they don't have to be on a barn.

Barn quilts are made on three-quarter inch plywood. The panel gets two coats of primer, then at least two coats of exterior paint are applied in the selected colors and design, and finally, it is given four coats of exterior polyurethane.

"I would think they should last at least five years with no touch up," Hopkins said. Many of the symbols used in quilts have a special meaning such as the circle, which represents eternity or infinity; four-pointed star for bright day; triple star is success, wealth and happiness; and a regular star is good luck.


Size is not a factor.

"It really depends on the size of the building, how far you are from the road," said Hopkins. "All of that bears into how big."

And, there's no limit to shapes, colors or patterns.

"I've done two now that are octagonal," she said. Of the more unusual Hopkins has done are table tops at Wilkey's Kansas Street Deli in Afton. She has done others that hang on a wall inside the house, porch, garage or shed.

Hopkins said when it comes to colors and patterns, "sometimes they have no clue and sometimes they know exactly what they want."

She has palettes of colors to choose from and stacks of various patterns for those who don't know what they are looking for.

"Sometimes they will come and say, 'I want this pattern, but I want these colors,'" said Hopkins.

Hopkins said many barns used to have signs painted on them depicting advertising.

"It actually started with the tobacco signs," she said. "The first barn quilts were painted right on the barn. I haven't done that — yet."

Hopkins has created a seed sign that is on the end of a barn at the Tony and Vicki Allen farm south of Creston.

Hopkins said a standard four-foot by four-foot piece takes about two weeks to complete.

"The big timing of it is just letting the paint dry," she said. "You can't paint right up to wet paint in a different color."

One of your own

Hopkins said her barn quilts generally run about $15 per square foot.

For more information contact Hopkins at Barn Quilts & Signage by JHOP by calling 641-782-8862 or email She has a website with more examples at


Judy Hopkins has expanded her barn quilts to help a new generation understand their importance. She has started working with local 4-H students to create barn quilts as a project.

Hopkins said Mindy Abel of Cromwell came up with the idea of having a local 4-H group make a barn quilt as a project, and the concept has developed from there.

"We kind of went through the Extension office and put the word out to all the groups, because we thought it would be a great opportunity to bring in different kids who were interested from different clubs to come together," said Hopkins.

At that time, only four showed any interest in the barn quilts.

"It turned out that was perfect," said Hopkins. "I'm not sure how I'm going to work with the Douglas Boosters, because there's 29 of them."

But, work with them she is.

Along with leaders and parents, Douglas Booster Club 4-H'ers gathered at Hopkins barn Saturday morning to start working on their barn quilt.

The inspiration for their quilt is the Union County quilt design displayed at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. All 99 counties are represented by a different quilt design for each.

Douglas Boosters' leader Mindy Bailey has contacting the Union County Fair Board to see if the group can mount the finished barn quilt on one of the buildings at the Union County fairgrounds in Afton. The youths are scheduled to be at the next fair board meeting.

Bailey is also contacting various groups to sponsor the cost of the materials to make the quilt. The 4-H'ers spent Saturday sanding, cleaning and priming two boards that will combined to create the 8-foot by 8-foot barn quilt.

They then decided on a schedule for who would be there to produce the design, paint and apply the polyurethane to the final products.

Hopefully, everyone will be able to see it at the fairgrounds in July.

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