New barn quilt book offers much more than quilt stories
Part travelogue, history lesson and love story, “Following the Barn Quilt Trail” by Suzi Parron offers much more to readers than stories of barn quilts and the farms they decorate.
The second book on barn quilts from Parron, the book records not just the tales of the barn quilts, but the adventures Parron had as she traveled across the United States and Canada with her partner, a Labrador and Ruby, a vintage bus that was the cause of many mishaps along the road.
For the follow up to her first book, “Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail Movement,” Parron visited quilt trails in Michigan, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Louisiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Washington and Canada.
Her travel adventures of packing two people and a large dog in an unreliable bus for cross country travel are just as entertaining as the stories about the barn quilts. But her first version of the book didn’t have any of the stresses of travel included.
“When I wrote the manuscript for the second book I was really hesitant because it wasn’t just my story, it was also Glen’s story,” Parron said of her now husband. “And to share things like, well we went here and we had a breakdown, or we were struggling to get along and negotiate two people living in this small space. I was really hesitant to share that at first.”
But after a first read Parron’s editors remarked that she was traveling across the country and they had no idea what the experience was like, so ultimately she decided to tell the story as if she were talking to friend. Including all the bus breakdowns, struggles of living in a small space and the wonderful people who took them and their large dog in along the way.
“At first I thought it was a disaster,” Parron said of the first time Ruby the vintage bus broke down. “But people opened their homes to us.
“It was really incredible to be a part of that.”
And of course the book is packed with images of barn quilts and the stories behind them. Picking a favorite wasn’t possible for Parron, but there were some that stood out. Like a man in Iowa who had a quilting friend take a box of handkerchiefs from his mother and grandmother and turn them into a butterfly quilt. When it came time for him to choose a barn quilt design, there was only one pattern that would work, recreating that butterfly quilt.
“So this piece of work goes from these handkerchiefs that were tucked away to being a quilt and then being on public display,” Parron said. “There are a lot of barn quilts that are memorial quilts for some people. And some folks had a hard time sharing those stories with me. That this was something that was bittersweet for them. They were recognizing that person, that lost loved one.”
Each region has its own difference in barn quilt design, but Louisiana stands out. There an artist is creating works that stretch the definition of barn quilts, painting very modern designs that fit more with the modern quilt movement, than the traditional blocks of quilting history.
Although her second barn book is done, and she doesn’t see another one in the foreseeable future, Parron is still traveling the country, this time is a very reliable RV. She lectures and teaches barn quilt painting workshops throughout the country with 150 dates this year alone.
“When I started out I never thought barn quilts were going to become a way of life for me and a new career,” Parron said.
She is a quilter too, and while she has met quilters on the road who have transformed RVs into very impressive mobile quilt studios, she prefers hand piecing, which doesn’t take up too much space and can be done just about anywhere.
Occasionally she finds inspiration for her next project when seeing a new barn quilt.
“I’ll see colors that go together and Ill think, wow I never thought of that color combination,” Parron said. “When you see them on this huge outdoor medium, you think, wow that looks great together. I am going to work with that.”
You can learn more about Parron and see her lecture schedule at her website barnquiltinfo.com. You can pick up a copy of her book at her publisher’s website ohioswallow.com. Make sure you check out Episode 13 of Sit & Sew Radio to get a special promo code for 30 percent off both of Parron’s barn quilt books. Click here to listen.