Constructing a Barn Quilt

Published on Fri, 06/27/2014 - 9:15am

Construction of barn quilts has evolved, too, with the expansion of the barn quilt movement. Carl and Evelyn Johnson have led the barn quilt effort for the Old Mission Peninsula Quilt Barn Trail Project ( near Traverse City, MI. As with the Grundy County trail, the

goal of the Old Mission trail is to persuade visitor to leave the Peninsula’s main roads and explore the less traveled rural areas.

“It was really my wife’s idea. She is a quilter and after she and a group of friends visited the quilt trail in Ohio and in Alcona County, MI, she said, ‘We can do this up here.’”

Johnson says they got a group of interested volunteers together and in a span of 4-5 months, they had several barn quilts erected throughout the peninsula. The trail has now become a 20-mile Barn Quilt Tour, with each image holding historical and personal significance to the owners. The barns are located along scenic side roads that help showcase the area’s beautiful lakes, hills, orchards, and vineyards.

Johnson says with pride, “We did it all on our own without any type of grant or funding. We were just a group of people who wanted to get this done.”

When it comes to constructing barn quilts, Johnson uses his expertise in construction. “There are as many ways to construct the 8’ x 8’ frame to carry and display the Barn Quilt as there are barn owners that are willing to display the art item. However, this is an example of what I call the ‘tried-and-true’ frame construction that has proved successful to display the quilt design properly, and to survive, and hold up in the high, exposed, environment that the art work will be exposed to (40 mph winds, etc.). These barn quilts are meant to be seen anywhere from 100 feet to five miles away, and we decided we wanted to build them to last for a lot of years.”



  • 2 pieces 4x8x½ BC exterior grade plywood
  • Exterior glue
  • Minimum number of “wood plugs” finished on one side
  • 7 pieces 2x4x8 framing material
  • 6 pieces 1x2x8 trimming material (the low-cost strips, approx $1.60 ea.)
  • 1 5/8” #7 Phillips outdoor coated screws
  • 3” Drywall (coarse) drywall screws

*NOTE: A single 4x8 panel at this stage, weights aprox. 83 lbs., or 163lbs
for the 8’x8’ completed Quilt Frame, (prior to painting.)


  1. The basic idea is to build a “box-frame” under a 4X8 ft. sheet of plywood, with a single 2X4 spacer, mid point across the 4 ft. center span.
  2. Lay the plywood sheet on the “box-frame” and screw the sheet to the frame every 12 inches (or so.) The 4X8 plywood sheet will be your guide for accuracy in mating the box to the sheet. MAKE SURE THAT THE BOX IS PERFECTLY SQUARE WITHIN THE BOUNDRIES OF THE PLYWOOD SHEET.
  3.  Johnson makes one important point here: “There is one very important consideration in this construction, and that is, that after you have determined WHICH 8 FOOT SIDES ARE GOING TO BE MATED TO EACH OTHER in the completion of this Quilt Painting…make sure that the 2X4 frame under that edge DOES NOT STICK OUT BEYOND THE EDGE OF THE PLYWOOD!”

Cover both sides with a liberal coat of “Kilz 2” primer.
Apply at least one coat (preferably two) of good quality exterior white latex paint.



  1. When paint has dried adequately, trim out the edges of each 4/x8’ panel with 1”x2” trim pieces (makes it neat and tidy, plus protects edge of plywood).
  2. Before nailing on the trim pieces, lay a bead of caulking compound on the exposed edges of the plywood. Then press the trim pieces down and nail.


Putting Panels Together

  1. Stand up the two panes together on a very level surface. Make sure top and bottom edges are perfectly aligned.
  2. Clamp the two panels together, making sure the two pieces are mated together
  3. along the center without gaps or visual distortion. Drill 4-3/8” holes evenly spaced through both 2x4’s on the underside of the frame for joining the two panels.
  4. Using 5” machine head bolts and flat washers bolt the panels together firmly,double-checking for panel alignment.


Some people will hand draw the design.
We found a quilt pattern and copied it on a transparency.
Next we placed it on an overhead projector and traced it on the square.
Since this will be a multi-color design, have blue painters tape to block off
 the different areas for the various colors.
Use at least two coats of paint, being sure all coats are dry before the next is applied.

1.Make sure you locate the barn’s main beams. This is what the barn quilt will be attached to.
2.Use at least an 8” lag bolt in each corner to attach through the 2x4 frame
edge to the beams
3.The barn quilt is heavy, so use good, safe equipment to hoist up the panel.
Tree trimming booms, hi-lo tractors are two options.

For further information on barn quilt construction, you can contact Carl or Evelyn Johnson
at (231) 223-9239 or email them at