Paint Barn Quilts

Get Ready To Paint

  • Find a paint coordinator to handle planning, board preparation, painting, and sealing.
  • Find a paint monitor who will manage the paint, minimize waste, and clean brushes.
  • Work closely with your paint supplier.
  • Keep a paint diary.
  • Document all paint selections, colour recipes and the type of paint.
  • Ask your paint supplier to keep a detailed record of your paint selections


There is no right or wrong way.  Send in your tips and tricks to share.


Mobilize your volunteers

Volunteers step forward to paint barn quilts.  It’s fun.  It’s a marathon.  Then it’s done. 

If the painting project looks too big for a group of volunteers, then raise money to pay them.  Boy Scouts, service groups, community groups - they don’t need another volunteer project but they are looking for an easy fund raiser. 

Case: The Longwoods trail stretched along 60 kilometres so $200 per block was offered and six groups stepped forward to paint 5 blocks each.  The paint and supplies moved down the highway from one painting station to the next.  It was an exercise in logistics, but it worked well.  The project was able to involve dozens and dozens of happy volunteers and the groups are still hoping there will be another opportunity. 


Choose venues for Preparation, Painting, Sealing, and Framing

Find the right venue(s). It is great if you can find a place where you can carry out all the steps because moving the sheets is a lot of work. Sometimes it is necessary to prime and sand the sheets in one location and then haul them to the painting "studio".  Framing might have to be done somewhere else.  

A clean dry barn works for priming, sealing, and the next step of framing the barn quilts. But a barn might not work for painting; the painters need bathrooms and the paint needs a warm dry place to cure.  It’s handy if the installers can back in with a trailer to load sheets and finished quilt blocks.

The painting studio needs:

  • good lighting
  • to be warm and dry
  • card board, plastic or drop cloths to protect the floor
  • two 4 X 8 boards positioned on four saw horses so painters can reach across the boards
    • or position boards upright by leaning them against a wall
    • or position MDO boards on a flat work surface
    • or floor if you are young and can paint on your knees. Not recommended!

Supply List

See also Budget and Finance section

  • two 4' x 8'  3/8” thick Medium Density Overlay plywood (MDO) for each quilt block.  Sometimes called sign board. Available at some lumber yards. Call to reserve.  Shop around.
  • cardboard or plastic to cover the floor
  • two pair saw horses or tables per quilt block
  • sanding paper 
  • sanding blocks
  • latex primer
  • pencils for drawing pattern and artist eraser
  • painter’s tape or masking tape
  • sticky notes for indicating colours on the boards 
  • roller and paint tray for primer and sealer applicant only.  Brushes work best for applying paint. 
  • brushes 2" and 1" angled for latex paints (use food quality; foam brushes not recommended).  Recommend one paint brush for each colour.
  • pole extenders
  • outdoor high quality latex paint
  • small paint containers for decanting paint (e.g. cottage cheese containers for distributing paint to painters. Best not to dip into gallon paint cans)
  • paint stir sticks
  • paint brush spinner
  • paper towel and clean cloths for dusting and wiping up spills
  • sealant for finishing painted blocks.

Tool List

  • razor blade or craft knife
  • paint can opener
  • measuring tape
  • large framing square (T-Square)
  • yard/meter sticks
  • squares
  • string, tack, & nail or a carpenter's protractor for drawing large circles
  • 9 - 10  foot long straight edge to draw lines across the two boards
  • pails for clean up
  • computer projector for tracing non-geometric designs.



1  Sanding

  1. Determine edges, front and back of MDO boards.  
  2. Mark board orientation with stickies.
  3. Lightly sand the outside edges of the two 4 x 8 boards
  4. Slightly round the outside corners
  5. DO NOT sand the center edges. These must be square to create a tight fit after painting is completed.
  6. Lightly sand the face of the boards
  7. Dust off boards with a dry cloth


2  Priming

  • Prime MDO boards using a roller and high quality outdoor primer.
  • Prime 2 times on the front of boards and 2 on back. (Start front surface, back, front, back)
  • Prime edges at least 3 times
  • Allow to dry at least 1 hour between each coat
  • There is no need to sand in between priming when using MDO board. 


3  Paint the back of the boards

To ensure a long life for your barn quilt block, use good quality exterior grade latex paint.

  • Do not sand
  • Apply one coat of exterior white paint with a roller (don’t forget the edges)
  • Make sure to remove any edge drips
  • Allow to dry.


4  Label your MDO boards

  • Label the front, back, direction, and center of your boards. It is not always easy to tell.
  • Mark the  boards with light pencil, marker, or tape.


5  Transfer the Image

  • Practice measuring and drawing the pattern on an 8-inch square before attempting to transfer the image to the two panels.  It will save time and frustration to practice on a smaller scale first.
  • When you understand the geometry of the pattern, place a picture of the quilt design on a wall or easel for reference.
  • Protect the reference picture with a clear plastic cover.
  • Use your geometry skills to scale measure and trace the image on boards. 
  • Use a grid if this helps to transfer the image. Quilt blocks rarely use round lines in their designs.
  • Lightly trace the image on the MDO boards.
  • Use light pressure to draw image. Pencil marks are hard to cover up with paint.
  • Use a string and a nail when drawing a circle.
  • Use a computer projector to trace non-geometric designs.  The projector can be adjusted to compensate for warping caused by the angle of the projection.
  • Using an old overhead projector to project the image may be unsatisfactory. The image warps unless it is projected squarely on the boards and they are absolutely vertical. 

6  Outline Sections with Painters Tape

  • Use painters tape to outline the areas that will receive first paint colour.
  • Press the tape edge firmly to ensure a good seal so paint doesn’t bleed into adjacent section.
  • Light coloured paints do not cover up pencil. Use painter's tape or sticky notes instead.
  • Indicate which colours go in which section by writing on sticky notes.  

7  Paint

  • Use "Cross Hatching" technique to paint. Make short strokes vertically, then horizontally.  
  • Paint the areas with the lightest color first.
  • Paint a second coat.  
  • Apply 3 or more coats of red, orange, and yellow - any paint that has a clear base.
  • Check with your paint supplier. Clear base colours (especially red) will fade in the sun. 
  • Leave the tape in place until you are finished with each color.
  • Repeat these steps for each color.
  • If darker colors bleed into lighter colors, be sure to touch up.
  • Let fully dry.

8  Seal the barn quilt block

Apply 2 thin layers of side walk sealer on your project. Sealer should be applied on entire painted area including the back and edges.  The top edge is where moisture could enter your project.

   The question is- To seal or not to seal?

This is the product that has successfully been used by three of the OBQT trails with no issues. The Weather Shield Low Gloss Sealer is a Home Builder Product. See you local Home Hardware for this product.

Share This Page: