Roxann Byron in her home studio

Quilter Roxann Byron stands in her home studio space on Tuesday. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

A growing number of quilts are being displayed on homes, sheds and greenhouses throughout Ketchikan neighborhoods — but these quilts aren't made of the traditional fabric and backing and thread.

Instead, they're "barn quilts," painted patterns on finished wood backdrops that have begun appear in neighborhoods north, south and all around Ketchikan.

Barn quilts have been popular in the Pacific Northwest and other areas of the Lower 48 for many years, Roxann Byron told the Daily News during a Tuesday morning interview.

Byron also noted that the quilts were used during the operation of the Underground Railroad system in the 19th century.

Speaking in her garage that's filled with art supplies and barn quilts in progress, Byron shared that she noticed the barn quilts during a post-retirement road trip with her husband earlier this year.

"I retired in February, and then we decided 'We are getting out of here, (and are) going to have a vacation,'" Byron recalled. "And (we) drove down the coast, Highway 101 to California. And it was about Tillamook, Oregon there's a barn trail."

A barn trail is a route that pedestrians or drivers can take to see a variety of barn quilts on buildings or other structures. Some communities have digital maps of barn trails, such as those featured on the Alaska-centric website "The Far North Quilt Trail Project." The Far North Quilt Trail Project features barn quilts in Anchorage and Fairbanks, and Byron said that the project's manager, Somer Hahm, soon plans to add Ketchikan quilts to the list.

A 30-year member of the local Rainy Day Quilters Guild, Byron has years of experience in sewing and crafting. During their road trip, Byron's husband questioned why she hadn't yet tackled a barn quilt project.

Upon their return to Ketchikan, Byron began to learn more about the quilts and approached the Rainy Day Quilters Guild to share the idea.

The other guild members weren't necessarily surprised to hear about the barn quilts — "There's a lot of (the members) that had thought about it, traveled and here and there, and their thoughts just hadn't quite got there," Byron said.

Byron emphasized that the barn quilts aren't just something she creates, but that the group and other crafters can partake in together or separately.

Byron created her first barn quilt solo, but after being encouraged to start up a workshop, Byron's garage became the place to be to learn how to paint a barn quilt.

It can be a long process to finish a single barn quilt. The designs are made by painting over a wood board that has been finished with a few coats of primer and satin exterior paint.

Then, tape is laid down on the board in a particular pattern. The artist then has to paint within those lines and in layers to develop the desired design.

"When I am at home and I can do it at my leisure, I usually will do one color a day," Byron said. "I do three coats, and I do the first coat, let it set for a couple hours ... and then by the end of the day I can peel the tape off and let it sit overnight."

 There are many resources that the quilters use to develop their patterns, from books printed in the 70's to non-copyrighted printable patterns found online.

Working on the quilts together brought the guild members back together after separation due to the coronavirus.

"So getting back together again to paint and be together was a really, really big deal to a lot of us," Byron noted.

"It is some form of entertainment, of recreation for the community," she said. "At this point, there's at least a half a dozen ladies who have them up on their homes, where you can see them from the road."

Quilts can be spotted in the Forest Park and Pond Reef areas, as well as in areas north and south of Ketchikan.

The patterns often carry personal meaning, like Byron's piece "The Carpenter's Star," which hangs on a building on her property and represents a family history of carpentry.

"And a lot of the ladies will choose patterns that way; something that is near and dear to them," Byron said.

The members of the guild who work on barn quilts together often share paints and supplies, leaving them in Byron's garage for other creators to share.

"Some of them have bought paint, and left their paint with me," Byron said. "So when the next group comes and they didn't buy paint, maybe they want that exact shade of purple. They'll buy it, they leave it, and we share it with the next group."

Byron said that the members of the Rainy Day Quilters Guild who participate in creating barn quilts have learned just what they are capable of creating.

"Because it's totally different, and I never dreamed I would be painting barn quilts," Byron commented. "That would be very intimidating to me. And I thought, 'you know I can too. It's just paint.'"

Stacey Brainard, a six-year member of the Rainy Day Quilters Guild, compared barn quilts to a secret society that binds the community.

"It's kind of like, if you know what it is, then you know what it is," Brainard said during a Wednesday phone interview with the Daily News.

Brainard, who is originally from the Pacific Northwest, said she was aware of barn quilts because of barn trails in Oregon and Washington.

"So I've always known what a barn quilt was, and then after my husband built my greenhouse this spring, I just needed something to kind of finish it off," she recalled. "And so that's when I got inspired to do the barn quilts."

Brainard has made two barn quilts so far, and has others in the works.

"I made one by myself and then the other one I made with a group of us, which is great, because then we are able to share," Brainard said. "Some of the supplies, like the paint, are kind of expensive. So when we go it as a group we can kind of share, everybody brings something different to the table."

What Brainard enjoys most about barn quilts is the comradery that comes with participating with a group.

"For me, it's mostly being a part of something that's bigger," she said. "So knowing when people drive by and they see that, they know what it is and they know that it's part of something bigger. It's almost like putting a sign on the front of your house that identifies you as a crafter."

Dawn Teune, a co-president of the Rainy Day Quilt Guild, hasn't personally made a quilt but told the Daily News that the guild has several ongoing projects.

"It's kind of a constant," Teune said. "We do community service once a month ... and we do all sorts of things. We do quilts that we give to Child Protective Services with the State of Alaska, we do bibs and things for the Pioneer Home, we do fire quilts that are presented to people in the community who have lost to a fire, we're also very active in the Quilts of Valor."