Quilting has been around for generations and began as a way to use every last scrap of fabric or repurpose old clothing into a warm and comforting covering. Quilts were born from necessity but were most often works of art as well. Donna Sue Groves of Adams County, Ohio initiated the Barn Quilt Movement in the fall of 2001. Donna’s grandmother, who was from West Virginia, quilted during family visits, and her skill made a lasting impression on Donna. Just as fabric quilts have their own unique history, so do barn quilts. While barns were not painted back in the day, they were decorated with different types of folk art. This included quilt blocks once paint was readily available and affordable. Barn quilt squares came over with the colonists and have continued on in the tradition of the Pennsylvania Dutch. In the early 2000s, barn quilts start showing up again, and these are the ones we are used to seeing today. This is also when the first quilt trail began, originating in Ohio.
As Donna’s family road through the country on back roads, her mother had the children count barns to keep them busy. Different types of barns would earn points. Barns with advertising were worth 10 points. Red barns were worth even more points. German Pennsylvania Dutch barns with hex signs and wonderful colorful geometric designs on them were worth the most…50 whole points!
From this childhood experience, barns left an imprint on Donna Sue that she carried with her throughout her life. In 2000, Donna worked to create a driving trail of numerous quilt squares where people would come to Adams County to see the barns with quilt squares, and ultimately create economic opportunity for the mostly rural communities. In just under a decade, the Barn Quilt Trail has grown to encompass 29 states and into Canada.
Donna Sue believes quilts have power. Just about everyone has a quilt story and remembers a quilt. People run to their closets or pull quilts out from under their beds and share their stories. Do you have a quilt story to share? I
Donna Sue shared that her Barn Quilt Trail was a way to create economic opportunities but to also preserve stories about those that built barns and the family farm stories behind them. Of equal importance are the quilts in those families and the stories. We need to remember the rich tradition of quilting by sharing and documenting the wonderful stories associated with these quilts.