The Booming Business of Barn Quilts

Donna Sue Groves had an idea: pretty up an old barn for her mother, a celebrated quilter, by hanging a wooden square painted to look like a traditional quilt block. But why stop with just one square?

So Donna Sue got together with her neighbors in Adams County, OH and created a driving trail of squares hung on barns to attract tourists looking for a day trip who might stop and spend money on gas, food, or crafts made by local artists. The first quilt square was hung in 2001; the idea sparked a grassroots phenomenon and a new form of American folk art.

There are now organized trails in 39 States and parts of Canada. These trails not only bring tourists, they have spawned an industry of artists making customized quilt squares, jewelry, calendars, note cards, fabrics and more.

Donna Sue wanted to bring economic development to her very rural county, which sits at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. She did that and so much more. The quilt squares are seen as public art; they build community pride, celebrate artists, and are saving a few old barns in the process. This is organizing, art history and economic development rolled into one amazing idea.

As the director of “Pieced Together,” the first documentary film about the American quilt square trail movement, I will present a 10-minute clip from the film and discuss a few examples of best practices that I have observed.