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Pieced Together: Documentary on the Quilt Square Trail Movement

Pieced Together:  Documentary on the Quilt Square Trail Movement

By Julianne Donofrio of

While driving down a country road, something catches your eye: there are colors and shapes made out of plywood and paint. What looks like an average barn standing tall among the fields is the frame for an understated masterpiece. You’ve spotted a quilt square and it is the brainchild of Donna Sue Groves.

“Pieced Together” is the first documentary film about the American quilt square trail movement and Donna Sue. It’s a story of how one woman’s love for her mother changed the American landscape – and saved her life after she lost her job and discovered she had breast cancer.

You see, Donna Sue had an idea: pretty up an old tobacco barn for her mother Nina Maxine Groves, 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 then 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.

Some people call them barn quilts, others call them quilt barns or quilt squares. These are different than the Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs; Donna Sue specifically set out to have traditional quilt blocks painted to hang on barns. And it’s taken on a life of its own – there is no national quilt trail organization and the only rules are the ones implemented by each community. But if you want a quilt square, Donna Sue would be the first person to say “go for it!” She believes anyone can play and the only true limitation is that of your own imagination.quiltcentric_Ohio_Star_Barn

I stumbled upon my first quilt square in 2009 while in Tennessee working on an independent web-based video project. I instinctively knew it was a quilt square when I saw it because my mother has been quilting for the last 20 years. But what was it doing up on that old barn?

So I turned to the Internet and learned of Donna Sue Groves through a “pink” web page created by the quilt trail organizers in Garrett County, MD. They were raising funds for Donna Sue who had lost her job and was battling breast cancer. I knew I had to meet her – and when I did, I knew I had to tell her story. As a journalist there are times when you just know you’ve entered into something special.

Now, more than 40 US states have organized quilt square trails – all done by community organizers, volunteers, men and women, young and old – and there are countless squares found on barns, garages, and fences from California to Tennessee to Prince Edward Island. They range in sizes and appear in a multitude of colors and designs. Don’t have a barn? Folks in and around downtown Wilber, Nebraska put them on planter boxes and they hung them in store windows in Loveland, CO.

“I guarantee you, that had it not been for the quilt trail community, that I would not be here today,” says Donna Sue Groves.

Donna Sue never planned on creating a cross-country community. But it is this very community of friends and strangers that is helping her put the pieces of her life back together. She battled the breast cancer and is now fighting bladder cancer and other health issues. She still struggles to make ends meet, as she is unable to work due to her condition. But that doesn’t stop her from looking forward, to helping others create and expand the quilt trails. She’s on the phone and computer constantly, offering to lend a hand wherever she can. She credits these people and the quilt trail project with giving her something to look forward to as she awakes each day. Donna Sue is forever comforted by their love, as if wrapped in a quilt made of fabric and thread; only this quilt is special, it is made of plywood and paint.

Over the last four years, I’ve followed Donna Sue’s journey, interviewed organizers and volunteers, and documented quilt trails and events in California, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland and Ohio. It’s been a labor of love, one that I’ve been pursuing while working full-time for a production company in Washington, DC. In the spring of 2013 I went freelance so that I could devote myself to finishing the film. Now that shooting has wrapped it’s time to start editing – but before that can happen, I’ve needed to start raising funds because I can no longer afford to do this out of my own pocket.

The quilt square trails were built by the grassroots spirit and it is that same spirit that is helping to bring “Pieced Together” to the next level. We are currently in the final phase of our Kickstarter campaign to raise finishing funds. Each dollar will help make our film better and help us complete it faster so that we can bring it to a film festival and theater near you. Please consider supporting our project – how exciting to see your name on our website or rolling by in the credits and to be able to say, “Hey, I was a part of that!” I am working towards releasing the film at the end of 2014.  More about the project’s Kickstarter campaign can be found here.

With over 400 trails and 4,000 documented squares in the US and Canada, why not jump in the car and see if you can discover one today? Happy hunting – and please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest and let us know what you find!

If you’re curious to learn more about Donna Sue Groves and the barn quilt movement while you’re waiting for the documentary to come out, you might be interested in reading the book Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail Movement, written by Donna Sue Groves and Suzi Parron. quiltcentric_Julianne_Donofrio


Julianne Donofrio is a Peabody award-winning producer and veteran of ABC News. |





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