A Patchwork of Hope: Donna Sue Groves, the woman behind barn quilts, faces the challenge of her life

July 24, 2009  
Filed under People and Places

Losing a job and learning you have cancer would devastate just about anybody – except for Donna Sue Groves. She is a survivor. What helps Donna Sue fight is the love and support of family and friends, and the community she has helped create through a simple idea of painting colorful quilt squares on barns.

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When Donna Sue Groves was a young girl she spent hours in the backseat of the family car during vacations. Sometimes they would travel from Crede, West Virginia to visit grandparents in their native Roane County, WV. Other times, they would drive through Pennsylvania, up to New England.

See a photo gallery from this story here.

Somewhere along the way, her mother Nina Maxine Groves, created a game for Donna Sue and her brother based on the different types of barns they saw dotting the countryside. Points were awarded per barn and painted advertisement. Donna Sue got really good at spotting barns and grew to love the different shapes and the stories of the people who built and worked in the wooden structures.

Years later, when Donna Sue was divorced and her mother widowed, they purchased a farm in rural Adams County, Ohio. When they toured the property, they came across an old tobacco farm. Donna Sue had never seen one before and thought it was the ugliest thing she ever saw!

Looking at the distressed wood of the giant barn, she joked to her mother, a celebrated quiltmaker, that she would paint a quilt square on it to give it some color. Donna Sue had a great appreciation for the colorful fabrics and patterns pieced together by the skillful hands of her mother, as well as both her grandmothers.

Her promise of painting a square became a joke amongst friends and neighbors, until one day some of those friends encouraged Donna Sue to make good. But she didn’t want to paint just one square. With the help of the community, Donna Sue created a “Clothesline of Quilts” in Adams County. The idea was to create a driving trail of 20 squares so that tourists would come to the area to see the quilt barns and stop at local merchants. It would be a way to bring economic opportunity to the area.

The first square was unveiled in 2001 and Donna Sue immediately started getting calls from neighboring counties. They wanted to know how they could start their own trail; asking everything from where to get the paint to how big to paint the plywood squares. Donna Sue was happy to share what she knew.

Almost ten years later, it’s now the National Quilt Barn Trail, spanning more than 20 states and British Columbia. Donna Sue is even getting calls from overseas; she wants to start calling it the “International” Quilt Barn Trail. There are still moments of amazement that this phenomenon all started in a small Ohio community.

In 2003, the second of the Adams County quilt barn squares was unveiled. It was a “Snail’s Trail” quilt pattern added to the Groves’ old tobacco barn. Donna Sue and Nina Maxine even added a second square on the side of the barn that faces their homes, away from the road. It is just for them. A reminder of a promise kept and a promise to keep fighting, no matter what tomorrow may bring.

Meet Donna Sue as she bravely faces her most challenging project yet…

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11 Responses to “A Patchwork of Hope: Donna Sue Groves, the woman behind barn quilts, faces the challenge of her life”
  1. Gaytha Quinlin says:

    Thank you so very much for posting Donna Sue’s Story. She is my inspiration. I met Donna Sue and the Barn Quilt Trial through Country Woman Magazine years ago. I was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago and I wanted to leave my mark on the world somehow and I did it with the first Barn Quilt in Virginia. If it wasn’t for Donna Sue and her amazing vision, I would not have released my passion of painting. Donna Sue is now my very best friend (sister). I love her dearly. Thank you again for showing the world how special she is.
    I pray that you have many blessings,

  2. Donna Sue is a ray of sunshine, always encouraging those around her to make their own path and believe in their dreams. Maxine is a lady who has faced the world with spirit and bravery, like Eleanor Roosevelt — wise and ahead of her time. I feel blessed to have them in my life and the Quilt Trail made that possible. I contacted Donna Sue after reading about the barns and a lifelong connection was formed. Thank you for sharing this special story.
    Best wishes to you as you make your way across America.

  3. Thank you for capturing Donna Sue, a part of her essence, for sharing her story here. This project that you are crafting is one to behold; and I am sure that it is a work of art that is well on its way of recognition!

    I am so very proud to know Donna Sue as my friend. She is an inspiration! These projects (yours and hers) are meaningful and continue to grow; both give us a chance to take pause. Seeing Donna Sue here gives me, and so many more, a chance to again behold her beauty and courage.

    Donna Sue is a humble and gracious lady. The relationship that she has shared with her mother sets an example for us all. Thanks for doing what you are. Best and warmest regards.

  4. Irene says:

    The video is wonderful. I had the privilege of working with Donna Sue and was always so amazed by her passion, strength and care for others. Always humble, I am so pleased to see her and her work recognized. She is an Ohio treasure and will always have a special place in my heart.

  5. Shawna Bosworth says:

    This was so touching to me. I found a love for the colorful designs on barns in the mountains of North Carolina. Even though I don’t have a barn, I made a barn quilt for my out building. To think that such a simple design can bring a smile to your face – it’s amazing. My prayers and best wishes go out to Donna Sue – with love!!

  6. xue says:

    Today I woke up & I cried for Donna Sue’s sweetness, for her passion, her strength & dream. It was a good cry to know that there are people like her. We don’t have a barn since we live in cosmopolitan part of Tokyo. If we have a barn or our own, non-rental home…I will have a barn quilt on our house. Love & hugs to Donna Sue from Tokyo.

  7. Laura Jordan NC says:

    God Bless Donna Sue & her mother! I moved to Western NC in 2008 and began taking road trips to explore the beautiful areas. I happened upon many barns decorated with Quilt squares and was always curious of their meaning. It wasn’t until this September 2009 that I read an article in a travel guide I picked up and saw the story of the Quilt Barn Trails! Today I am seeing this site for the the first time and have just watched Donna Sue’s video ending it with tears of Hope, strength, and love! I have always loved quilts & will be starting a class to make one of my own – and now it will be even more meaningful to me after learning about Donna Sue, her mother, and the challenges they face. You are truly an Inspiration! I am excited to find as many of these barns as I can on my travels. Blessings ~ Laura

  8. Lu Douglas, IL says:

    In my search for “where did barn quilting start”, I can to this website. Thank you Donna Sue to the beauty you have inspired! I wish you health & happiness in 2010 & will keep you in my prayers–you go girl!

  9. Vickie Harmeling says:

    I am looking for information on how to hang a quilt square on my house. If anyone has any information on how to do this, I would appreciate it. My email is


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. [...] at Stewart Perry love where we live and we love our neighbors. Donna Sue Groves believes you can express those feelings through her relatively new found art – barn quilts. [...]

  2. [...] quilt block pattern on plywood then hung on the sides of barns, started in Adams County, Ohio when Donna Sue Groves painted a quilt block on the exterior of an old tobacco barn. It blossomed into a trail of 20 barns [...]

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