How Quilting Can Bring Healing
Missouri Star Quilt Company’s founder Jenny Doan has built a quilting empire, but never lost touch with quilters who share how quilting has changed their lives
Quilters come from all walks of life and quilting can bring people together in ways that many might never imagine — like a tattooed, pierced young woman who attended a quilt retreat, but felt like she didn't belong.
Years before, she developed a drug addiction. She lost her job, home, family, and children. But her grandmother, a quilter, never gave up on her, helping the young woman get back on her feet. When her grandmother died, instead of sinking, the young woman bought a sewing machine.
With memories of what her grandmother taught her and by watching Missouri Star Quilt Company (MSQC) videos, she made her first quilt in many years. And she has been quilting ever since. The young quilter didn't feel like she was part of the quilting community, but she was, said Jenny Doan, co-founder of MSQC, who hosted the retreat.
The Missouri Star Quilt Company is now a quilting empire, and its YouTube channel has logged more than 2.5 million views since it launched.
Doan encouraged the young woman to share her story with the others. "All of a sudden, she had a hundred women surrounding her," Doan said. Some had a child with similar experiences; others worked in health care. They supported her and loved her because she was willing to share that part of her.
Jenny Doan, 64, is a quilting celebrity. Her face and voice are well known among quilters across the country and beyond. But when she was busy raising her family of seven children and struggling to make ends meet, the idea of running a quilting company, let alone becoming a YouTube star, never crossed her mind.
And yet here she is. The Missouri Star Quilt Company is now a quilting empire, and its YouTube channel has logged more than 2.5 million views since it launched.
The Birth of the Missouri Star Quilt Company
The stock market crash and the global financial crisis of 2008 changed things for millions of people, including Doan and her husband Ron. Their retirement savings were wiped out and Ron's job was in jeopardy. Two of their children, Alan Doan and Sarah Galbraith, had an idea that might help them. They saw an opportunity to turn their mother's hobby into a small family business.
Doan had made some quilt tops, sending them out to be quilted by a "longarmer," a person who uses a special sewing machine — a longarm — on a large frame to make quilts. Doan's son Alan suggested that she learn how to use one and do quilts for others, to bring in some income.
A year later, to promote the business, they started a YouTube channel so Doan could show viewers how to use some of the fabrics they sold. The channel took off — and so did business. The small Hamilton, Mo., company won the 2015 Missouri Best Small Business award, soon followed by an invitation to the White House to be recognized as the National Small Business Persons of the Year. This was the first time in the history of the quilting industry that a quilter was honored at such a level.
At that time, the company was bringing in $10 million in revenue and was the county's largest employer, with 148 employees. Now, they employ more than 400 people, even during the pandemic, and sales continued.
"We became an essential business because we were selling fabric and elastics for masks," Doan explained. "Our online business went up forty percent. During COVID, we never laid a single employee off, and we never stopped hiring."
The Disneyland of Quilting
MSQC grew to include 15 stores in the town, drawing thousands of tourists a week ready to experience the Disneyland of Quilting or Quilt Town, U.S.A., as the town is sometimes called. Hamilton became a quilting destination, with travelers from across the country and beyond, like one of the first tourists who came from Brazil. These visitors poured much-needed and appreciated money into the local economy.
When COVID struck, MSQC closed the shops and moved employees to the warehouse, but the stores opened again once it was safer. People came back in droves, Doan said.
Jenny Doan's Online Touch Reaches Far and Wide
Many of those tourists learned about MSQC through Doan's videos. She believes her tutorials became so popular because before she started making them, most craft videos only showed the hands of people demonstrating their techniques.
Her approach, showing that she is a real person with a personality, helped build a solid fan base. She makes mistakes and laughs at them. "People love that I'm not perfect, and I'm honest about it."
"If you give a quilt to someone undergoing chemo, you think maybe this will give them some hope. And all of a sudden, they're keeping warm with that quilt because chemo is so cold."
And something unexpected happened along the way. While Doan thought she was just sewing and sharing her techniques, she learned her videos went deeper.
"The most surprising thing was when I started getting letters, they were letters of healing. I didn't realize the power of the internet. I didn't realize the power it had across the universe to teach people a skill, and they were so grateful," she said.
Doan learned about a Marine who lived with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). "He could barely function," she said. He found her videos and started quilting.
One day, as Doan heard her daughter-in-law Misty Doan interviewing the veteran via her computer, she went over to meet him.
"I said, "Hey, I just wanted to meet you; I'm Jenny." And he put his hands over his face, and he just sobbed. "He said that if it hadn't been for me, for the information we provided online — and then he just cried," Doan said.
Quilting Goes Beyond Fabric and Thread
Doan believes that it's human nature to want to create in some way. "There's a quote [by Dieter F. Uchtdorf] that says the desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul, no matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before," she said.
And with creation comes a sense of community. Quilters often give away their creations to family, friends, and even strangers in need. When disasters occur, you'll see a call-out among quilters to make quilts for survivors.
"About one of every three people I meet on the street will tear up and start to cry, and they're embarrassed by it," Doan said. She always tells them not to be embarrassed. "This is so much more of an emotional journey than any of us realize."
The quilts carry emotion, hope, love, and warmth.
"If you give a quilt to someone undergoing chemo, you think maybe this will give them some hope. And all of a sudden, they're keeping warm with that quilt because chemo is so cold," she said. "Or you give a quilt to a foster kid. They're not going to feel the love. They're not going to feel the hope. The first question is going to be, 'Is it mine? Can I keep it?' And they will keep it. They want ownership of something. It's just the sweetest thing, really."
What's Next for Jenny Doan
Doan and her family started MSQC when they lost their retirement savings. Fourteen years later, the reality of that retirement is near, but Doan is not quite yet ready to stop altogether. She wants to continue working while still honoring her husband, who is retired, so she will step back gradually.
"Ron and I have been taking a weekend a month," she said. "We're trying to take a little more time for ourselves. We have three or four big trips planned this year if COVID holds out, and we can actually go."
Doan still plans to maintain her online presence with regular videos, but maybe less frequently. In 2021, she published a book called "How to Stitch an American Dream" with co-writer Mark Dagostino.
The idea was her son, Alan's. Many people had already written about Doan and MSQC but the idea of writing about herself didn't take hold right away. Alan persisted, believing she had a story to share.
The pages offer glimpses into Doan's early life and how her family came together. It tells of how she raised her large family on a shoestring budget and some of the escapades her family will never forget.
Doan continues to be amazed at how far she and MSQC can reach and the impact she has.
"Somebody in India can fall in love with me on the computer as easily as someone in town. And that just blows my mind," she said. "I thought quilting was just a hobby."