Jenny Doan: Faith and Family Helped Her Build a Quilting Empire

“Quilting Can Heal” says the co-founder of the Missouri Star Quilt Company.

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Posted in , May 24, 2022

Jenny Doan of the Missouri Star Quilt Company

Jenny Doan is arguably the most famous quilter in the world. But the co-founder of the Missouri Star Quilt Company believes that everybody can benefit from the power and the peace that comes from quilting.

“Every quilter has a story and every quilt has a story and it generally involves some type of healing,” says Jenny. In How to Stitch an American Dream, Doan outlines her own amazing healing journey, which took her from being an unemployed 50-something with no retirement savings to an international YouTube sensation and public face of a quilting empire. Today, Jenny and her family have transformed their hometown of Hamilton, Missouri, into Quilt Town USA. Busloads of quilting enthusiasts from around the globe pour into the town to shop at one of the company’s thirteen stores or take a quilting class.

Doan attributes her success to three things: her loyal, hardworking family, her Pollyanna personality—“I wake up singing,” she says—and her unshakeable faith. “I pray regularly—at meals, in the morning and at night, in the car—everywhere. Even if I don’t understand why I have to go through something I know that God has a plan and I know that his plan is better than mine.”

Doan has faced her fair share of hardships. For the first time in the 2021 book, Doan shares the story of her abusive first marriage and subsequent divorce. In her early twenties, Doan—a single mother of one, with another on the way—moved back in with her parents in California. A few years later she met her current husband, Ron. The couple—who celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2020-- went on to have five more children of their own. “Money was often tight,” says Doan, who was a homeschooling mom for decades. “But we were happy.”

After one son faced surgery for a tumor, the family started searching for a cheaper place to live. In 1995, Jenny says that she was divinely lead to move her family to Missouri—sight unseen. Ron took a job as a mechanic at the Kansas City Star. But the newspaper industry was in rapid decline; then, the 2008 stock market crash wiped out virtually all of the couple’s retirement savings. “We needed a plan,” says Jenny. Still, when her son Alan set her up with a long-arm quilting machine in a small storefront later that year, Jenny thought she could make a little cash, but still insisted that quilting was just a hobby.

Alan thought otherwise. He started making YouTube videos of his mom giving quilting tutorials—and the company took off from there. “When I started teaching and then doing trunk shows, I shared a lot of funny stories. It helped people feel less intimidated,” she says. In 2015, the Missouri Star Quilt Company, which by that time had 180 employees, was honored by the U.S. Small Business Administration as the country’s top “Small Business Persons of the Year.” By 2020, MSQC employed 400 people. Jenny is proud that despite the slowdown in visitors to Hamilton during the coronavirus pandemic, they did not have to lay anybody off.

Today, four of Jenny’s children are involved in running the business. Jenny and Ron take time away each month to travel together. “My relationship with him is more important than any of my other relationships,” says Jenny. “So we bought a little trailer. I love camping and hiking and backpacking and Ron’s idea of roughing it is Motel 6. So this our compromise.”

But don’t expect this workaholic to retire anytime soon. Jenny remains energized by the power of quilting to change lives. “When I started out I thought I was just teaching people how to sew. But as time went on, people started sharing stories—everything from ordinary stuff to just unbelievable hardship. But all of a sudden their whole life had changed because they had taken on this new skill. It’s then I realized that creating is healing.

Jenny remembers one woman who told her: ‘I never thought I could ever do anything like this. But you said I could, so I believed.’ She went to pull a block out of her purse to show me and she had no hands. Things like that would happen and I was just so stunned. When you create something that doesn’t exist before—it’s a divine act.” 

But making it is just part of the magic--sharing is equally as important. “After someone learns to quilt, that they start giving them away—to their children, their grandchildren, to charity. You are literally changing the world because your quilts comfort people. They fill them with love, they give them hope. You are part of a powerful movement.”

The cover of Jenny Doan's How to Stitch an American Dream: A Story of Family, Faith and the Power of Giving

 

Jenny Doan is the author of How to Stitch an American Dream: A Story of Family, Faith and the Power of Giving from Harper Horizon.

 

 

 

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