The Quilt Scout
by Mary Fons
The Quilt Scout Interview: Jenny Doan
Missouri Star Quilt Company has been a force in the industry for seven years. Arms of the MSQC empire include a vast online shop, YouTube tutorials with millions of hits, patterns, magazines, continual bulletins announcing the locations worldwide where Jenny speaks of her quilt journey, and the creation of “Quilt Town, USA,” a veritable quilt shop campus in the once-dying town of Hamilton, MO, also the Doans’ hometown. In this inaugural Quilt Scout Interview, your intrepid Quilt Scout (that’s me) speaks with the lady in the center of it all.
QS: Jenny, I have a pet theory. As far as I can tell, people start making quilts for one two reasons: they have an illness or are processing grief or some kind of emotional pain or they make a quilt because they’re marking a joyous occasion, like a new baby or a wedding. Neither is better than the other, just different. Which camp are you in?
JD: I think I fall into a third camp: the passion camp. Sometimes in our lives I think we just fall into things we love. For some, it’s gardening; others, music; others writing. For me, it was sewing. I’ve done all of the above, but I love sewing. Somehow, I was lucky enough to be able to make an income doing what I love.
That being said, as I have travelled and talked to women all over the world, I have learned roughly 70-80% percent of them came into quilting because of a loss. Quilting is healing.
QS: That’s totally why I started.
JD: And the second reason you mention—needing to make a quilt for an event—I think it can start that way, but the joy is in the giving. When we serve, we learn to love, and that just feels so good.
QS: Word, Jenny. Word. When did you and your family look around Hamilton and think, "Uh-oh. This is not okay. We gotta do something, here.”
JD: As the kids were growing up, we watched the town get smaller. Originally, we just wanted to have a small Mom and Pop store. I remember one day, Ron and I stood at the window of the first little store and said, "So this is our retirement!"
At that point I don't think there was any inkling of what was coming. It really started because the kids wanted to make sure we’d be okay in those retirement years. So they got me a quilting machine. That was going to be the vehicle to get us out of debt and build a nest egg.
When the business started taking off and we started buying fabric, we quickly ran out of room: we couldn't put out all the fabric we had. So Sarah bought a building, and we stocked it with all of our Civil War fabric. Very quickly, we were out of room again and had to buy another building.
I think when we bought our third building, we realized we had to stop or go all in. We have always loved our small town, and now it was our turn to give back.
QS: I don't want to get too Negative Nelly, but I was hanging out with Alan in Hamilton when I was there to film with you, and he said just a little about some pushback in Hamilton? How is that possible? You revitalized an entire town.
Photo Right: Block magazine, produced by MSQG and available with everything else at missouriquiltco.com
JD: There has been some pushback in Hamilton. I don't know for sure, but I would say over 90 percent of the residents are happy. There’s a small contingent that doesn't want change, or doesn't like the increased traffic and doesn't want Hamilton to be a "quilt town.” But change happens anyway.
So we can change the town and help it grow—or change comes as it dies and goes away. We try not to let the negative bother us. For every one person that isn't happy, there are ten others that thank us and love that the community is growing.
QS: This is one of the reasons why I love you. And that sentiment goes for negative stuff on the Internet. We’ve talked about how we read a comment from one jerk and it’s so painful, even if there are ten positive comments from fans right before and after it. Jenny, what's your favorite part of what you do?
JD: [Laughs.] My job is really to talk and sew. That’s a pretty good job. My favorite part is the creative part. And the sewing. Oh, and the people. And the teaching. Yep. Those are my favorites.
QS: People ask me sometimes, “Why do you think Fons & Porter were so successful?” It’s a tough question, but I’m going to ask you the same! Why do you think Missouri Star is like an empire now?
JD: This is just me speculating from what people tell me. In this competitive, dog-eat-dog world we live in, people like that we are a family. We’re real people and we are helping our town. They like that we’re happy and have fun with what we do. They like that we try to keep cost low. And they love the tutorials. If they can see it, they can do it.
After one of my trunk shows, a lady sidled up and put her arm around me and said, “I want to pay you the compliment my Grandmother always gave.” She said, “You are meatloaf kind of people.” I think that sums it up.