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How Jenny Doan created the Disneyland of quilting

Quilting "sewlebrity" Jenny Doan
Quilting "sewlebrity" Jenny Doan 07:21

For a long time Hamilton, Missouri was known for being the boyhood home of J.C. Penney, and really not much else. But today this small farming community has a new claim to fame: It's the Disneyland of quilting.

"Hello, y'all! We made it to the motherland!" exclaimed one excited visitor.

Visitors to Hamilton, Mo., pose for pictures with a local celebrity (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), founder of the Missouri Star Quilt Company, Jenny Doan.  CBS News

A trio of quilters – Lynne Shields, Diane Hake and Robin Allan – came here all the way from Australia. "If there was a place in heaven for quilters, we're there!" said Shields.

Correspondent Luke Burbank asked them, "Are you gonna go to New York City while you're here? Are you gonna go to Miami? Washington, D.C.? L.A.?"

"No" was the collective response. Hamilton, Missouri is where you gotta be!

It's all thanks to the Missouri Star Quilt Company, which opened a small store here back in 2008. And not long after, visitors started coming by the busload to do a little shopping in one of its (now 13) shops.

The Missouri Star Quilt Company opened its doors in 2008; it led to a renaissance for the small town of Hamilton.   CBS News

"If you like fabric, you're at the right place!" said a greeter.

Or to take a class. But most of all, hopefully to catch a glimpse of a real-life sew-lebrity, Jenny Doan.

Doan is part motivational speaker ("What you have passion for, what you love, you figure out a way to do it differently. You don't stop doing it"), part stand-up comedian ("I said to my dad one day, 'How can I have children this old?' He goes, 'Well, how do you think I feel?'"); and maybe most importantly for the business, a YouTube star:

Make a Disappearing Hourglass Crazy Eight Quilt with Jenny Doan of Missouri Star (Video Tutorial) by Missouri Star Quilt Company on YouTube

Doan says she has done more than 700 tutorials: "I do one every single Friday."

"Do you ever run out of things to talk about?" asked Burbank.

"Rarely," she laughed. "I think my husband would love it if I ran out of things to talk about. But I can talk. Talking is one of the things I do very well."

Founder of Missouri Star Quilt Company and YouTube quilting celebrity Jenny Doan. 

Now, this is the part of the story where we tell you things weren't always so upbeat for Doan and her family. Some 20 years ago Jenny, her husband, Ron, and their seven kids were struggling. They eventually went bankrupt.

And looking for somewhere cheaper to live than California, where they had been, Ron made a fateful – and kind of random – decision.

"He said, 'I think we should move to the Midwest,'" said Jenny. "And I looked at him and I said, 'Where is that, exactly? The Midwest?' And he's like, 'Well, it's over here,' you know, and he literally picked a place off a map."

And so, the Doans moved sight-unseen to Hamilton, Missouri. Life there was good at first … but then came the 2008 market crash.

"We lost our retirement," said Doan. "And at the time, you know, I think Ron and I were, like, 50. We're not worried about it, we're like, 'We'll just keep working, it's no big deal.'"

Burbank said, "Listen, I speak as one of seven kids with parents: We the kids worry about this stuff."

"It's exactly right. And us as parents, we're like, 'Oh, we'll be fine.'"

"Yeah, 'cause we're gonna be taking care of you," said Burbank.

"Right! I don't want Mom living in my basement, so let's find something for her to do."

And so, two of the Doan kids, Al and Sara, along with a friend Alan met during his Mormon mission, decided to turn their mom's hobby into a business, and opened that very first quilt shop.

The kids would run the business side, while Jenny would be its face. In the beginning business was slow, until Al Doan got an idea: to make a YouTube video starring his mom.

It didn't go great: Jenny recalled, "I'm like, 'Here's my amazing window, and the fabulous door, and here's my quilt machine.' And I flung out my back leg. And when my leg came down, it was wrapped up in the cord. He's like, 'And Mother's down!' You know, so I'm laying on the floor. He's like, 'Are you okay?' And I'm like, 'No, I really hurt myself.' And he said, 'Really? What do you want me to do? Call 911?' I said, 'Could you please call 911?' Turns out I broke my leg."

"That is a very inauspicious start to your video career," said Burbank.

Those crutches behind Jenny Doan are not a prop. Missouri Star Quilt Company

"The first videos, I always apologize for those because literally I'm in a wheelchair, there are crutches behind me. But the worst is, I'm so medicated!"

Despite that unlucky break, Jenny's videos eventually did take off and helped make Missouri Star's website one of the biggest sellers of fabrics and quilting supplies in the country.

And as the online business grew, the Doans were also transforming Hamilton, opening more quilt shops and even a place for the occasional husband who found himself in Hamilton. 

At Man's Land, he can put his feet up, maybe take a nap, or watch the game.

"I love this chair I'm sitting in," said one spouse. "Gives me a little rest from walking around in the shops!"

Man's Land: There's something for everyone at Hamilton, even non-quilters. CBS News

These days just about the entire Doan family is part of the operation. There's Al, Sara, Natalie, Jake, daughter-in-law Misty, and parents Jenny and Ron.

"This is a reality show that's just generally not being filmed," laughed Burbank. "Would you be against it, being a reality show?"

"Yeah, I think so," said Jenny. "Because they always make somebody be the bad guy. And we don't really have a bad guy in our family." [Covering her son's mouth, Jenny warned, "Don't talk, Al!"]

As for the financial troubles the Doans once had, well, as you might guess, that's not really a problem anymore.

"It's hard to break outta that mentality though, right?" asked Burbank. 

"It's actually been really hard for me," Jenny said, "the fact that I can go to the grocery store and buy anything I want. And I don't have to have it in a section of, This is what I have to have, this is what I hope I can have. It was huge for me."

CBS News

Fame and fortune aside, Jenny Doan said she will be staying in Hamilton, Mo., doing what she loves: quilting and teaching, no matter who the student might be.

Jenny asked, "Are you a good ironer?"

"I am actually a pretty good ironer," Burbank said. "That's one of my few domestic skills."

Jenny Doan, of the Missouri Star Quilt Company, and correspondent Luke Burbank.  CBS News

But the ironing didn't exactly go as anticipated. "I had one job and I almost just messed it up," he said. "Sorry, no tutorial this week. The guy from CBS ruined it!"

For more info:

Story produced by Dustin Stephens. 

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