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Episode 105

Jenny Doan Wants You to Break the Quilting Rules

If you've ever looked up a quilting tutorial on YouTube, you've probably seen Jenny Doan. She shares her story of growing Missouri Start Quilt Co, why quilting is such a powerful activity, and tips for anyone interested in learning to quilt.

Jenny’s trademark easygoing and accessible style has gained her YouTube channel over 800K subscribers, making it the most popular quilting channel on YouTube. She’s absolutely beloved by the worldwide community of quilters that she’s brought together both online and offline.

She’s even transformed the small town of Hamilton, Missouri, into a destination for quilters from around the world, now known as Quilt Town USA. She’s also now authored a memoir called How to Stitch an American Dream: A story of family, faith and the power of giving.

In epsiode 105 of the Seamwork Radio podcast, Jenny shares her incredible story growing this amazing company, why she thinks quilting is such a powerful activity, and some tips for anyone interested in learning to quilt.

Podcast Transcript

Sarai
I’m Sarai Mitnick, and this is Seamwork Radio, where we tell stories about the surprising ways that sewing impacts our lives. Welcome back to Scenery radio.

Today we’re talking to Jenny Doan, the founder of the Missouri Star Quilt Company. If you’ve ever looked up a quilting tutorial on YouTube, you’ve probably seen Jenny. Jenny’s trademark easygoing and accessible style has gained her YouTube channel over 7500 subscribers, making it the most popular quilting channel on YouTube. She’s absolutely beloved by the worldwide community of quilters that she’s brought together both online and offline.

She’s even transformed the small town of Hamilton, Missouri, into a destination for quilters from around the world, now known as Quilt Town USA. She’s also now authored a memoir called How to Stitch an American: A story of family, faith and the power of giving. Jenny’s here to share her incredible story, growing this amazing company. And she’s also going to share some tips for anyone interested in learning to quilt. If you love to sew and you’ve thought about dabbling a little bit in quilting, this is the episode for you. Jenny is going to share how she ended up turning a small town in Missouri into a worldwide quilting destination, why she thinks quilting is such an amazing creative activity, and how you can get started.

If you’ve never tried selling a quilt before, I think you’ll love her approach and what she has to say about the healing power of making. Here’s our interview with Jenny Doan.

Jenny, thank you so much for joining us today. We’re incredibly excited to have you.

Jenny
Oh, I’m glad to be here. Thank you.

Sarai
So we always start each episode with a little ice breaker from our community. And so our ice breaker today came from Marcella. And Marcella asks “if you could plan a vacation focused on fabric and textiles, not just shopping, but also museums making or other unique textile experiences, where would you go and why?”

Jenny
Okay, so, Marcella, I think if I were to answer that question, every time I go to a foreign country, I look for fabric, but most of the fabric is imported from the US. And so I think I would stick with the US. Because we have amazing quilt museums and amazing quilt shops. And because most of the shops are smaller, I would tend to go to a lot of them so that you could see all the different things. Nobody can carry one thing. And I would certainly go to someplace like Quiltown USA, which is right where I live in Missouri. 13 fabric specific shops.

Sarai
Somehow I knew that would be your answer. Jenny.

Jenny
I do think that the US is your best bet for all different kinds of fabrics and things like that, because literally, you go to Australia and you’re like, all right, I want Australian fabric. Well, they’ll have some a little tiny bit of it if you can find the stores. But mostly, Robert Kaufman makes a print that looks like that. And so it comes from the US. And I’m always like so actually, you know what I’ve heard, though? I’ve heard Japan has amazing textiles, so it might be fun to go there, but I don’t know. I haven’t been all the places, so I don’t actually know where to go.

Sarai
What about you, Haley? Where would you go?

Haley
I think that Jenny makes such an interesting point about lots of fabric being imported from the US. So I would probably end up going somewhere with a more of a fiber focus than a fabric focus. So I would go somewhere like Scotland or New Zealand and visit the different farms and see how the wool is made. And I think that would be really fun to have really interesting and rich history around the fiber production. I think that would be fantastic. And I think I mean, no, like, fabric fashion list would be complete without Japan, just for very obvious reasons.

Jenny
Now I think I need to go on a vacation.

Sarai
Yeah. I would love to go to Scotland and visit the Harris Tweed factory and see how those traditional fabrics are made. That would be that would be an amazing trip. That’s a great idea. I’ve been to Thailand and they had some just really incredible textiles in Thailand that are made there. Beautiful silks. And I still have some from my trip. This was years ago.

Jenny
And to be fair, I’m talking about quilting fabric and there is a lot of other textiles and things like that. I’ve been to Scotland and I haven’t been to the factory, but I’ve been to some weaving mills and things like that. And the same with New Zealand and the same. I know that there’s Aboriginal fabric in Australia that’s beautiful that they have actually made there. They just don’t have it like we have it. And so to plan an entire vacation around, I think you should have to go to several different countries. Maybe together. That would be really good.

Sarai
Yeah. World tour.

Haley
Sign me up.

Jenny
Yeah.

Sarai
All right. Well, thank you so much, Marcella, for this question. If you’d like to leave us a question for a future episode, you can share your icebreaker, if you’re a Seamwork member at

seamwork.com/go/icebreakers and just leave it there and we’ll probably use it on a future episode. So, Jenny, we wanted to start out by talking to you about your story and how you got to where you are now. So I thought we would start just by learning a little bit about how you first started sewing. Did you learn to sew as a child?

Jenny
So, when I was ten, my mother enrolled me in 4H and I started sewing. I had been stapling and taping and cutting and gluing things together for a very long time and she enrolled me in 4H at ten years old. And I went on and did all the dress review things and made my own clothing. I was five foot eight in the 6th grade. And so we could only wear pants to school one day a week when I went to college. But I couldn’t buy girls pants because they weren’t long enough and that sort of thing. So I started making my clothes very early on and then I had children and then it was cheaper to make clothing than it was to buy clothing. And so I made most of my children’s clothing and then as they grew up, when they get to be about six foot five, they’ll no longer wear matching clothing, so you have to put your sewing someplace else. And I started costuming. I was in musical theater and costuming, so I can sing and I generally carry the lead role. But I had these children that I would bring with me and to endear myself.

So to them, I became their costumer as well. Love doing the Costuming. And when we moved here to Missouri, I went right to the theater to offer my services as a customer. But they only did one show a year and so they didn’t need a customer. And somebody suggested that I take a quilting class and I can literally I remember looking at them and saying, old people do that. And I was only 35 at the time, 37. And so I decided though, I wanted to sew, and so I decided to take a class. And very quickly I became addicted to quilting and joined a group over there and went to that group. It was my saving grace. Every Wednesday night I got to get out of the house and go do that class. And it was just a group of women who got together. So it wasn’t actually a class, but man, that just saved me. And I loved it. I loved hands down, it’s the most creative thing I’ve ever done. And I’ve made some pretty cool costumes. But quilting hands down is so creative that I just fell in love with it.

Sarai
What is it that you loved about quilting so much? Because our audience is kind of a mix of people who sew and quilt, but a lot of people don’t quilt. They mostly sell their own clothing. So for those people, what would you say is the thing that really felt so creative to you?

Jenny
So for me, because I have such little snippets of time, or at the time I did with my little children, it mattered to me that what I was making had longevity. So for instance, I didn’t love to cook because people just ate it, but I love to can because it would sit on your shelf for months. You have this feeling of accomplishment for a long time. And when you make a costume, it’s got to look good from 20ft out, hold together for two weeks and somebody’s going to use it once.

But when you make a quilt, it’s actually going to outlive you by generations. And so I love the longevity of quilting, and I love that you’re making something useful. I’m super, super practical. So I’m not an art quilter necessarily. I mean, I have made wall hangings, things like that, but I would consider myself a utilitarian quilter. I make things for people to give them comfort, to bring warmth, to put on their bed. I make those kinds of things because to me, it feels practical and it feels useful, and it has longevity. And so that’s really why I took the whole thing so well.

I just love that part of it.

Sarai
Yeah, that’s really interesting. I remember when I was a child, that was what drew me to visual art generally, is that you got to make something that stuck around that you had for a long time. And I think a lot of people probably feel that way about all kinds of crafts. So that’s really interesting that you bring that up.

Jenny
And the older our quilts, the more we treasure them. There are national treasures. We have these old buildings. How do I hang it? How do I get the spot out of it? How do I keep it? And so there’s just such amazing longevity with our textiles, especially in America.

Sarai
Yeah, it’s kind of incredible when you see these quilts that have lasted for generations and generations and how incredible that is, especially because they are, as you say, things that get used. They’re not just something that hangs on a wall and gets preserved. So it’s really interesting. You grew up in California? What prompted you to move to Missouri?

Jenny
Well, we had a very large family. We have seven children, and everything costs so much. And my husband turned 40. I think that was the big motivator. He turned 40, but there was a lot of gang activity where we lived and that sort of thing. And so one day Ron said, well, we don’t have to live here. We could move someplace else. And I was just like it just had never occurred to me that we would ever leave. I mean, we’d been in California for generations, and he had served a mission for our church in the Midwest, in Indiana. And he’s like, I love Indiana. We could move to the Midwest. And I can remember looking at him and saying, where is that exactly? The Midwest? We just look for area in the middle of the country. And he’s a machinist, so if he can get work, if there’s a factory, he can get work. And so we looked for a place and kind of put our finger down on the map there and looked around it and then discovered that it was pretty close to Kansas City and several, several bigger areas. And so we just decided we would try that out and see what happens.

I mean, the worst that would happen is that it would be like this really long vacation, and we’d all go home.

Sarai
And so you moved to Missouri and then you started to get into quilting. And what happened from there? How did you progress?

Jenny
My children were still small when we moved here. I was 37 and our youngest one was eight. And so as they were growing up and leaving home and I had more time on my hands, I’m a piecer and I love to piece. And it’s what I do. Sewing is what I do. It’s my thing. And so when I’m happy, I sew When I’m mad, I sew. You know how some people clean when they’re mad? Not me. I have a whole new outfit, you know. Anyway, so I started sewing. I eventually I took this quilting class and started quilting. Loved doing that. All of a sudden I’m having grandbabies, love that I can make quilts for them and that sort of thing. But the children were all mostly gone. And it was 2008 and the market crashed. And my husband again works in a factory and so his 401K was all tied up in that and he lost it all in the market crash. And my kids, who are now having kids got a little worried about what was going to happen to us when we retire.

Now I’m one of those people who are super happy right where I am right in the present. I don’t think about what’s coming up. I don’t think about what happened because I’m not going that way. And so I’m just really happy right here. And it doesn’t occur to me that I’m like ever not going to be able to work or support myself or have a job or whatever. And the kids were like, mom, you’ve got to build your retirement back up. And I said, all right, well, let me know what you guys think about that. I’m going to go pick up a quilt. And they said, well, which quilt is it? And I said, oh, I don’t know. They’re like, what do you mean you don’t know? And I said, well, it’s been there for over a year. And they’re like, why has it been there so long? It’s like really slow. And I’m like, no, they’re just way backed up. And if you want a Christmas will, you got to get it in by March so that you can have it done by Christmas. And you could just see the light go on. He goes, do you think you could do this? And I’m like, well, it’s way different than a sewing machine.

And I said I’m pretty old. I was 50 at the time. I’m pretty old. I don’t know if I could learn a whole skill. And so I actually called up the guy and asked him if he thought I was too old to learn how to long arm. And he goes, oh no, people way older than you were doing this. And I’m like, we’ll think about that. And so the kids actually went together and bought me Gamble Satellite Stitcher. So it was a computerized fluid machine. And it came it was too big for our house, so we had to buy a building. So we bought a building to put it in. The building cost less than the machine did, but now we had a business. And so they decided to run it like a business. And they figured if we could just get a couple of quilts a week, then we could build that retirement nest egg back up and pay for the payment on the quilt machine. And so we started doing that.

Well, for anybody in my generation, we gave birth to at least one computer kid. We spent that computer kid’s whole life saying, get off the computer and go do something. We didn’t value it. We didn’t know it was going to be the thing. And for me, now, I’ve apologized many times, and I work for him. He was the one who came and said, hey, Mom, I’ve been looking at this quilting thing online. It hasn’t made the jump yet. I want you to do tutorials. And I was like, Alan, where would these tutorials go? And he said, on this new site called YouTube.

YouTube was one year old when we started. And I said, Isn’t that where all the crazy teenagers put their videos? And he said, yes. And I said, I’m pretty sure you don’t want your mom on YouTube. And he’s like, you’re going to have to trust me on this. It’s going to be our center for learning. And I looked at him, I was just like, Alan, nobody my age is ever going to go to the computer to learn anything. And then last year, I have to tell you, I actually repaired my own freezer with a YouTube video. Started making this knocking noise. And I just looked up Samsung knocking noise on YouTube, and there was a video. I had to get my hair dryer, take everything out, blow dry the ice off the fan, fix my own going freezer.

I was so wrong. But I had no idea at the time that I was going to be, you know, that that was going to be the case. I just couldn’t see it because I’m living right here. I’m happy right here.

Yeah, we started doing tutorials online, and then the rest of it is just kind of a rolling thing. Once a lady called up and said, hey, I want some of that fabric you showed. And I was like, well, it’s my fabric. I’m just showing you how to quilt so that you can send me your quilt to have me quilt it. That was my whole business plan. I would teach people how to quilt, then they would send me their quilt and I could quilt it. And that’s how I would make my money. And they’re like, well, no, we want some of that fabric. And I was like, that’s my fabric. And then I said to the kids, maybe we should sell fabric. So we started selling fabric. We started taking orders. Allen made a website and put it up online, and we outgrew that space.

So we moved to Main Street, which was one block away. Our town is very small. It’s got like a two block downtown. And then we got too much fabric. So we bought one of the old buildings and fixed it up and put just that fabric in there. It was Civil war, Fabric. And then we got too much fabric. So we bought another building and fix it up and put just that fabric in there. And now we have about 17 shops. 13 are fabric specific. We have a couple of other companies, the Yarn Shop and an art shop. And we have restaurants, we have retreat centers. It’s just snowballed like craziness. And we now have this whole cooking town. So that’s been kind of fun and miraculous, if you ask me. I just wasn’t ready for it. But I’m part of it. I’m right in the middle of it.

Sarai
Haley, you want to talk a little bit more about the business and how that grew?

Haley
Yeah, you mentioned about your son. I’m curious about what it’s like working in a family business and what you like about it, and also what are some of the challenges?

Jenny
So working in a family business is, like everybody says, it’s the best and the worst part of anything we’ve ever done. You have to actually kind of split them apart, because your family life is one thing, your work life has to be one thing. And that was all hard for me, especially, I think, with women. We generally everything is all connected and men can compartmentalize. And so what happened at work didn’t affect him at all, what happened at home, and to me, it was all connected. And so I had to learn to compartmentalize better, but every single day.

So I have seven children, and six of them work for the company, and five of them live close. And I have 26 grandchildren, and most of them live close as well, and several of them work for the company. So we had to realize that no matter what happens here at Missouri Star, none of it is as important as what happens with us in our family. And that those relationships are very important. And I work very, very hard, all of us actually work very, very hard to keep those relationships together, to keep our mouths shut when we need to, to say something when we need to.

But it’s a lot of work. It is a lot of work, but that is the most important thing. I remember I walked in one day, and Sarah and Alan. Sarah is also one of the owners of the company, my daughter. And they just have their heads on the table, and they were just sobbing. And I opened the door and I’m like, okay, I don’t know what’s happening here, but at the end of the day, nothing is more important in your relationship. Remember, we’re a family first. And they’re like, we know, mom. I just closed the door and went out. They worked out whatever they did. They’re all adults. They’re in their forties. And so they’re grown ups and they figured it out. But our relationship is really important to us. But it does take an immense amount of work for us to keep doing what we’re doing and to stay connected together.

Haley
I think that it’s so fascinating how you’ve really turned Hamilton into Quilt Town USA. Did you have a vision for this or is it something that just grew over time?

Jenny
So my son is a visionary and he sees things way ahead. And I just kind of thought it was nuts and it wasn’t ever really going to work. And I would argue with him about every little thing. And at one point he said to me, mom, you are trying to make this into the same old quilt shop you’ve been going to all your life. I want to do something different. Well, when the quilters walk into our main shop on our main street, they walk in there and they see this bright, modern facility. It’s almost like it has taken them into the next generation. Like we’ve carried them along with us. We haven’t left them back in that old quilt shop. We’ve brought them along and we have new ways of doing things. For instance, one of the things that I just wasn’t sure what’s going to work at all, we have these iPads. You sign in, it prints you off your name and a barcode. And any place you shop in town they just scan the barcode rather than you having to put your information in every single time. Because even shopping in town, it’s the same as shopping online.

And each purchase needs your online information, which online it keeps. So when you shop in town now they just scan your code. And I was just like and people loved it. They loved it. They didn’t have to give it out every time. They could just scan the code. And so I feel like a lot of his ideas were very visionary. And at one point he said to me, mom, you’ve just got to give me a chance. If it doesn’t work, we’ll change it in three years. And I was like, okay. And I had to really learn to step back and just do my part. My part is creating and the sewing and doing the tutorials. And I had to let other people do their jobs. For my personality type it’s tough because I want to control everything. I want to be in everybody’s, knowing what everybody’s doing and when are they planning the flowers. And so I had to let so much of that go and just let them do their jobs, which was tough for me.

Haley
What made you decide to write a memoir about your experience?

Jenny
Well, that wasn’t part of my plan at all. The people who wrote Joanna Gaines book approached me and I said, you know what? I’m not Joanna Gaines. I’m not a celebrity. I’m only famous in one circle, so I am a sewcelebrity. They said, yeah, but the story is so fascinating. And so they sent out a ghost author to work with me and tell my story, and I thought it was okay, and I thought it was cool, and I thought it was hectic, and I thought it was ridiculous, and I thought it was amazing, and I thought it was invasive. Everything about it was kind of weird to me, but Alan really wanted me to do it, and he was really pushing it.

Well, then I lost my mom, and when she died, I thought, you know what? I would have given anything to have some kind of story of her life, because as children, we really only use they only know us from the time they are ten years until they leave home, and so they really know us this very short time. So in writing my memoir and talking about life as a young mother and life as a teenager and life before that and then life after they’ve gone, my kids are just like, oh, my gosh, mom, this is amazing.

And my grandchildren have read it. I mean, it was just really interesting to me to see what that brought out in all my children and my grandchildren. And so, if nothing else, I am super thrilled that my children have some sort of a written record of my life, which I think everybody should do in some form or another. Think that we wait way too long to think that we need to make those records, and that if we made them all along, our memories would be much better. Like, I tell my girls, I’m like, you guys should be doing this right now, writing down right as you come along with it, because really, it’s all we have to leave is the written word. And so it’s in these podcasts, of course.

Haley
And don’t forget the quilts.

Jenny
Many quilts. Put your name on them.

Haley
How did it feel for you reading the book for the first time?

Jenny
So I actually had to read it for Audible, and when I read it out loud, there are things in the book, like, I was married before for a short time, too, and in an abusive relationship, and there are things that you write, and writing doesn’t feel the same as speaking. And when I was actually speaking some of these things, it was very emotional for me, and I actually had to stop quite a few times. The guy was recording. He’s like, all right, you sound all nasally. What’s happening in that little closet room you’re sitting in? And it just brought me to tears. The fact that you go through these things and still you come out triumphant and at the end of the day, you have a great life and you’re so grateful. But it took a lot to get there. And that was interesting for me to voice out loud. Some of those things we just don’t say, especially if you’re a person like you’ve talked about that lives very much in the moment and the now,

Haley
Having that gift of reflection is really powerful. It sounds like it was a really positive experience.

Jenny
It was. I love that you called it a gift because it really was a gift. And it wasn’t a gift that I knew was even available out there, and it certainly wasn’t expected, but to be able to relive that.

And then the other thing that’s really cool about that is that we spend most of our lives trying to hide our imperfections and making sure our clothes look perfect and our hair looks perfect, our kids are perfect, whatever. Nobody knows about the rough times that we’ve had. But once you voice them, there is a whole bunch of people who all of a sudden feel powerful because you’ve been through it and they’ve been through it, and we’ve come out on the other side of it. Okay? And so I think it’s the Me Too moment where you it’s like, oh, my gosh, she’s been through that. She lived. She’s still smiling. We can do this. And there’s that part of it that you don’t see coming. And it’s pretty sweet. It is pretty sweet.

Sarai
I think that also for women, we’re often socialized to be perfect and to present ourselves as perfect all the time. And I think when women see other women willing to voice that imperfection and show that imperfection, it is very powerful. And I think on another level, that’s what you do with your quilting. I think you show people that it’s not about being perfect. It’s about the process and about what you’re creating. So I think that’s really interesting.

Jenny
I love the idea of this is our journey that we’re on. People will say, what about the first quilts? And I’m like, I honor them. That’s where I started. But they’re terrible. I know they’re terrible, but I honor them because that’s where I started. And if you sew an hour today, tomorrow you’re an hour better. So don’t compare yourself to the lady across the table from you. Let it be your journey.

And, like, for years, I never squared a single block. I did quilting. The blocks are cut to be a certain size, and I just made it work. I was just not at all worried about the fact that they weren’t perfect. And I actually recently took apart a quilt that I had made for my mom, and I was starting to redo it for her. And I had sat with a cardboard template and scissors, and I was like, How did I even get this to go together? It’s so bizarre to me because it was a long time ago and we did it and we made it work. But now I square my blocks and bully it’s so much easier. But you don’t even think about those things as you’re going along.

But it’s all part of the journey.

Haley
So Jenny, what is your favorite thing about quilting?

Jenny
So I would say my favorite thing about quilting has to be teaching. I love to teach and I love to watch when that AHA moment comes. And because I’m on YouTube and because of the way I quilt, I largely teach to beginners. So there’s two kinds of people I think are attracted to what I do. One are the beginners and two are the people who’ve been quilting for a long time but they know that somebody’s getting married, somebody’s having a baby, somebody’s graduating and they need to make a quilt that looks like they worked really hard but doesn’t take them three years. And so my stuff is all quick and easy and they like it, but it looks like it worked really hard. When I started I wasn’t bound by any rules because I didn’t know there were rules. And so my brain thinks in terms of shortcuts because I had all these children and I had this little short time that I had to do things. And so everything in my life I have so many shortcuts for so many things because I just have snippets of time. And so that carried over into the quilting and where I would look at an old block and I’d be like oh my gosh, if you just do this and this, it will be so easy.

So people often ask me if they want to start quilting, how do they do it? For years, quilting has been a really intimidating thing for people. And people in the quilt world, I think some of them sadly, have worked very hard to make it unattainable. You have to be perfect in order to do it and that is not my mantra at all. My mantra is start where you are and grow and enjoy the journey.

And so what I suggest, so, everybody has gifts. My gift is shortcuts and quick and easy. I do not have the gift of color. I do not have the gift of picking fabric. That’s all going to go together. So for me, when pre cuts became a thing, it was like a light bulb went on, rainbows and sprinkles shown around me and I could actually make things that were beautiful because a designer was putting together geometrics and florals and stripes and colors that I would never put together because I’m a matcher. I am not great with color. And so all of a sudden they had this designer working for me. So when you start a quilt, what I have people do is first I have them get some lined paper.

We used to call it binder paper but a lot of younger people don’t know what binder paper is. We don’t carry binders anymore. But it’s just lined paper. No thread in your machine, but just sew on the lines and make sure that you can have control over your sewing machine. And you can stay on those lines because if you can stay on the lines, you can do a quarter inch seam and if you can sew straight for three inches or two inches, then you can make a quilt. And so then I suggest just buying a pack of the squares, big squares, small squares, it doesn’t matter. But if you can sew straight for ten inches and sew six of those together, you’ve got a row done. And then you do seven rows and you put those rows together and then you go and pay a little money to have it quilted. And you will look at that quilt and you’ll just be like, I cannot believe I made this because the quilting just makes it look like this. Holy smoke, this is amazing kind of a thing. And those quilts are beautiful and those fabrics are meant to go together.

And that’s the way we start. We start our 4H that way, we start our kids that way, we start our beginning quilters that way and they just instantly feel this confidence.

One of the gifts of YouTube is that you can learn and fail in the privacy of your own home. You don’t have to take a class and look like the one who can’t get it or whatever. You can pause, you can stop. You’re in your own home, in your own basement, wherever and you can fail and you don’t have to come out until you feel confident. And then you’ll make two or three different things and you’ll feel more confident. And then you’ll come out and you’ll join a group, you’ll take a class, you’ll go to a quilt shop. But you have to start somewhere. And YouTube is such a gift for that because it happens, you know, in the privacy of your own home. And so I love it for that and that’s really how we start. I get a lot of children. I have a huge children’s following actually, because most of the children, their parents. Well, first of all, a quilt shop rarely offers a class for children.

But second of all, the children, they’re not going to pay for them to take a class, but they’ll sit them in front of a computer and so they’re able to just sit and learn. And then all of a sudden the mom is going, I could do this. They’re quilting. And then the next, because it used to be Grandma quilted, mom didn’t want to because it was like shoved down her throat. But now the grandchildren wants to quilt and then the mom is watching and going, hey, wait a minute, I could do that. And then we have three generations quilting again, which I love it when I see that happen. That’s really fun.

Haley
That’s amazing. You outlined some really great actionable steps for people to take if they’re interested in quilting. Is there any special equipment or tools that you need to make a quilt?

Jenny
Well, there are tools that make it easier. You need a sewing machine that runs. It’s really important that it runs. Does it matter what it is? Not one little bit. People will say to me, oh, my sewing machine died. What’s your recommendation? And I’ll say, well, if you don’t have a ton of money, go to a second hand store and find the heaviest machine you can, because those are workhorses and they will last forever. And so people always like, oh, I forgot about the thrift stores, because those are such great machines.

And I always say, you don’t buy a machine, you buy a dealer. Because there are like four factories, all those parts going the same machines. So you want to find a dealer who will fix what you drug in off the road, as well as whatever you buy from him. You want to find one who’s generous and kind.

But as far as the tools go, the rotary cutter makes it way easier to cut than scissors. But there is a little bit of a learning curve on that, and you want to make sure that you’re really careful because they’re razor blades and you’ve got pushing pressure on them and they can cut you badly.

And so I have a sewing machine, a ruler that makes sense to your brain. All of us, we love to buy tools, but we use the same ruler all the time, and that’s because that ruler makes sense to our brain. And I can’t have a ruler that has a lot of like, if my ruler does five things, I’m not even going to be able to use it. I can’t even see the lines. It’s almost like when you’re color blind and that color blindness, that little color goes through and all of a sudden you’ve lost it. That’s how I get my ruler has too many lines. It just doesn’t work for my brain. I’m very careful about the tools I pick and the templates that I use. And we now make a lot of them for my type of brain. But you’ll know what type of tools are your favorite because they’ll be worn out. They’re the ones you always grab.

So a couple of rulers, a mat, a cutting mat. So I’m not particular about the thread I use, because if you look at old quilts, it’s not the thread that’s going bad, not ever. It’s the material that’s going bad. And so all by, somebody will say, oh, I have this box of old thread. Do you want it? I’m like, yeah, because if you pull it and it doesn’t break, I use it. Now, it may be a little more dusty, but I can blow the dust out.

So I’m kind of a make do quilter and I make use of what’s around me and I just don’t require anything special to really quilt with. And there are lots of tools that make things easier. But I tend people are like, well, do you ever use a walking foot? And I’m like, if I can find it, if what I’m doing really isn’t working, I might use I just am a creature of habit. People are saying, well what about that quarter inch thing? And I say I just sew with my presser foot right next to the edge of the fabric. I don’t even know if it’s a quarter inch because that’s where I sew. And so I tend to be one of those people say, well, how often do you change your needle? When it breaks. And all the needle people are like, no, it’s good to change everything.

I just don’t I’m a lazy sewer and so I just make do with what I have and enjoy the process.

Haley
You don’t sound like a lazy sewer. You sound like a rebel to me.

Jenny
I feel like I should get a jean jacket or something. Maybe trade my cardigan for a jean jacket with the rebels.

Sarai
Quilting rebel.

Jenny
I’m a quilting rebel.

Haley
So Jenny, do you have any favorite projects that you like to recommend to first time quilters?

Jenny
So what I recommend is honestly watch the tutorials and if the tutorial looks like it’s too hard for you, go watch it because I probably did a trick. So I am big with the disappearing block. So I will make a big pinwheel which is just four half square triangles. So together well, let’s start with the half square triangles. People usually cut out triangles for half square triangles. I take two squares, sew all the way around the outside and then I cut them both directions and I have four half square triangles. And then you put those together and I’ll cut them again to make a whole another block. And so people are like, oh, look at all those tiny pieces. I’m like, yeah, I probably cut that three times. I never cut out small pieces. I did it. So I am working on a beginner’s book. It’s not ready yet, but I’m working on things that I think are going to be really easy for beginners to do and I think that will be because people want to go to they don’t just want to hear oh, all the tutorials are good for beginners and while they are, there are probably, I don’t know, close to 1000 of them.

And so it’s a little overwhelming in that when you get in that space it’s a little bit overwhelming. And so I just keep sewing and I keep talking and they keep filming and so I have a lot of tutorials a ridiculous amount for beginners, I would just say just try some things, see what works for you. If it doesn’t work, great, put it away, take it back out in a few months. You’ll often find that you’re like, oh, okay, I can do this now.

I have beginners doing my block of the month, which are just all based on blocks that I’ve done. And they look sometimes they’re a challenge, but we can do hard things or things that are hard the first time, because they’re not going to be hard by the time you’ve done it four times. It’s going to be old hat by then. And so I think people just need to give themselves a little grace and realize that I’ve been sewing for 40 years, 50 years, and that they’re just starting, and so they’re not going to sew as fast as I do, and it’s not going to be as easy for them.

But it’s just all about practice. It’s a learned skill.

Haley
Well, and quilting can be repetitious, and that’s so great for the beginner sewer, is to do those kinds of repetitive sewing tasks.

Jenny
The other things I think that people don’t realize in quilting is that when you are creative across the board, anything you do, whether it’s cooking or gardening or costuming or quilting, whatever it is, any creative process is healing. And there are so many people, I have never myself written to a website, but I get letters every single day from people, and they want to tell me their story and their trauma and what’s happened to them, and then they share what quilting did to heal that. And I was so not expecting that. That is like a miracle to me. It’s amazing to me what happens.

The quilting Marine is one of them. He served several tours and had terrible PTSD, and Missy was doing a show with him, and so they’re overtaking at her station on the computer, and I thought, oh, I want to meet him. I want to meet him. So I went over there and popped my head in, and I said, hey, I just wanted to meet you. And he saw my face, and he just immediately burst into tears, and he said, if it hadn’t been for you, if it hadn’t been for Quilting and being able to just sew pieces together to make order of something.

And it was so sweet to hear him talk about that and so emotional, because I hear it all the time, and I just wasn’t expecting that at all. I thought I was teaching people how to sew. And literally, I think we’re putting life back together pieces at a time. It’s pretty amazing what’s happening.

Sarai
I think that’s true in sewing, too. We’ve seen that a lot with making your own clothing, and I wonder sometimes if it’s because in day to day life today, I think a lot of people have that creativity kind of stripped out of their lives. And being able to put it back in gives the brain what it needs, because I think as human beings, we really want to create. And that’s like this really strong internal drive that we have that I think is suppressed today. And sewing, quilting, gardening, cooking, all these things bring it back.

Jenny
They do. I think also we don’t actually recognize a lot of stuff that we do as creating. And I think if we didn’t think of dinner as drudgery, but we are creating something if you flip that switch and it changes things because I think everybody is inherently creative, but they don’t get the added benefits because they haven’t recognized that they are creating something. But it is ensuring that every person to create something. And it’s one of those things. Even so, say you’re a realtor like I am, and you’ve been selling for years, and you start losing what I call your sewjo you’re just losing your desire to do that. All you have to do is create in a different area something you’re not used to, and all those feelings come back. And so, like, at least four times a year, my daughters and I will take a class on something we don’t do. So we took a class in beekeeping, we’ve taken a pottery class, we’ve taken a glass class, beading all kinds of different things, because the minute you try a new thing, all those creative feelings come back. We do a lot of watercolor, we’ve done knitting, crocheting, all kinds of things.

But it helps your brain realize that when you’re learning, when you’re trying, when you’re doing these things, you’re creating something that didn’t exist before. And you don’t have to be perfect at it because you’re just trying, you’re just beginning. And at the end of the day, I can remember when I took up watercolor, and I did that because I was really in a slump. And I had a friend who watercolors, and I said I had read the book by Elizabeth Gilbert called Big Magic, and in there she talks about creating in other areas. And I said, I just need you to come over and paint with me. And she said, oh, I didn’t know you painted. And I said, I don’t. I can’t even make a stick, man. And she said, well, that’s good because we’re never going to make one of those painted all day long. And I was kind of critical of myself at first, and then I just had to give myself some grace.

And so I finished this picture, which at the time I thought was just hideous, and I put it up on my sideboard. In the morning, I came down and I looked at and I said, you know what? That looks like a flower. You can tell that’s a flower. And it’s my very first flower. And so I’m going to be okay with how it looks, because from here on out, I’m not ever going to have painted my first flower ever again. I’m going to go on and paint more and paint other things, and every time I’m going to be a little better. And you really have to learn to be kind to yourself and give yourself some grace. And that was something I was not very good at, that I learned through quilting, I think. So that was pretty cool.

Sarai
I think it’s so interesting how different artistic practices and crafts can kind of lend you all of these different skills that can come together into whatever your main craft is. Like with knitting, I feel like that has really taught me how to be more patient with my sewing, because knitting takes so long, it takes months to make a sweater, at least for me. So I feel like whenever you dabble in these other things, even if that’s not the main thing you do, you take something from it and you bring it into your main practice, which I think is so beautiful.

]Jenny
I think that’s 100% true. So one of the things I learned with the quilters is that we’ve got to have something for our hands to do. So one out of every three quilters goes over into the other fiber arts. They’re crocheters, they’re knitters, they’re English paper pieces, something they do with their hands, embroiderers whatever it is. And so my sister-in-law is a phenomenal knitter. Like, she even reclaims yarn from secondhand garments that I didn’t even know that was a real thing, but she does all these amazing things. And so we started a company called One Big Happy Yarn Company, and she does the same thing I do, where she teaches these online tutorials. And I was so shocked when I started knitting. And I’m like, I just made a circle first. We called it a towel, but it was basically a circle to keep my neck warm. And I just couldn’t believe I did it. And it was just one stitch back and forth. And then we connected it together, and instantly I was like, okay, I’m going to make socks. And then I’m like, okay, maybe I’ll wait a little. Here, you do the heel, I’ll do all the rest.

But it’s a learned it’s like you say, it’s something to do, and it’s learned. And we do we’ve got to have something. We’ve got to be busy. And like, I can’t sit and watch TV without something in my hands, and I’d rather have it be a yarn project than an entire box of something I shouldn’t be eating, which is what happens.

Sarai
Thank you so much for joining us today, Jenny. We had so much fun chatting with you. Where can people find your book? If they’re interested in reading their memoir.

Jenny
They can find my book at Missouri Star. They can also find it on Amazon. They can find it probably Barnes and Noble, places like that. But of course, we’d love to have you buy it from Missouri Star. We do have an app that holds all of our tutorials. It’s a free app, Missouri Star Quilt Company, and it holds all the tutorials. It puts them in one place for you. They’re also available on YouTube. But we have a great online presence and shop. And of course, we have a wonderful in town experience that they can come to Hamilton. It’s on a lot of cultures, bucket lists, and it’s just very fun to have people here. We probably get about 1000 people a day coming to Hamilton. So that’s really fun as well.

Sarai
It’s amazing. Well, thank you so much, Jenny. It was a delight to talk to you today.

Jenny
Gosh, it was just my pleasure. I really enjoyed it and I loved that we did this and we could see faces. It’s been so long since we can see faces, and I love seeing your faces and being able to do it.

Sarai
Yours too. Thank you so much to Jenny for joining us today.

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