When Al Doan suggested to his mother, Jenny, in 2009 that he film her making patchwork quilts and post the videos on YouTube, she was not at all receptive. “Isn’t YouTube where all those crazy teenagers put their videos?” she said. YouTube was all of five years old at that point, and the era of influencers earning tens of millions of dollars had not yet dawned.
But the Doan family business, Missouri Star Quilt Co., was barely limping along. Jenny, now 60, was earning a small sum finishing other people’s quilts on a machine her children had bought for her, and Al had set up a small quilting supply business in Hamilton, Missouri, a one-stoplight town 64 miles northeast of Kansas City. The Doans had moved there 14 years earlier after they’d hit hard times in California.
“We were looking everywhere for quilters on the internet, and we couldn’t find them,” says Al, who is the chair of Missouri Star’s board. “I’d launched a site to sell our quilting supplies, but nobody cared.” With a marketing budget of zero, he wanted to give YouTube a shot.
At the first shoot, Jenny was so nervous, she tripped over the camera cord and broke her leg. She was also not good at reading from the scripts Al wrote for her. But she was a natural performer who had acted in regional theater. Mother and son soon figured out that all she needed was a concept, such as how to make a Christmas Tree chevron quilt, and she could improvise from there.
Jenny Doan with two of her children, Sarah Galbraith and Al Doan.Tim Pannell