How quilting restored a Midwest town
Missouri Star Quilt Company & Quilt Town USA
Mention Hamilton, Missouri to a keen quilter today and the chances are that their eyes will light up; ‘Quilt Town USA’, is a bucket-list destination, home to numerous quilting stores and a fascinating museum. But only 15 years ago, this small, midwestern town was down on its luck. Forgotten and left behind, the main street was blighted by abandoned buildings and empty shops.
The agent of change was the Missouri Star Quilt Company, founded by the Doan family in 2008 after the banking crises cost them most of their savings and threatened to take the house too. "Me and my sister were looking at it and said, 'We've got to put something together, so that mom can make a little extra cash,' " explains Alan Doan. They took out a loan and set their mother, Jenny Doan, up with a business sewing other people’s quilts together. When her customers kept asking for fabric, Alan built a website to sell it.
Back then, pre-cut fabric was a relatively new product and initially, business was slow, so Alan suggested Jenny started doing tutorials on You Tube. Jenny agreed and, despite never having been on You Tube, proved a natural. Sales exploded and today, the Missouri Star Quilt Company is the biggest quilting channel on You Tube with hundreds of quilting tutorials and half a million subscribers.
"I never in a million years anticipated becoming a quilting “sewlebrity”, Jenny says. “It’s been life changing to share so much of myself with people around the world. I didn’t realize that making quilts would mean so much to so many, but after receiving thousands of personal letters and meeting such kind people wherever I go, I see that it gives people hope. It changes lives and it touches hearts. People are happier when they create and I’m grateful to help them do that every single day.”
The Missouri Star Quilt Company’s success has also revitalised the town. The Doans have bought up numerous old buildings and turned them into fabric stores. There are 12 to date, each one dedicated to a particular type of fabric from batiks and florals to seasonals and solids. There is also a Sewing Centre for quilting retreats, and a ‘Man’s Land’ full of comfy chairs and televisions where weary shoppers can take a break. The thousands of quilt fans who flock to the town each year also inspired the opening of the Missouri Quilt Museum.
Opened in autumn 2019, the Missouri Quilt Museum’s founding mission is to ‘depict the history of quilting and sewing in North America by offering visual and interactive opportunities that educate and engage visitors in experiences that encourage an active interest in quilting and sewing.’
Located in a 100-year-old former schoolhouse, it boasts 30,000 square feet of exhibition space and is home to around 300 quilts made by both local artists and top designers from around the world. Highlights include a selection of quilts on loan from the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, a collection of 50 miniature quilts – some as small as ¼ of inch – made by award-winning miniature quilt artist Pat Kuhns, and a Crazy Quilt from 1891. Made from old clothes and ribbons by Mary Thomas as a Christmas present for her granddaughter Mary Seeley, then passed on to Mary’s young son Frank when he was sent off to a TB sanatorium, it is a beautiful example of the family histories that quilts hold.
And, as the museum’s website states, it’s not just about quilts. There are also exhibits of antique sewing machines, vintage buttons, antique toy sewing machines, thimbles, and the world’s largest spool of thread. Measuring 22 feet tall and containing more than one million yards of AURIFIL thread, it sits on the southwest corner of the property. Visitors are invited to bring their own thread and add it to the spool.
Come to Hamilton on our holiday to AQS QuiltWeek, Paducah 2024 & the American Midwest. Discover the tour here