Rob Appell – One of the Hottest Tickets Around

Rob Appell, Boy Wonder of the Quilting World

One of the hottest tickets in the sewing and quilting world is Rob Appell of A YouTube sensation, he travels all over the country, speaking at the biggest events in the industry. His classes are always sold out, and his students look and act like fans attending a rock concert. In only two years, he has built to almost 100,000 subscribers.

Rob Appell with his wife Jenny, his daughter Ruby, and his son Brayden.

Rob with Jenny, Ruby, and Brayden.

Rob is a handsome, outdoorsy guy who loves hiking with his family, surfing and snowboarding. He looks like he would be more comfortable playing his guitar in a rock band, instead of presenting a seminar on landscape quilting. Rob has been married to his wife, Jenny for 20 years. Jenny is a reading intervention teacher in elementary school. They have a 14 year old son, Brayden, and a 12-year old daughter, Ruby.

With his rugged good looks, long hair and tattoos — Rob is a most unlikely “sewing star.” So where did this unicorn come from?

Rob Appell grew up surrounded by textiles, fabrics and quilts. An only child, his father was a banker and his mother, Judi Appell, owned the popular fabric shop, The Cotton Ball in Morro Bay, California. In his early twenties, Rob worked in his mother’s store, but he didn’t think it was his life’s calling. When he finished school, he was eager to see the world — so he traveled around the western United States, playing his guitar, and living out of a VW bus. He picked up odd jobs but mostly, the point was surfing and/or snowboarding (depending on the location).

When he decided he needed a real job, Rob trained as an assistant chef (he is quick to say that calling himself a chef would be an insult to the profession). He was also a certified sewing machine technician.

The Wedding Quilt that inspired Man Sewing.

The Wedding Quilt that inspired Man Sewing.

In 1997, when Rob married Jenny, she was a teacher and he was working nights at a restaurant and days at his Mom’s store. As a wedding present, the women who worked for The Cotton Ball gave Rob and Jenny a quilt they had designed and created specifically for them. That quilt was a work of art — with blocks representing both Rob and Jenny and their life together. Each block was custom quilted. One day, Rob took a close look at the quilt and as he followed the stitching, he thought, “Wait, the stitches change with every block. I wonder how they did that . . . .”

Rob loved to draw, and he wanted to see if he could draw with a sewing machine. He had a printer and an old computer, so he made a quilt pattern and started to experiment with free-motion quilting. Although he barely knew it at the time, Rob was creating landscape quilts. He became obsessed with designing and creating “Seascapes.”

In the beginning, Rob got interested in machine quilting because he wanted to understand exactly what The Cotton Ball customers were doing with their sewing machines. He believed it would make him a better sewing machine repairman. But things took an unexpected turn when the customers saw his finished landscape quilts. They were so curious about his free-motion quilting and the techniques he was using — Rob started to teach classes.

Rob Appell, Endangered Species, Bengal Tiger. Rawedge appliqué and freemotion machine quilting.

Endangered Species, Bengal Tiger.
Rawedge appliqué and freemotion machine quilting.

Rob was an enthusiastic teacher and as his reputation grew, he was invited to teach at local guilds and other stores. He created to provide a gallery of his work to promote his classes, workshops and retreats.

In 2010, Rob Appell and Michael Miller Fabrics teamed up to build awareness about our planet and her Endangered Species. Rob created twelve “up-close and personal” quilts featuring these special creatures . . . focusing on the eyes of the creature.

But Rob’s success in the sewing world was not a straight meteoric shot. In 2013, Island Batiks sponsored an event to raise awareness for Operation Homefront — to provide support for returning veterans. They put together 40 different red, white and blue fabrics. Rob was asked to create a pattern for the collection. Here’s a link to Rob’s video about that pattern, “Coming Home.”

Rob Appell, Coming Home. Quilted in Honor by Island Batik Benefitting Operation Homefront.

Coming Home.
Quilted in Honor by Island Batik
Benefitting Operation Homefront.

Working on that patriotic project, Rob had a vision of the iconic Iwo Jima Memorial, with the six Marines raising the flag. A recovering alcoholic, at that time he was five years sober and struggling to be creative. He wanted his finished quilt to be 5’ x 8’ . . . and he pictured an enormous appliqué. But his vision wasn’t coming to life. He was frustrated. Nothing was working, and he almost gave up. One day, he went into his studio and a voice in his head said “you’ve got to finish that quilt so it can be auctioned off.” So, he went back in. When he finished the quilt, “And The Flag Was Still There,” it hung at the 2013 Sisters Quilt Show in Portland, Oregon. Alex Anderson urged Rob to value the quilt at $25,000 for insurance purposes.

Rob Appell, And The Flag Was Still There. Quilted in Honor.

And The Flag Was Still There.
Quilted in Honor.

The quilt traveled to the American Quilter’s Society shows the following year, but it eventually ended up on a shelf in Portland at the Operation Homefront office. Rob wasn’t sure why the quilt was never auctioned — but he made that quilt to benefit Operation Homefront, and he was determined to make that happen. When he asked if he could buy it back, he was told the price was $25,000. Rob was determined to find a way to use the quilt to raise money for Operation Homefront. He signed a contract to raise the $25K to buy the quilt back from OH, and started a GoFundMe campaign.

Once the goal has been met, the quilt will be back in Rob’s possession permanently, so he can continue to tell its story and raise awareness about the mission of Operation Homefront. He’s raised over $15,000 so far. Recently, he had the opportunity to make a $14,000 donation from the money he’d raised on a day that was a match donation from a big sponsor.

Meanwhile, in another part of the country — Hamilton, Missouri — Jenny Doan was turning the quilt world upside down. Her weekly YouTube videos for Missouri Star Quilt Company were attracting a very large audience, and she was also traveling all over the country, doing quilt guilds, retreats and seminars. Jenny says, “at every trunk show, I’d have two or three men in the room. They’d come up to me afterwards and ask, ‘Are there others like me?’ They told me they were learning to quilt from watching videos on the internet. They were not comfortable walking into a traditional quilt store, intimidated by the fact that they’d be surrounded by accomplished women quilters who knew more than they did. But, with the internet, they were free to learn, experiment — and FAIL in the comfort and privacy of their own home. It was a light bulb moment for me. I went back to the office and said, ‘We need to do some videos that appeal to these guys!’ That’s how ‘Man Sewing’ was born.”

Jenny Doan and Rob Appell. Missouri Star Quilt Company

Jenny Doan and Rob.
Missouri Star Quilt Company

When Nancy Rosenberger (a mutual friend) heard MSQC was looking for a guy who could do sewing videos — she called Rob and said, “This is going to blow up — it will change your life.” Nancy introduced Rob to the Doan family and they met at International Quilt Market. It was 10:30 at night . . . in the lobby of the hotel . . . and they started talking (everybody at once, the way Jenny remembers it). After two hours of non-stop conversation, they offered him the job. Jenny said, “I knew he would be a good fit. He is high energy, just like me, and the minute we were in the same room, we were both bubbling over, sharing ideas, and telling each other what the videos should look like — we were both talking so fast, we were fighting for air. His mind goes a mile a minute . . . and it was like this job was made for him.”

Rob flew to Missouri and they built a set for “Man Sewing.” He goes there every eight weeks, stays for a week and tapes ten tutorials. He sews all the step-outs at his studio in California. And it isn’t just men who love his YouTube videos. Man Sewing has gained nearly 100,000 subscribers in only two years. The viewers are primarily non-sewing men and women who were not comfortable walking into a traditional quilt shop, but once they’ve built up their confidence — they’re eager to go! Nowadays, when Rob and Jenny attend Quilt Market, they hear from stores all over the country that they have customers coming in every week who have learned their basic quilting skills on the internet . . . and they’re ready to take it to the next level.

Jenny Doan says, “Rob’s mind NEVER STOPS . . . and he has more ideas than we could film in a lifetime. From the first day he came to Hamilton, he impressed us with his ability to take a project from start to finish, and break it down in clear, understandable steps. His step-outs were spot-on, and he made it look easy. Believe me — IT IS NOT EASY. None of the ManSewing videos are scripted — but they look so natural because of Rob’s conversational style. Rob is the real deal — he knows what he’s talking about and he genuinely wants the audience to ‘get it’.”

Rob Appell and The Shark Applicutter.

Rob and The Shark Applicutter.

Working with MSQC gave Rob the opportunity to develop and bring to market his sewing-tool invention, The Shark Applicutter, a mini-rotary cutter, designed for free cutting. With a precise 14mm blade that slices with incredible accuracy, this tool has a soft grip for comfort, a safety fin for your finger, and it’s adaptable for the left or right hand.

Jenny Doan says, “It was a lucky day for us when we met Rob. He brings a huge personality to ManSewing, of course, and rock-solid sewing skills. But I’d like to say he is one of the best men I know. He is simply a good, genuine, person who is honest and hard-working. I think that comes across on camera — and he has a wonderful appeal to all those people out there who were too afraid to try. He makes them believe they CAN DO IT!”

Learn with Rob Appell on YouTube.

Learn with Rob on YouTube.

By his own estimate, Rob has made over 120 quilts in his life. His zen moment is when he actually becomes focused on the project. He puts on his headphones, listens to music, and gets into the zone; the vibration and rhythm of free-motion quilting. He compares it to riding a wave . . . being on the inside of that huge curl of water. Those are the moments he craves. His second favorite moment is when a project is finished — that feeling of accomplishment and sheer exaltation.

Rob Appell’s energy level is OFF THE CHARTS. Recently, he was trying to help a customer in a quilt shop find a certain bolt of fabric. Rob was sure he’d seen it . . . but after a frustrating search, he said, “I’m sorry. We’ve been walking in circles for almost an hour. One of the problems with being a creative person is that I’m always imagining stuff.”

Lucky for us . . . .


Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 4

#4: All-Inclusive, Luxury Retreats

All-Inclusive Luxurious Sewing Retreats

The ultimate luxury sewing retreats are taking place on board cruise ships. Depending on the length of the cruise, the location, or the size of the ship — the cost can be anywhere from $1500 to $6000. Kaye Wood has been quilting and cruising for years, and Jenny Doan was on a Royal Caribbean cruise as well. Most quilting and sewing retreats have a set agenda, with a particular project or theme. The attendees don’t have to worry about a thing — everything is included in the price. The machines are often provided by sponsors, and the price includes patterns, kits, teachers, maybe a goody bag — and those legendary cruise-ship buffets.


Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 1 – Private & Small
Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 2 – Group Retreats
Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 3 – Official Retreat Centers
Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 4 – All-Inclusive
Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 5 – Interview with an Attendee
Sewing & Quilting Retreats, Part 6 – Testimonials



Jenny Doan – Missouri Star Quilt Co. – Part 2

Link to Part 1:


Jenny Doan – Missouri Star Quilt Co. – Part 2

Missouri Star Quilt Company LogoAlthough there are many reasons for the skyrocketing success of Missouri Star Quilt Company, there were several key decisions that turned the quilt world upside down.

First of all, Al decided to put his Mom on YouTube. He said, “YouTube will be our center for learning, Mom.” In 2009, not many people had even heard of YouTube, and Jenny was very skeptical. But she went along with his crazy idea and the videos started going up on the internet. Making quilts has always been her happy place, so Jenny’s genuine enthusiasm and energy — combined with her love of performing and singing (she has a background in musical theater) made for some very entertaining, spontaneous “quilt tutorials.”

Learning to Quilt is Fun with Jenny Doan, Missouri Star Quilt Company.

Learning to Quilt is Fun with Jenny.

In the beginning, they thought their viewers would be women who worked a lot of hours, and didn’t have a chance to shop or take a class. But those first letters were from handicapped women who couldn’t get out of their house . . . and they were afraid to try to navigate a wheelchair around the aisles of a quilt shop. One letter Jenny received was from a woman in Iran, who wrote, “You have brought color into my war-torn world.” An agoraphobic man wrote to tell her he had started making quilts with his own two hands and felt for the first time that his life had meaning and purpose.

In these letters it was clear the viewers wanted to BUY THE FABRIC. Unfortunately, the fabric was coming out of Jenny’s personal stash. “I had to tell them I bought it at a Ben Franklin store 14 years ago . . . .”

When Al was in college in Hawaii, he became addicted to a Deal Of The Day website, Even though he was living on a tropical island, when the Deal of the Day was a $30 down comforter, he could not resist. At the time, he barely had enough money for groceries, but he purchased that comforter and had it sent to Missouri. Because it was SUCH A GREAT DEAL!!

Main hop: Missouri Star Quilt Company

The main shop.

Al was itching to do a Deal of the Day with fabric. But since the creation of the internet, quilt shops have struggled to sell fabric on line. It is cost prohibitive to scan in every single piece of fabric that comes into a store. Also, each quilt project requires pulling and cutting eight different bolts of fabric (at least!). The employee hours required to do all that made online fabric sales very unprofitable.

When precut fabric entered the scene, Jenny saw it like the “Lego®” blocks of quilting. This was their answer to how to sell fabric online. Jenny would do a YouTube video, and the viewers could buy two bundles of 10″ squares, and maybe two bundles of 5″ squares (or whatever, depending on the size), and they could make the EXACT quilt Jenny showed on YouTube. The bundles of precuts (which included every fabric in the designer’s line) would be one SKU — BOOM — Legos® for quilters.

But that certainly isn’t the end of the story. It soon became clear that Jenny’s fans wanted to come to Hamilton, Missouri. They wanted to see Jenny in person.

Missouri Star Quilt Company, Inside the main shop.

Inside the main shop.

When they opened their second retail store down the road on main street, Missouri Star had 45 employees. By 2015, they had 225 employees . . . and at this point, they have renovated 11 storefronts in Hamilton and employ ~400 people. Jenny laughs when she says, “We grew so fast, we hired just about every person in town who wanted a job. Hey, even with seven kids, our family couldn’t do it all.”

For example, it soon became clear that the thousands of quilt fans coming to Hamilton needed a place to eat. Jenny says, “Our family didn’t have the bandwidth to operate a restaurant. So we bought the buildings, did the renovations, and looked for somebody to come run the business. We now have a bakery, a burger place and a fine dining restaurant.”

Mama Hawk’s Kitchen & J’s Burger Dive.

Mama Hawk’s Kitchen & J’s Burger Dive.

Although Jenny Doan is the face of Missouri Star, she always makes it clear that it wasn’t her idea, and that her children, Al and Sarah, are the owners. If you spend any time with Jenny, you soon realize she’s the real deal — humble and genuine in her approach and opinions. “My kids are amazing — look what they’ve done! I get to make new quilts, tell stories, and show up for the video tapings .”

Jenny Doan - Quilting is a Sweet Journey.

Quilting is a Sweet Journey.

Missouri Star Quilt Company is proof that the American Dream is alive and well. MSQC is actively exploring ways to share their innovative business ideas with other quilt shop owners. MSQC has begun to wholesale their branded merchandise, and they also offer Retail Retreats in Hamilton for other shop owners.

The truth is, MSQC and YouTube have taught quilting to people who were NEVER customers of conventional quilt shops. But every MSQC YouTube viewer is a potential customer for a local quilt shop. Jenny says, “They would much rather find a shop in their own home town with a local mentor — and we’re delighted to help them make that happen.”

“There is no better hobby than quilting because it changes us. Every quilter has a story, and every quilt has a story. You start doing it for yourself, then for your family and friends. Eventually you do it for charity — to give it away. It’s a sweet journey.”

Jenny Doan – Missouri Star Quilt Co. – Part 1

Missouri Star Quilt Company LogoWith hundreds of millions of YouTube views, Missouri Star Quilt Company is to quilting what Henry Ford was to automobile sales. Yes, it is THAT BIG . . .

So, how did tiny Hamilton, Missouri, a sleepy little town full of abandoned buildings, become the highly unlikely epicenter of a world-wide quilting revolution?

Jenny Doan - Quilting is a Sweet Journey.

Quilting is a Sweet Journey.

It was the 1990’s, and Jenny and Ron Doan were living in California, raising their seven children, Darrell, Natalie, Sarah, Hillary, Alan, Jacob, and Joshua. After realizing all her children learned differently, Jenny decided to try homeschooling. When she takes on a new job , she is 100% ALL IN. The school district provided them with lesson plans, but her kids whizzed through the material. So Jenny added “themes” to their schooling. “If one of the kids asked a question about the space shuttle — that was it. We’d go to the library and get books about space. We’d make field trips to the local observatory, and they wrote reports on astronauts. Maybe two weeks later, one of the kids would be interested in whales — so then it was all about ocean life.”

Ron & Jenny Doan.

Ron & Jenny.

In 1995, Jenny and Ron decided it was time to leave California. Ron was a mechanic/machinist, and figured he could get a job anywhere there was a factory. For a more affordable quality of life they decided to move to the Midwest. Their oldest child was in college, and their youngest was 8 when they packed up four vehicles and drove across the country to Hamilton, Missouri. When they arrived, they knocked on the door of a local realtor. He informed them that there was no motel in town, and it would take some time to find a rental house — so maybe they should just stay with his family until they could work things out. “They pulled out mattresses and took care of our family for a week until we found a place to rent.”

On that first day, Jenny cried, “WHAT HAVE WE DONE? It felt like we had stepped back in time. There was one gas station, one blinking stop light. When I went to the grocery store, a man carried my groceries out to the car. As I fumbled to unlock the door, he said… You must not be from here…” But, by the third day, the kids were walking down the street with their new friends, with fishing poles over their shoulders.” Jenny told Ron, “you could just bury me here.” They found a rental house on a farm outside of town that hadn’t been lived in for years. Jenny cooked, canned, and had a garden. The kids could ride their bikes for miles, go fishing, or just play or explore around the farm. It felt like a dream come true!

The first rental house.

The first rental house didn’t even have a key. They lived in that home for five years, but by then all the boys had jobs and Jenny didn’t want to mow the lawn three days a week. So, in 2000, they bought an old Victorian that needed new plumbing, new wiring, a furnace . . . the renovation took two years.

Ron Doan got a job as a machinist for a newspaper in Kansas City. By 2008, the newspaper had laid off so many people, Ron was back to working the night shift and his children believed their parents would soon be destitute. Their son Al called his sister Sarah and said, “we’ve got to get Mom a job. If we don’t do something — they’ll be living in our basements.”

At the same time, Jenny had made a quilt for one of her grandchildren (she now has 22), and told her son Al it would be “coming back from the long arm quilter in about a year.”

Al: “Are you kidding me? Is that a thing?”
Jenny: “Yes, because all the long-arm quilt ladies are so busy, they have long waiting lists.”
Al: “Could you learn how to do that?”
Jenny: “Well, I suppose I could . . . .”

Al called Sarah and said, “We’ve got to get Mom one of those quilting machines.” The $40,000 quilting machine was too big to fit into the house, so they also bought an abandoned auto dealership building for $20,000.

That was just the beginning . . . .

(To be continued.)

Jenny Doan – Missouri Star Quilt Co. – Part 2