Hello, dear knitters! Allison Volek Shelton is back with a new installment of our Catching Up With series. Enjoy a little Q&A with friend-of-MDK and MDK Field Guide No. 12: Big Joy designer Jen Geigley.
—Ann and Kay
Jen’s way with big texture pops in her Ramona cowl in MOdern Family Knits
You seem to have designed everything from accessories, to home goods, to garments—and for all ages. What is your favorite category of knits to make or design?
I think I’m known for my chunky knits, which really are some of my favorite things to design and make. I love a good cowl or a basic solid sweater, but I definitely enjoy colorwork and working with lightweight yarns as well. I honestly love everything.
I really enjoyed putting together a book called Modern Family Knits a couple of years ago with Rowan, which included designs for men, women and kids. I think a lot of knitting patterns for kids are tailored toward babies and toddlers, but not older kids or tweens. My kids fall into that older age group, so I had fun designing comfortable, wearable sweaters and accessories they would wear using lots of neutral colors that could be used for any gender.
Putting it all together was the best part. Rowan said I could shoot the photos using my local photographer here in Des Moines, IA where I live, so the models were all friends of mine, plus a few of my daughter’s classmates. My kids modeled too, so this was an extra special project and I know I’ll always look back at it fondly.
Jen’s Venice beanie pattern appears in her book Visions
There was also a book I self-published called Visions where I really pushed the boundaries. I knitted everything in a black, gray or white yarn and then bleached, painted or dyed each piece. It was my knitting + art experimental phase and it was fun to break the rules and embrace the unexpected.
When designing a new pattern, what does your process tend to look like—do you sketch first or knit swatches? Do you prefer to source yarn and design around it or develop a design and then hunt for the perfect materials?
I do a combination of sketching on my iPad using ProCreate and swatching. My sketches are usually just the starting point for color palettes and combinations. I love making a digital ‘coloring book’ template of blank drawings that I can color over and over again, pulling colors from the yarns I’m using until I get something I like. But the actual stitch patterns and colorwork usually come together during the swatching process.
How would you describe your personal style, and in what ways does it influence your designs? Has the pandemic impacted your style?
I usually gravitate toward clean, modern and minimal designs in my home and in my closet. I love gray, black and neutrals, but I also really gravitate toward bold patterns and saturated colors. I have a small collection of Marimekko + Uniqlo dresses that I really enjoy wearing. I’ve begun sewing a bit, and have definitely been incorporating more exciting colors and patterns into my wardrobe. I love that you can really make anything you want with a ball of yarn or some fabric and a sewing machine.
Jen models her Midnight pullover
I’ve heard a lot of people say that the pandemic has influenced them to incorporate more color into their everyday life and that is true for me as well. I wrote a book called Modern Women’s Knits in March and April of 2020, just as things were shutting down and it includes lots of brights and multicolored knits, much more than my previous collections.
I think we’ve all needed a little color in our lives this past year. Even though my everyday wardrobe still consists of lots of black concert t-shirts, I’m definitely in color-mode when it comes to my knitting and design life and I think that’s a good thing.
Who are the designers that you find yourself drawn to or inspired by?
I (of course) adore Kaffe Fassett and everything he does. I recently sewed a dress out of his lotus leaf fabric and love all of his colorful designs using Rowan Felted Tweed. Sonya Philip has been a big influence lately as I’ve been sewing my very first few garments. I think Stephen West is an absolutely genius and admire all of his bright, cleverly constructed shawls. Plus, he’s one of the nicest, coolest people you’ll ever meet. Denise Bayron is a very talented friend of mine and I am constantly in awe of her modern style … plus her knitting, sewing and tiny house projects. Arne and Carlos and their traditional Nordic designs are wonderful, and their YouTube podcast kept me company for most of the pandemic. Their videos from the kitchen or garden made me feel as if I’d been on a Norwegian getaway. And one of the coolest sweater designs I’ve seen in the past year was the Foxthoughts Cardigan by Hiroko Payne.
Do you have any exciting projects coming up that you can share with us?
I’m not sure I can say, but get ready for some color!! Colorwork knits, color-blocked knits, pick your favorite colors and go!