Introducing Jenni Calo!
Jenni is the in-house fabric designer for Connecting Threads and is one of the most talented artists our company has ever had the opportunity to work with. Because of production lead times, the world is just now getting a taste for some of the collections that Jenni has made for us. Her latest creations include crowd favorites like Around Town and Homegrown, and three brand new collections: My Little Farm, Bits & Bobbins, and Birchtree Lane.
We thought that you all should get a chance to get to know Jenni the way that we do, so how better than with an interview! I hope you enjoy getting to know our lovely Jenni as much as I did.
Your artistic talent is absolutely amazing and it seems to come so easily for you. Have you always been such a natural artist?
Thank you! I credit my mother; I get my artistic ability from her. I’ve always loved being artistic and creating things. I think because of my career path I’ve had to be very versatile, I can do a little bit of everything. But sure, I struggle with some things, but I try to challenge myself with each collection, push my boundaries, explore new techniques.
Where did you get your start in fabric design?
Through the Fashion world. I started out as an Intimates Apparel designer, working on lines for Victoria’s Secret, Badgely Mischka, Jockey, JC Penny’s, etc. I left design to pursue textile design, because it was far more creative and fulfilling.
You first attended the Art Institute of Portland, right? How long after you graduated did you move to New York?
After college I moved back home to California for 6 months to spend time with my mom before taking the big leap. But I was in New York from July of 1999 to October of 2009.
What types of work did you do while in New York?
I started (as many do) in the Fashion Industry, as a gopher at Learners Corporation. Within months I had landed a job as Assistant Designer at NAP which was an Intimates manufacturer. I worked with the Designer for the Victoria’s Secret Catalog division. Within just a few months of that, I became the sole designer. Due to politics and cutbacks, but because I had such initiative and drive and capability, I was promoted to Designer. That was such a great experience for me. I got to design and travel and really become immersed in the industry. From there, I left to become the Intimates Designer for Jockey Retail at Carole Hochman designs. As the designer for these smaller companies, I also needed to come up with artwork for the lines. Sometimes we’d buy artwork from print studios, sometimes I would create it. So I really got the bug early on. After Carole Hochman, I decided that I really wanted to switch gears and concentrate solely on textile design so I went to Ariela Alpha and developed designs for sleepwear. Then I moved from New York to be back in Portland, honestly not expecting to find work in my field and was quite thankful and excited to become the fabric designer for Connecting Threads.
It must have been a big change to go from prints for sleepwear and lingerie to designing fabrics for quilts. Has it been tough or do you feel like it was a pretty natural transition?
It actually wasn’t as tough as you’d think. I actually have more liberties than before. With sleepwear, there were certain things we couldn’t do. We couldn't make prints with fish on them or even birds (since some people were adverse to them). There’s always some type of rules to follow, but I’m used to that, that’s where being versatile really comes into play.
My Little Farm
What have you found to be the biggest difference between designing for apparel versus designing for quilts?
The biggest difference has actually been quite personal. Here I’m really treated as an artist and I am able to design artwork that I WANT to design, that actually shows my personality. In apparel, unfortunately a lot of what is designed is a knock off of something else. Or following the themes given by the designers or merchandisers. Here, I’ve been able to come up with my own ideas, my own artwork. That is a great feeling!
What have you learned about quilting since working as a designer for Connecting Threads?
Well, I’ve always sewn and been crafty, but working here has definitely brought more crafiness out of me. I’m about to embark on my first major quilt, using my very own collection, Birchtree Lane for my sister. I’m sure it will be the first of many. But I definitely am a novice when it comes to quilting, there is a lot that I’m discovering that that I need to learn. Luckily I’m surrounded by so many wonderful quilters to help and inspire me.
Bits & Bobbins
You recently were featured in QUILT magazine; congratulations! Was that pretty exciting for you? Has any of your work ever been featured in publications before?
Thank you! Yes, having my name in print is pretty cool! Being acknowledged for the work I’ve done is a nice feeling! With my other jobs, acknowledgements were more behind the scenes, since ultimately I was designing for a label.
What is your favorite collection you've designed for Connecting Threads?
This is hard to answer. Each collection is quite different. And there are favorites that haven’t even come out yet. But I can say that Birchtree Lane is my “first” favorite. But I’m very excited for all the collections coming up too!
Can you give us a hint of a future collection you're excited about?
Hansel & Gretel...bees...dog portraits...bold flowers...not in the same collection, of course! There are so many groups coming out later this year that I'm excited about, it's hard to mention just one.
We are all excited for Jenni's future collections and we are sure you'll love them as much as we do!