The Funk Files: Embroidery Frontiers – Meet Jenna Lagonigro


The Funk Files: Embroidery Frontiers

Jenna Lagonigro
Jenna Lagonigro

Name: Jenna Lagonigro

Location: Raleigh, NC

School: NC State University College of Design (Recent graduate, so anyone with job opportunities hit me up!)

What was your first exposure to embroidery, and what did you think of it? My sophomore year in college I took my very first fibers-based studio course, and we were allowed to choose anything that we wanted to study for the entire semester, which was incredibly stressful to say the least. I had always found an interest in embroidery and wanted to learn, so I blindly went into it with no prior knowledge and luckily loved it!

What was your first embroidered piece, and what motivated you to undertake it? A series of embroidered cells. This was my first fibers-based project in college as well, and it incorporated machine embroidery and many basic embroidery stitches that I learned throughout the semester. The series consisted of four Plexiglass “slides” mimicking a single cell, group of cells, group of cells making up a structure, and that group of cells breaking the structure.

What made you want to pursue embroidery and textiles in school? Ever since I was very young I have always loved everything to do with art, whether it be painting, drawing, building, designing, sewing, etc. I was always the friend to give handmade presents, sew Barbie doll clothes, make the best blanket forts and more, so I randomly decided to apply to design school because it had always been a past time interest of mine… luckily, I got in! I couldn’t imagine studying anything else now that I have completed school. I came into the program not really knowing what area I wanted to focus on, I sort of fell into embroidery and textiles naturally. I love hands-on making and being part of the process from research and ideation to completion, and this made the most sense for me.

As you study embroidery, what has surprised you? How easily a feeling or idea can be evoked, similarly to painting.

To date, what’s been your favorite course of study? Mixed Media Embroidery! This is the course that allowed me to complete my Insecta collection. It was the first course that I felt my embroidery skills met my ideas and plans the most accurately. The past two embroidery classes I took were more focused on learning as much as I could about embroidery and perfecting the skills, my creativity got pushed to the back burner, and it lead to some frustration for me.

Embroidered cicada by Jenna Lagonigro
Embroidered cicada by Jenna Lagonigro
Embroidered cicada by Jenna Lagonigro
Embroidered cicada by Jenna Lagonigro

Tell us about your insect project. For what was the project, and why did you choose insects as your subject? This project was something that I had in my head to create since the fall, and my professor, Katherine Diuguid, was kind enough to let me do a sort of independent study in her Mixed Media Embroidery course in the spring. I have always been fascinated by people’s perceptions of what is considered beautiful or ugly and the immediate reactions they have to certain stimuli. Insects have this repulsion to them that I am drawn to. I love that they can evoke such strong emotions by merely saying their name. I think that this is where my interest in psychology comes out, I originally had planned to study psychology in college and completed a minor in combination with fiber design instead. I wanted to create a collection of insects that altered that initial repulsive feeling when thinking about insects because though they have irritating qualities, they have beautifully intricate structures.

How did you go about making them? There were a lot of things that I hadn’t figured out going into the project. For instance, I had no idea how I was going to make these large three-dimensional forms with just embroidery. So, learning basic needle felting to form the base structures was my first task. I then studied the natural textures and forms of each individual insect and chose embroidery techniques that I felt reflected the insect bodies the most successfully.

Did you encounter any problems? If so, describe them. Displaying them was a problem. Initially I was going to attempt to cast each insect in resin, but I was too scared that I’d mess up the embroidery. Haha! So the wooden specimen boxes were a second option, which I think turned out more successful in the end anyways.

Embroidered grasshopper by Jenna Lagonigro
Embroidered grasshopper by Jenna Lagonigro
Embroidered grasshopper by Jenna Lagonigro
Embroidered grasshopper by Jenna Lagonigro

What did you learn about embroidery from this project? There are so many unexplored territories of embroidery and textile art that I found interest in after this project. Some of them include needle felting, stumpwork, needle lace, and gold work. I think that there is so much potential to bring these very traditional techniques into the modern world in a way that will allow more people to appreciate their intricacy and detail.

Describe your ideal embroidery or textile career. As a recent graduate, I have gotten this question a lot. Haha! The best answer I can come up with is something that will make me happy. A job that allows me to push boundaries and explore creatively. I have a wide range of interests that I’d love to incorporate all in one career, but I’m not sure how possible that is. My main interests include embroidery, leather work, handbag/accessory design, jewelry making and psychology. So, if you can make a job that consists of all of these then it would be perfect!

Custom leather accessories by Jenna Lagonigro
Custom leather bag by Jenna Lagonigro

What do you see yourself doing five years from now? Ten? Optimistically, in five years I would love to be in a secure job that allows me time to do my own work on the side. And in ten years possibly starting my own small company that would allow me to incorporate all of my interests! I don’t feel that I can successfully do this right now, because I don’t have enough experience in the design world.

What would you like your embroidery to do in the world and for the world? Bring to light beauty in the abnormal and detail in the natural world.

Where can we see more of your work? I have a portfolio website with a blog of my most recent work and process at jennalagonigro.com.

I am also starting to sell some of my work on Etsy. Right now, it is only my recent jewelry collection, Bare Bones, modern and simple jewelry constructed from mink bones. In the near future I hope to start selling some of my embroidery work and leather work as well.

Bare Bones jewelry by Jenna Lagonigro
Bare Bones jewelry by Jenna Lagonigro

Rapid-fire Round: (Don’t think too hard about these.)

Favorite thread: Anything Gold

Favorite tool that isn’t a needle, hoop, or scissors: Pliers, for incorporating metals

You can stitch with just one color thread for the rest of your life. What color do you choose? Black, who can get tired of black?

You have a pet insect. What is it? Wolf Spider. Haha! Love this question. My family used to have a pet wolf spider that built its web in the same spot every summer.

Name something edible that you can stitch. A block of cheese, I’m picturing it carved into some form and embroidered on top of.

What stitchable motif would you choose to represent you and your life? A neuron

What’s your embroidery code name? Oh that’s a tough one. I guess something to do with science/nature, I’m terrible at coming up with names.

You have to create an embroidery float for a parade. What do you do? Embroider a large scale insect sculpture with rope and a giant needle!

If your embroidery were cataloged with books what genre would it be? Science Fiction

A celebrity will wear something you stitch to an important event, which will lead to fame and fortune for you. Who is the celebrity and what did you make for him/her to wear? Something modern and sleek with subtle hints at something different, like brain scans, this is a new idea I am working on. I’d love for Zooey Deschanel to wear it; she’s the perfect combination of quirky and fashionable.


Jen Funk Weber
Jen Funk Weber is Queen of Funk & Weber Designs, a cross stitch and counted-thread embroidery designer and teacher dedicated to stitchy explorations and adventures.