A former supermodel pieces together a second career
As a supermodel in the 1980s and ’90s, Nancy DeWeir Geaney posed for editorial features in Vogue and Cosmopolitan, as well as advertisements for Chanel, CoverGirl, and Max Factor. But during her occasional fittings in designers’ ateliers, she never imagined that one day she would be cutting and sewing fabric in her own studio. However, three years ago, she launched Dark Horse Farms Designs from her Wilton home. In her workshop, she creates one-of-a-kind quilts, pillows, throws, and accessories. Many of her creations, like her custom saddle pads, reflect her lifelong passion for horses and riding.
Geaney, now 48, learned to sew as a child, honing her skills in junior high school. She continued sewing even after Vince Teschetti, a BBDO advertising executive, discovered her on the Long Island Railroad and introduced her, at age 15, to Eileen Ford, founder of the Ford Modeling Agency. Within weeks of signing with Ford, Geaney catapulted into the world of high fashion. Although surrounded by designer clothing, she often whipped up her own. “I remember wearing Lycra leggings and a mandarin collar silk jacket I’d made to Studio 54,” she says, referring to the notorious Manhattan nightclub. “I modeled for the Vogue and Butterick pattern companies, and Vogue Patterns even did a story about me called Nancy Sews.”
After Geaney met her husband, photographer Tim Geaney, on a fashion shoot, married and had children, she stopped sewing. “I didn’t have time and I was worried about pins and needles with two toddlers underfoot. When we moved to Wilton in 1999, the kids were older, and we had more space,” she explains. “I started sewing again for myself—mostly home decorating projects like pillows and drapes.”
Their property included a barn and enough space for her horse, Tys. An accomplished rider, she also began to stitch custom saddle pads. With her kids becoming more independent, Geaney began to think about the next phase of her life. “I was looking for something to fulfill me creatively. After seeing designer Jennifer Paganelli’s pillows in a store, I called her and we met for tea. I began sewing accessories for her Sis Boom collection, and Jennifer encouraged me to try quilting. I’d never quilted before,” she recalls. She discovered she loved it.
Quilting involves many labor- and time-intensive steps. For each project, Geaney first chooses the fabrics and determines the overall design. She uses materials from many sources, including Paganelli’s fabrics, vintage fabrics, and quilting stores. When making a large quilt, Geaney spends several days cutting fabric squares and laying them out. Sewing the pieces together, and lining and backing the quilt take another two days, and applying the quilting stitches, another day. Geaney often rises at 5 a.m. to cut and sew quilt squares. “I am happy sitting in my studio, listening to NPR, and sewing all day. I become totally absorbed in whatever I’m working on. It is good, otherwise I can get wrapped up in what happened yesterday or what’s going to happen tomorrow. And I love having something to show for the time I’ve spent.”
While she continues to market her work at shows, Geaney sells most of her quilts through word of mouth, her blog, and darkhorsefarmsdesigns.com. “A quilt is not an impulse buy; it’s expensive because it’s so labor intensive. For quilts, a client will say ‘my daughter loves lime green and hot pink,’ and I’ll create one in that color scheme,” she says. Asked to describe her style, she pauses, and then laughs, “I guess you could call my designs sophisticated folk art, with a mid-century modern flair.”
Several companies have expressed an interest in licensing her equine-themed line. “The horse is very iconic, even among people who don’t ride,” she says. The name Dark Horse Farm Designs was inspired by Tys, with a nod to its play on words. “In a race, a dark horse is one that comes from behind. Starting a new career at this stage of my life, I felt a bit like a dark horse.”