Carly Owens is the opposite of fast fashion, or attire that is made quickly, cheaply, and meant only to last as long as the latest trend. The Colorado-based artist, whose jewelry centers on hand embroidery, embraces slowing down, handwork, and an admiration for craft.
Owens works in gold, velvet, glass. She describes herself as a multidisciplinary artist, not a brand. Her wearable art is not admired just by her clients, it has fans across social media and within the jewelry community. In December, Owens was one of the featured artists in the MAD About Jewelry exhibit and sale at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design.
At MAD About Jewelry, her dreamy eye embroidery caught the viewer in its stare—and it was honestly hard to look away. Owens is comfortable in the kind of place where she asks you to sit a moment, think about the work, and honor the time it takes to create. It’s kind of what the best jewelry should ask you to do.
“I think I’m sometimes perceived as a ‘brand’ because of my Instagram following, but in actuality, I’m an independent artist. I am the only person stitching my pieces, all by hand, from start to finish,” Owens says. “Embroidery is a time-consuming process. It takes hours to complete an inch- or two-sized embroidery, and [it] has taken years of practice to hone skills to what they are today.”
Perhaps that is why her work is so mesmerizing. According to Owens, “Embroidery is tough and is not an instant-gratification art form, but it has my heart.”
Her independent artist spirit started early. In fact, her earlier retail experience is one that started her down this path toward embroidery, jewelry, and craft. Her first job was at a teen clothing and apparel store in Asheville, N.C.
“I’m not sure if I learned anything incredibly valuable from this experience, but I think I realized that to some extent I was entrepreneurial and an independent learner,” Owens says. “My favorite part of that job was doing floor sets [which is when you work overnight to reconfigure the store every month or two] because it was a visual task that allowed me to pop on some headphones and be left alone to get the work done. Which, in retrospect, is pretty much how I operate in my studio today.”
From that lack of fashionable experience, Owens received a degree in art and design with a fibers and surface design concentration with a minor in arts entrepreneurship from North Carolina State University. There was one detour in there.
“Before graduating from N.C. State, I did a couture embroidery internship for a fashion house in New York, and learned pretty quickly that the fashion industry wasn’t for me,” Owens says. “I think that’s when I had the revelation that I wanted to establish my own practice and be my own boss.”
In her final year of undergrad, she was creating large, hand-embroidered art garments and went on to become a finalist for the London-based Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery, a major confidence boost. In 2018, she launched her online shop and started to make smaller, more wearable pieces using hand embroidery. Over time, that naturally evolved into jewelry.
A summer at the Royal School of Needlework also directed her toward jewelry. “Once I stepped foot into the RSN [which is located in Hampton Court Palace, the former home of Henry VIII], I fell in love with embroidery immediately.
“At the RSN, I studied traditional Jacobean crewelwork and goldwork hand embroidery. Goldwork really spoke to me,” Owens says. “It is a niche embroidery technique in which metal wires are used to create the embroidery, and it forms the foundation of my jewelry pieces today.”
Her work today can be found everywhere from New York to Washington to Texas. Locally, she has pieces at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver as well. She hopes people of all walks of life see her embroidery pieces as a way to dress up the everyday and not just something for royals. Plus, we could all use a reason to slow down and live in the moment.
Her next works are set to launch later in January, and all eyes will be on what she comes up with next.
“Everything today moves so fast, and with that speed it’s easy for historical techniques and methods of making to become forgotten,” Owens says. “Preservation is important to me, and I try to do this through my work, even though I’m using the technique in a more contemporary context.”
Top: Artist Carly Owens was one of the featured jewelry specialists in the MAD About Jewelry exhibit and sale in New York last month, gaining new fans for her creative and time-consuming embroidery work (all photos courtesy of Carly Owens).
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