Carly Owens is the opposite of fast fashion, or clothes made quickly, cheaply and meant to last as long as the latest trend. The Colorado-based artist, whose jewelry centers on hand embroidery, embraces slowdown, manual labor and an admiration for craftsmanship.
Owens works with gold, velvet, glass. She describes herself as a multidisciplinary artist, not as a brand. His wearable art is not only admired by his customers, he has fans on social media and within the jewelry community. In December, Owens was one of the featured artists in the MAD About Jewelry exhibition and sale at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.
At MAD About Jewelry, her dreamy-eyed embroidery caught the viewer’s eye — and it was honestly hard to look away. Owens is comfortable in the kind of place where she asks you to sit down for a while, reflect on 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 seen as a ‘brand’ because of my Instagram following, but in reality, I’m a freelance artist. I’m the only person who sews my pieces, all by hand from start to finish. end,” says Owens. “Embroidery is a time-consuming process. It takes hours to complete an inch or two of embroidery, and [it] took years of practice to hone the skills to what they are today.
Perhaps that is why his work is so fascinating. According to Owens, “Embroidery is difficult and not an instant gratification art form, but it has my heart.”
His independent artist spirit started early. In fact, her previous experience in retail is what started her on this path to embroidery, jewelry and crafts. Her first job was at a clothing and teen clothing store in Asheville, North Carolina.
“I don’t know if I learned anything incredibly valuable from this experience, but I think I realized that to some extent I was an entrepreneur and an independent learner,” says Owens. “My favorite part of this job was doing the floor decorations [which is when you work overnight to reconfigure the store every month or two] because it was a visual task that allowed me to put on headphones and be left alone to do the work. Which, in retrospect, is pretty much how I operate in my studio today.
From this lack of fashion experience, Owens earned a degree in Art and Design with a concentration in Fiber and Surface Design with a minor in Art Entrepreneurship from North Carolina State University. There was a detour there.
“Before graduating from NC State, I did an embroidery sewing internship for a fashion house in New York, and I learned pretty quickly that the fashion industry wasn’t for me,” said Owens. “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 as an undergraduate, she was creating great hand-embroidered fine art garments and became a finalist for the Hand & Lock London award for embroidery, a major confidence boost. In 2018, she launched her online store and began making smaller, more wearable pieces using hand embroidery. Over time, this naturally turned into jewelry.
A summer at the Royal School of Needlework also oriented her towards jewellery. “Once I set foot in the RSN [which is located in Hampton Court Palace, the former home of Henry VIII], I immediately fell in love with embroidery.
“At RSN I studied traditional Jacobean embroidery and hand embroidery in gold. Goldwork really spoke to me,” says Owens. “It’s a niche embroidery technique in which metallic threads are used to create the embroidery, and it forms the basis of my jewelry today.”
Today his work can be found everywhere from New York to Washington to Texas. Locally, she also has pieces at the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art. She hopes people from all walks of life will see her embroidery pieces as a way to dress up the everyday and not just something for the royal family. 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.
“Today, everything moves so fast, and with this speed, it’s easy for historical manufacturing techniques and methods to be forgotten,” says Owens. “Preservation is important to me, and I try to do that through my work, even as I use the technique in a more contemporary context.”
Above: Artist Carly Owens was one of the jewelry specialists featured in the MAD About Jewelry exhibition and sale in New York last month, winning new fans for her creative and time-consuming embroidery work (all photos courtesy of Carly Owens).
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