They say necessity is the mother of invention. Meet Scottish-born Karen Curwen, a mother who has re-invented herself out of necessity.
When Karen and her husband David traded Glasgow’s wild and woolly weather for subtropical Brisbane 12 years ago, they couldn’t have imagined their escape to paradise would soon devolve into a nightmare.
Their four-year-old son Harry became gravely ill, and Karen’s mission was to find a cure. After a merry-go-round of doctor’s appointments, their little boy was eventually diagnosed with a rare condition known as PANDAS/PANS – a form of autoimmune encephalitis.
With life forever changed, Karen knew she had to create a new future for herself and her family. While back in the UK, she had held a fast-paced, high-pressure job as personal assistant to the president of the Scottish Football Association, Harry’s diagnosis now meant a nine-to-five job was out of the question. Karen became a stay-at-home, home-schooling mum in the suburbs of Brisbane.
But it was a passion she had discovered in her previous life that shaped the present.
While living in the UK, she and Harry had regularly visited the local library where Karen had found books about beading.
She pored over them enthusiastically and began teaching herself the art of bead embroidery.
Today, her “wee little project” has global reach and appeal.
Karen Curwen Handmade is a wondrous collection of beaded jewellery from colourful dangling earrings to bold pendant necklaces.
Karen is the creative director and one-woman beading artisan. She scours the world for the best quality beads, including glass, crystal and semi-precious gemstones.
Her statement pieces (bold pendant necklaces) are striking and no two are the same.
“I love to find unusual things to incorporate into my work, like hand-painted, porcelain owls and pyrography pieces featuring foxes and wolves, which I then bead embroider around to make pendants.”
Karen explains pyrography is where the artist burns a picture into the wood to form “the most amazing, mystical creations”.
Karen was born and raised in Scotland’s north, full of wild scenery and even wilder characters. “I’ve always been creative and have been drawn to design from a young age. The environment around me has always proven to be inspiring, even living in bustling cities. There’s so much colour and life in the world, and I love to capture it in my art.”
And being a true Scots woman, storytelling is in her DNA. Each piece tells a story literally and visually. Karen gives each statement piece a name, and she likes to pen a mystical story to go with it, something inspirational.
Karen says she gets many repeat customers from the US, the UK and Australia. And her vibrant, whimsical, eclectic creations are as global as they come.
Here’s a Scottish woman living on the Sunshine Coast using statement objects from the Czech Republic and Belarus to create stunning pieces that appeal to American women who love the spiritual ‘messaging’ in her jewellery.
“I have a lot of clients who wear them like mystical amulets – certain crystals offer protection for people – I love that aspect of my jewellery as well.”
“I have one lady who’s been going through cancer treatment. She messaged me recently and said she’d put them on and they made her feel more powerful. She’d wear them to her (medical) appointments. I love that. It’s nice to have that heart connection with customers.”
Karen’s first job in Scotland was as a florist, and she also did a 12-month florist stint in Sydney.
“Mixing all those vibrant colours, I absolutely loved that.”
And clearly, Karen’s love of colour has carried on from there. “I love colour. I just can’t stop myself from using it.”
Karen laughs when she recalls her first attempt at beading. She says she borrowed a “very advanced book on beading” from the library and followed it to the letter, but the whole experience was discombobulating.
“I had to find out what all the terminology meant, what is a bicone, for instance? The book had names for all the different types of beads and I didn’t have a clue what they were – that was a learning process.”
Karen says she wants to demystify the beading process and plans to create DIY beaded earring kits for her customers.
The entrepreneurial mum says she’s constantly researching what customers want and adapting to new trends.
Her next collection will feature clip-on pendants, which can be attached to different necklace types such as chain or leather, and can be worn at different lengths.
“One piece will serve a multitude of styles, so you can wear it as a choker or as a short, mid or long necklace.”
Karen started selling on Etsy two years ago and already has a loyal following of repeat customers, some buying up to six different pieces from her.
“I love jewellery-making. I can’t stop myself doing it. The business has just built over time.”
Karen now has her own ‘virtual shop’ – a branded website and Instagram – and her stunning jewellery can also be found at Adorn Sunshine Coast in Montville and Stevens Street Gallery in Yandina.
Karen is a huge animal lover, so it’s little wonder animals feature like totems in her jewellery. Grazing the green pastures surrounding her cute cottage at Carters Ridge, located near Imbil, are alpacas, goats, pigs, chickens and two friendly dogs.
A passion project she and David share is to create a toxic-free space for children with special needs and their families to have a holiday in nature. Since the family moved to Carters Ridge three years ago, Harry (now 16) is faring better.
“They say everyone has a [health] bucket and certain things, like toxins, will fill that bucket,” Karen says.
“But just by coming here, Harry’s emptied his bucket a lot more, so now he can go out and hang out at shopping malls with his friends like a regular teenager.”
karencurwen.com | Instagram @karencurwenhandmade