House + Home Q+A

Owl + Mouse designers find a niche with hand-dyed and printed textiles

Updated: 2013-10-20T02:18:03Z

By ALICE THORSON

The Kansas City Star

Cristin Llewellyn, a native of Tulsa, Okla., and Alice Youngblood, from Greenville, S.C., graduated from the fiber department at the Kansas City Art Institute in 2008. In 2009, the two joined Kansas City’s growing ranks of young entrepreneurs, teaming up to start the Owl + Mouse, a business offering hand-dyed and printed textile items.

How did you get started?

Cristin: We graduated and a year later, we were talking about how we’d gotten out of the groove of making (art) and what we could do. We wanted to make something that was art but was affordable and accessible to people. We started out doing shirts and transitioned into accessories for women, men and babies.

What does your current line consist of?

Alice: Pillows, scarves, ties, baby hats. The pillows are our newest venture. We wanted to start adding home accessories, so we began doing those in late spring. We’ve talked about doing napkins and table runners and maybe lampshades, eventually.

What goes into making the pillows?

Alice: All of our fabrics are hand-dyed and printed. We start out with white bolts of fabric and custom mix all the colors. We hand-draw all the designs that get transferred onto screens. We use thickened dye to print the dyed fabric.

Some of the designs are hand-painted with dye; in some cases, instead of painting with color, we remove it using a discharge printing technique. Then we cut the fabric into shapes or patches and sew them together.

What inspires your designs?

Alice: We’re both interested in whimsical nature, flowers, wood-grain prints, organic motifs. One of our designs was inspired by art deco fashion beading. We also like vintage, like that skeleton-key design. I look at surface design books on how you form repeat patterns.

Cristin: My main thing is always about repetition. We both do a lot of weaving. That, and all the different techniques and processes used in fiber, influence our approach. Every season we sit down together and discuss where we want to go. We look at fashion and the colors coming up. Purple is in season this year.

Tell me about this space.

Alice: It’s a working studio, we have our sewing machine and sergers here, and a room for dyeing. We’re open Fridays and Saturdays from 11 to 3, and we also do holiday shows. This is our third studio down here. We really like the West Bottoms.

How do you market your items?

Cristin: In addition to selling them here, the Etsy online shop carries our Owl + Mouse designs, and we travel and do art fairs around the country. We did really well at the Westport Art Fair this year. We also sell our work in about a dozen shops, including the Kemper Museum shop, the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center and Studio Dan Meiners. We’re working to do a lot more shows and craft fairs, and we’re trying to expand into more shops.

You have pieces by other artists on display here.

Alice: The mugs are by Paul Mallory; his ceramic cat head wall pieces are also very popular. We met him at First Fridays. We met Brock and Colleen DeBoer through school. We carry Brock’s ceramics and Colleen’s jewelry.

We also have screen prints on paper of our textile designs and my mixed-media collages based on actual tissue patterns.

What kind of investment did you have to make to get this going?

Cristin: We purchased two sergers to do the edging and rolled hems, and a sewing machine. We also bought dress forms and screens for printing. My husband, Christopher Ciesiel, made the shelving and the tables for sewing and display.

Alice: We’re an LLC. I got online and figured it out. We pay taxes on everything and write off our business expenses.

Where did the name come from?

Cristin: Back in art school, Alice had done this owl piece, and the teacher said, “You are the owl.” At a different point in time, I had done a mouse piece, and the same teacher said it really spoke about my character, which I thought was kind of funny. I don’t see myself as mousy.

We kind of joke about that — owl and mouse. But we thought, “Yeah. That’s kind of catchy.”

Where to find them

The Owl + Mouse is in Suite 160 of the Livestock Exchange Building, 1600 Genessee St. You can also find Owl + Mouse designs at OwlAndMouse.Tumblr.com and OwlAndMouse.Etsy.com.

To reach Alice Thorson, call 816-234-4783 or send email to athorson@kcstar.com.

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