Ray started out as a painter, earning an MFA from Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia in 1972. She turned to textile making in the 1970s and opened her studio, Art by the Yard, in 1977. At her studio in Yonkers, NY, she creates handmade materials, such as silkscreened and hand-painted fabric for upholstery, drapery, and wallcovering. Her work is inspired by nature and the environment, and characterized by a painterly effect. In 1981, Art by the Yard received a Roscoe Award for hand painted fabrics from the Resource Council. As president and creative director of her company Carolyn Ray Inc., Ray continues to produce high-end fabrics and wallcoverings inspired by nature.