Pet embroidery artist Michelle Staub starts with photos of much-loved pets and creates realistic embroidered portraits with needle and thread. With her attention to detail and and an eye for nuances of color, Michelle’s hand-stitched portraits capture animals in a moment of time with remarkable realism. You will be tempted to reach out and pet them!
Why embroidery? How did you get started?
Originally I was just looking for a way to earn some extra income after finishing college so I picked up cross stitch to sell on Etsy. After a few weeks I felt too restricted in the medium so I switched to embroidery! I’ve always loved making things with my hands and embroidery is so satisfying.
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How did you come to specialize in embroidering pet portraits? What is it about the subject that inspires you to continue exploring it?
I’m completely enamored with my cat, Purrl. I’ve made portraits of her in several mediums in the past so it was just a matter of time before I tried making an embroidery of her. I shared her portrait online and things really took off from there. I really love making pet portraits and embroidery is the perfect medium for it. I’m really inspired by the love people share with their pets and the stories they tell me about them. I enjoy challenging myself to make my embroideries look as realistic as possible.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your new book, Pet Portrait Embroidery: Lovingly Stitch Your Dog or Cat?
I would love for them to have fun with the patterns and feel confident stitching their own pet portraits! There is so much to learn and room for customization with the patterns in the book.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I do! I find it really important for my productivity and mental health to have a separate area for working. We have a spare room in the house that I call my studio and it has everything I need for creating. I like to separate my room into little stations. One where I work, one where I prepare everything for shipping, and one where I can rest. It’s nothing glamorous but it works for me!
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Beside the standard needle, thread, and hoop supplies, there are a few special things that really help me work. One is my embroidery stand from Dubko Factory. It holds my hoop for me so I can rest my arms and they don’t get tired or strained. Another is my 3-in-1 OttLite. It has two bright overhead lights and an arm clamp that can hold my phone for filming my work. My eyesight is pretty poor so having bright lights around me helps me see colors clearly. I also like to have my iPad near me with my reference photo on it so I can zoom in and see all the details while I stitch.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I go through different phases, but I usually listen to music or watch random YouTube videos. Sometimes it’s hard for me to work if I don’t have the right background noise on. I love listening to Lo-Fi music and slowed down + reverb versions of my favorite songs. For some time I listened to the Casefile podcast or watched drama-filled TLC shows, but while I was working on my book embroideries I enjoyed watching older rom coms.
How do you prepare yourself for a session of creative work?
I like to nest before I start. So I bring everything I could possibly need to my desk including my coffee, water, a snack, my embroidery and all the thread I could need, etc. and set it all up. I hate getting up multiple times when I’m trying to focus on something. I like to have everything I could need at arm’s reach.
Tell us about a time when you truly stretched yourself as an artist.
It was recently with the portrait I embroidered of a poodle named Felix. The portrait was in an 8” hoop and the embroidery covered almost all of the surface area. The curly poodle fur was quite a challenge and I added some realistic plants around him, too. It took me several months to finish and I took quite a few breaks. I stitched myself into a headache multiple times. The finished embroidery looks so great it was worth all those growing pains!
What advice would you give to emerging artists?
Have as much fun as you can with as many different mediums as possible. You will find out that you can pull ideas and techniques from one medium and apply it to another and come up with totally unique concepts and ideas.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think both of those statements are true! Creativity does seem to be a natural ability, but you can also learn to be creative. Being inherently creative only gets you so far; the rest is you practicing and honing your skills. Creativity also means different things to everyone – like I am not creative enough where I can furnish our home in a cohesive way with great home décor, but I can create realistic pet portraits and come up with cool concepts for them!
How can people overcome the challenges they feel to their creative ability?
I think the easiest way to get your creativity flame snuffed out is when you start comparing your work to others and start feeling discouraged. It’s good to look at other people’s work to get an idea of what you can do with whatever medium you’re interested in, but try not to get caught up in the difference in your skill levels. They were once new at it, too!
Do you focus on one piece exclusively from start to finish or work actively on more than one project at a time?
I always work on multiple pieces at once. If I get frustrated or tired of a specific area I’m working on with one piece I’ll spend some time working on something else to clear my head. I also like switching back and forth between more complicated and simple projects to give my head, hands, and eyes a rest.
Was there a turning point when the business side of your art really took off, or was the process more gradual?
There have been several small turning points, but the one that set everything off was back in 2015 when the Etsy Facebook page shared my shop right before the holidays. I had a part-time job then and I had to turn down so many commissions because I just couldn’t get to them! The experience led me to quit my job so I could focus on embroidery full-time and I’ve had a consistent flow of commissions since.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
I hope people can learn a little more about what I do, see my portfolio, and feel comfortable wanting to commission something from me. I try to put as much info out there as I can!
You can follow my embroidery journey online through my social media!
Browse through more embroidery inspiration and projects on Create Whimsy.