It all started with Pearl.
In Michelle Staub’s home studio, a wall shows three portraits, all of the 9-year-old cat, but each is more complex and realistic than the last.
These are not photos or drawings. Instead, these Pearl portraits are done thread by thread, with hours of Staub’s work. We even have a mustache thread running through the canvas.
“She is my soul,” Staub said. “I did illustrations of her in different mediums: I tried digital drawings, painting her, all that.”
But with Pearl’s help, “it was a natural transition to embroidery.”
The portraits show a progression in Staub’s craft to which she can refer as she took her hobby and made it her full-time job.
For 40 to 60 hours a week, Staub sits at her desk in her studio at her home in Amelia, pushing and pulling her needle and embroidery thread in and out of a canvas.
It is an artist who creates these realistic animal portraits.
Her studio is small, but a space of her own, except for the cat litter in the closet. Next to the office there is also a dedicated area with lights and a camera to take pictures of her work or other things she needs to run her business – also key items for her business as she has gained popularity on Instagram and TikTok.
“I have a soft spot for green,” she said of the room, where plants are scattered across a small sofa with a green blanket.
Above her desk are neatly arranged the various tools she uses to embroider: hoops, scissors and above all, at least a hundred different shades of thread, the culmination of years of collecting.
When working on a pet portrait, Staub said she often found the noses and fur around them the most difficult part of the project.
“I really love the embroidery and I love the repetitive tasks,” Staub said. “I find a lot of joy in creating. And it’s always interesting, the different things that I work on.
Why portraits of pets?
Through her social media accounts, @StitchingSabbatical, Staub, 29, has built an impressive following in the seven years she’s built – 184,000 followers on Instagram and 163,000 on TikTok – featuring her orders, his creative process and, more recently, a new book to be released.
Staub moved to the Cincinnati area in 2015 with her husband and sister after attending Ohio University.
A college art graduate, she had been brainstorming things to sell online, browsing through ideas before landing on cross stitch. For starters, she tried sewing characters from Animal Crossing and other Nintendo video games.
But eventually, Staub got bored with cross stitch and switched to embroidery, which allowed her more creativity and freedom, she said.
Staub introduced into her embroidery the methods she learned in college oil painting classes, a technique she later learned was called thread painting.
By the end of 2014, she was focusing only on pet portraits and was working full time in the winter of 2015.
“I am always in awe of his work,” said Staub’s husband John Lortie. “The photorealism that she is able to achieve with thread, fabric and a needle is mind-blowing. It’s so cool, because I’m able to peek over her shoulder as she does, and it’s an awesome tactile thing to feel a portrait – it’s a feeling you never get in other art forms. “
She sews both the outlines of pets and more detailed portraits, which she describes as a “paint by number” process to work with, first by drawing the pattern using the ProCreate graphics application. .
Today, she works only on commission and currently does five portraits of pets, four for a commission and one for an online course.
As part of his process, Staub requests two to three photos of the animal in good lighting and works with the client to plan the project. She sends a mockup of the embroidery based on the reference photo, then makes further edits before starting to embroider.
Staub shares his progress on social media (unless it’s a giveaway). Completing a portrait can take at least eight weeks, and when completed, she sends a photo to the client, where small edits can be made at the end before it’s mailed out.
According to the Stitching Sabbatical website, the price for detailed pet portraits ranges from $ 950 to $ 1,350.
She mainly sews dogs and cats, but has made others, including a Jersey cow and her current project, an orchid mantis.
But if you want her to portray your pet, you’ll have to stand in line. The current waiting list is approximately 1,200 people.
“(Michelle) is aware that these coins mean a lot to the people who buy them, and many use them as commemorative coins for the pets they’ve loved,” Lortie said. “She’s an amazing person beyond being an artist: she’s really good at what she does, she is caring and takes to heart whatever her clients ask her about portraits.”
Make social networks an integral part of the business
Staub launched his Instagram in 2014, but had previously posted and created a small number of followers on the microblogging site Tumblr. Over the past seven years, Stitching Sabbatical’s Instagram page has flourished as it has built its audience and business, even going viral once or twice.
The idea for the name Stitching Sabbatical arose in part out of procrastination to focus on “real world stuff” as she called it, and simply because she thought the word Sabbatical “sounded cool.”
Like apparently everyone now, Stitching Sabbatical is also on TikTok, although she joined it before the COVID-19 pandemic attracted an influx of users to the app in 2020. Her first public video was released. was published in November 2019. It now brings together around a few thousand. views per video, and its most viewed in June 2020 with 3.3 million views and over 819,000 likes.
An Instagram video she made of a tabby cat also went viral across multiple platforms, an experience Staub described as “overwhelming.”
Her website crashed, she gained thousands of subscribers and her waiting list grew.
“It’s kinda scary, to go viral, because your content is coming out of your community,” Staub said. “The people watching you don’t know you and don’t always understand what’s going on. “
She stays in touch with her audience, posts Instagram stories almost daily, and goes live on the platform every Tuesday.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also had an effect on the hobby and craft communities in “positive ways,” she said, as many people embraced new hobbies while stuck. inside.
“The embroidery community has grown so much.”
From portrait to printed page
Staub first came up with the idea for “Pet portrait embroidery: lovingly stitch your dog or cat”. in 2018 and began contacting editors the following year.
She spent most of 2020 working on the book, which features 12 models of cats and dogs with different types of fur and colors as well as outlines for people who are just starting out in the world of portrait embroidery. animals.
There are also chapters on the reference photos and tips on how to choose the right yarn colors.
The book was officially released on November 15 and is available to purchase print or electronic editions from major retailers including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Target.
Staub, with the help of his parents and family, put together 60 embroidery kits for the book launch, which contained pre-printed fabric, matching thread, needles, and an embroidery hoop for people to easily create their own portraits. They sold out and Staub said she plans to do more.
“It’s really cool to finally have this because there is no book like this,” Staub said. “I really wanted to make one for pets.”