Prepare to be blown away by the detail of these embroidered pet portraits.

By Zoe Denenberg
January 31, 2020
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Amanda Neely

Amanda Neely’s modern, bespoke embroidery speaks to a generation fixated on aesthetics; she often stitches trendy houseplants, toppling teacups, and sketchy florals, selling the delicate hoops on her Etsy shop, CrewelGhoul. But Neely's incredibly detailed, eye-catching pet portraiture is unlike anything you’ve seen before.

Neely is originally from Virginia, but she now lives in Wilmington, North Carolina. A surgical nurse by trade, Neely first learned to embroider from her grandmother; she picked the childhood craft back up as a way to unwind from long days of nursing school. It’s easy to get lost in the intricate groove of embroidery—Neely says she’s always found the art to be “very relaxing and creatively fulfilling.”

Neely creates a wide variety of embroidered pieces, from hand-embroidered t-shirts to rose patches, but her custom pet portraits undoubtedly stand out. Neely first began stitching pet portraits 5 years ago for friends and family; now, they’re one of the most popular items on her Etsy shop. And it’s no wonder why: Neely portrays each dog and cat in a stunning web of stitches, resulting in a truly lifelike tribute to your animal companion.

Amanda Neely

The reviews of the pet portraits speak to the personal touch of Neely’s embroidered artwork. One reviewer, who commissioned a portrait of her dog Draco, writes, “This is the best thing I have ever paid for in my life. The detail is insane and it’s so beautiful I cried. This is something we will always have and cherish. Truly in awe of the likeness!”

Many reviewers comment that Neely has a knack for capturing the real look and personality of their pet. One reviewer writes, “They're beautifully done and capture the sweetness in my pets' faces perfectly;” another says, “A wonderful rendition of my beloved cat Pookie, an amazing likeness.”

Amanda Neely

In an emotional post, one customer writes of the lasting impact Neely’s art had in commemorating her late dog Sofie. “This looks exactly like my sweet girl. I lost her so suddenly to cancer just 2 months ago. I will cherish this lovely piece for the rest of my life. In honor of sweet Sofie - thank you and God bless you.”

To order a custom pet portrait, Etsy customers submit a photo of the dog or cat for Neely’s reference. From there, Neely makes a stencil and gets to work. “I try to match the colors that look the closest to the fur colors and get stitching!” Neely says. “I use a technique called thread painting to create the portraits, which uses long and short stitches to blend colors together and normally involves layers upon layers of stitches.”

Amanda Neely
Amanda Neely

Since each portrait is completely customized based on photos of your pet, it takes time for Neely to conceptualize the design. “I’ve found that animals with longer fur take a bit more time to get the fur pattern exactly right. I get kind of lost in time working on them and complete them over a series of days, but my best guess is that it takes me anywhere between 10-15 hours to complete each one.”

How does she make her portraits so lifelike? Neely notes that the thin, colored threads of embroidery floss incidentally fit the look of fur. From there, it’s all about color and detail. “I pay close attention to the direction of my stitches and how I’m blending colors together. In order to make the portraits look more realistic and add more dimension to them, I pay special attention to shading and the contrast of colors.”

Amanda Neely

As dog lovers can understand, the key to truly capturing a pet’s spirit is in one small detail: the eyes. “I’ve found that one of the most important ways to capture the personality of each individual pet is to capture the expression in their eyes, so I normally start with the eyes first and spend a lot of time making sure they’re just right,” Neely says. They’re called “puppy dog eyes” for a reason, after all.

Since the portrait is entirely customized, Neely communicates with her customers to create the perfect product. Have multiple furry friends? Make it a group portrait. In search of wearable art? Get your pet embroidered on a hat. Neely stitches all different cat and dog breeds, from bulldogs to beagles. To make it extra personal, Neely will even stitch your pet’s name beneath the portrait in elegant script; you can also add flowers or foliage to regally frame your pet.

Amanda Neely

These portraits make stunning gifts for the pet lovers in your life. One reviewer writes that she’s purchased 5 custom portraits as gifts: “the best part is seeing friends/[family’s] reaction to opening such a sentimental gift made with love! They are often shocked by the detail…These are now my go-to gift for any occasion. Something sentimental to last a lifetime.”

The portraits range in price from $150 to $300, depending on the size. On the order page, you can choose your desired size, fabric color, and add any personalization notes.

WATCH: How To Make A Hand-Stitched Tea Towel

You can order your very own pet portrait on Neely’s Etsy shop, but you’ll want to act fast. Since the portraits each take quite a bit of time and effort, Neely keeps a calendar to organize her orders and stitches until she sells out. As long as you plan ahead—Neely’s average turnaround time is 4-6 weeks to accurately replicate your pet’s likeness—you can expect a very special package in the mail.

It’s time for the (arguably) most important family member to shine in a prime spot on your wall.

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