If embroidery makes you think of samplers full of minute flowers and sweet sayings, think again. (Not that there”s anything wrong with those–I love embroidery samplers.) But embroidery, that traditionally tame craft of proper ladies, gets an intense, artistic update thanks to artist Cayce Zavaglia. Trained as a painter, she developed a way to use embroidery to create portraits of her friends, family and fellow artists that have surprising depth and detail, and are incredibly lifelike.

Zavaglia begins her process by taking reference photos of her subject, then the chosen image is recreated with one-ply embroidery thread on Belgian linen. “Over the years, I have developed a sewing technique that allows me to blend colors and establish tonalities that resemble the techniques used in classical oil painting,” she explains. “The direction in which the threads are sewn mimic the way brush marks are layered within a painting which, in turn, allows for the allusion of depth, volume, and form.”

Needless to say, the detail achieved here requires hours and hours of dedicated work. “My stitching methodology borders on the obsessive,” Zavaglia admits, “but ultimately allows me to visually evoke painterly renditions of flesh, hair, and cloth.”

Zavaglia is just as interested in showing off the backs of her embroideries as she is the fronts. While the front sides of the portraits are relatively staid in their impressionism, the backs are a looser, more abstracted form of the same portrait, where the threads spiral off into long, uneven strands and knots, lending the same image an energetic, almost windswept look.

She appreciates them so much, in fact, that she even creates paintings of the backsides, resulting in abstract portraits of a more traditional material, namely gouache and acrylic. The paintings also allow her to translate her work into a larger scale; for all their detail, most of Zavaglia”s work measures only about 8 by 10 inches, which is understandable given the meticulous nature of the work. Her paintings, however, can be much larger. The paintings also allow her to explore the parallels as well as the differences of creating based on the medium used.

You can find more of Zavaglia”s work on her website, as well as on Twitter and Instagram.

Via Colossal