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Discover Santo Cielo’s artfully embroidered pet portraits

Uruguayan-born Santo Cielo is using the art of embroidery to capture lifelike portraits of your furry friends.

Photo: Domestika / Santo Cielo

Does your mutt deserve a place on the mantelpiece? Embroiderer Santo Cielo thinks so. Using just a needle and thread, Cielo creates portraits of pets, people and fictional characters that are so detailed, you might do a double take.

Originally from Uruguay, Cielo grew up on a farm surrounded by animals before moving to the capital, Montevideo, to study industrial design in textiles. His final university project on embroidery and national identity in collaboration with visual artist Stefania Assandri got him fascinated in the medium. At first, Cielo only hand-stitched people and landscapes, documenting his travels during a 2018 tour of Europe in an embroidery journal. One fateful encounter with a goat in northern Spain inspired him to turn his gaze to animals. After the goat came a chicken, then a hare and finally his first dog, a work commissioned by a friend.

Photo: Domestika / Santo Cielo

That year, Cielo arrived in Berlin as the final stop on his tour. With just €200 in his pocket, he became an au pair to support himself as he fell in love with the city he’d make his home. At first a side hustle, embroidery has since evolved into his livelihood, and a way to keep a love of furry friends in his life – Cielo, surprisingly, doesn’t have a pet of his own anymore (“Berlin apartments, you know”).

He describes capturing the essence of pets and people as “making that moment eternal and opening another way of looking at them through touch”. His works range from €360 to €620 depending on the size and subject, which may sound steep, but these are not just hobby hoops. As the embossed frames with the most intricate designs, often adorned with pearls and slogans, show: Cielo’s work is cut from a different cloth.

Photo: Debi Simon

While his embroidery creations deserve all the praise they get, it’s his sense of humour that makes him personally popular; during the pandemic, he became an online sensation with his viral #toiletpaperpatternchallenge, challenging his followers to embroider their hoarded toilet paper while sitting “on the throne, of course”. On top of making art gallery-worthy embroidery, Cielo also teaches others how to elevate their stitching in Germany-wide workshops and an online course available on Domestika for everyone interested in unravelling the magic of embroidery.