Carol Shinn: Photo-realistic machine embroidery

Carol Shinn: Photo-realistic machine embroidery

Textile artist Carol Shinn’s work is unlike anything else we’ve featured on the site so far. She is internationally renowned for creating photo-realistic embroidery. Her machine-stitched images are on show in numerous public and private collections. We were interested in finding out what attracted Carol to this particular medium and how she achieves such stunningly realistic results. We’re extremely grateful to Carol for writing such a beautiful and thought-provoking explanation.

A piece of photo-realistic embroidery by Carol Shinn

Ice Service, 2009
Image, 18.5″h x 14.5″w, framed 25.5″h x 20.5″w.
Innovators and Legends exhibit, touring

The why

By about age eight I knew I wanted to be an artist, though what that meant was not revealed for many years. During and after my college under-graduate and grad years I tried to follow the art trends, seeking to both to follow and get ahead of what I saw. At the same time, running in another vein, I was a physically active Western American always aware of the power of place.

There are moments when I feel like a set of eyes outside my human self. However fleeting, those moments are extraordinary, when I see without judgment, and just exist as a part of that moment and place. I think I had many of those moments as a child, whether playing in the native grasses and sunflowers, walking alone to school across a horse pasture, getting up alone early in the morning when camping, watching clouds from the car window, or hiking in the quiet forest in winter. I don’t think I understood the importance of those moments, but they gradually became part of my core.

Carol Shinn uses machine embroidery to create stunning images that have a photo-realistic appearance

Barm and Silo, 2012
Image 17″h x 14″w, framed 24″h x 21″w
Available through Jane Sauer Gallery

After my first college degree, I was afraid to acknowledge this part of me because it seemed to lack the intellectual content, the metaphors, and complexities of urban thinking. When I finally moved toward realism, I felt guilty because I didn’t know how to justify doing it. But over time I have learned that often the “doing or making” must come before the “understanding”.

Now I am comfortable with just recording. I am grounded in the physical world and that is enough for me at this moment. My current work focuses on the natural landscape as well as on the aging and decay of buildings and other human artifacts. My work is about not only seeing, but examining how humans see; how details and surfaces add up to create a thing or place, how those things are illuminated. I am interested in the control and isolation of information given by point of view, and how moods are perceived by the quality of light within the composition.

A piece of photo-realistic machine embroidery by textile artist Carol Shinn

Two Walls in the Forest, 2013
Image 19.5″h x 15.3″w, framed 26.5″h x 20″w
Available through Jane Sauer Gallery

The how

The first thing an artist has to find is the medium that feels the most meaningful to their particular hand and mind. Painting and drawing were certainly points along my path. But weaving played an even bigger role. The continuous flow of line and color appealed to me. This was even better when a sewing machine was added. Then with the addition of photography I could bring back those earlier fleeting non-judgmental moments. The camera catches a single instant when form and light converge. Stitching adds time, physicality and personal interpretation.

A close-up gradation from one of pieces by fiber artist Carol Shinn

A smooth gradation can be made by hatching one color into another using two or more colors. This example uses sixteen different colors of thread.

My process now begins with photography. I alter these images on the computer, and transfer them to fabric. Then the piece is stitched with a basic sewing machine. None of the stitching process is computerized. The stitches, which completely cover my canvas, are like pencil hatching. I lower the feed dogs so that I can move the fabric freely as I sew to achieve the length and density of stitch wanted. Different colours of thread are layered throughout each piece to enrich the colours. The stitching is so dense that none of the original image or fabric shows. The fine scale of thread is an extraordinary tool for describing detail. This has become increasingly apparent the more I work with thread, and my work has evolved accordingly.

For more information on Carol’s techniques visit

A photo-realistic image made with machine embroidery techniques by artist Carol Shinn

Two Doorways, 2013
Image 19.75″h x 13.25″w, framed 26.75″h x 20.25″w
Available through Jane Sauer Gallery

A brief biography

I am from Fort Collins, CO, USA and have worked in this technique (photo-realistic embroidery) for 25 years. My BFA is from the University of Colorado and my MFA from Arizona State University. I have taught many workshops across the United States and Canada and have taught at Arizona State University and Mesa Community College, Mesa, Arizona. My work has been in numerous books and magazines and is in numerous public and private collections including the Museum of Art and Design, NY, NY and the Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO. I was a prizewinner in the 2009 International Pfaff Embroidery Challenge and have authored Freestyle Machine Embroidery: Techniques and Inspiration of Fiber Art.

A piece depicting two chairs by photo-realistic textile artist Carol Shinn

Two Chairs, 2011
Image 13.5″h x 19.75″w, framed 21.25″h x 28.75″w
Innovators and Legends exhibit, touring

More is available at

Carol’s book Freestyle Machine Embroidery: Techniques and Inspiration of Fiber Art featured in our article exploring the Top 10 machine embroidery books.

If you’ve found Carol’s article informative or you love her work as much as we do, why not let us know by leaving a comment below.

Tuesday 27th, February 2024 / 17:56

About the author

Joseph Pitcher is the son of textile artist Sue Stone. He is an actor and voice-over artist and has worked at the RSC, the National Theatre, West End theatres and several other leading regional venues across the UK. Find Joe on Google

View all articles by Joe Pitcher



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11 comments on “Carol Shinn: Photo-realistic machine embroidery”

  1. what stunning work! I love this article too for Carol’s honest approach to making her art. thanks for this!

  2. Rachel Biel says:

    Emma used the word I wanted to: Stunning! I bet the back sides get pretty interesting, too!

  3. I love your work and have seen your earlier weavings. I was fascinated with an embroidery piece I had seen at the Silvermine Gallery in Ct. I had apiece in this show also.

    I love the richness of the build up of color with layers upon layers.


  4. Anne Tisell says:

    Amazing and,inspiring,thank you.

  5. mirjam Bruck_cohen says:

    WOW ,,,,,,you are so talented well trained and you tell a great visual story
    thank you.

  6. sabrina says:

    These works are very fantastic! I don’t see before nothing of this. Wonderful!

  7. Susan Willets says:

    I love this so much! Thank you for sharing your amazing talent. I am looking for my cousin and wonder if you may be her. I knew her as Carol Shinn Taylor. Blythe was her husband. Please let me know if this could possibly be you.Thank you.

  8. I would like very much to get in touch with Carole. We have met some years ago and now I would love to invite Carole to participate in a project of my entitled AROUND THE WORLD WITH 80 TEXTILE ARTISTS.

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