Admit it: you kinda secretly want a tattoo. Or maybe not so secretly, or maybe you already have one (or two, or three, or…). Whatever you happen to think about getting inked, there’s no denying that tattoos have entered the mainstream and are becoming as accepted as pierced ears and spray-on tans for personal body adornment.
The rise in the popularity and acceptance of tattoos has occurred at about the same time as the rise of the DIY/handcrafted movement, and it was natural that tattoo art would find its way into handmade items and that tattoos themselves would begin to reflect the arts and crafts practiced by their owners.
Tattoo art and embroidery have gone hand in hand for a number of years. Sublime Stitching, an online shop for embroidery designs and kits, was created in 2001 by Jenny Hart in Austin, Texas. She had tried embroidery the year before, but found herself uninspired by the preponderance of duckies and flowers and other cutsey motifs in the patterns that were available then. So she decided to do something about it and began to create more edgy designs. She started out with four design sheets, but now has over fifty themes, many of which are either inspired by or are in the style of retro tattoo art. There is even an iron-on transfer set called Tattoo Your Towels.
Do a quick Etsy search for “tattoo” and you’ll come up with over 21,000 tattoo-inspired crafts, including jewelry, clothing, wall art, and lots and lots of baby onesies. Do another search for “tattoo quilt” and the number comes way down, with most hits being quilts that incorporate tattoo-inspired fabrics, particularly the several designs created by Alexander Henry and Michael Miller Fabrics (many of which are now out of print).
Quilt artist Mary Kenyon has been incorporating tattoo art into her quilts, and collaborating with tattoo artists for several years. In fact, all of her quilts, including custom pieces, are recreations of works drawn by tattoo artists. Tattoo-inspired quilts in the shape of a coffin are Mary’s trademark, and these go far beyond the traditional heart and “Mom” on a ribbon. The gallery on her website shows a number of gorgeous quilts that not only showcase how stunning Mary’s work is, but also how beautiful and colorful tattoo art can be. Mary says, “I got started working in the tattoo industry 13 years ago. My former husband and I used to travel to conventions all over the country. While my husband was tattooing I would sell my quilts, aprons, bags and other handmade items. This is how I met and became friends with the many artists I have worked with.” Mary also has a number of tattoos (none of which have ever been featured on a quilt) including scissors and a seam ripper, her personal favorite.
And what about quilt-inspired tattoos? Vanessa from Crafty Gemini and her husband wanted to get tattoos together last March and she knew she wanted hers to be a “tribute to the craft I love so much: quilting!” The design is her own, she says, created when she “took four little swatches of fabrics I liked and sewed together a four patch and took it to my tattoo artist and told him just what I wanted.”
Some quilt tattoos pay tribute to others who loved quilting. Amy Willis, an artist and musician currently living in Oregon, created this tattoo of a quilt her grandmother had made being carried aloft by three birds. “My grandmother used to have stacks of bird books. It’s a fond memory to have… weekends with grandma, looking at her bird books and eating grapefruit out of a very cool set of china. I have that set now, and love it! My grandmother was and will always be a source of positivity in my life.”
More popular than strictly quilt-related tattoos are sewing designs. As we searched through the Sewing Tattoos Flickr group, we were struck by this colorful piece. Erika Mulvenna of Miss Sews It All took a pair of scissors, a tape measure, and a pin cushion to her tattoo artist and he came up with a design on the spot that she had inked onto her upper arm. She and her husband got tattoos as part of their 4th wedding anniversary celebration (who knew getting stabbed with needles was such a bonding experience?)
So tell us: Are you inked? Is it quilty? Or have you ever been influenced by tattoo art in your quilting? Send us a photo (to firstname.lastname@example.org) or post it on Facebook and maybe we’ll follow up with a gallery of GenQ reader tattoos!