In the Q-niverse: Quilters Get Inked

by megan on October 10, 2011

This adorns the walls of Stitch Lab in Austin, Texas and has inspired more than one ink-under-skin version.


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.



This baby shirt, by Etsy seller BooBooBearDesigns, features a design from "Sublime Stitching: Embroidered Effects and Patterns to Inspire Your Stitching" by Jenny Hart.





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).





"Candy Skull Coffin" by Mary Kenyon. Designed by tattoo artist Hunter Spanks.



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.

"Crafty Gemini" Vanessa's patchwork tattoo.







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.”




Amy Willis' quilt tattoo is a remembrance of her grandmother.





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.”






Erika Mulvenna of Miss Sews It All got this tattoo as a celebration of her 4th wedding anniversary.






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 or post it on Facebook and maybe we’ll follow up with a gallery of GenQ reader tattoos!

Leave a Comment

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristy Identicon Icon Kristy October 10, 2011 at 5:12 am

I have one tattoo currently (small skull and crossbones) to symbolize my unique love of all things macabre and creepy. A few additional tattoos are planned including 1 sewing related one I hope to get in about a month, since quilting is such an important part of my life now.

It’s funny you mention the Alexander Henry and Michael Miller fabric because I can clearly remember having some of that a few years back, and all of the items that I used to sell using that fabric were always big hits because there wasn’t anything like it in the marketplace.

Thanks for doing a story on INK, it’s certainly refreshing to see a popular magazine recognize this.


CaraQuilts Identicon Icon CaraQuilts October 10, 2011 at 6:30 am

I have a memorial tattoo for my son with the image from his headstone on the top of my foot/lower leg.
I’d love to get at least two more tattoos, one for my daughter and one quilting related but DH really isn’t in to them, and at the moment he dislikes them more then I want to get them. For now.


Liz B Identicon Icon Liz B October 10, 2011 at 6:46 am

I have 2 tats. both represent my native american heritage. one is a Hiada turtle that represents turtle island. the other is my totem, a bat. the bat one has a long story behind it. (mauh) Liz


Bridgette Stein Identicon Icon Bridgette Stein October 10, 2011 at 7:00 am

Awesome read! I am covered in tats (where I”m not ticklish that is) and my next one which I will probably have to mortgage my house for is inspired by Karen McTavish and her beautiful designs! It’s going to be the entire lower back with feathers that go up to and around my upper arms serving as a background to combine all my other tats in the area. I can’t wait to get it, but I”m still looking for the right artist for this one…it’s very important!

And I make biker quilts that include some of those mentioned fabric lines! I also make ‘daddy bags’ from tattooed fabric so they don’t bitch about pink diaper bags! I wish you would use your pull to get some of the fabric lines to come out with new ‘edgy’ fabric lines with tattooes and bikers and the like….there aren’t very many replacements for the ones that are discontinued :( and there’s a never ending supply of bikers and tattooed lovers that enjoy a tayler made quilt for their interests!


patty Identicon Icon patty October 10, 2011 at 7:43 am

I would love to see your tatoos after you have the McTavishing done. That sounds like a really great way to tie them all together.


Andi Stanfield Identicon Icon Andi Stanfield October 10, 2011 at 7:00 am

Have you seen Karen McTavish’s tattoos? She has intricate feathers down both arms.


Sam Hunter Identicon Icon Sam Hunter October 10, 2011 at 7:17 am

My first tattoo is around my ankle – a quote from Michelangelo, in both Italian and English: “Ancora imparo – still I am learning” He wrote this when he was 87. I got it as I headed off to grad school to get an MFA in Fiber. The same year, I designed my son’s first tattoo for him :-)


Angie Callbeck Identicon Icon Angie Callbeck October 10, 2011 at 7:27 am

I really enjoyed this article! I have a Carol Doak paper pieced design (her Maine star) on my calf, with flying geese curving around it and down my leg, where the “fabric” appears to be falling off the leg. It is my own design and I love it! Working on my next design now, for the other leg, maybe some applique this time! :-)


megan Identicon Icon megan October 10, 2011 at 7:38 am

Angie, we’d LOVE to see this! Would you send us a pic or post it on our Facebook page? Maybe we could do a follow-up article with a gallery of GenQ reader tattoos!


patty Identicon Icon patty October 10, 2011 at 7:40 am

I have a crazy patch work 4-leaf clover tatooed on my ankle. It was a birthday present from my son who worked at a tatoo shop at the time. I’ve had it about 15 years.


Lisa Sipes Identicon Icon Lisa Sipes October 10, 2011 at 8:06 am

I have a few. A vine of roses on my stomach, an 8 pointed star on my back for the 8 knightly virtues, kanji symbols on my back for peace-love-beauty within, and a large rib piece I designed of a koi jumping out of dark water up to a bright pink lotus flower with large kanji symbols for strength and courage. I’m doing a painted wholecloth (mixed media, really) based off of my rib piece. I have thought about getting a quilty tattoo but I don’t put just anything in ly body and it will take a lot of time to perfect it.


Lisa Sipes Identicon Icon Lisa Sipes October 10, 2011 at 8:21 am

You would think I’d know by now to proofread on my phone but nooooo…


Melanie Cornwell Identicon Icon Melanie Cornwell October 10, 2011 at 8:22 am

These are some very cool tatoos! I don’t think I’ll every get one but if I did a quilting theme is what it would be! The colours and sentiments are wonderful…


Jill Ellis Identicon Icon Jill Ellis October 10, 2011 at 10:05 am

My godson is a tattoo artist. I’m planning on having him do a quilt block–maybe Card Trick, maybe Ohio Star–tattooed with the words, “Live to Quilt, Quilt to Live”–a takeoff on the Harley Davidson motto, “Live to Ride, Ride to Live.”


Marianna Identicon Icon Marianna October 10, 2011 at 6:23 pm

I know this is not a popular opinion, but I have never liked tattoos. I was brought up in a different country and was taught that tattoos are not classy. And although tattoos are more socially accepted they still do not send a classy mature message. Neither in a professional nor business environment are tattoos considered OK to display. And those that are covered with visible tattoos may be taken less seriously perhaps less gown up.

I wholeheartedly believe in self-expression, I change clothing, hair color, make-up, nail color, but the permanence of tattoos is a bit too permanent for me. I can find other ways of expressing my uniqueness and creativity.


Mary Identicon Icon Mary October 10, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Judging a book by its cover isn’t very classy either Marianna. A tattoo well done and well placed can be down right elegant! Just look at the geisha of old Japan.


Sharrieboberry Identicon Icon Sharrieboberry October 10, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Not inked. Can’t do it. When I see tatoos all I think about is what will you think of it in 20 years and what the heck will it look like? The older gents in the ‘hood with their ink blobs on their arms–not so artistic. Skin changes. We all age.

I have a friend that won’t get them either. She’s performed autopsies for many years and even the tatoos you don’t see go south, she says. *shudder*

Just give me a permanent marker. That’s as long as I would want my “tatoo art” to last! lol It’s cheaper too. ;)

I like the *pop* of tatoo art and enjoy seeing it in other mediums though!


quiltzyx/sue Identicon Icon quiltzyx/sue October 10, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Nope, no tattoos here. I change my mind so often, I would be spending at least an equal amount on removing a tattoo, that I would on getting one.


Krista - Poppyprint Identicon Icon Krista - Poppyprint October 10, 2011 at 9:34 pm

I wish I had the huevos to get a tat


Kit Lang Identicon Icon Kit Lang October 11, 2011 at 10:02 am

Oy! No ink for me (I am extremely averse to anything owwie).

Also, at 50, all I can think of is wrinkly tatoos. I did want to get one about 20 years ago, but was never brave enough (in the face of pain. ) Yeah, yeah, people who have them always tell me “It’s not that bad” but that’s what they said about having babies. And lemme tell you – it was that bad! ;)

As for are they quilty? Well, anything a quilter does can be quilty if s/he says it is.

<—- firmly sitting on the fence. Thank goodness it's a wide one.


maggie Identicon Icon maggie October 12, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I’m a weaver so spiders have always been a symbol I’ve identified with. There is a spider on the back of my neck and her web is on the instep on my left foot. My skin doesn’t hold the ink well so have each re-done several times. As much as I love quilting 2 tattoos are enough.


Jennifer Identicon Icon Jennifer October 15, 2011 at 12:48 pm

So no one has any comments on the actual tattoo artwork displayed? The creativity of making a tattoo into a onesie design? Is this string of comments only on whether or not one will or will not put a permanent ink design on their body? I think we all missed the point of the article a bit. :(


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