July 17th was national tattoo day and it got us pondering the connections that keep popping up between tattooing and stitching; it just feels like there’s increasingly a link between the two – even though traditional embroidery culture and tattoo culture seem light years apart.
When you think about it simply in terms of art forms, the parallels are clear. The desire to decorate one’s skin with ink and needle versus the desire to decorate cloth with thread and needle. But when we followed our curiosity, we found so much more.
A few of us who dye, twist and package your threads also wear ink. Conversations in the workshop have touched on some of the reasons we chose to get tattooed. For some of us, a tattoo memorialises a person now gone, but who remains forever in the centre of our lives. Our beautiful Mara wears a butterfly in memory of her grandfather who, as he lay near death in a hospital bed, said that he saw a huge pink butterfly land on Mara’s Nan - his wife’s lip and he brushed it away. After Mara got her ink butterfly, so too did her Grandmother, her Mother and her Aunt.
Embroidery has recorded human stories in fabric for millennia. Meaning stitched into decorative patterns and venerated by many cultures. Similarly, tattooing has also captured human stories for millennia – stretching further back in time even than the early practice of embroidery. Connections to culture and place permanently imprinted by needles directly onto skin.
Tattooing was “mainstream” in many indigenous cultures until 18th century European missionary zeal interrupted these practices. In the last 300 years, tattooing has lived at the edges of “civilised society”. Tattoos were collected by sailors, were the marks of connection to organised crime or betrayed the bearer’s conviction and prison sentence. Occasionally there was a tattooed lady in the freak show.
But something big has happened in the last 10 years. Just as stitching has exploded in popularity, so too has tattooing. And it seems to us, the outpouring of ink onto skin and thread onto fabric has been hugely influenced by women.
As Katie says in a quote from Gippslandia Newspaper, "Textiles is an industry that has grown out of the human need to clothe ourselves. On that journey, it evolved into a craft and art form. Women in many cultures have been born to it, and for hundreds of years, stitching has been something women were made to do. It was beaten into you. Now, stitching is more an act of rebellion. I do it because I don’t have to".
It’s almost as if tattoos and stitching have made a societal switch, or at least a convergence. "There isn’t a stitching retreat or event that we don’t end up swapping stories of our tattoos," Katie recalls. "My favourite was a gorgeous little lady who everyone called Nan. After seeing my tattoos, she quietly rolled up her sleeves to show me her own collection of ink that she’d started getting in her 70s. We made a bet that the next time we saw each other, we’d both have at least one more."
Katie's embroidery design style is heavily inspired by Vintage tattoo art and so too her Thread range 'Typography' This iconic tattoo style swallow is stitched with the deep inky blues and rusty orange of KD10 Juliet
This old School rose is stitched with the rich burgundy and greys of KD08 Hotel, KD25 Yankee for the leaves.
Do a Google search for tattooing and embroidery and it’s clear that embroidery tattoos have evolved into their own collector’s category …. 15+ Embroidery Tattoos That Look Like Stitching on Skin (mymodernmet.com)
One of the loveliest examples we’ve seen is this tattoo by Stacy Hull of One Eleven Art (insert link https://www.oneelevenart.com/) in Texas
We contacted Stacy to ask what drew her to embroidery themed tattoos and she told us: “I wanted to explore textures and depth with my tattoo designs as I've always been interested in realism. I researched many designs looking for the best stitches to bring out the contrast and depth to make the tattoo appear as though it's sitting on top of the skin.”
When CGT asked her if she was a stitcher, she said no, but told us: “my 12 year old daughter has recently picked up the art and has been teaching me how to do it. It's a lovely way to spend time together and bond.”
“Most of my clients have a special meaning behind their embroidery tattoo requests”, says Stacy. “One of them requested a paw print in memory of her beloved dog she had lost that year. Tattoos with a personal connection mean so much to me, not only do I get to build bonds with my clients, but I get to bring them comfort. In turn it adds to the satisfaction I feel whilst I do the job I love.”
Stacy travels the world tattooing and if she ever ends up in our neck of the woods, there will be more than one of us rolling up our sleeves.
Another striking category of stitcher tattoo designs are the proliferation of embroidery scissors. The traditional symbolism behind tattoos of scissors is a symbol of cutting ties with someone or something, or represent danger – as in the danger of running with scissors. Really? We’re frankly sceptical.
The not so traditional reason people get a tattoo of scissors is to represent a tool of their trade or hobby – a hairdresser, a barber or needleworker. And because we’re talking threads and stitchery, we don’t have to look far for a great example of scissor tattoos that have ended up on the skin of stitchers.
Around 10 years ago, Pam and Katie made a pact and shook hands. Katie, an old friend of the tattoo needle and Pam yet to make its acquaintance. They agreed that when they sold their millionth skein of thread they would get matching tattoos. Katie and Pam worked with their local tattoo artist Heidi of Heart co Ink to design a pair of embroidery scissors that represented their love for stitching and their trade of dyeing thread. The scissors are surrounded by drops of dye and if you look closely you’ll see the fan shape of an earlier Cottage Garden Threads logo.
As well as stitchy ink making it’s way onto skin, we love seeing tattoo designs making their way into stitch. A case of life imitating art imitating life and Ryann of Wild Violet Designs immediately came to mind. Check out Ryann’s ink inspired by one of her cross stitch designs. The Stitcher Tarot card.
Ryann's Tattoo Floral Love Yourself charts have been on Katie’s to stitch list for a while and what better excuse to kit it up. The chart calls for a few different coloured solids for the flowers and leaves, but we've chosen one variegated each and will use the variations in the thread to achieve a shaded look. Stay tuned on Katie's Instagram account Katie Dawson Stitched to see WIP photos
We will leave you with the thought that we may only have so much skin to ink, but the inky stitches possibilities are endless!