Some 5,000 year ago, when Egyptian priestesses and Ötzi the Iceman were getting tattooed, there was no Instagram for trends to take off on, let alone celebrities to spark them in the first place. Then again, we highly doubt that anyone back in the Bronze Age wanted — or knew how — to make their tattoos look like embroidered tapestry, which just so happens to be the tattoo technique that's picking up speed right now.
Compared to more mainstream tattoo aesthetics, like watercolour tattoos, the illusion of embroidered ink is still relatively under-the-radar. But thanks to the 2,000 Instagram hashtags spotlighting the emerging style, you won't be able to overlook it for long. From Florida to Texas and Mexico to Moscow, tattoo artists Rogelio Vazquez, Bau Oliver, Russell Van Schaick, and Ksu Arrow in particular are forging the way.
What exactly are embroidered tattoos? There's no actual embroidery involved, but the way they're drawn onto skin mimics the cross-stitch texture of embroidered fabric. The 3D effect makes it look like the designs are actually sewn into the skin, which is as awe-inspiring to look at as it sounds — but they're still created using a needle and a variety of inks, just like any other tattoo. "I have an art degree and [embroidery tattoos] are the same as realistic tattoos or drawing," Arrow says. "You just tattoo it like you see it."
Most clients bring in fabric or a photo of real embroidered patchwork for Arrow to recreate on their backs, arms, or even their ankles. Although you can create just about any design using the artistic technique, Arrow emphasizes that, for her work, the most important component isn't the array of colours, but the contrast of the black ink and outlines — that's what creates the life-like embroidered illusion.
But before you run off to make a mood board of embroidered tattoos, there are a few things you need to know. First, you can't just visit any tattoo artist. Before booking any tattoo appointment, you should do your research and vet the pro you plan on seeing — or book a consultation and chat through your vision.
Also, tattoos take time. Depending on where you want your tattoo, how big you want it, and your pain tolerance, completing the artwork may take hours or even multiple appointments. Arrow points out that the Oaxaca flowers seen on her client's back in the photo above took six hours to complete, while a smaller design may only take one to three. Of course, this is something your artist will be able to tell you when planning your embroidered tattoo — but no matter how long it takes, we're betting the final result will be worth it.