While tattoos are, technically, a type of needlework, they’re a world apart from the textile-based crafts that come to mind when we hear the word. Lately, however, tattoo artistry and embroidery have overlapped in a major way, at least according to Instagram.
The big tattoo trend of the moment is the embroidery tattoo, which creates an amazing 3D effect of texture on the skin, so vivid it seems like you’d be able to feel the silky, raised threads under your fingers. Check out these cool embroidery tattoos — your grandma might even like them.
A Hit On Instagram
One of the most eye-catching embroidery tattoo designs doing the rounds on social media is the work of Rogelio Vazquez, a tattoo artist located in Dallas. Vazquez, who called this multicolored bird creation his “favorite tattoo,” also posted a 180-degree video of the design, which has almost 10,000 likes on Instagram and which has prompted comments like, “this is insanely beautiful.”
Behind The Process
Vazquez isn’t the only tattoo artist dabbling in embroidery. According to tattoo artist Moona Autumn, who has been tattooing in Jena, Germany, since 2016, the length of time it takes to complete an embroidery tattoo design depends on how many colors are involved.
“Embroidery tattoos can take more time if you use lots of colors, because you have to wash out the needle every time you change the color,” she said. “But otherwise, it’s just like any other kind of tattoo.”
The Options Are Endless
Embroidery tattoos can be tailored to suit the customer, with plenty of room for customization. Another of Autumn’s designs, which she shared on Instagram, shows that embroidery tattoos don’t have to have a “knitted” effect; some of them can be more simple, such as this large cross-stitch heart design in one color.
Ksu Arrow, a tattoo artist from Russia who travels around the world doing tattoos, created magnificent back pieces on a mother and daughter, which were inspired by a traditional Oaxaca pattern. Oaxaca is a city in central Mexico famous for its finely crafted textiles and handmade embroidery in rich colors.
A New Trend
The embroidery tattoo trend is definitely a recent thing, says Emily Louise, who is an apprentice tattoo artist at Human Canvas Tattoo Studio in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
“I was tagged in and sent a post about it several times on Facebook, so I decided to try it!” she said. “It’s a very cool trend and a lot of fun to do, so I’m hoping to see more of it.”
Emily Louise loves the embroidery tattoo trend because it’s different and completely customizable for everyone.
“There are tons of textures and fine details which are some of my favorite aspects of tattooing,” she revealed.
This close-up of the “D” in a “Dad” tattoo, done by Ricky Gallop from Night Owl Tattoo in Alma, Michigan, shows just how much fine detail goes into this style.
Where It All Began
Tim Beck was one of the first tattoo artists to create embroidery tattoos before the trend took off and went viral.
“I did my first one a couple of years ago,” he said. “It was an Air Force patch a client wanted. He just came in and asked for it to look like a real patch of his grandpa’s.”
Beck, who runs Freedom Ink Tattoos in Peoria, Illinois, has been tattooing for 22 years. He shared an embroidery tattoo — a flower inside a heart-shaped patch — that “went pretty viral,” racking up thousands of likes on Instagram. The opportunity to create new tattoo designs is one of the aspects of the job Beck appreciates the most.
“I love tattooing because of its rich traditions and history,” he said. “I also love that even after all these years of tattooing, it’s still fresh and always evolving. It’s different every day. I’ve got the best job in the world.”
With so many years of tattooing under his belt, Beck does embroidery tattoos “very quickly.”
“I have a secret method and process to do them that doesn’t require any more skill than other tattoos,” he revealed. “The skill is in understanding how embroidery works and how the light hits it. After that, it’s just like regular tattooing.”
Essentially A Portrait
“When you do an embroidery tattoo, you’re essentially doing a portrait,” explained Beck. “Just like doing one of a photo of a person or an animal. The only difference is it’s of a patch!”
This “STP” design was a huge hit on Instagram.
“I’ve never seen a patch done so perfectly,” wrote one fan. “I didn’t realize it was a tattoo at first!”
Another of Beck’s embroidery tattoo designs raises awareness of two important health issues, showing that any kind of tattoo can look great in this style. The green ribbon represents Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and the semi-colon is a symbol for mental health and suicide awareness.
An Unexpected Trend
Beck never imagined embroidery would be a trend in tattooing.
“The first one I did was just a regular customer’s request,” he said. “Who knows what the next big tattoo trend will be? Hopefully, it will be traditional, old school regular tattooing! That’s my wish. Trends are cool and fun, but something of a novelty. Classic never goes out of style.”
While experienced tattoo artists can complete embroidery tattoos relatively quickly, very large pieces — like this upper arm piece by Mexican tattoo artist Paulina Oliver — take several hours.
“It really depends on the complexity of the design and the size for how long it will take, but anything that falls more on the realism side generally takes a bit longer, in my experience,” said Emily Louise.
Many of the embroidery tattoos on Instagram feature characters from cartoons and animated movies, like this tattoo by Brazilian tattoo artist Palmer De Maria, who created this patch tattoo featuring Carl Fredricksen from “Up.” The finished project resembles a patch you might find on a kid’s jacket.
Creating The Patch Effect
The thick black edging on this hummingbird tattoo, created by Ksu Arrow of Tatudemia Custom Tattoo in Guadalajara, Mexico, gives an otherwise delicate tattoo an edge and emphasizes the “patch” effect. The hummingbird symbolizes many things, including joy, luck, hope, comfort, love, appreciation, enjoyment, independence, freedom and optimism.
Mitchell at Built 4 Speed Tattoos in Orlando, Florida, added interest to a basic heart outline “pulse” tattoo: a stitchwork effect in every color of the rainbow. Many people in Orlando got pulse tattoos following the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 to pay tribute to the victims and their families.
“Really wanna do more stitchwork like this,” Mitchell wrote on Instagram.
Another cartoon-inspired embroidery tattoo, by Brazilian tattoo artist Duda Lozano, features two of the much-loved minions from the “Despicable Me” film series. The fine detail on this design, including stray “thread” around the edge, really does create a realistic patch effect.
Another patch tattoo that makes a bold visual statement is this large, symmetrical breastbone piece, created by Ayari Nadyeli, a tattoo parlor in Yucatan, Mexico.
“Embroidery for the chest […] it looks super cute,” wrote the tattoo artist in the Instagram caption.
Disney fans can literally wear their love for their favorite animated characters on their sleeve, with a cute embroidery tattoo on their arm. This design by Duda Lozano features the Earth dog/illegal genetic experiment Stitch, one half of the popular kids’ TV duo “Lilo & Stitch.”
Delicate Cross Stitch
Some embroidery tattoos look like they’ve been painted on, such as this intricate flower cross stitch design by Eva at Bang Bang Tattoos in New York. The Instagram picture, which was taken two months after the tattoo was completed, triggered comments like “so beautiful” and “so precise” from her fans.
Birds In Symmetry
This beautiful embroidery tattoo by Maverick Tattoo Studio in Guadalajara, Mexico, combines two popular tattoo elements: birds and symmetry. The artist, @tabatatattoo, whose work is inspired by Mexican crafts, says on Instagram that “tattooing is like weeping green chile, spicy but tasty.”
Rebecca O’Quinn from Heirloom, a custom tattoo studio in Halifax, Nova Scotia, used the embroidery tattoo technique to depict the art of embroidery itself.
“The stitching on this baby is really convincing,” enthused one Instagram fan.
The caption revealed that O’Quinn “had so much fun tattooing this embroidery piece.”
A Different Take
An alternative to the patch style of embroidery tattoos comes from Amanda Chanfreau, the co-owner of the studio Malört in Malmö, Sweden. Chanfreau’s painter/illustrator background is evident in this beautiful, brightly colored design, which looks like it’s made of a soft felt material.
“Flower for my friend Caroline!” Chanfreau captioned the image on Instagram.
Mermaids have a rich history in tattooing, first becoming popular with sailors in the early 1900s. To expand on the nautical theme, the mermaid is often accompanied by other symbols like anchors, ships and starfish. However, this embroidered mermaid by tattoo artist Cindy Matzak doesn’t need anything else to make an impact.
Mexican tattoo artist Alice showed off an intricate, multi-colored wolf forearm tattoo on Instagram, which got nearly 200 likes. The wolf is a symbolic creature that has deep meanings in various cultures, and that commonly represents loyalty and perseverance. In Native American culture, the wolf was a “totem animal” or spirit sent to help steer humans through life.
A Stripped-Back Look
A more basic embroidery design can still look really effective, like this two-color lotus by Herima, a tattoo artist based in Antwerp, Belgium. It’s a more rustic finish, which may appeal to customers who don’t want such a realistic, polished embroidery tattoo.
A Fun Challenge
Many people get names tattooed on their bodies and this is where the embroidery trend can make a classic tattoo style a lot more interesting. Tattoo artist Joby Cummings described this work, carried out at Royal Heritage Tattoo & Piercing in Los Angeles, California, as “a fun challenge.” It was so convincing that one commenter “thought those were those embroidery iron on letters stuck to their arms.”
Heart On Your Sleeve
Dutch-Canadian entrepreneur Cherie shared a photo of part of her tattoo sleeve on Instagram, which includes a new embroidered patch tattoo created by tattoo artist Carrie Campisano. The bold colors and glossy finish look incredible up close.
Ivy Dickson, a visual and tattoo artist from Metamorphosis Custom Tattoo in Winnipeg, Canada, shared a photo of an impressive shoulder/back piece in a multicolored embroidery style.
“This is one of a kind,” Dickson wrote on Instagram.
Jumping On The Bandwagon
With the hashtag #embroiderytattoo sweeping social media, some people are jumping on the bandwagon — but not all embroidery tattoos are made equally, as this contribution from Starseed Studio in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, shows. It’s cute, yes — but there’s no intricate stitchwork going on here.