FUN WITH NEEDLES: How To Give Yourself A Tattoo (Forreal)

'Cause sometimes you want to adorn yourself, prison style.
Publish date:
March 12, 2013
DIY, tattoos, tutorial, do it yourself, stick and poke

[If you miss Hannah, you can read more of her stuff over at our sister site xoVain. --Jane]

I've been planning to get a tattoo done professionally for a while. It will be my grandmother's name in my grandfather's handwriting, copied from one of his WWII letters to her, inked in the crook of my left elbow. Nice, right? But I keep putting it off due to not having the money or the time, and so the plan just sits in the back of my mind, bugging me.

A few weeks ago, I'd been thinking about how badly I wanted a tattoo, though, and I got to thinking about stick-and-pokes. You know -- old school, punk rock, DIY tattoos that involve a sewing needle, some ink and thoroughly washed hands. I knew that, obviously, I couldn't give myself the tattoo above because I knew I'd screw it up, but why not something simpler?

I've always been creative, hands-on, and highly tolerant of pain, so it seemed like the perfect project. I looked up a few different tutorials online and got to work.

If you're feeling brave enough and are not completely disgusted by the idea, then follow along and you can learn how to give yourself one, too!

By the way, if you get a weird blood disease or it turns out ugly, I will not be held responsible. Neither with Jane Pratt or anyone associated with xoJane. Seriously.

First things first, you want to figure out what you want a tattoo of, and where you want it to be (duh). Get a pen and scrawl different designs in different places to determine the placement. You can always wash it off as this stage if you're not happy with it. Once you're satisfied with your choice, it's time to gather the supplies.

You'll need a pen, a #2 pencil, thread, extra-fine sewing needles, India ink (you can buy this at a craft store; I happened to have it in pen form, which makes the process a little bit more laborious, but it still works), a source of fire (matches/lighter), and an alcohol swab (or rubbing alcohol and a cotton ball).

Start by washing your hands extra-thoroughly with hot water and soap for a good minute or so, and then dry them on a clean towel.

Now you can start putting together your needle.

Take a sewing needle and insert it, eye down, into the metal part of a #2 pencil's eraser. Grab a bunch of thread and wrap it around the needle and pencil until it's firmly in place and won't budge. I added a bit of Scotch tape to secure everything.

Light a match or flick a lighter and run the tip of the needle through the flame until it glows red. This is for germ-killin'. You can wash your hands again if you want, which I did because I wash mine obsessively anyway.

Next, figure out where you want to place your tattoo and swab it thoroughly with alcohol. Let the area dry for a bit, and then, using your pen, sketch out your design.

Once you're happy with the placement, it's time to ink up the needle. If you have a jar of India ink, you can just dip the tip of the needle right in and then tap off any excess on the lid. Because I only had India ink pens, I just kind of drew on the tip of my needle (they're large felt-tips), and then ended up going over each poked hole so that the ink would sink in. (Like I said before, it's more tedious, but it works for someone like me too lazy to buy a jar of the stuff at the craft store.)

By the way, black India ink is the only stuff you should be using. Anything else is toxic. Do not break open a ballpoint pen and use that. You'll probably die.

The fun part! Pokin' time. With your ink-covered needle, poke a hole into your design wherever you want to start, and continue along your line until you've completed. In order for the ink to stay and your tattoo not to fade, you need to break through the top and second layer of skin. If you're in a perfectly silent room, you'll be able to hear and feel an eerily satisfying pop as it goes through each layer.

Another way to tell: when you pull the needle out, your skin is tugged along with it. It's kind of gross, and you might bleed in some spots, so keep some paper towels on hand. Also be aware that some holes will not hurt at all, while others will make you shout uncontrollably. It all depends where you are on the bone, etc. But I believe in y'all! You'll make it through like a champ!

Oh, and another thing: Once your tattoo is healed and the swelling has gone down, you're bound to notice some spots you missed. This is because your skin puffs up when it gets poked, so you can't see the finer little details that will eventually shrink when your skin reverts to normal. My crescent moon took two touch-ups before I was satisfied with the outline, so be prepared to go through this process more than once (and wait a few days in between each session).

And of course, I couldn't finish this article without a beauty product recommendation, now could I? Once your tat's on the road to recovery, keep it in tip-top shape with A Beautiful Life's Fresh Ink Tattoo Enhancing Moisturizer ($18, It's all-natural and full of antioxidants that help with healing and make tattoos appear brighter and more beautiful.

Feel free to tell me how stupid I am, or how unsafe this is, blah blah blah, I don't care, I've already heard it from my mom, who reads all my articles by the way -- hi mom!

Show me pictures of your tattoos (homemade or professional). I'm addicted now and want more: @hannahejo