By Melissa Yunk
“You do not want to poke too far to make yourself bleed but far enough to hear an audible “pop” when you pull the needle out.”
Rachel Bennett, a senior from Basehor, cringes at her friend’s words, but continues to wrap her sewing needle with some thread. She finishes sketching a small tree on her wrist, dips the needle in the bright green ink and gets to work. Stick. Pop. Stick. Pop.
Bennett and her friend are giving each other stick and poke tattoos in her friend’s attic, surrounded by burning sage, discussing witchcraft.
“I was not initially planning on giving myself a tattoo, but I like to think of myself as a spontaneous person so it didn’t take much to change my mind,” Bennett says.
Stick and poke, or DIY tattoos are not a new trend—they’re common in jail cells across the nation—but they are the latest thing in tattoos among young adults and on college campuses.
A simple Google search makes it clear how much of a trend this is. In a matter of seconds, you’ll find quirky how-to videos, endless tattoo ideas on Pinterest and Instagram, and even DIY kits in stores such as Etsy and Amazon.
But you don’t need a kit—it’s possible to do at-home tattoos using common household products. All you need is a sewing needle, some thread and ink.
Caroline Roe, a sophomore with eight stick and pokes, has perfected the process. After cleaning and shaving the area of the tattoo, she does a rough sketch of her design idea. She then sticks the needle in the eraser of a pencil and wraps the thread around the sharp end of the needle to hold the ink. After putting together her tool, either she or a friend continuously pokes over the sketch until it is finished.
A small stick and poke can take around two hours, approximately four times as long as a traditional tattoo. They also fade faster than professional tattoos and tend to hurt more. Roe says the consistent speed of a tattoo gun needle often helps numb the pain after a few moments. However, when tattooing yourself, the inconsistent speed and depth of the poke makes pain constant and more intense.
Roe also has a few traditional tattoos, but likes the DIY method because of the extremely low cost—practically free—and artistic freedom. “Sure, parlors might be more clean and it is nice supporting artists,” Roe says. “But I really like the spontaneity of stick and pokes and being able to have full control of the designs.”
However, sacrificing the cleanliness of a tattoo parlors is not such a good idea. Kim Ens, director of clinic services for the Douglas County Health Department, talked about the risk of acquiring infections such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and even HIV when using unprofessionally sanitized needles. The only way to guarantee a needle is sterile, she says, is to use a brand new one. Bennett sterilized her needle by running it under a flame and wiping it with rubbing alcohol.
“It may not have been smart,” Bennett says. “But it was something.”
Ens added that ink that is not diluted or meant for tattoos can also lead to variety of infections or allergic reactions, so it is important to use the correct ink. “Overall, my opinion is to not do it to yourself,” Ens says.
Despite these concerns, there is still appeal behind stick and poke tattoos, whether it be the elongated adrenaline rush, the comfort of doing it in your own home, or the gritty appearance both girls spoke of.
“I feel brave and accomplished after finishing,” Bennett says. “Sure, slightly endangered but the feeling of doing it and being proud of something I made is worth it.”