I’m writing this from my hotel in Edmonton, tomorrow I take a bus to Calgary to continue my trip and do the work part and the reason I got to come to Alberta. But today! Today was tattoo day.
I’ve thought for a LONG time about getting traditional Plains Cree women’s tattoos. I actually started feeling like I wanted them in 2007. But that was like, 11 years ago, and Indigenous traditional tattoos of that type were still not seen very often. Especially since they are facial tattoos, and people have really strong feelings about facial tattoos. They’re pretty taboo. But it’s also just true that a lot of Indigenous women globally have traditionally had facial tattoos. Anyway, I did do a lot of research on it, mostly my reservations about it had to do with gender though. I’m non-binary, but also feel I fluidly cross between female and male. And in the end I felt I lived on the female end of things long enough that I could comfortably wear women’s traditional markings.
Anyway, Plains Cree women had a typical pattern of three sets of lines or dots. I decided in the end to do lines and dots, so like, a line, dots, and another line, but three times. It’s still really new for Cree women to reclaim these tattoos. Because colonizers made us stop tattooing ourselves, which is also true for many other Indigenous people.
So anyway, it’s now 2018. I don’t know when I finally decided I HAD to do it. I just know last year I decided since I was turning 40 this year, it was gonna be THIS YEAR! So I narrowed down the artist I wanted to use to Amy Malbeuf who does skin stitch and hand poke tattooing. I am pretty specific about only letting women tattoo me, and also I wanted someone who was also Indigenous since it’s such a culturally specific tattoo. So we made a plan this spring, and I managed to be in the same city as her at the same time through some luck between our art careers working in this convenient way.
ANYWAY ha ha there’s my preamble. She got in touch with me again after I did a test walk around town with my intended design to see how I felt. She said it would look really good done in skin stitch. And I have to admit, skin stitch terrified me. I was like, omg. And then of course I felt compelled, because if something scares me that much then I kind of end up wanting to do it. So I was thinking about it a lot, and I actually didn’t google videos of skin stitch being done. I’m glad I didn’t, because I’m sure it looks intense. So basically, when it came to it, the first time I experienced skin stitching was getting the first stitch on my chin.
She came over to our hotel room and set up and it was all super sterile and the needle and thread were autoclaved and she kept changing gloves at different points and there were drop clothes and I’m only telling you all these details so you know how controlled the situation was in case you think about getting this done. Like there were some definite tattoo procedures being followed that were pretty much the same as my experiences in licensed studios. So then she draws on me, and this took a REALLY long time because it was such a precise design. There was a lot of photos and checking in mirrors, it was very thoughtful.
SO ANYWAY finally after all this I am feeling comfortable anyway, and I am getting used to her touching my face with all the drawing and wiping and things. So I am laying down on a drop cloth on the bed and she does the first stitch right in the middle so in case I hate it, then at least it’s symmetrical. And then the needle pokes in, and it’s sharp, and then there’s pressure, and then the end of the needle where the thread goes through kind of widens the hole a bit and then it’s out. And the thread is short, so it’s not like this huge long thread is going through. I also had some gauze under my lip so that it would stretch out my lip and be easier to stitch. Anyway, I was really nervous that I wouldn’t be able to handle skin stitching. But the tattoo machine rips skin, and the skin stitch is more like a short piercing. Not even as painful as a piercing though, because it’s not going through a piece of flesh at the same depth as a piercing. So anyway, I was actually surprised at how okay with it I was.
It was still a big tattoo for skin stitching though. It took about three hours, with a break for sugar and a snack to calm down some intense bleeding, and a bathroom break. But most of it was fine. When things really got intense were the three or four stitches closest to my lip in each line. Those ones were fucking hard to deal with. But like, I’m not wincing or anything either because obviously I can’t move my lips around while someone is stitching me. And it’s a sharp sewing needle being used, not a special needle for skin or anything. But it’s really sharp, so it’s not really like blunt and terrible. Actually for most of it I felt really sleepy and relaxed, it was just the near the lip parts that were difficult.
So anyway, now it’s on there. I was really getting antsy on the last line, I wanted to be done. It’s not like I couldn’t handle it anymore, but yeah I wanted to be done. And then there were three stitches left to even things out, and I really was done!
So far it’s only been several hours with my new face. My Mom and I went to Boston Pizza for dinner, and no one looked at me weird. So far it’s been okay. Tomorrow I part ways with my Mom and head to Calgary, and it might be different there, who knows. We’ll see. I’m really loving it right now tho.