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Beadwork Applique: Tattoos in Braille

 On the tenth of August, 2002, I was learning a new beadwork stitch, a variant of right angle weave that produces open triangles.  These then form a netting resembling interlocked spoked wheels.  When I had become comfortable with the stitch, I asked a few people I was talking with online what to do with the scrap I'd made.  The first respondent said I should sew it onto a backing, while the second knew the ideal material- skin.  As it happens, I had some skin close at hand.  I must admit, I'm rather suggestible.

Within an hour or two, the front of my left thigh was adorned with a simple but highly textured pattern. I was extremely fond of the results. Texture is something I find rather lacking in most body modifications, most notably in tattoos. It lasted a few days, until the top stitch (which was both the stitch that I accidentally tugged on the most and the one which had inadvertently gone in the shallowest) broke through the skin. I have repeated once to date, with three concentric circles on my right ankle, and am currently planning other patterns.

Through this, I've discovered just how dull beading needles are. Generally, there's no need for sharpness, as they're made to pull thread through pre-existing holes. Some beaders even remove what points they do have, to avoid piercing and weakening the thread during the second or third pass through a bead. This, combined with the flexibility of the thin needle, makes getting it through my skin a tedious process. I frequently use a pair of pliers to pull it through. If anyone has a source for better needles- they must be sharp, have an eye, and be able to pass through size 11 seed beads- I'd be interested to hear from you.

The thread I use is D size Nymo, a strong monofilament nylon thread made specifically for beadwork. My shade of choice is black, as it detracts least from the beads. I have noticed some color left behind when the stitches are removed, but this is not a permanent effect. The first time, I wondered if I'd given myself additional tiny accidental tattoos, but by the time the small red marks healed, the black smudges were gone.

The stitching process is unremarkable, if slow. I run through a few of the beads on the outside edge, exit at a point I judge a good place for a stitch, then repeat. Depth is a guess each time. While I try to go deep enough for the piece to be secure, I prefer for the stitches to not cover much distance, so as to be easier to hide under the beadwork.

The pain involved is minimal, and the pop as the eye of the needle finally comes through is, for me, quite rewarding. I find the discomfort of contorting in order to see clearly what I'm doing more irritating than anything else. About forty-five minutes after I finish sewing, the pain vanishes, though it slowly returns as the days pass.

None of my materials are sterile, or even particularly clean. While I would not tolerate these conditions for almost any other body modification, the shallowness of the wounds and temporary nature are enough to keep me from worrying. I have no real aftercare procedure, I simply wash the area when I shower. There have been no issues with infection, probably due only to my removing the stitches before an infection could make itself at home.

Placement has proven to be an issue. There are surprisingly few places on the body that one can reach with both hands as well as see at close range. Most of these places encounter too much everyday friction and impact to be good places for beadwork. I considered my kneecap, for example... until I realized that I wouldn't be able to kneel with it there unless I wanted to run the risk of crushing the beads. Some places are suitable only for limited designs. Originally, I planned to elaborate on the pattern on my ankle, but found that it was simply taking too long. I have a few places in mind for future beading- hip, tops of feet, around my nipples- but at some point I would like to have someone else do the sewing, to get to the places I can't reach. A spattering of raindrops in numerous shades of blue, applied all over my body, is a possibility that appeals to me.

Average duration seems to be about three days for me, though I'm working on lengthening that. It's probable that if I put more attention into cleaning the area afterward and was more careful about bumping it on things, the irritation would be reduced. My second beading experiment was over the bone, on the inside of my right ankle. Each time I walked through a narrow space, I clipped it sharply with the other foot. This shortened its lifespan considerably.

As I learn more through trial and error, I will submit further reports, to be joined by photographs when possible.

(No, not much of this is a very good idea- particularly the cleanliness levels- but you knew that.)


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 17 Jan. 2003
in Ritual

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