Needle in the Hey Ya’ll!

Hey Ya’ll!

Marléna here once again, to update you on the shenanigans going down over here at Speakeasy Tattoo, Los Angeles! This past week was the first week of summer, which means the days are back to getting shorter. It feels like summer at the shop, the flowers in the garden are really happy and the war against mosquitos is ON. We are planning some fun summer events at the shop, which is neat because it means the artists and apprentices will all be teaming up to give the shop some TLC in preparation! I’m setting out my painting pants and packing a tub of spackle as we speak! 😉

This week I learned how to set up Scott’s tattoo machines with needles! Up until now I hadn’t been handling needles, so it’s cool to dive deeper into the materiality of tattooing. With that being said, I would like to use this blog post as an opportunity to learn a little bit more about the production of tattoo needles has progressed over time. Here’s what I learned!

In 1775, a reward of 50e was offered for the first 25 dozen “American made” tattoo needles of comparable quality to the British needles tattooers imported at the time. While American tattooers advertised their use of high quality British needles, British tattooers generally claimed to import needles of the highest quality from Japan. Ultimately this seems likely, seeing as Japan has a much longer tattoo history than the UK or U.S. Before tattoo needles came to be mass produced, it was the tattoo artist who made their own needles by configuring the desired grouping and solder the needles grouping onto the needle bar. Until the invention of soldering irons, tattooers used Bunsen burners to melt the solder onto the needles and needle bar. The process of needle making was traditionally passed on during apprenticeship (sure it might be cool to know how to make needles but we all know who would be left soldering Scott’s needles ha ha). Here is a picture of an old needle soldering rig, cool right?!

While it is still entirely possible to make your own needles, and many artists still do, by and large needle making is becoming a lost skill set in the craft of tattooing. Because tattoo needles are not simply singular needles, the ability to make your own needles is akin to a painter being able to make their own brush. Tattoo needles are comprised of varying numbers of needles, arranged in varying shapes, densities, lengths, tapers, and textures. Being able to make your own needles would give you even more specificity with your tool than pre-made needles. However if you were to make your own needles, you would also need to sterilize and package your needles, which would be even more labor intensive. It is interesting to think about the materials of a craft change over time, as well as the way the user interacts with the materials, in this case tattoo needles. I don’t think I’ll be making any needles any time soon, but I will be focusing on learning about the different types of needles and how to ensure good needle quality before tattooing.

That’s it for this week!

Until next time,

-M.M

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