A Love Letter to Patchwork Tattoos — Your Magazine (2024)

A panther, two diving women, a holly branch—all these and more are inked onto the skin of TikTok influencer Bryanna Gillespie (@notmymango). Though her feed focuses on lifestyle and mental health content, she’s gotten a lot of attention for the tattoos that are scattered across her arms. The placement of each tattoo creates a sort of sleeve—not one, continuous piece of art that wraps around the arm, but rather a multitude of individual works that fill up blank space. This style of tattoos has been commonly referred to as “patchwork tattoos.”

Patchwork tattoo sleeves are made up of separate, smaller tattoos that are spaced out across the arm or body. The tattoos are generally added over time, allowing the sleeve to grow and continue to fill out more space. This is quite different from the careful planning and speedy completion of a traditional sleeve made of one art piece or pieces that blend into each other.

In an article for Bustle, tattoo artist Gianna Caranfa says “patchwork ink involves finding an image you like, then placing it where it fits, rather than make a cohesive tattoo that fills all the areas.” The tattoos are often thinner and done with linework, giving a lighter and more breathable look, as opposed to the traditional sleeve’s heavily shaded and colored designs. They’re different from getting a few random tattoos in the same area of the body, as they're placed intuitively to fill in the “blank” spots on the skin.

Many celebrities and influencers adhere to this style of patchwork tattoos. Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande both have unique ink peppering their arms and body. Cyrus, in particular, committed to the disjointed feel of the patchwork style, with tattoos of the moon, quotes, flowers, dogs, and a smiley face all on the same arm. The style has been trending on apps like TikTok and Pinterest, too. A quick search will reveal hundreds of unique combinations of designs tastefully placed on arms, legs, and even chests. The increase in popularity over the past years can be attributed to younger generations’ eclectic and maximalist style that celebrates individuality.

A Love Letter to Patchwork Tattoos — Your Magazine (1)

Despite their increasing popularity, the patchwork tattoo style is subject to a lot of criticism. The fragmentary, erratic placement of the tattoos leads to mixed reactions. A quick scroll through a Twitter thread about the style gave way to dozens of replies expressing their distaste. Some likened the style to the scribblings of a child or the underside of a vandalized school desk. But it’s exactly the messy, sometimes-unfinished look that makes patchwork sleeves so distinctively personal.

Jeanie Thompson ‘24 has multiple, unique tattoos dotting her arms. On her right arm, she sports a teddy bear, a cow print cowboy hat, and a copyright symbol with her birth year. Her left arm showcases even more small pieces. “I have a mix of stick-and-pokes done by various artists,” Thompson says. “I also have some machine works on here.”

Patchwork tattoos are unique in their capturing of what one found important and beautiful at a certain point in their life. They transform the body into a living, breathing scrapbook. Memories are inked onto skin without the artistic constraint of other sleeve styles. Like a collage, patchwork sleeves are made of multiple, oftentimes conflicting, elements that come together in the end.

The tattoos making up the patchwork sleeve don’t necessarily have to be “meaningful” either, though one can absolutely spend time meticulously imagining, choosing, and planning their patchwork tattoos. The style offers the freedom of getting inked casually. Some of Thompson’s pieces, like the cowboy hat, she dubs more impulsive, just-for-fun works. However, she also has an image of two people making a heart with their hands, which resonates at a deeper level because of its connection to her queer sexuality and capacity for love. “All of my tattoos are just kind of little capsules,” Thompson says, “either of my identity at some point in my life or what I feel like encompasses myself as a whole.” The pieces are how Thompson communicates her personality to those around. From the impulsive tattoos of teenage years to the thoughtful tributes to intimate topics, they all nestle in together to tell a story. They’re mosaics of the connections we’ve felt as little pieces of art that paint a larger picture when put together.

Georgia Howe

A Love Letter to Patchwork Tattoos — Your Magazine (2024)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Maia Crooks Jr

Last Updated:

Views: 6191

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (43 voted)

Reviews: 82% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Maia Crooks Jr

Birthday: 1997-09-21

Address: 93119 Joseph Street, Peggyfurt, NC 11582

Phone: +2983088926881

Job: Principal Design Liaison

Hobby: Web surfing, Skiing, role-playing games, Sketching, Polo, Sewing, Genealogy

Introduction: My name is Maia Crooks Jr, I am a homely, joyous, shiny, successful, hilarious, thoughtful, joyous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.