Make sure you catch Christi's upcoming class, Self-Devotion: Amulets and Embroidery Magic, on March 26th, 2022!
Textiles are, from very early on, a storytelling device. Text and textile have always been one - we weave worlds through the stringing together of words, the latin word texere is the origin of both text and textile. Countless mythologies, from Greek to Dogon, describe the origin of human existence through textile terminology.
To spin a tale, we must pull a single fiber from the roving of existence—onto this fiber, many other threads are spun to create a yarn, with this yarn we weave line after line of thought into form.
The Power of Cloth
The making of textiles was for so long a symbol of the building of human life; threads, ropes, and fabrics are inventions that have allowed us to evolve in a myriad of ways - we are more mobile when we can strap babies to our backs, the collection of foods in lightweight containers allow us to be more efficient in our harvesting, the warmth provided by cloth that is both insulating and breathable gives us a much wider range of places to live.
Now we find ourselves in the distant future beyond the relevance of fibers, a time where the creation of our basic necessities (food, clothing, and shelter) is no longer reflected in our daily actions of existence. A time where textiles are expected to be cheaply manufactured in industrial settings - and even more cheaply sewn halfway across the world.
Fibers have lost their value, their metaphor has become abstract and their meaning nearly all dried up. Our clothing is sewn so far away from us that we often couldn’t find out who made it if we tried - let alone find out how much (or little) they were paid to do so.
Let's consider—is it possible that forming a re-connection to the fibers that surround us can not only help us to support businesses with concern for their employees well being, but also bring light back to hidden depths of our own internal worlds?
Infusing Cloth with Meaning
While we may not be ready to spin plant fibers, weave them into cloth, and hand-stitch garments from these threads, there are many other ways to infuse the fibers that already exist in our life with meaning and intention. My favorite, without a doubt, is embroidery.
Embroidery evolved as a way to personalize cloth, from its inception becoming a method of storytelling in stitches, or dream writing, or spell casting. When we choose to stitch onto our adornments, we’re given an opportunity to develop a more intimate relationship with the objects that surround us, while preserving traditions in the face of a culture that moves rapidly towards the mechanization and computation of every artform.
Embroidery isn't generally included in the list of "magical practices" but if we look deeper into the history and lore associated with it, we see the mundane view of embroidery as a pastime is a much more recent perspective. The act of stitching, in cultures like the Berber nomadic communities, was connected to life itself—it’s said that men avoided being in the presence of stitching at all costs in order to prevent their lives from getting caught up in the stitches.
So how do we allow stitches to work alongside our intentions? Much like the statues of lions flanking a temple, or the painted flames on the side of the truck, the inclusion of these symbols in our life serve as a representation of our desires, the act of stitching allows for even more time to be spent mentally focusing on these intentions.
The lion statues are placed to represent protection, they may not literally protect, but their essence has been captured in a form that expresses this desire for the place they find residence.
The flames are not actually making the car go any faster, but they represent what the driver wishes to embody, a ride so fast the tires are on fire!
While this is all easily expressed from the point of view of an artist, many of the students I work with holler out “But what if I can’t draw!!” or “But my stitches aren’t perfect!” And this is where I argue…you don’t need to know how to draw, and your stitches definitely do not need to be perfect!
Embracing Imperfection in Your Stitches
The obsession with "doing it right" kills invention, keeps you from exploring the outermost edges of material possibility where PLAY and INNOVATION happen. The sewing machine has already been invented. We've reached perfection in our arts, and it's not all that impressive...it’s so easy to LOVE an out of place stitch, they give our work LIFE and relatability in a cookie cutter world.
As machines and AI get better, the quirks and inconsistencies of our work connect us to our humanity and our imperfections become a source of liberation, not something to fix. Let's bring that fascination into our work by inviting perceived imperfections to be a part of the show.
By stitching a little wrong, we invent our very own style, our personal visual language that sets us apart and allows us to appreciate our differences in other areas of life as well.
As a collector of antique embroideries from around the world, I feel like the fascinating elements are almost always how the artist has pushed a technique to the brink, like they're discovering new lands with the way they twist the needle and curve their threads around.
The beauty of a creative act is the way something is brought into being that did not previously exist in the world - obsessing over perfecting details usually blocks this process. Trying to turn a creative project into another method of seeking approval and diving into self-judgement is a waste of energy—and a contradiction! So allow your stitches to be a new language to explore and express through.
Allow the physical transformation of fabric to reach you on an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual level. You’ll learn to self-soothe in new ways that are kind to your body and mind, as well as making room to grow and transform in the material world through this stitched spell.
May your exploration in the world of stitching your own spells support the growth of your creative energies AND your own personal transformation!
About Christi Johnson
Christi Johnson's (she/her) art combines cosmic visions and botanical beauties. She teaches embroidery and textile arts for the visionary who wants to transform their dreams into textural designs on fabric through the art of embroidery. She's the author of Mystical Stitches, a book about creating symbolic embroideries for personal empowerment and magical embellishment. In 2015, Johnson founded Mixed Color, a textile studio in the Catskill Mountains of Upstate New York, which produces original garments and creates embroidered pieces on vintage garments. To not only educate others on these ancient skills, but also share the methods of her own creative practice, she offers workshops and classes on working with embroidery as a personal magic ritual, and has been teaching textile arts since 2013.