Embroidery and the Power of Symbols

The ancient language of symbols offers a tool for deepening creative expression and connection.

As children, we learn to identify images before we can speak. And when we reach for knowledge beyond our own culture, symbols allow us to transcend the limitations of language. Imagery as the basis of communication applies to our internal workings as well.

PORTAL TO THE UNKNOWN: Above a glistening sea, a doorway emerges flanked by rich olive-green grasses and the ever-changing cycles of the moon. We know not what the star in the opening promises, but we’re beckoned to find out. This talisman encourages personal expansion through taking a step into the unknown.

The field of depth psychology posits that our brains work from two distinct areas: the rational, intellectual method of the conscious mind, and the less understood subconscious mind, which seems to run on instinctual and intuitive processes.

Our conscious mind may choose language as its primary voice, but, as is evident in the wild imaginal realm of our dreams, our subconscious mind prefers to speak in symbols, of both personal and universal associations.

Both the creative act and the desire to connect with higher powers hold within them the possibility for personal transformation. When we create mystical stitches, the line between our own creative essence and the greater creative essence of divine powers is blurred as we consider ways to connect these two experiences.

LOVE FLOWS FREELY: A golden chalice rises from a blooming lotus. The waters of our emotional realm flow from the chalice without blockage, nourishing the earth with the gift of our passion fully expressed. This is a talisman for assistance in relaxing enough to fully feel your emotions.

By sparking our imagination with symbols that speak to the deepest parts of ourselves, we begin to stitch together a new world in which to exist.

The creative process is not simply about what is being made; it’s an entirely mystical process that teaches us how to move between the internal world of the soul and the physical world outside. All that is illuminated at the crossing of this bridge happens first in making a piece of art and, eventually, through the shaping of existence itself.

By allowing ourselves to engage with our own creative process, we become more and more familiar with bringing our dreams into reality.

The divine meanings expressed through visual forms often travel across time and cultures, as the essential meanings of many symbols share similarities throughout the history of humankind. By witnessing the cycles of our galaxy and our lives on Earth, many ancient civilizations began to notice greater divine patterns taking shape and influencing our existence.

These divine patterns have evolved into studies such as astronomy, astrology, and to some extent biology, though the idea that there’s a greater power acting through these forms was put aside within the past few centuries.

SCARAB OF ABUNDANCE: Two glistening golden coins serve as wings to lift this sun-worshipping winged one toward a bright and prosperous future. The scarab’s hard exterior is emblazoned with climbing vines as a sign of growth and abundance. This is a prosperity talisman created to draw bountiful earthly pleasures.

These greater divine patterns are where correspondences come in. By working with images and forms that correspond to the feeling and emotion we’d like to bring about in our own life, we are acting upon the idea that all things are interrelated in this tapestry of existence. We can speak to our subconscious through the symbols in our immediate world, and get the subconscious aligned with the conscious mind.

Think of it like this: Our conscious mind is the tip of the iceberg, above the water, saying, “Yes, I’d like to go that way!” Meanwhile, the subconscious, the giant chunk of ice below the surface, is the rudder steering the ship. Our subconscious language, the underwater language, is one of archetypes and symbols. By creating talismans—condensations of meaning through images—we can show the subconscious which direction we’d like to go in the language it understands.

Our subconscious is full of archaic associations that have likely been passed down through our ancestors in the same way our physical traits have. This subconscious landscape of symbolic associations—our psyches, emotional tendencies, instincts, and intuitions—may be quite similar to our ancient ancestors’. We can continue to access this part of our brains through working with symbols: images that travel throughout time and space, eternal and omnipresent.

Imagine you’re in a different country where you don’t speak the language. If you try to ask for directions, words will fail you. But if you pull out maps or pictures, you can get your intention across and move on with your travels. This is how talismans work. They send messages inward to our deep internal desires and out to the cosmos, intertwined in a divine pattern.

Accessing the depths of the subconscious through symbols requires a willingness to believe in magic, to believe in the ability to enact change and bring new forms or possibilities into being. Open yourself up to these realms by allowing yourself to believe the unbelievable—even if just for a minute.

THE HEART THAT GROWS: Rosemary rises up from a heart-shaped vessel. As its roots grow deeper, this herb reminds you of where you came from while the shimmering eye keeps a vision toward your biggest dreams. This is a talisman created for connecting to the deepest, most expansive truths of your heart with your desired future.

Mystical Stitches features over 200 magical symbols you can use to set an intention and create hand-embroidered personal icons (like these) to wear or embellish items in the home.

Excerpted and adapted from Mystical Stitches © Christi Johnson. Photography © Brad Ogbonna.

Learn More

Christi Johnson

Christi Johnson

About the

Christi Johnson creates mystical garments that blend elements of botanical dyes with handcrafted stitches. The resulting textile talismans honor the body, its boundaries, its extensions, and its relations to the world and cosmos around us. She works from the belief that through self-expression, we discover our power to transform our worlds. Raised in tropical Florida, Johnson studied Fashion Design at Otis College of Art and Design. She worked in the fashion industry in Los Angeles for nearly a decade, most notably designing “cosmically crafted” limited-edition embroideries for boutique brand Coast-Wide’s denim workwear, and now lives in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. As a teacher, Johnson also offers workshops in natural dyeing and embroidery and has created kits and booklets for students and DIYers. Her garments, booklets, kits, and embroidered artwork have sold at maker studios and boutiques across the nation.

Learn more about this

Related Reads

Featured Titles