Mystical Stitches

Embroidery for Personal Empowerment and Magical Embellishment


By Christi Johnson

Foreword by Alexandra Jacopetti Hart

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Explore personal transformation through the stitching of dreams and intentions. Anything but ordinary, Mystical Stitches combines the beloved and accessible craft of embroidery with a spiritual element, introducing a rich treasury of 200 magical symbols you can use to set an intention and create personal icons to wear or embellish items in the home. Christi Johnson offers unique patterns inspired by botanicals, animals, numbers, the cosmos, earth elements, zodiac signs, and mythical beasts, for novice or well-practiced crafters to combine into talismans with personal meaning. Johnson’s folk art style is vibrant and unintimidating and provides a framework for bringing spiritual elements into physical form.


This book is dedicated to anyone who's ever been told they aren't creative, or that their art isn't good enough.


Foreword by Alexandra Jacopetti Hart

The Discovery of Creative Liberation

1. Intention

The Magic in the Creative Act

The Power of Symbols

What Is a Talisman?

The Science of Slowness

Transformative Qualities of the Creative Process

Tools for Accessing Creativity

2. Materials




Setting Up Your Hoop

Marking Tools

Transfer Paper

Tracing Methods

Getting Started with Thread

3. Stitch Methods

Anatomy of a Stitch Illustration

Traditional vs. Quick Methods of Stitching

Beginning Your Stitches

4. Treasury of Symbols

5. Creating Your Talisman

Color Harmony

The Color Globe

Choosing Colors

Mystical Color

Exploring Composition

Transcendent Talisman

Enliven Your Closet

6. The Art of Ritual

Setting Your Intention

Building an Altar

Preparing for Ritual

Charging Your Talisman

Closing Your Space

Developing Your Creative Ritual

Ritual in a Bag

Be Kind to Your Body

7. Stitch Key




Explore Your Creativity with More Books from Storey

Share Your Experience!


When I was writing Native Funk & Flash, I was delighted to find people working with scissors, needle, and thread who had immense flair and virtually no prior skill with embroidery. One woman, for example, had only a vision and desire for a cloak with red velvet along the bottom edging. She took a worn and torn old thing, stitched multicolored patches onto it with long running stitches, added red velvet on the back, and we photographed it. People loved it! You have permission—with only yourself to please.

Mystical Stitches is the perfect companion to get you on your way and pull you out of any snag in your imagination. This book will be a best friend in your early days while you try out new stitches, discovering which ones provide a rhythm you most enjoy and a look that pleases you. And later, it will help you discover stitches for special effects or give your creativity a boost when you want a new idea to bloom.

Christi Johnson is an all-out stitchery witch. She undercuts your fears of not being good enough and breaks through the limiting beliefs that you are not creative or not an artist. The truth is, by the time you are old enough to pick up a needle you've already put some creative juices into simply living. All you need to get started with embroidery is a threaded needle in your hand. Once you stick that needle into fabric, the magic can begin. Stitch by stitch you'll start creating, and you'll soon discover a magical path. There are so many wonderful ways to manipulate those threads through twists and turns of the needle, and Christi's guidance makes the journey interesting, fun, and productive.

Christi also understands the spiritual value of slowing down and focusing. As a kind of meditation and practice, embroidery has calmed me through some pretty rough patches. The rhythmic, watchful, and even pace, studded with little snags to be successfully handled, offers me a sense of competence, relaxation, and productivity all at once. I have an embroidery-inspired mantra, "Accepting What Is," on my refrigerator as a recipe for happiness!

I am delighted to recommend Christi's work and words to you for your own exploration of self through art, especially the art of the hands, one careful stitch after another.

Alexandra Jacopetti Hart

author of Native Funk & Flash

The Discovery of Creative Liberation

I love the vibrant freedom of the stitches in books from the 1960s and '70s. The style is unintimidating and joyful.

When I was a child, the public library held the keys to my personal freedom. Before we'd even make it home, I was eagerly flipping through page after flimsy page of black-and-white instructions, past photos laying out precise techniques and displaying slightly antiquated tools and materials organized in a most aesthetically pleasing fashion.

Then came the holy grail:

The feeling of thick, glossy pages sparking the realization of everything I'd been waiting for. Full-color plates practically popping out of the spine, rich with images of undulating forms created in vibrant fibers. Maybe the projects were wearable or usable, maybe they were just works of art to be admired for their beauty. These plates lit up my childhood, and I checked out piles of the oldest craft books I could find in the library to bring home and pore over every detail.

There were certainly plenty of full-color books in the craft section of the library by the time I was old enough to read, but their pages didn't express the same feeling of freedom and liberation I found in books written in the 1960s and '70s. Contemporary craft books seemed to bring with them the presumption that you weren't capable of creating your own designs. They spelled out each project step-by-step with the exact colors and supplies you needed to re-create the designs pictured. These books stifled my creativity and seemed to further emphasize my lack of skills. The wild styles of books written a few decades earlier gave me something to dream toward; they seemed to recognize my wish to be free from structure while still supporting me through learning a new skill or technique.

I never lost that desire for ultimate liberation, and from these humble craft books of a past era emerged an evolving association between the freedom found in an artistic practice and the freedom found in a spiritual practice.

Further Liberation through Meditation

My interest in meditation began as a desperate need to find grounding amid the stress of working in the rapidly paced fashion industry. I quickly recognized how effective this practice was at helping me find acceptance with all that is in every arena of my life. As meditative contemplation permeated all of my experiences, it began to make its way into my artwork. Art making is a lifelong practice I've also found to be a highly effective means of calming the body and focusing the mind.

My creations evolved from attempts at literal representations of the world around me to a translation of concepts and images gathered during periods of quiet introspection. The symbols dancing behind closed eyelids became the new subject of my work, combined with an interest in recycling and reusing discarded fabrics when possible. The exploration of available materials, and attempts to expand the possibilities of technique, continues to drive my practice as I search not for perfection but for a feeling of personal freedom.

This book presents a path for your own creative liberation through the study of embroidery. More than simply a series of projects to complete, it is a way of thinking about your own artistic process as a magical ritual—and explores how this perspective can inform your approach to the rest of your life. I offer projects, patterns, and colors as creative inspiration; feel free to use these as jumping-off points to spread your wings and explore what works for you.

You're invited to embrace everything from beauty to sadness, express through fibers the grace found in accepting what is, and explore future possibilities of personal transformation through the stitching of dreams and intentions.


To view the world from a mystical perspective is to hold all things in reverence, honoring the divine essence in all forms of life. The emergence of an idea out of nowhere, the manifestation of inner visions into the outer world, the impact of viewing a work of art—these elements of the creative process that science cannot explain possess a truly mystical quality. Every day, we are confronted with the choice of conforming to the ways of society or courageously creating a life for ourselves. The more we become familiar with our ability to manifest change in the physical world through creative activities, the more empowered we are to manifest change in our lives.

The Magic in the Creative Act

Our culture tends to consider the creative act as a means to an end, the end being "good" art. Many of our early creative expressions are wounded by well-intentioned teachers, parents, or friends who have a negative, judgmental, or uninterested reaction to our artwork. When I began leading embroidery workshops, I realized that many of us hold this creative wound and will recoil at the sight of a paintbrush or chalk pastel, but embroidery tends to be free of these judgmental associations, making it an ideal avenue for exploration.

The creative freedom accessed through embroidery allows an opportunity to express ourselves free from the perceived need to make "good" art. And it helps us access this creativity in other areas of our life that may have grown stagnant or committed to the "rational" course or the way things "should" be. Creativity is at its core irrational in its act of bringing into being what did not already exist.

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. 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 Power of Symbols

Long before written language, our species learned to communicate through symbols. 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. 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.

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.

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.

What Is a Talisman?

An object is considered to be transformed into an enchanted talisman when we call upon natural energies to charge it with our desired intention. The powers of the natural world, our own personal power, and cosmic powers—this meeting of energies in concentration—bring forth possibilities of transformation and evolution from deep within the self.

A talisman serves as a physical representation of the changes we wish to call into our lives. Its visual elements are in harmony with our desired transformation. The word talisman comes from the ancient Greek word telesma, meaning "to complete or perform a rite." In Chapter 6, you will learn how to create your own ritual, or rite, to charge your talisman with the powers you desire to bring into your life.

This process does not omit the need for the deep work of unearthing your underlying patterns and habits, but it can assist with the integration and acceptance of these less desirable elements of self. It is wonderful to have intentions, but it's just as important to do the work of releasing yourself from your own unconscious patterns. Having a reminder of these intentions in the form of handcrafted art allows you to not only connect to your desire for evolution in the creation of your talisman but also have a frequent visual reminder in your day-to-day experience.

Creating a talisman through embroidery isn't just about making something that looks nice. The physical act of embroidering brings a thread from below to above and back again, traveling across realms in a meditative, repetitive act. This integration of above and below mirrors the way symbols bring messages from the conscious above world to the subconscious, underworld realms below.

The Science of Slowness

Embroidery is in its essence a slow process. Stitching cannot be rushed, designs are built in a gradual manner, and great joy can be found in this gentle evolution. This makes it the perfect craft for contemplation on how our lives can benefit from a slow buildup of design.

Until recent history, the slow growth reflected in the natural world and in the required crafts of daily living was all there was. Our bodies and minds evolved thanks to, and in support of, slow growth. Today, we live in a culture that not only makes it possible to force growth but often expects it. While we don't have to eschew technological or human progress, we must weave the appreciation for slow growth back into the tapestry of our lives if we hope to move toward a more harmonious relationship with the natural environment that surrounds us.

The meditative process of embroidering can help bring the mind into a restful state of brain activity.

Embroidery offers an opportunity to return to the natural order. Stitching by hand slows down the body and, over time, slows down the mind. It brings us out of the expedited expectations of the beta brain wave state (characteristic of a strongly engaged active mind) and into the calmer, more restful alpha brain wave state. While the beta state of heightened awareness is great for navigating heavy traffic or managing a daily schedule, it can also bring feelings of restlessness and unnecessary stress if we don't engage in activities to transition out of this state. Learning to move the brain into states of slower frequencies can make getting to sleep (delta state) much easier and deeper, which supports our ability to recover from stress in the long run.

There is mind-altering magic available through engaging in your own creative pursuits. Bringing yourself into the alpha state—a more relaxed state that enhances learning and intuition—helps you access the subconscious mind, which is where your beliefs in your own reality and abilities lie. This means that engaging in calming activities such as drawing, meditation, and handcrafting can not only calm the mind and bring your body to a state of balance but also help you confront and reprogram deep-seated beliefs so you can visualize new realities for yourself.

There is one prerequisite to using creative practices to access these lower brain wave states: Keep your expectations at bay. One of the most important lessons I teach in my workshops is that, contrary to what we have been taught, the lower your expectations are about the outcome of a creative practice, the more fulfilling and rewarding the practice of making art can be.

A Note on Divinity

Throughout these pages you'll notice references to the energies of the cosmos, the universe, and divine forces. I'm not here to tell you whether there is or isn't a god; I have no religious motives, and I believe each individual should choose whatever works for them. That said, I do believe there is an underlying force in the universe that keeps the planets moving in orbit, keeps the flowers emerging from the ground each spring, and allows us to experience transcendent wonders such as dreams, love, death, and rainbows. You can call this God, the universe, gravity, or quantum physics—whatever you want to believe in. I'll call this underlying energy "divine" or "cosmic" for the sake of clarity and consistency. Feel free to translate this to reflect your own beliefs.

Transformative Qualities of the Creative Process

Creativity is a conversation and collaboration between a variety of sources—our personal intention, our current capabilities, and the divine essence of the materials we work with. By opening ourselves up to creative expansion, we can discover the path that brings us home to ourselves.

Putting too much emphasis on technique can leave us feeling inadequate, unskilled, or like we'll never be good enough. Let's shift our attention to meaning, to intention, and to the stories within us that we can express despite (or even in support of) our limited abilities. This is not a book that requires perfect stitching; in fact, you may notice that my stitches are frequently imperfect. These areas that might be considered sloppy by traditional needlework standards are the elements that remind me of the humanity and intention brought to these stitches.

Many years ago, an art teacher of mine told me, "The camera has already been invented." What she hinted to my young and tender ears was: It is not your job to replicate reality, it is your job to bring your own visions into reality. This was perhaps one of the most influential teachings of my entire life. While I did go on to learn exactly how to describe three-dimensional forms in paint and pencil, casting shadows and creating perspective, I found myself as an adult artist trying to unlearn all that formalism in order to access the reality in the depths of my psyche that wanted to be shown to the world—imperfections required.

Keep in mind as you work with this book that there is no one way to stitch. There is no one meaning behind a symbol. There is no one arrangement of symbols that works best. There is no best, there are only multitudes.

Tools for Accessing Creativity

The best tool for a new creative practice is a new mind-set, especially if you've been trained to experience life primarily through rational and literal methods. Research suggests that with regular practice, meditation and other forms of relaxation can improve our reactions to stress by reprogramming the brain's response, allowing us to approach stressful situations with a clearer and more focused mind.

On the following pages I describe a few practices I've found helpful to stimulate and enhance the creative process while releasing stress, anxiety, and attachment to expectations. They can change your vibrations, open you up to new possibilities, and require only your time, focus, and trust in your own ability to transform.

Vibrant Visualizations

Have you ever found yourself drifting so far into your imagination that you could swear you physically left the room you're sitting in? Maybe you were frequently reprimanded for daydreaming in school or at work? If this sounds like you, then you're in for a treat!


  • "What a gift for the world to have Christi Johnson’s work in printed form. In this book we have the honor of joining Johnson’s journey through embroidery, but we are also invited to go so much deeper than just stitching. Johnson leads us through beloved symbols and incredible imagery—like moon phases, zodiac signs, mythical beasts, and medicinal plants—and also offers suggestions for ways to live, connect, and heal. Christi makes magic with words and images—her intentions, inspirations, and intuition shine so brightly through every page of this stunning book.” — Katrina Rodabaugh, artist and author of Make Thrift Mend and Mending Matters  

    “This book is so generous in the way it perfectly balances supportive, clear instructional content and technical information with permission, guidance, and encouragement to experience creativity and process free from perfectionism or external constraints and expectations. The links between magic and creativity and spirituality are so deep and beautifully expressed.” — Sarah K. Benning, author of Embroidered Life 

    "Completely fascinating and breathtakingly beautiful! Like Johnson’s embroidery itself, Mystical Stitches channels the power of sacred imagery to seamlessly weave magical symbols into a multidimensional creative outpouring." — Erica Feldmann of Hauswitch 

    "Christi Johnson’s Mystical Stitches encourages spiritual forms of artistic expression. Part arts and crafts book, part meditative spiritual guide, it reveals the power of symbols, showing how to create them through fiber arts... Throughout, the book invites deep self-expression that embodies, through tangible visual symbols, the power of the spiritual imagination." — Foreword Reviews

    The whole volume centers embroidery within spiritual practice, and if you're already drawn to the mystical, you'll likely reach for the floss soon after exploring these alluring pages." — BookPage

On Sale
Jun 22, 2021
Page Count
208 pages

Christi Johnson

Christi Johnson

About the Author

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. 

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