Living the Wellmade Life

Christi Johnson

Embroiderer and Applique Master

It's difficult to sum up what Christi Johnson does in a few words. Working with only natural materials and natural dyes, Johnson transforms discarded pieces of clothing into beautiful works of wearable art. She describes her process as “a quest for harmony” in the process of sifting through “a dance of colors, patterns and texture.” The results speak for themselves.
  • WMJ
  • When you were a kid, what did you want to do when you grew up?
  • CJ
  • I've been making clothes for as long as I can remember, starting with glue and fabric scraps and then learning to sew more permanent forms.
  • When did you discover the passion for what you do now?
  • While working in the fashion industry, I found the lack of actual time spent making things to be mindnumbingly uninspiring. I never felt comfortable with not knowing exactly where the garments were being sewn or how the materials had been processed. Eventually that became the basis for my line, I wanted to be in control of the entire process.
I knew there was an easier way to make clothes than having to fill out excel spreadsheets and send them to another country.
  • WMJ
  • What is the oddest job you had to take along the way to get by?
  • CJ
  • Selling dog clothes at a store on Palm Beach Island during summers back home... It paid well, but in the middle of a recession it was kind of disgusting to watch.  And the dogs were always looking at me like, "please... help.... ha!"
  • What and who are some of the biggest inspirations on your aesthetic?
  • Hilma Af Klimt, Emma Kuntz, and Paul Klee. The deterioration of natural things, the parallels of ancient symbols across the globe, and the way the dyes naturally interact with fabrics.
  • Who and what have you come across lately that has been inspiring your work?
  • There are a lot of designers re-thinking the traditional fashion cycle, from eschewing a showroom or seasonal deliveries to working directly with stores to develop collections with a specific customer in mind. I think these innovative ways of approaching clothing design are integral in the evolution of an industry. Instead of just throwing 50 pieces out in the world four times a year because that's what you're "supposed" to do, these designers view creating garments as a part of the customers life, not just a trend to hit upon (and they all manufacture in the US! woo hoo!)

    Hack with Designs - www.hackwithdesignhouse.com
    Study NY - www.study-ny.com
    State - www.statethelabel.com
In celebration and appreciation of these techniques passed down to us by our ancestors, many hours or days (and in some cases weeks or months!) have been spent on each garment, some being one of a kind. Variances in appearance and evidence of being created by hand can be expected and celebrated!
  • Whats a piece of advice you would give to the younger version of yourself ?
  • Just chill. There's no rush. Oh, and you can't make everything, just pick a couple things and make them incredible instead of spreading yourself thin across too many projects.
  • WMJ
  • What song makes you dance in your apartment like no one’s looking ?
  • CJ
  • I always dance like no one is looking!! Music and dance are as essential to my work environment as a sewing machine and dye pots. But currently...
    "I'd Rather Be With You" - Bootsy Collins
    "Atomic Bomb" - William Onyeabor
    "Dress" - Sylvan Esso
  • What are a few things in your line of work that would really make an impact on the planet, if people started implementing them today?
  • The toxic chemicals at dye houses being dumped into water sources!! I understand not everyone can use natural dyes, but there's ways of recycling these toxic waters, although it costs a few more bucks. The images of bright orange rivers in China, in addition to my own experience of blowing my nose after dyeing yardage of fabric with synthetic dyes, and finding that those powdered dyes are going right into my respiratory system were enough to make me switch to natural dyes.
The pieces are hand-made in small batches, with a focus on keeping things locally manufactured, ethically sourced, and in tune with nature and its cycles. The garments are sewn in New York and most are dyed with natural dyes.
  • WMJ
  • What are some day to day tips you have for things that everyday people could do and would benefit the plant, that perhaps they didn't think about?
  • CJ
  • Think about where you shop. Even if it's just a $5 purchase, who is this money going to? What does this company tend to do with their money? I know this takes a little extra time and money out of our already precious days and wallets but... just because it's $1 cheaper at a mass retailer than it is at the local grocer or hardware store or pharmacy, doesn't make it a smarter purchase. Wouldn't you rather keep that money in your community than support a company that makes decisions entirely based on their shareholders interest? Shareholders who will use those funds to donate to political campaigns that further their own economic interests (which generally go against the economic interests of our environment and most of our citizens).

    On that same tip, I urge people to stop buying cheap clothing that satisfies an immediate urge for retail therapy, but has a longer lasting impact on our society. They are regularly made in non-compliant factories (read: factories that have not been approved for having humane working conditions) by manufacturers who choose profits over, well, everything, and are almost guaranteed to fall apart.
  • What are you working on these days? Anything else you want to promote, share, write about in our blog ?
  • I just finished up the artist in residence program at Textile Arts Center, which inspired me to work outside the realm of clothing and pick up quilting, so there will be more of that on the way. Also setting up for the release of the latest collection for my brand Mixed Color, and the next few months I'll be incorporating more vintage revival pieces, because I love offering one of a kind works made out of beautifully aged garments.
In habitat - a meditation on the everyday ceremony, an enveloping space where the divine can be considered, and our daily events may be seen as devotional experiences.
Check out her adventures at www.instagram.com/mixed_color_/

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