A powerful call for unity—Mystical Stitches author and artist, Christi Johnson, offers perspective on Dr. Jill Biden’s embroidered coat worn during the 2021 presidential inauguration activities.

The fabrics we wrap ourselves in daily are a potent form of visual expression and a reflection of ourselves out to the world. Clothing is symbolic. Clothing is a language with which we speak to those around us and through which we’re able to quickly read the expressions of others.

Christi Johnson

The author, Christi Johnson, in her own hand-stitched silky serpent top photo © Brad Ogbonna excerpted from Mystical Stitches

Dr. Jill Biden’s choice of attire for the 2021 Presidential Inauguration is an incredible example of clothing as symbolism, to be read deeper than simply its fibers and its fit. The laborious hand-stitching of flowers (on a wool coat designed by Gabriela Hearst) from every state and territory that makes up the United States turns this coat into a call for unity, a request to bring us all together through a symbol of growth and potential.

 

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Until relatively recently, many pieces of clothing worn in ceremonies like this would be heavily infused with symbolism. In many cultures, thousands of hours of stitching would be performed to embellish garments as an expression to all those who would see. Through the industrialization and mass manufacturing of clothing, we lost some of our connection with an art form that, for most all of our ancestors, consumed a significant portion of our working hours.

This Gabriela Hearst coat brings stitched meanings and intentions back into one of the greatest ceremonies of our collective experience in the United States, during a time when we need it most. Here, I’ll break down the elements of what makes this coat such a powerful symbol of unity.

Let’s first take a look at the choice of flowers… The flower exists not just for its good looks. The flower is a beacon that draws in pollinators to fertilize the plant and bring forth a multitude of seeds to be sowed for the future.

These flowers embroidered on the coat Dr. Jill Biden wore during part of the inauguration ceremony represented more than just the beauty of union within diversity. This coat served to represent sowing seeds for our country’s future, with the intention of bringing together our strengths to move into the future vibrantly alive, with a flourishing future of growth.

Just like a field of wildflowers sparks delight in a way that a carefully curated flower farm could never quite capture, the vision of all of our state symbols stitched alongside one another allows us to remember the beauty our differences can bring to the world.

The selection of fabric and color also speaks volumes… Through this choice of snow-white wool fabric, Dr. Biden expresses a sort of blank slate, similar to the one that spring bursts forth from in colder climates. Up here in New York State, the daffodils pushing their way up through the last of the snow become a symbol of hope, a symbol of transformation and movement towards longer days and greener fields that will soon begin to feed us the fresh greens we’ve been craving since the first frost of last autumn. White serves as a symbol of purity and new beginnings from which to spring forth.

This coat becomes more than just a beautiful piece, it serves to symbolize President Biden’s intentions for our country. Our lives (and our country’s stories) go through seasons just like the cycle of the year. There’s no doubt that for many of us, this past year has had a cold and dark mood; a winter of a year with a swiftly spreading virus that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions of lives globally (while significantly reducing our ability to join together in community) alongside calls for racial justice in our legal systems that are long overdue.

These flowers pushing up through the soft snow-white; a new day, a new dawn faced together, with all of our seeds and dreams for the future stitched collectively in union.

The symbolism doesn’t stop at images and colors… Dr. Biden chose a designer, Gabriela Hearst, who is deeply concerned with her environmental impact (her retail shops are built with mostly or all recycled materials, and her manufacturing and shipping practices are plastic-free), and the garment was created with previously existing—not newly manufactured—fabrics. These choices are a commentary on President Biden’s focus on moving towards more carbon-neutral energy sources as we face a deepening climate crisis.

When we look further into the creation of this coat, the symbolism continues to expand. Biden’s choice of a coat that was made in the garment district in NYC honors working Americans and supports an industry that has, in large part, been outsourced to other countries to the point of near obliteration of the textile industry in the U.S.

The fact that the coat was designed by an immigrant continues to remind us where the Bidens stand on conversations like immigration. As the facts stand, aside from Native People of this land, We Are All Immigrants, or descendants of immigrants.

The choices we make in our clothing can extend beyond visuals—by choosing locally manufactured options made of sustainable or recycled materials, we can support our visions for the future as well. So the next time you get dressed for an important event (or, you know, an important Zoom meeting), consider how you can express your intentions and your desires through the clothing you choose.

In closing, I will leave you with President Biden’s own words:

We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal.

We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts, if we show a little tolerance and humility, if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes just for a moment.

Because here is the thing about life: There is no accounting for what fate will deal you.

There are some days when we need a hand.

There are other days when we’re called on to lend one.

That is how we must be with one another.

And, if we are this way, our country will be stronger, more prosperous, more ready for the future.

My fellow Americans, in the work ahead of us, we will need each other.

We will need all our strength to persevere through this dark winter.

We are entering what may well be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus.

We must set aside the politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation.”

— President Biden’s January 2021 Inauguration Speech

Christi Johnson

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… See Bio

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Mystical Stitches

by Christi Johnson and Alexandra Jacopetti Hart

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