Virginia Johnson: Canadian Contemporary Design by Carol-ann Casselman PDF  | Print |  E-mail

Virginia Johnson


Virginia Johnson Presents Canadian Contemporary Design

PROCESS: Idea to Print

Virginia Johnson is a Canadian textile/clothing designer and illustrator. She studied at Parsons School of Design before designing shoes and bags for Helmut Lang and has illustrated 3 books for kate spade: Occasions, Style and Manners. Her own signature line launched in 2002 is available in 100 stores worldwide including Barneys New York, kate spade and Ron Herman. The beginning of Virginia’s signature line included a tunic body then expanded into different shapes, including sundresses, blouses, bikinis and accessories including scarves, bags and home accessories.


plates design

colour test for " Plates" design in blue


Virginia’s designs represent a combination of contemporary design and colour and offer a relaxed way of wearing clothes that are cool and comfortable in our steamy summers. My first impression looking at one of her designs called Cocoon, with loopy red circles, was of Inuit prints and drawings. I reflected on the crayon/marker drawings and designs of Inuit Artists’.  Her excellent video/slide show on her website, www.virginiajohnson.com confirmed my thoughts. Birds and animals have always been part of her image bank. Virginia’s knowledge and practice of painting, drawing and mark making informs all of her work. Designs for her signature line continue a tradition of inspiration from nature, travels and Canadian Inuit Art.

plate desing in copper
Plates (in copper colour  100% merino gauze wool shawl from Kashmir, India, 44 x 82 


The first ideas are created using watercolour paints on paper.

The final design is sent to the printer on paper or digital file with colour swatches to Cutler Printing. Aluminum frames are made by Viking engine Tool & Dye Co, both in Toronto. Images are painted onto acetate then exposed on a light table. The design is transferred onto the stretched silk & fastened onto the frame with liquid staple glue. The positive parts of the design are washed away by water and allow the ink to print the image onto the fabric. Separate screens are used for each colour.

Fabrics made of cotton, hemp, canvas or jersey, are fed onto the belt for printing with hand mixed water based inks in one or two colours. The fabric is then put into a drying machine for curing of the ink. It is then delivered to Virginia for cutting and sewing.

design samples
Patter Samples: top row Jungle flower in lilac, Racing, in grey, Leaf in blue, bottom Forest in yellow, pink Berry in pink, Fern in green
tunic dress

poetica tunic poppy 100% organic cotton voile

 The final samples and fabric go to the factory for cutting and sewing of finished garments for sale. Shawls are printed and finished off shore.screen


Virgina Johnson on working with printers:

"We use Cutler Textile Printing on Geary Ave , near Dovercourt and Davenport .  They have been around for ages and are a family-run business.  The main person-in-charge is Vince and his wife Frances runs the office. I have also used Artistic Textiles recently as I’ve been experimenting a bit with digital printing, but we’ve used Cutler for years and the bulk of our production is screen printed."











                                                           Virginia’s Geese in Flight Textile Roll 2006 was in Beaver Tales: Canadian Art and Design a seminal exhibition at University of Toronto Art Centre, September 16 – December 6, 2008. Co-Curator Rachel Gotlieb wrote in the Beaver Tales catalogue – “Virginia Johnson employs the familiar composition of Geese in Flight but, in contrast to past artists, gives it a contemporary makeover by simplifying the design and reducing the number of colourways. These works show that designers continue to explore Canadian motifs to unite both commerce and culture”.



COMMUNITY Virginia teamed up with World Literacy of Canada, a non-profit organization that promotes international development and social justice. For a year all proceeds from sales of her Camel image scarves raised money to facilitate education of women and children in Varanasi, India. She is currently planning another project with this group.

INNOVATION In the summer of 2008 Virginia contracted Sharon Epstein for a workshop to expand her knowledge of the print process. With Sharon’s unique leadership skills Virginia developed new textured looking designs with earthy qualities and expanded ideas for hand-painted dying techniques that lead to digital printed designs.

 Winter 2008

Virginia introduced puffy jackets and vests with two versions of prints. Coats made of wool using the same prints produced a different impression.

dandy lion dressResort 2008

The graphic arts inspired line came from a drawing of a warrior made by her brother when he was six. A traditional dress from Uzbekistan evolved a design with square and rectangular appliqués which reminded her of breast plates and body armour. Fabrics used saturated colours and a hidden pocket in the front panel seemed perfect for collecting things.


Virginia’s current designs embrace the resort and summer line.

She is focusing on the tunic as a basic with shawls in different weights of fabrics. The shawls have been a financial success and true to her first love as a painter this 2 dimensional format expresses her painterly style.


GREEN DANDELION dress 2008  

tunic and scarf
Tunic  with shawls
storefront on Ossington Ave taken by jl

Virginia Johnson Ltd. store is located at 132 Ossington Avenue, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

 Photographs where provided directly by Virginia Johnson or through her website and used with permission unless other wise identified. 

Carol-ann Casselman is an artist and designer/maker in glass, ceramics, concrete, plaster and embroidery. She is an enthusiastic supporter of the visual arts community leading self-promotion seminars focusing on portfolio presentation, and individual creative career development consultations.

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