Tuesday, February 4, 2020


Algodón, or cotton, is going to be my best friend for the Josefina outfits I plan to make!  It was a popular fiber in the early 19th century and available in a dizzying array of prints--like these that I posted on Instagram from a sample book circa 1825.

Aren't they incredible?  I knew right away when I started this journey that I wanted to use reproduction prints.  By and large the original historical AG outfits are pretty decent in terms of historical accuracy, but the Christmas outfit in this collection in particular just didn't quite mesh with what I know of period prints.  In addition, I just don't have the graphics or artistic skills to design my own custom print for Spoonflower, so repro was definitely the right path for me!

I like to think I'm pretty good at internet searching, but sometimes you comb the entire internet and find that what you want just plain does not exist.  Particularly when you're trying to recreate a specific object, it can be really easy to come up dry.  It can be really frustrating!  Fortunately that is NOT the case with this project and I am absolutely thrilled with the prints I was able to find.

Marcus Fabrics Heritage Reds by Paula Barnes
I absolutely love the print on this--those darling little flower wreathes are just the cutest!  I think this actually comes from a collection of Civil War era prints but Turkey red was a popular color for cottons in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the print could easily have been achieved with the technology available in the 1820s.  I think the bold red will look wonderful with a crisp white camisa and the sash that I have to learn to weave...good thing my mom is a weaver!  She's not my Mexican parent, but she is an accomplished seamstress and artisan and has agreed to help me learn her one of her many crafts for this project.  Thanks, mom!

Moda Fabrics Sarah's Story by Betsy Chutchian "Bridle Path" in the color Butter
This is the print I've chosen for Josefina's Christmas dress.  It's a little more "out there" in terms of relationship to the original print of the doll's outfit, but I adore the coral branch style stripes and that serpentine effect is very evocative of the 1820s.  The doll dress print looks very much along the lines of "quilting fabric," with its random dots and swirls over a bold stripe, but I think this design captures the stripe motif broken up with color from the flowers so it's not too severe.  Josefina didn't look like a bumblebee in her dress (although I do love a cute fuzzy bee!) and I'd like to avoid that myself!

Via AG Wiki

Someday, I'd love to do the dress from Josefina Saves the Day, which is another beautifully done empire style with hem ruffles and short puffed sleeves--and the print on that particular dress looks quite period to me.  So maybe for that, I'll have to collaborate with an artist to design a print, or maybe stretch my skills and see what I can come up with myself.  But in the meantime I have two gorgeous fabrics on their way to me and I'd better start coming up with some undies so I'm ready to put them to use when they arrive!

Friday, January 31, 2020

La(s) primera(s) cosa(s)

Well folks, I finally decided what my first project for La Vida Josefina is going to be and it is...two projects!

Even when I was little, before I started sewing garments of any kind, I loved the outfits in the American Girl books.  I always remember Kirsten (which is the doll I had) fondly when I'm dressing in my Civil War outfits, and my regency wardrobe reminds me so much of some of Josefina's fashions!  The dress below is a darling example of a dress that a girl or young lady might have worn in the 1820s, with its cheerful fabric and fancy details.  Also, I adore black lace, and her mantilla and comb have long been a favorite fashion of mine!  

Via AG Wiki
This outfit is very European in style, with the high empire waist and dainty slippers.  Underneath, Josefina wears a cotton jumpsuit type undergarment, called combinations, and white stockings.  In the book, Josefina's Surprise, she wears her lovely dress on La Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve, during the Mexican celebration Las Posadas.  I love the idea that young Josefina wanted to wear her special new dress for an important community celebration.  I would have likely wanted to do just the same at her age.  The heirloom doll, Niña, that Josefina and each of her sisters inherited in turn, even gets her own adorable matching gown!

Via AG Wiki
On the other end of the fashion spectrum, Josefina's skirt-and-blouse look appears to be closely based on a style of Mexican traditional dress that is referred to as la China Poblana.  The origins of this style are murkier to me, and outside my usual field of European fashion plates and portraiture.  Wikipedia has a good basic article on La China Poblana and the origins of the style, and there are plenty of images from the early 19th century showing women in Mexico wearing the style as well.

One of the things that I've been pondering as I wade deeper into this project is the fact that all my prior knowledge is heavily Eurocentric and I want to make sure I am able to handle any indigenous and traditional dress in a respectful way.  I may be genetically Mexican, but culturally I am very white and the last thing I want to do is to fall into the trap of cultural appropriation.  There is a long history of native or traditional dress being poorly imitated, caricatured, or even fetishized for amusement and entertainment.  My impression is that American Girl portrayed these fashions honestly and sensitively, and my goal is to do the same.

I'm confident that I can do Josefina's Christmas dress justice with what I know now and the reference resources I already have.  I've made several regency dresses with similar shapes, and things like bias cut sleeves and neck ruffles might be something I've not yet done, but I know I can figure them out!  Josefina's Meet outfit has several components that will take some more work and time--for example, that sash is a woven belt that will take some time, and there's a whole lot of history and culture around weaving that I'm excited to explore along the way.  So, since I know the Meet outfit will take some more time, I'm going to start working on that alongside the Christmas dress, and the empire gown will probably go much quicker since I'm already pretty confident in my skills and knowledge in that area.  Either way, I'm starting to shop for materials and I'm sure I'll have some exciting progress to share soon!

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Big Thoughts, Tiny Captions

¡Bienvenidos, amigos! This is the birth of a little pet project, inspired by the absolutely impressive @thekirstenproject and @historic_heroine who have made beautifully realized life-size American Girl clothing. I didn’t have many opportunities to delve into my Mexican heritage growing up, and AG released Josefina just a little too late for her to be ‘my’ girl. I had Kirsten, who did speak to my Minnesotan roots and Nordic ancestry on the other side of my family. But part of me does wonder what it would have been like if I’d been invited to learn more about the Mexican part of my family at a young age--so, I’m finding out now! I aim to explore what life might have been like for Josefina Montoya and her family in 1824 through exploration of fashion and reconstructing garments from Josefina’s collection.
A post shared by Katie Lovely (@lavidajosefina) on

This week, I started a new project.  I've been inspired by Heather aka Historic Heroine and Jessica at The Kirsten Project, as well as by this lovely post by my dear friend Samantha sharing her thoughts on living as a mixed race person in a nation that isn't as colorblind as we might like to think.  For me, this is not just a new sewing project, but a work of discovery as well.  I'm excited and nervous to see where this path leads, because it's not just creative--it's deeply personal as well.

You see, although my ancestry is Mexican on one side and a mix of European origins on the other, I was raised entirely isolated from any involvement in Hispanic or Latin American culture or communities.  Part of this was simply that the world was a more isolating place when I was young--the internet barely existed, and we lived in a very rural area where the population was white, Midwestern, and largely Lutheran.  Our village (yes, a literal village!)  had a population of 600, Third Street was the edge of town, and the main street was a dead end road.  By the time we left, there was not one, but TWO stoplights in town!

Around the time I was in middle school we moved to a bigger suburban area, but it was no more diverse than the village.  Instead of German roots, we were surrounded by Dutch families.  We were also extremely sheltered growing up, with a big emphasis on religion, so we attended Christian schools...which cost money...and are therefore exclusionary populations affected by poverty...which falls along color lines in the US.  I would venture to say that Holly and I were the closes thing to 'ethnic' that our classmates had really experienced in any sort of close-up way a lot of the time and that was the case until literal refugees from Africa came to our school via a ministry organization nearby.

My family traveled to Mexico twice in my lifetime, both in order to visit my father's hometown in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico.  Down there, we were exotic for our height and whiteness.  At home, we were notable for our non-whiteness.

It's a weird limbo to live in, let me tell you.

I don't think my parents did a BAD job of raising us, per se.  They did the best they knew how, and we grew up in a time and place when white was the norm.  But, there were subtle ways we were discouraged from exploring our Mexican heritage, like the time I learned the words mestiza and chicana, both terms that describe my mixed-race self...and my mom told me that those words weren't for me.  I wasn't those things.  Best to just move on.  When I applied for colleges, I was encouraged to check "white/caucasian" on all my applications because I was 'too good' to need affirmative action.

Wow, guys.  Wow.

There have been countless times and ways that I've felt "othered" by being both too white and not white enough at the same time in my life, and I'm grateful that in my lifetime it has become possible for people like me to connect with each other and with our cultures of origin.  With this project, I'm hoping to combine my loves of history, culture, and sewing to gain a little deeper understanding of the Mexican side of my family.  I'm well acquainted with aspects of the history surrounding my European roots, and the history of the area where I live, but the way my Mexican ancestors dressed, ate, played, loved, sang, and lived is still a mystery.  I hope you'll join me as I start to unravel it by a single thread.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Winter Riding Skirts, An Experiment

So horseback riding in the winter can be really fun and beautiful, but it can also be really physically taxing and exhausting. Even with fancy fleece breeches, my thighs often get really cold, to the point where when I shower after riding, the water hitting my feet is cold after it runs over my legs from a hot shower spigot. If I don't soak in a hot shower, I'll be chilled for hours. Not really very fun!

I'm not really sure how or when I heard about this company, but Arctic Horse out of Alaska makes all-weather riding skirts that are super cool! But they're also quite pricey, which I don't fault at all because that's definitely what they're worth in terms of materials and labor. Unfortunately, I can't shell out $300 or so for a single garment at the moment. (I spent twice that on a saddle for Duncan, but shhhh!)

Anyway, there are a few people out there that make/have made similar garments, and I figured, hey--I can do that! This is for riding astride, so it needs to split in the front and either have a split in back, or have enough fabric to cover the horse's hindquarters without bunching up or pulling the front slit open. I wanted maximum warmth factor, and a back slit seemed like it might be drafty, so I opted for a full circle. I used this website to do my math for me, and craftily got my coworker to volunteer to be my guinea pig.

Things I knew I wanted:
Decent overlap in front to prevent drafts
Maximum warmth
Adjustable fit

So first time around, I made a skirt to my coworker's measurements. It's wool coating (Fabric Mart Fabrics) with a fleece lining (JoAnn). The fabric choices are good, and the pockets worked great! I traced a pattern off an eShakti dress that I like, but I did end up setting them too low. I did my math wrong when I calculated overlap + front facing, so the overlap is bigger than I wanted, but it's also not the worst. I tried adding elastic through buttonholes in the back to make the fit adjustable, but I either would need SUPER sturdy, SUPER firm elastic to make that work, or a much less bulky selection of body fabrics. So that was a good idea in theory but not great in execution.

Pocketses! (upside down in this photo)

Super happy with how the pocket openings came out!

Cute elephant fleece lining for coworker's skirt.

Second time around, I did the math right and allowed for a wider facing in the front with a smaller overlap, and a smooth fitted back (as opposed to a bit extra for adjustability/elastic).

I also cut a separate facing following the line of the hem, so that's what the double line at the outer edge of the circle is. The skirts are cut in three pieces for each layer, with the back being a half circle and then two quarters for the front. The pockets are fleece for extra coziness, with a wool facing around the whole opening. They are set in the side seams while the pieces are all still separate, and then the skirt assembled. The lining is sewn in the same minus the pockets, and then I basted the whole shebang with wrong sides together at the waist. That way, the pockets and raw edges are completely enclosed inside the skirt.

Cute nordic print for my lining.

Instead of trying to put stretch in my waistband, I plan to put a single buttonhole on the outer closure and three buttons at separate increments to account for layering underneath the skirt. Or weight loss (I hope!) Inner closure will get a skirt hook with corresponding bars at whatever intervals will make the skirt front lay flat once the button is done up.

For coworker's skirt, I did topstitch the waistband down but decided I didn't like the look (even though my machine sewed through a billion layers of wool and fleece like a champ! I just am not used to machine top stitching in my own work and prefer a smoother look. So mine was attached by machine with right sides together, flipped to the inside, and the inner edge attached with a fell stitch.

And that's as far as I've gotten! I let both skirts hang and next will be hems. Coworker's needs the fleece trimmed and a turned (and steamed!) edge on the hem. Mine will get a facing, and I cut the fleece shorter to account for that. We'll see which goes better for me!

Once Lucie lets me have my fabric back, I'll do the hems.

Coworker's skirt hanging.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Pink Windowpane Check 1860s Day Dress

So, I took basically no photos of the making of this gown, nor did I document it...because I made it in about a week and didn't talk about it online because I wasn't sure if I'd be able to finish it or not!

Fortunately, it was a very simple dress and turned out to be perfect for the quite-warm weather we had over Memorial Day weekend this year.  The fabric is a semi-sheer cotton from Fashion Fabrics Club, and the dress is constructed with a fitted half-high lining, gathered bodice, simple coat sleeves, and a pleated skirt.  I'd love to say it's worn over perfectly period undergarments but in reality it's probably whatever chemise I could find (likely linen, regency), my Redthreaded 1860s gored corset, and cotton knit shorts, because I'm super lazy about my undies.  Sorry!  Oh, but I do have a Needle & Thread small wire hoop and two crisp cotton petticoats, so I've got that going for me.

Being so simple, the dress is really a blank canvas and the accessories do a lot to dress it up.  The belt is a length of velvet ribbon with an antique buckle from Originals by Kay, and the bonnet is a straw form from The Dressmaker's Shop.  My friend Elizabeth from That's Sew Minnesota decorated it for me and did an *amazing* job!  She used velvet millinery flowers from A Pink Swan and Timely Tresses, along with cotton net from Dharma Trading and checked ribbon from Fini Ribbon on Etsy.  The collar and cuffs are embroidered cotton lace from The Dressmaker's Shop on cotton organdy. 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Plaid Wool 1860s Day Dress

I made this dress to wear to Gettysburg Remembrance Day 2017, but then it was so cold and rainy that I got hardly any pictures of it the whole time we were there!  Fortunately it fit perfectly into my plans for Costume College, and I had a lot of fun wearing it again despite the possible pitfalls of wearing wool in July in California.  I was indoors most of the time, after all!

The gown itself went together super fast with no hiccups.  I love projects like that!  The collar and cuffs are cotton organdy with embroidered lace edging, and a velvet bow from M&J Trimming ribbon finishes things off nicely.

This is the gown where I used my modified coat sleeve hack to change up the sleeves that came with the pattern (Laughing Moon #111).  This is just one variation that you see in period sleeves--some of them are incredibly intricate!  This one was relatively simple but I love how it turned out.

Photo by Gloria from In the Long Run Designs
Featuring Samantha of The Couture Courtesan in her splendid black 1860s evening gown!

Since I didn't want to pack any bonnets for cross-country travel, I decided to make a fun, silly hair net instead.  I ordered a readymade base from Timely Tresses and decorated it with silk ribbon that I already owned, with a bow at the top and gathered loops down each side.  Again, this is on the simple side compared to some period examples but I think it gives just enough fluff to balance out a bold pattern like the big plaid.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Gold Striped Regency Gown

Photo by Gloria from In The Long Run
Like a lot of my ended-up-being-my-favorite projects, this one started mostly by accident.  I bought the fabric, a light, smooth striped cotton, several years ago from Regency Revisited, with no real plan as to what it would become.  I've offered it up for sale a few times during various periods of sewing room cleanout, but it remained stubbornly in my stash each time.

Then the V&A released this photo of a gown in their collections that previously had only had a photo of the back available. As soon as I saw those diagonal stripes on the front, I knew exactly what that fabric needed to become!

I used the Laughing Moon #126 drop-front gown pattern as a jumping-off point (which, to be fair, is how I use most patterns.)  I rotated the dart in the front bib piece so that the waist edge would be smooth and I could put a drawstring at the neck edge.  I ended up having to fudge a sleeve off a different pattern because I could NOT for the life of me find the sleeve piece in my pattern.  (I found it three months later in a perfectly sensible, obvious place, of course.)  I cut my skirt freehand and assembled everything in a period manner, ignoring the instructions almost completely.

The braided trim is extremely simple.  It's three straight-grain strips with the edges pressed under, braided together in a standard three-strand braid.  I love how it was so easy to do, but makes such an impact!

This gown's first wearing was at Jane Austen Festival in Kentucky, where it was H-O-T!  As you can see above, my enthusiasm levels were really excessive.  In all reality I had a lovely time, but it was definitely hard to feel motivated in the heat and humidity.

I also got to wear this gown at Costume College, which was much more hairdo-friendly.  I didn't bring my big bonnet to California with me, but I did add a red coral cross from Dames a la Mode to supplement the coral set that my mom helped me make.  I'm missing one bracelet in the above photo, but the set contains a necklace, earrings, and matching bracelets (and now of course a cross!)  Someday maybe I'll be able to add one of those gorgeous regency tiaras to the set, but until then, I'm super happy with how everything came out and look forward to wearing it again!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Striped Linen "Lewis & Clark" Gown from Past Patterns #031

At the William Holmes McGuffy Birthplace, Greenfield Village
For a while there it seemed like everyone and their mother had made a gown out of this pattern, and I've always loved the tiny back and unique shape of the armscye that it creates.  I also originally fell in love with this fabric from Burnley & Trowbridge, only to have it almost sell out before I could get any!  I ended up ordering a remnant and wistfully figured I could make an apron or something out of it.

Imagine my delight, then, when this lovely striped linen came back in stock!  I made sure to buy enough for a dress this time.  I deviated from the pattern a bit with the skirt--the original upon which the pattern is based had piecing and a shaped tuck in it to shorten the hem in front, but I didn't feel the need to copy that exactly.  Instead, I added three 1" tucks for decoration (and a little bit of body), and omitted any piecing.  I do want to extend the drawstring casing in the front waist--there is a LOT of linen gathered into a very small space right now and I can't actually get it as tight as I would like.  If I make the casing a little longer, the fabric will have more space and I will be able to tighten it fully.

The back of the bodice ended up being quite long on me when I made it as the pattern directed.  This final length is actually shortened--and I feel like it could still be shorter!  I already moved the skirt once, though, so I'm not terribly motivated to take it off again to move it up.  It's within the realm of acceptable which is good enough for me right now.

Fortunately if I do decide to raise the waistline, there's plenty of length in the skirt.  I certainly wouldn't want it any longer, since this is a nice sturdy dress that I can do work in!  For the event pictured, we madevarious fall-themed recipes over a fire to demonstrate historic cooking.

This is what I *actually* looked like for the whole weekend...it was cold and a bit rainy, and since we were cooking I had my trusty checked apron on for almost the whole time!  But the dress served me well and I'm very happy with how it came out.  With a couple of tweaks I can see it becoming part of my regular reenacting wardrobe for a long time to come!

Friday, November 16, 2018

What I'm Working On: Larkin & Smith Gown x2

Back in 2016 I raved about the Larkin & Smith English Gown pattern, even though my first attempt ended up with some fitting issues.  They weren't super terrible, but enough that they bugged me and I sold the gown to someone presumably a little taller than I am.  Anyway, I always meant to try again, but it's only been this fall that I've finally gotten around to it.

I actually started two gowns at once, one in a luxurious maroon worsted wool from Burnley & Trowbridge, and one in a now-discontinued Williamsburg floral print cotton.

Because my last gown ended up too long in the waist because I neglected to account for the bulk of petticoats at the waist, I made both my petticoats first and did all my fittings over them.  I also took about an inch out of the bodice length right off the bat, and ended up shortening the shoulder strap as well.

My plan was to make one gown directly from the pattern, and one with a modified bodice to close in the center front.  Once I figured out the length pretty well, I cut a second muslin for my modified bodice.

Oops...cut my mockup a little too big!
Much better!!
After that, assembly is pretty straightforward!  I love the instructions, illustrations, and explanations in the pattern.  I think the back pleats are my favorite part.

Super duper glamorous fitting in the bathroom.
Then it's time to fit sleeves
Let me tell you, that is NOT easy on your own.

Then it's time for robings or shoulder straps!
I decided to add lacing to the stomacher-front gown for ease of use.  In a throwback moment to the early days of blogging and costuming online, I recalled that Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre once used lengths of ribbon to create ladder lacing on her Italian Renaissance gowns.

Jen's original idea, found on Google Images via Pinterest.
I decided that it would be quicker and more convenient to use twill tape to lace through rather than making eyelet strips and attaching them.  This also allowed me to butt the lacing right up to the edge of the bodice so that there wasn't any funky tension anywhere.  I can't document this method AT ALL (unless you count documenting it to the late 90s or early 00s as historical documentation?) so please don't think this is some great discovery of 18th century fashion.  This is just me wanting to struggle less while dressing myself in this gown!

The stomacher will pin to the bodice under the robings but over the lacing.

I think the Fitbit wristband really pulls it all together.
This is where I run out of photos, but as of this posting, I've hemmed both gowns and petticoats, finished the robings, and just have a stomacher left to make.  So close!  We'll be in Williamsburg this time next week, so A) I'd better get that stomacher done right quick! and B) I hope to take photos of the completed gowns while we're there!

Yearly post? Hope not!

Some friends and I were talking yesterday about how we missed long-format internet interaction, i.e. blogging.  I suppose I really started with LiveJournal, over a decade ago now, and I used it like an actual journal (which means my earlier entries are SUPER cringey since I was both recording my private thoughts and also a teenager...eeeek!)  But anyway, over time that platform sort of passed into the ether and blogs became the Big New Thing, but now even those have given way to Instagram and Facebook.  I love the convenience and instant engagement with both, but it's really hard to make actual *records* of things and have them be searchable afterwards.  My blog was never super popular, but at least I could go back and find my own posts on things!  I should get better at titles though.  Puns are fun but make searching archives harder!

Anyway, I've been thinking about blogging-and-or-journaling a lot lately, even before the discussion came up.  This fall I've been in a real funk and haven't felt very much like communicating at all, much less taking the time and effort to write things out--and feeling like I haven't got anything worthwhile to say anyway (thanks, depression.  You're a real pal.)  But, I really miss reading blogs and journal posts (come join us on Dreamwidth!) and the saying is something like, be the change you want to see in the world, right?  So here I am!  Blogging.  No shiny pictures or anything.  No ground-breaking, compelling research to share.  Just...trying to get some thoughts out there to knock the rust off my ol' brain.

What would you like to read about?  I've done stuff, I even have pictures...I'm just all at sea about what to post.  But I went to Jane Austen Festival in Kentucky and never said a word about that, and Costume College was really great.  My husband and I are going to Williamsburg for Thanksgiving so that would be probably fun to talk about at some point, too...help me pick material!!