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, NiƱa, 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.