As a little girl, I went through what I can best describe as my “pioneer” phase. I was absolutely, completely obsessed with the nineteenth century. I wore bonnets and bloomers (to school!) and relied on the American Girl and Little House on the Prairie books for guidance into my “old fashioned” life.
It all started when I received an American Girl catalogue in the mail. My best guess was that it came in the mid-90s and it was pretty much the only way I spent my allowance for a good five years. My neighborhood friends had their own American Girl dolls and I wanted one so badly, but my parents thought they were too expensive for an all out gift, so compromised with me. If I saved for half of the price, they’d match it and order the doll. I can’t remember how long it took me to save, but on a chilly day in October, I went into my parents bedroom and told my mom I was ready to order my Kirsten. She had me count out the dollars and coins to make sure I had the right amount. She picked up the receiver of the telephone, paused, and hung it up. Then she reached under the bed and pulled out the burgundy box with Kirsten inside. Just recounting this memory makes me want to cry! It’s hard to put into words what that doll meant to me and how her story shaped my childhood. That October afternoon was easily one of the best memories of my young life!
It wasn’t just the doll, but the history that went with her. For birthdays and Christmas my mom would sew me and Kirsten matching dresses. Sometimes they would be new designs and color patterns, but mostly the dresses sewn for me were made to match something from Kirsten’s series. Underneath I wore petticoats and pantaloons, thick black tights and lace up boots. Around that time my grandma gave me a box full of handmade undergarments that her neighbors had brought over from Germany in the late 1800s. Even though they were made for adult women, they were tiny and fit my tween size perfectly. I now see how learning about the fashions of the 1850s influenced my love for costume history!
In addition to the clothing, a lot of my childhood pastimes directly corresponded with the era. At this age I took up hand sewing and quilting - mainly pillows but I also made a full sized quilt when I was ten! I wish I had photos of those pieces here, but they’re all safely stored at my parents house - I’ll grab some snaps next time I’m visiting!
I didn’t stop with quilting - I also dyed my own fabric using locally (hyper local - mulberry trees from our backyard) berries. I crushed them into muslin fabric to create a pinkish tone and from that, I cut out and appliquéd a little heart onto a pillow - the perfect size for my pint sized doll.
In the kitchen, my dad helped me make apple raisin porridge out of the Kirsten cookbook and I churned my own butter (using a pint of cream, a marble, a Ball jar and tons of shaking!)
I loved going to antique stores and visiting historical sites and especially my aunt and uncle’s 1885 farm house (we took our wedding photos there!) We even took a family trip to Colonial Williamsburg when I was in fifth grade. I still have dreams of working on a historical farm, even if it’s only for a week or a month. Adam and I have been very into a BBC collection of shows based on that concept - Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm, Tudor Monastery Farm… we love them all!
In researching for this post, I did some googling of Kirsten books and images and the nostalgia that crept in was so heartwarming. Opening the window into this world of history has such a special place in my heart. I really really loved that doll and her story and pretending that I was a little girl in pioneer times. I loved getting dressed up in historical costumes and doing old timey things.
Now I see how much my parents encouraged me and supported my interests - reading, sewing and cooking alongside me! I hope I can do the same for my own kids someday… maybe my little girl will play with my Kirsten doll too.