Learn About the Southwest Frontier with American Girl Josefina Part 4: Work, Fashion, Trade, and the Sante Fe Trail

Life on a rancho in New Mexico was full of work! Josefina would have started her chores in the early morning and continued working until the evening time, doing things like washing clothes, fetching water, cooking, weaving, gardening, and sewing.

Josefina’s family raised sheep, and she helped take care of them. She also helped in the process of turning her sheep’s wool into beautiful blankets and rugs that brightened and warmed her home. To do this, the sheep had to be shorn, then the wool had to be cleaned, carded, dyed, spun into yarn, and then woven on a loom.

Spin Some Yarn from Wool!

You might be able to find raw wool to work with at your local farmer’s market. If not, you can get some here.

Clean your wool by dipping it in hot water repeatedly, but DO NOT AGITATE! You will felt the wool if you do! Or, you can skip that step by getting wool roving to work with.

After raw wool has been cleaned, it has to be carded, or untangled, before it can be spun into yarn. Here are some good instructions on how to card wool:

How to Prepare Fiber with Hand Carders

Once the wool has been carded, you can try spinning it into yarn. You can use a spinning wheel if you have access to one, or a drop-spinner, which is inexpensive to buy and easy to use. The link below is a good tutorial on how how to use a spinning wheel for beginners.

How to Spin Yarn on a Spinning Wheel

Once you have made some yarn, try weaving it on a loom!

Try Weaving on a Loom!

This little loom is really easy to use and is very similar to the kind of loom that Josefina would have used, although her loom would have been HUGE (like the size of a wall)! Josefina would have woven blankets, rugs, and certain items of clothing such as panchos on a loom similar to this, but bigger of course. All you have to do is set up the lengthwise fibers with the yarn, then use on over-under pattern to weave in the cross-fibers. That’s it!

Try on a Rebozo!

In addition to creating woven blankets and rugs, Josefina would have also woven clothing items like a rebozo and sarape. A rebozo is a kind of shawl that Mexican women would wear around their heads, shoulders, or waists. It was a really useful item of clothing and was used for warmth, but also to carry things such as vegetables and fruit, and even babies! Mexican women would wrap the rebozo around their baby and then around their back to make a kind of sling. The rebozo is actually still used by many Mexican women today. Try one on and see what you think! You can find one here.

Trading in Santa Fe

In the last lesson, we learned about how El Camino Real gave New Mexicans access to goods and ideas from Mexico, Spain, and many other places around the world including China, Africa, England, France, and other European countries. But when the Spanish were ruling New Mexico, they did not let Americans or any other foreigners trade there. As soon as Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821, however, Americans immediately began to come to Santa Fe to trade. Thus the Santa Fe Trail was blazed from far-away Missouri all the way to New Mexico, and cultures from all over the world came together and mingled in Santa Fe. Trade took place in the Santa Fe plaza. Josefina was just six years-old at that time, so she grew up seeing items from all over the world! New Mexican girls admired the pretty things that came from Mexico City on El Camino Real and from America via the Santa Fe Trail, but they were often expensive and difficult for a rancho family to attain, so resourceful New Mexicans made their own versions of things like jewelry. Josefina’s grandfather brought her glass beads from Mexico City, and she made herself a pretty necklace from them.

Make a Necklace for Josefina (and a Matching One for You!)

All you need is:

  • wooden or glass beads
  • 30″ piece of leather cord (if the holes on your beads are big enough – works best with wooden beads), or hemp cord if you have glass beads with small holes
  • seed beads for Josefina’s necklace
  • 18″ piece of stretchy cord for Josefina’s necklace
  • crimping beads
  • scissors
  • small pliers


For your necklace, create a pattern with your beads and string them in your leather or hemp cord. When you are finished stringing the beads, tie two knots with both ends of your cord so that your necklace will be adjustable. First take one end and use that end to tie a knot around the cord. Then take the other end and do the same. Now you can slide your knots up and down your cord to make your necklace longer or shorter and get the perfect fit!

For Josefina’s necklace, cut an 18″ piece of the stretchy cord. String the cord with the seed beads in the pattern you like, and then string both ends of the cord through a crimping bead so they are overlapping through the crimping bead. Pull the cord through until the necklace is the length that you want and then flatten the crimping bead into the cord with a pair of pliers. You might even use two crimping beads next to each other for good measure, as they can sometimes come loose or fall off. That’s it! You’ve got a necklace for Josefina!

Becoming American

Through the Santa Fe trail, more and more American influence was creeping in to New Mexico. Ultimately, the United States decided it wanted to take over New Mexico and the rest of the Mexican land in North America, so they started a war. It was called the Mexican American War and lasted from 1845 to 1848. The Mexican army was under-equipped, underpaid, and under-fed, so the United States army had the upper hand. In the end, the U.S. took half a million square miles of Mexican land, and so Josefina’s home, New Mexico, became part of the United States of America. Josefina was now an American!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: