Evelyn Bird Quintana
As feast days approach, Lydia Chinana is so busy making traditional dance outfits her daughters have sometimes hidden the stacks of unfinished dresses to make her take a break. “You know how kids are. They feel sorry for me!” Chinana laughed. An accomplished seamstress who began sewing in her ninth grade home economics class, Chinana studied sewing and fashion in California before she married. Her mother-in-law, Reyes Chinana, taught her to make traditional kilts and mantas and embroidery about twenty years ago.
“ My mother-in-law was with the home enrichment program, and they used to teach the ladies all this stuff that was traditional wear,” Chinana recalled. “I stayed there a long time learning how to make these, because it’s not everybody who knows how to do this. I think I was really blessed.”
I feel real blessed. When I see the dancers on the plaza, it just makes me feel real good, because they’re wearing something I made.
Noting that it takes her an hour to do two inches of embroidery, Chinana said most people don’t realize how time-consuming this work is. “Every time I have a class, I say, ‘now you know how hard it is to do this.’” When her youngest daughter was learning to embroider, Chinana said she used to get really frustrated when she made a mistake and had to tear out and start again. “I tell my students the same thing I taught my daughter: if you want it to look good, you have to rip it.”
Chinana does almost all traditional embroidery work for dance outfits, as well as Indian dresses, ribbon shirts, wedding and baptismal clothing. She was reared by her aunt and grandfather on Jemez Pueblo, where she’s continued to live with her husband, Raymond. She has four children and six grandchildren.
School for Advanced Research