I have been privileged to work all this week with award-winning teacher, Paula Savikko, and her second grade class at Gastineau Elementary School in Douglas, Alaska. I have been as equally privileged to witness the extra-ordinary gifts of Yup'ik Cultural Instructor, Theresa John, as she shared her knowledge of the Yup'ik Eskimos of Nelson Island and their traditions from the Tooksok Bay area of western Alaska.
Theresa is a doctoral candidate at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks and a gifted teacher, versed in the traditional arts of song and native dance of the Yupiks and their rich cultural heritage. She taught the class words in Yupik and described how different the original culture was from ours today. She did an amazing job of working with the children and teaching them Yupik terminology, history and geography. With word, song and dance she created a magical learning experience for all of us and one that I felt truly blessed to experience.
Theresa also taught us all how to make kuspuks. A kuspuk is a traditional native Alaskan garment, usually made of cotton fabric that is worn over a fur parka in the winter, and as an outdoor garment in the summer...over pants, leggings or jeans.
Creating a kuspuk (alternate spellings: quaspeg, qaspeg, quspug...all pronounced 'cuss-puck') in the original native Yupik way, involves simply measuring the body from armpit to armpit (across the rounding of the chest) and ripping off this width. (scissors needed for that first cut on our modern fabric with selvages on the sides!)
Using this piece we then measured it from neck to hem length and ripped that off to size. We followed with ripping sleeve lengths by widths and hood lengths and widths to sizing of the head followed by adding a skirt section for the girls(double the width of the body) and a pocket as pictured, for all.
Using more traditional sewing methods, we shaped hoods or pocket pieces as needed. Diagrams are pictured here for those looking for directions or a free kuspuk pattern. Click on them to go to their site, click again to enlarge with the magnifying glass, right click to download and save for your use!
Each day, students would sew with the help of myself or another volunteer. The students pinned pieces together, were taught the basics mechanics of a sewing machine and showed how to feed the fabric under the feed dogs and how to hold it as the machine sewed with the help of an adult's foot on the power pedal. They were delighted with this unique opportunity and truly loved being able to sew, especially something that they were so personally involved with from start to finish.
Rick rack trim was added to the pockets, the cuffs and (if desired) to the bottom section of the body of the girl's kuspuks. The boys' kuspuks, by tradition, are kept in neutral, plain fabrics and not adorned with rickrack. The girls' kuspuks are usually made with bright colored calicos and adorned with rickrack or embroidery trims on edges of pockets and sleeves. Each kuspuk (made from start to finish) takes about 4 hours to make.
The joy of creation coupled with the delight of the children makes the time spent not only worthwhile...but truly fun! These were experiences, as well as wonderful children, that I will remember forever and I am deeply grateful to have been a part of this unique experience!
Search engine links for this article:
How to make a kuspuk
Kuspuks Make Front Page News
Juneau Empire Photos: Parka party 01/18/08
Links to Making Kuspuks in 2009:Kuspuks and Friday Finishes
Sewing Kuspuks Again!
Colors and ideas we have used:
Michele Bilyeu blogs With Heart and Hands as she shares a quilting journey through her life in Salem, Oregon and Douglas, Alaska. Sewing, quilting, and wildcrafting, with small format art quilts, prayer flags, and comfort quilts for a variety of charitable programs. And best of all, sharing thousands of links to Free Quilt and Quilt Block Patterns and encouraging others to join her and make and donate quilts to charitable causes. Help us change the world, one little quilt at a time!