Thursday, January 17, 2008

Making Kuspuks

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!

My other links:

How to make a kuspuk

Juneau Empire newspaper link is no longer available on their site, but here is the youtube video taken that day:
Creating Kuspuks with Theresa John and classroom teacher, Paula Savikko at Gastinesu Elementary School, Douglas Island, Alaska.

2018 Update:
Gastineau Elementary is now officially called "Saye'ik Gastineau".

Links to Making Kuspuks in 2009
Fun But Frenzied Frugality: Sewing Kuspuks Again!
Kuspuks and Friday Finishes

Search engine links for this article:

How to make a kuspukKuspuks Make Front Page News
Juneau Empire Photos: Parka party 01/18/08


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!


atet said...

What a wonderful experience for all of you!

Perry said...

I am loving your journey. I think I will pass on making the kuspuk, lol. I doubt that I could, but I know the kids loved it. You can see it in their faces. In looking at the pictures, the landscape looks so beautiful but so forbidding I don't think I could live there, even though I understand at certain times of the year it is beautiful in a different way. Thank you so much for sharing this journey with us. You will have many wonderful memories, that's for sure.

Shelina said...

Oh how sweet! I'm sure the children will remember it forever as well.

Debi said...

It sounds like you had a wonderful time. I am so glad you are enjoying your time back home.

andsewitis Holly said...

I so enjoyed reading the wonderful tribute to your dad. A wonderful man he is.

I also had never heard of kuspuks. Sounds like it's sorta traditional dress like the Russian women here always wear the same style of dress... The patterns are the same. Sounds like you had fun working on your nonworking holiday :)

Claudia said...

What a great idea! I would have loved to participate in class!
I had seen Kuspuks in Alaska four years ago, like them a lot, thought of making one, forgot what they are called and by accident found you're blog.
Curious if the pictures have an updated link to see more detail.
Thank you!

Peggy McCormack said...

I've used the commercially available kuspuk patterns from Black Elk Leather in Anchorage but have always wanted to make one like you've described. Unfortunately, your pictures link to a set of pictures that doesn't include larger images. Do you have larger images you could make available somewhere or email to me? Thanks!

Careod said...

I have a good set of diagrams that are home made but more readable than the ones on the board. email me.

Quilting Journey said...

While double clicking on an image only brings it to the expanded size, downloading it through Picasa's link on my album page will allow you to resize it as large as your own photo program allows! Please do note, that this whole project was to teach a cultural technique of non-standard math...this means we don't use rulers etc. but meausure to the size of each person or each width or length of the piece (a sleevelength of my arm's length plus a bit, etc. etc.)Children can do this easily but we get stuck thinking traditionally and expect patterns to follow ;)

Peggy McCormack said...

oops, you can delete my last comment (as well as this one). I didn't see the first time that approval must be granted before it being published and submitted a second comment.
Sorry about that!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Michele! I'm so glad you live in both Salem Oregon and Juneau (Douglas) Alaska...both places get to benefit from your amazing research skills and lovely writing. And all of your projects are AMAZING!

Anonymous said...

I'm looking for a kuspuk pattern to make some for my boys. I live in Bethel, AK. Have been collecting fabric. I went to you picassa photo page looking for the three pattern sheets pictured on your blog, but I didn't see them there. Any help would be appreciated.
Thanks, Margaret

Anonymous said...

i need a pattern for these kuspuks,
but i dont have the money to buy one..

Anonymous said...

no longer living in Ak, I was a foster -child. I remember the 1 my foster-mother made forme well. And imagine if you will I native-american (aleut) child. Her from
Birmingham Alabama. Living in Anchor Point Ak. She did her best to instill native traditions of which she knew of, including shelling shrimp, digging for crabs & preparing halibut steaks, all when she was deathly allergic to seafood.
Thanks for the moment of fond memories.

MrsWilliamsTA said...

I am working with two elders at our church in Anchorage to make our own kuspuks. I am enjoying the time spent with these amazing ladies. We are using an existing kuspuk as a pattern per say, adjusting it to our bodies. Hope to have it done by Easter! Was amazed to see that yours only took 4 hours. Thank you for sharing.

MrsWilliamsTA said...

I am working with two elders at our church in Anchorage to make our own kuspuks. I am enjoying the time spent with these amazing ladies. We are using an existing kuspuk as a pattern per say, adjusting it to our bodies. Hope to have it done by Easter! Was amazed to see that yours only took 4 hours. Thank you for sharing.

MrsWilliamsTA said...

I am making a kuspuk with some elders at the Alaska Native Lutheran Church here in Anchorage. I am loving the time we have together. I am hoping to have mine done by Easter! Surprised that yours only took 4 hours. We are using a kuspuk as a pattern and adjusting to meet our individual needs. Loving it. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Hi - great site! I'm a former Alaska and Oregon resident. I want to make a kuspuk for my toddler, but don't have access to a pattern. I'm hoping to use your pictures for inspiration but the pictures and links don't seem to be functioning. Could you update the links? Thank you for sharing...

Nona Taylor said...

I can't your links to work. Thanks.