Saturday, December 31, 2011

Kuspuk Making: The Pattern

Several years ago, a co-worker had offered to teach a class in kuspuk making and I bought fabric to make one. The class didn't happen. I've had three or so yards of lovely batik fabric just waiting. The color is sort variegated blue and gold and reminds me of tundra in August.

A kuspuk is a traditional Alaskan woman's summer parka with a hood and, around the bottom, a sort of ruffle or peplum. A kuspuk is to Alaska what an aloha shirt is to Hawaii. They're usually made out of calico with commercial braid used for trim. The hoods are usually close fitting to keep mosquitoes off. Even though they are called "summer parkas," they are often worn indoors year round and are used by Native dance troops. They're easy and inexpensive to make and cool enough to be worn inside while engaged in vigorous activity.

I remembered buying a pattern as well and went through every one of my sewing drawers.

Nope. Had to buy one. I went to four stores before I found a kuspuk pattern available. Apparently kuspuk making has been a popular activity this Christmas and "Kuspuk Pattern by Lois" put out my Alaskan Patterns seems to be the one and only pattern in usage.

Unsure if I should make myself a size 16 or size 18, I made a preliminary muslin out of an old sheet. A muslin is to writing what a draft is to a novel, or a white-build to making cardmodels. A jewelry maker once told me first make it out of copper, then silver, then gold. So I made part of the kuspuk out of an old sheet. Good thing I did. The fit is horrid.

A shirt, jacket, or other such covering can be imagined as three elliptical tubes with the arm tubes intersecting the torso tube at an angle. Imagine that we've got the tubes intersect this way. We cut an arm tube open and flatten it out. The top of the arm shape now looks a bit like a sinusoidal curve. It might even be a sinusoidal curve--I'm unsure of the mathematics.

The sleeve on the kuspuk by Lois is cut nearly strait, no hint of that lovely sine wave. To make it worse this sleeve is going into an armhole which resembles a slit. This would work if she'd gone back to the old peasant method of construction with everything made out of rectangles and putting gussets under the arms. This works better with hand-sewing than machine sewing. It is nice for ironing, however, and so good for undergarments. The chemise for my regency gown is constructed in the old peasant method. This old method can be done without a pattern and without cutting. Fabric can be ripped into rectangles or woven initially as rectangles.

Some computer programs convert 3-D shapes to 2-D shapes but I use the paper, scissors, and tape method. I make a guess as to the shape, cut it out of paper, and tape it together. I make adjustments with scissors and tape until I've got those nice elliptical tubes. Then I cut it apart and retrace what I've got onto a new piece of paper. Voila a pattern.

I buy readymade patterns either when I want to understand how something is made or when I want to jump ahead in the process to the interesting parts. So with the kuspuk pattern I spent 20 dollars for Lois to figure out the shape of sleeves and hood. Very disappointing that she had skipped this crucial part of the process herself. The pattern is worthless, everything else I can easily do without any help.
I'm not sure way Lois had such a poor understanding of tailoring. I learned about sleeves by making doll clothing. I made some truly awful miniature shirts. Fortunately they were made out of scrap and so didn't cost me anything.

I looked at pictures of kuspuks on the Internet and found that this sleeve fit problem is endemic. Whole dance troops are performing with badly fitting sleeves and probably accidently ripping out the underarm seams. Lois recommends double stitching the seam under the arm, so it seems she was somewhat aware of the problem. We all seem to be camouflaging the bad tailoring by making kuspuks out of fabric printed with flowers and the like. "Tailor" is the right word since the word originates from French and means "cut."

Lois may have been a good seamstress but she was a lousy tailor.

I am now fantasizing about designing and publishing better kuspuk patterns. I can't decide if I want to do raglan or in-set sleeves.

Structural Unemployment

Listening to NPR I heard about "structural unemployment." At last! Someone talking sense about the current state of the economy. We've been looking at the economic problem wrong. It's not that we need more jobs created; we need the right jobs created.

Here is how I see the situation. We had the real-estate bubble with too many resources (labor hours) going into building houses, houses which were too big and expensive for people to pay (work) for. So the market crashed. We needed to move construction workers, real-estate agents, and mortgage brokers into jobs producing things we actually need.

That crash brought the rest of the economy down as we cut costs (labor hours) from things we actually need such as education and scientific research. Exacerbating the situation we are undergoing a shift in retail, more goods bought on the Internet and less in actual stores. We must move retail workers into new jobs.

To get back to deploring resources effectively, someone has to decide how to what we need, then borrow money to for it. We've got three groups who could make the critical decisions and take the risk. Consumers could take out loans to buy things which will make their lives better, but consumers are already carrying too much debt, and they can't buy things unless the stuff is available.

Businesses could borrow and make guesses about what consumers might. But business, like government, has been cutting costs and reducing both risk and inventory, making wanted and needed goods unavailable.

Where are you Steve Jobs? We need men and women with vision, those who understand what customers will want and are willing to take risks, take out the loans, and hire people.

That leaves the government taking the risk, but government barrowing will only work if it's backed up by vision, the understanding of what sort of investment of labor will pay off in the long run. Here is opportunity. Some necessary services can only most effectively provided by the government, services such as: education, public health, mass transportation, research, and job retraining.

But as I see it the bottom line, the things we most need as a nation are vision and courage. With these, we can put people to work doing jobs which need to be done. I think all of us: consumer, businesses, and government, should stop agonizing over cutting short term costs and instead consider long-term investment.

I'm doing my part. I went out and bought a new refrigerator. In the short term, I'm spending--gasp, pant, pant, panic--more money, but I hope in the long term it will save me money in energy costs.