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.


A said...

Did you ever make your pattern?

MaryReed said...

I am also wondering if you ever fixed the sleeve problem, or made the pattern? Thank you for posting this. I've been curious about making a kuspuk and saw the Louise pattern in one of our local shops. I guess I'll follow your lead and make some adjustments. FYI, I found another blog posting for someone who had similar problems at:
Happy Sewing & Crafting! ~K

Bethany Joelle said...
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