Seeing as I’m not an Alaska Native, I didn’t want to expound on the kuspuk (apparently, I don’t even spell it correctly so who am I to talk about it!!!). Stephanie regularly blogs over on her own stomping grounds at www.stephaniewritesitdown.wordpress.com. She’s freaking funny, artistic, witty, and has a way with words. I think you’ll see what I mean. Enjoy!!!
Hi Dawn’s People! Or maybe I should say, “Waqaa Dawn’s People,” since Dawn asked me to tell you all about this Native Alaskan thing called a kuspuk, which is actually spelled “qaspeq” or “gaspeq” if you’re being female-specific. “Kuspuk” is the spelling that helps you know how to pronounce the word. It’s like this: CUSS-PUCK; accent on the first syllable. I’m going to use “qaspeq.” Quaspeqs are worn throughout Alaska’s different Native Alaskan cultures, and different peoples have variations on the theme. I grew up in rural Alaska and am an Aleut, Yup’ik, and white girl mix. I’ll be bloggifying from that tradition/perspective/voice/culture, etc.
The simple answer to the quaspeq question is that a quaspeq is a sort of traditional (sort of since it’s made with cloth and not some more way traditional Nativey thing like the skin of something that used to be swimming, flying, or running around) hooded light parka or shirt with a gigantic pocket on the front. Think long hoodie. We don’t refer to the quapeq as a dress since guys can wear quaspeqs without being cross-dressers. And since they aren’t really dresses, quaspeqs are usually worn over some sort of leg covering like jeans or leggings. They can go over dress pants if we’re getting fancy for something important like a wedding, potluck, or trip to Anchorage to shop at Wal-Mart. Despite the not-really-a-dress status of quaspeqs, ladies can technically wear them without anything underneath. That’s not considered going commando since the lady version can have a little attached skirt. See below. Please pretend that I have a head. Please, please pretend that I look like Kate Beckinsale. Thank you. Quyana (which also means thank you).
Quaspeqs take the place of the heavy winter fur parka (although, there are winter quaspeqs that have heavier lining and can be coats) so that we don’t get heat stroke and plonk off while doing summer stuff like berry picking and cutting fish (cutting fish means cleaning and slicing it up for the freezer or smokehouse). They’re all about function. The hood is supposed to help keep the biting bugs like mosquitoes and white sox out of our ears and hair. If you’ve been to Alaska, you know how bitey things can be here. That’s actually why one lady version of the quaspeq has the little skirt. It’s to fluff mosquitoes out of your underworld. Guys are supposed to grin and bear it since they’re all manly. Also, they don’t traditionally pick berries, which is where you really get bitten. And most guys wear quaspeqs only for ceremonial or official events, like traditional festivals or Native dance performances. Most guys own only one or two quaspeqs. Ladies are the ones who wear quaspeqs for everyday, so we have more. I have eight quaspeqs. Many of the women in my hometown have upwards of twelve or fifteen.
Since this is a sewing blog, I’ll talk about the pattern, trim, and color choices for quaspeqs. You guys seem to be all into that stuff. Usually, a quaspeq is made of calico cotton for the ladies and plain cotton for the gentlemen. I have no idea how much fabric you need because I don’t sew, but I can tell you that quaspeqs are designed to fit loosely. These aren’t body-baring garments, and we’re supposed to be able to climb up to the smokehouse in them. We need to have enough room to move that booty. There’s usually some trim, commonly rick-rack, around the sleeves, hood, pocket, and skirt. Trim can also be thick brocade-looking stuff when we’ve had a stellar fishing season and are in the money. Or if we found some on eBay. As for color choices, little Native ladies who are old enough to be elders usually like the wildest, most clashing, brightest stuff they can find. A typical combination might be orange paisley with rick-rack in two colors like bright purple and green. Then, they’ll stick floral-patterned pants under it. It’s totally cute, and they work the look. More, umm, contemporary designs are typically a bit more matching.
As for the actual wearing of a quaspeq, we’ll start with an oldie but a goodie. Does this quaspeq make me look fat? The answer is yes. A quaspeq will make you look wide or wider in the beam, due to the loose and poofy fit. The little skirt option right at the hips doesn’t help. But, the nice thing about a quaspeq is that everyone looks like that in them. And traditional Native Alaskan cultures in my area are okay with a little sturdiness in a gal. It means we’re not weak and that we’re pretty fun to have around since we can probably cook.
Hope you enjoyed this one woman’s manifesto on quaspeqs. I’m going to leave you with pics of a few more of my quaspeqs so that you can see the variety in quaspeq design. Enjoy.