Question of interest
How did early people make clothing from fabric, and skins without the use of patterns or standard units of measurement?
I was offered the opportunity at the beginning of the year to participate in trainings to teach math lessons with a cultural connection. My students refer to this method of teaching math as Yupik math. The first unit reviewed the concepts of measurement and proportional thinking. The unit taught how people in the native cultures built everything using proportional design. Kayaks are not one size fits all. Smoke houses and drying racks were not random height and length. All important structures and tools are built for the individual who will be using them. The complex lessons of proportional measurement made me think. How did the native people make clothing from fabric and animal skins without the use of standard units of measure, or patterns? How did women make clothing for family members of every shape and size without modern means of clothing construction or even a tape measure? I have always wanted a Kuspuk but have been unwilling to pay the $60.00 to $80.00 charged by the local gift shop. I began to wonder if there was a proportional mathematical design for this piece of clothing, and if there was, could I find anyone who would be able to instruct me on how to make a Kuspuk?
I am a life long Alaskan, but have spent only the past four years in villages along the western coast. I had been given two infant Kuspucks and I bought my daughter a youth size one at a garage sale. The first tool of inquiry I employed was to observe the artifacts. I examined all three articles and found that even though they came from different villages the pattern of construction was identical for all three tops. I knew I could use the clothing items in my possession to make a kuspuck of like size, but that would not answer my question. I wanted to know how clothing would have been made so that it fit the intended recipient. I tried to find women in the village where I live to teach me how to make a Kuspuck. I met with three of the older women in the village. None of them had ever made a Kuspuck. They told me that their mothers had made their kuspucks as children but none of them had learned this skill. I next contacted the math project coordinator and asked if she might be able to help me contact a knowledgeable source. I told her I did not want to find a pattern, but would rather find someone who might know if there is a proportional formula for making a kuspuck. A staff member from the project gave me the name of Dora Andrews-Irkie a Yupik Elder, and retired teacher from Dillingham who now lives in Anchorage. Dora was schedule to co-present at training in Dillingham in November. I was able engage her in a short interview at the conclusion of the training. She was more than happy to answer my questions and share her knowledge about the traditional method of kuspuck construction.
How To Make a Kuspuck
All measurements begin with your bodies’ line of symmetry. There are two center reference points. The main center point for your body is your bellybutton. The upper center point is the top of your spine where it meets the neck. Because I have never done something like this before I deceided to make a pattern out of paper first. I used the measurements listed below.
The first measure is from your top center point to each wrist =4 ½ (aiggaq ) hand lengths
The shoulder to the hip = 4 (unan ) hand lengths
Under arm to hip = 3 (unan ) handlengths
Neck opening =1/4 of an open hand ( iqelqin )
Hood length = 1( ikuyegarneq ) or elbow to knuckles
Hood width = 1 hand length (unan) wide plus three fingers ( pingayuneq )
Passion Project Reflection a. What was your question? How did early people make clothing from fabric and skins without the use of patterns or standard units of measurement? Secondly, is there a proportional mathematical design used in the production and construction of the kuspuk.
What was the answer to your question? The first people have used non-standard measurement to make everything from clothing to shelters. I was also able to find a knowledgeable expert who was taught the traditional method for constructing a kuspuk. I am very grateful for her willingness to share knowledge that has been passed down through her family with me. Yupik women used the non standard unit of measure of an unan (one hand length). The reference measurement is the clothing recipients hand size. By using this measurement the intended recipients top will have the proper fit. If you wanted to make a kuspuk for a baby you use the infants hand as the reference measurement. If you want the top to fit an adult man the reference measurement is the adult’s hand.
b. What research methods did you employ? Examination of artifacts, and interview of a reliable first hand source.
c. How does your final project reflect what you learned? I was able to make an actual kuspuk that fit my daughter. I have already made a pattern for myself, and my husband. My students have been working on the math unit and when we finish learning about standard measurements and non-standard units of measure we will all make patterns and then make a kuspuck. Making the kuspuk brought the math concepts I am teaching to life for me. I know creating a real product can make the same impact on my students. Many of the children in my class come from families that do not value education. Many of my students say math is stupid and boring. I am hopeful that if I can make math lessons relevant they may develop an interest in all learning. I am also hopeful that some families may become more supportive of the educational process as they see their children engaged in meaningful projects.
d. What major themes or concepts from the social sciences did your research and project address? Social Science topics that relate to my passion project include: history geography, economics, and anthropology.”
e. What did you learn from doing this project that you can apply to the teaching of social studies in the K-8 classroom? When I was in school Social Studies was pretty much just about reading the text and taking a test. The closest thing to being involved in a project was when the teacher passed out a ditto master with a picture to color. The main idea I will take away from this project is how much more meaningful it is to find out about another culture by interviewing a first hand source rather than just searching the internet, or reading a book. Dora talked about family parka patterns and the history of the beaded headdress while she demonstrated the kuspuk. I will look for ways to bring experts into my class rather than relying on my own knowledge or the just visiting sites on the Internet.
I finished my kuspuck several weeks after the interview. I forgot one of the measurements. The wrist measurement is only one hand length. If you look at my pattern I used the measurement from the bottom of the hem and made the sleeve extend straight out from that measurement. I should have angled the sleeve from the inner arm out so that it tapers to the wrist measurement of one hand. If you look closely at my daughters picture you will notice that the sleeve is way too big and I fixed it by adding a cuff. I reviewed my notes only after I finished the project and was able to figure out how I can make the kuspuk fit better next time.