Cuffs, trim, fabric, ruff, & tassels oh my!

The making of the Qulitaq or any other Arctic Parkas takes calculation, from the tundra to the table and back to gear! The part I enjoy the most is the strategic of sewing together the squirrels piece by piece. Most important the trapper(s) plan with their traveling partners and prepare camping gear, travel to the high elevation and set up camp for a time in the spring or fall. To cover up their human odor, the trapper(s) first boil their traps. Like fishermen screen the rivers to set their net, trappers look for evidence of squirrel burrows, piss smells and chirping noise to set their #1 traps in the field.

Arctic Ground Squirrel Burrow
High elevation squirrel’s territory

I would love to go trapping again for Arctic Ground Squirrels someday if time allows. Right now, I am focused on getting the alngaq squirrel parka done before the end of February 2023.

I have delayed finishing the parka past three years because I was unsure which style I would make as I did not have a model parka to follow. I am thankful for relatives who lent me their family parkas to look at for direction and guide. I’ve learned the technology in the parka making because of their willingness to share, Quyana. I am careful to measure their family style as they are passed down from generations – I’ve slightly changed the style to fit my child. I was inspired to sew this style because of a photo my mom had of her mother with two other ladies from Kwethluk Alaska.

My Grandma in middle
Unganaq, my maternal grandmother in the middle

It takes calculations using simple geometry and eyeing the pattern prior to cutting the squirrels. I use modern rulers and pen to guide my cuts. My next parka will be the design on the right of my grandma- which has a shoulder type of design.

Like a trapper, seamstresses study the field: which soaps to use to clean the pelt’s, timed drying of the fur, stretching the leather with a wooden pallet then rubbing the hid to soften by hand. In the winter of 2019 after Covid hit the world, I was able to tan 188 squirrels.


I am looking forward to more sewing parkas 🧵🪡

Author: Nasek'taq

Merna Wharton “Nasek’taq” is Yup'ik from Akiacuaq (Akiachak) lives in Anchorage Alaska. Merna is an Alaska Native artist, poet, traditional and contemporary seamstress, carver, gatherer of greens and berries, and loves the outdoors of Alaska! Merna enjoys finding art in natural elements and shares her experiences through her website, Merna crafts to preserve her culture and art and shares her worldview from a remote village Yup’ik girl’s perspective with a glimpse of life in Alaska in her writing and poems. More information about her art can be found at

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