Steampunk inspiration and resources

History

Booze, Glorious Booze: The Aviator

3579cf1bf2f126c8bb3b306d202a6cf4This yummy little concoction, either called ‘Aviation’ or ‘The Aviator’ depending on the source, is as pretty as it is tasty, though you probably don’t have the ingredients on hand.

The name comes from the distinctive “sunset” look you get from the purple cocktail and the deep red of authentic maraschino-soaked cherries. No, not those weird sugary things you used to get in your Shirley Temple that are made by brining the fruit, but a delightful burst of dark cherry flavor laced with a kick of maraschino liqueur.

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The other special ingredient you won’t find in your average home bar is crème de violette. Flower-flavored liqueurs were all the rage during the steam era, but fell out of favor somewhere in the 20th century about the same time that floral breath mints gave way to mint ones. Crème de violette could still be found in France and sometimes in the formerly French-occupied areas of the American South, but for the most part it became almost impossible to acquire for several decades. In 2007, an entrepreneur named Hans Alpenz started to import the liqueur to the US, and the recipe for Aviation was dusted off in high-end bars all over the country.

If you get technical, this exact cocktail wasn’t recorded for the first time until 1917, so most precisely it’s a drink that could possibly show up in Dieselpunk setting more than a Steampunk one. Still, crème de violette was definitely popular during the steam era, and the Victorians were no strangers to manned flight, so I think it deserves a home here in my Booze, Glorious Booze series.

Bottoms up 🙂

Recipe

 


Booze, Glorious Booze: Absinthe

absinthe_robette_poster“The green fairy” first twinkled into existence in 1792 in the hands of a French doctor named Pierre Ordinaire (yep, his name was basically Pete Normalguy but with a better accent). He was looking for a delivery method for wormwood, which at the time was thought to have healing effects. By 1797, Ordinaire sold his recipe to a Swiss father and son team, who eventually moved production to Pontarlier, France in 1805. Absinthe production rose to as high as 400 liters a day over the following decades and mostly in service to a growing demand by elite imbibers, but this was nothing compared to the demand create by the “absinthe fever” that took over mid-century Bohemia.

absinthe_edouard_pernot.htmDuring the 1850’s, many artists and writers turned to this spirited spirit to find their muse, and by the 1870’s people from all walks of life were drinking it. In addition to being a jolly good time, absinthe was also used to fight off bacterial infections. In those days the water quality for the average French urbanite was very bad, and people added alcohol in order to “purify” before drinking. Believe it or not, wine was actually more expensive than absinthe, so many poor people saw it is the economical choice. Adding water to absinthe also has the strange effect of making it cloudy, so absinthe-water would be a delightfully minty green color.

One American city started a long-lasting relationship with absinthe as well. New Orleans embraced the green fairy as early as 1869, and within a few years was known as the “Absinthe Capital of America.” Special absinthe cocktail lounges opened all over the city, and local brands like The Green Opal and Legendre were born. At a bar called The Absinthe Room, the owner installed a special fountain that dripped the diluted alcohol over lumps of sugar and into waiting glasses. These lounges attracted several notable end of century figures such as Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and Oscar Wilde.

If you didn't have a fountain, you could put sugar on a special spoon and drip water through it to achieve the same effect

If you didn’t have a fountain, you could put sugar on a special spoon and drip water through it to achieve the same effect

While something that calls itself absinthe is available in the US, the truth is that it’s missing the special ingredient: wormwood. Though many European countries do not restrict its sale, the original recipe for absinthe is considered toxic by the FDA. I tried some old world absinthe during my travels and I didn’t think it was all the special, personally. Maybe I needed to be drinking alone and staring at a canvas or something, but my muse was pretty mute. Absinthe tastes very strongly of anise, so if you aren’t a black licorice fan I’d stay steer clear.

Have you ever had a run-in with the green fairy? Leave a comment below!

 


Being First – the Triumphs and Tragedies of Sofia; A Steampunk Feminist’s Perspective

A great piece on one of the great minds of mathematics and her struggle for an education in an era unfriendly to intelligent women.

Source: Being First – the Triumphs and Tragedies of Sofia; A Steampunk Feminist’s Perspective


The Steampunk Color Palette: Analine and the “Mauve Decade”

If you are a Steampunk fan, you have probably seen a meme that looks something like this:

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Personally, this has nothing to do with how I fell in love with this awesome sci-fi genre, and in truth the steam era was a lot more colorful than people give it credit for. The discovery of new dyes and pigments, coupled with the rise of ready-made clothing through mechanization of the processes of garment-making, lead to an explosion of color in fashion for both sexes in the second half of the 19th century.

Until the mid-1800’s, the fashion industry was limited by the availability of natural dyes. Crushed plants and animals provided the only way to add color to clothing, and these resources were limited and often very costly. Purples were especially hard to come by, and until 1856 you could only make it by using a few types of mollusks. Then, amateur chemist William Perkin changed all that.

He didn’t have fashion on his mind when he started his experiments with quinine, but the accidental discovery of a synthetic pigment he called “mauvine” far outstripped his greatest hopes for his original work. Within a few years, this purple pigment (derived from a volatile compound “analine”) could be seen draped over Victorian England’s middle class after Queen Victoria popularized the hue. The 1890’s are sometimes referred to as “the mauve decade” because of how prevalent this color had become.

But, the story is so much bigger than dresses (which is saying a lot considering they were some really BIG dresses). When the synthetic dye craze exploded, Germany was one of the only countries that were really equipped to handle this new chemical industry. By the onset of the first World War, Germany was responsible for supplying as much as 90% of the American market’s synthetic dyes. At the turn of the 19th century, France was seen as the seat of fashion, so it is no surprise that these fashion houses issued the first color cards to act as guides for dying thread to match their goods and make production faster and more consistent.

When I read about all of this I got inspired to make some of my artwork reflect these innovations by exploring a single hue such as Analine purple. What do you think?

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For a limited time this little beauty will be up on my Etsy shop, but I am currently talking to a gallery that is interested in displaying some of my small pieces. If you think you might like to have this as your very own, act fast!

 


Hat’s Off to the Stetson

1800s_Boss_of_the_plains_5If I told you I saw a cowboy, you would immediately have a picture in your mind of what I meant. Spurs or no spurs, you’d be picturing a man wearing a hat with a tall crown and a wide brim. This basic design, first called “The Boss of the Plains” model, came into being in 1865 in the small workshop of John B. Stetson.

He was born in 1830, and like so many men his age he was called westward by the promise of gold. The story goes that while he was in Colorado hunting with some buddies he put on a little demonstration about the benefits of making a hat with no tanned leather. He used felt, in this case made from beaver fur but any natural fiber will do, to fabricate something that was meant as a joke, but turned into an icon. The wide brim kept the sun and rain out of his face and the tall crown left a space above his head to carry a canteen.

In 1865 he ended his wanderings and opened up his hat shop where the first “Boss” was made. At first each hat was handmade and constructed of expensive materials (it takes 42 beaver pelts to make enough felt for one hat), wearing a real Stetson was a mark of wealth in the Old West. They also had the advantage of being adjustable, thus the band where the brim meets the crown.

John_B._Stetson_Co._Factory,_Philadelphia,_PA_1894By 1886, his hat factory grew to be the largest in the world and included the newest innovations in mechanized haberdashery, but the reputation for quality was already in place despite losing the handmade touch. In 1894, he had a factory that covered 9 full acres at his disposal.

Tom Mix was an actor in the 1930s who often portrayed cowboys and always wore a 10-gallon hat

Tom Mix was an actor in the 1930s who often portrayed cowboys and always wore a 10-gallon hat

Over time several variations on the original style arose, and especially in Texas the “10-gallon” hat became the favorite. Felt hats are waterproof, and an early advertisement of this over-sized model showed a cowboy dipping his hat into a stream to water his horse. Other variations were worn by military and police officers both in the US and abroad. For instance, the Canadian Mounted Police still wear a Stetson with a flat brim even today.

Like Bowlers, Stetsons are a popular accessory to upcycle into a Steampunk, so here are a few of my favorite Steampunk cowboy hats from around the interwebs.


Gold Rush Days at Old Sacramento

After over a year living in Greece and Bulgaria, the Mister and I decided to take our time getting out to California. We spent some time with family, relaxed and took a looooooong drive from Michigan to the coast. I had been to places like the Black Hills and Yellowstone as a kid, but he had never gotten the chance to see them, so we loaded up our little Chevy and hit the road.

Buffalo in YellowstoneI had forgotten that once you get West of Minnesota, you are already in cowboy country. We at in restaurants decked out in 100% old West gear and kitschy dives dripping with patriotism. We went into a general store and found not only special cowboy boot stockings, but a pink bedazzled horse brush and special coats for goats. We saw Mount Rushmore, learned the history of Wall Drug, got up close and personal with buffalo, braved the sulphur-scented air of geysers and saw the Grand Tetons from horseback.  In short, it was a marvelous time!

I thought I would have overdosed on all that rugged charm, but instead I find myself drawn to learning more about this unique time and place in history. To help myself do just that (as well as pay the bills of course) I got a job as a tour guide at the Sacramento History Museum. I am sure once I am through building my character (I am currently leaning towards professional gambler) and writing my tour I will have tons of great tidbits to share with you all. At the moment I am just itching to frolic in their extensive costume closet!

Over Labor Day weekend I attended Sacramento’s annual ode to the buckeroo way of life, Gold Rush Days. When gold was discovered in the American River in 1848, Sacramento wasn’t even a village, let alone a state capitol. Heck, California was barely even a state! The Sacramento River was a great launching point for people trying to reach the gold fields, and due to some enterprising folk it blossomed into a thriving burgh as a result. So, it isn’t at all surprising that the city makes a big deal over Gold Rush Days.

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This weekend-long celebration doesn’t happen every year. In fact, a friendly Sacramento Historical Center volunteer told me that last year they had to take a break because of the drought conditions facing the state. So people were especially excited for this year’s shenanigans. There were tons of people in historical garb, old-timey drinks like sasparilla and birch beer (yum!), train rides, carriage rides and free samples of saltwater taffy. There were several actors participating in living history displays all over “tent city”, just outside the Sacramento History Museum.

Inside there was even more to see! I had a great time chatting with the costumed volunteers in “The Lady’s Parlour” where they had lace-making and weaving demonstrations as well as a diorama competition and old maps of the city.

Intrigued? Never fear! I will have lots of cool information for you soon about the Old West.


Quotable Quotes by Oscar Wilde

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1. I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability.

2. The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.

3. Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.

4. It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.

Oscar cape5. The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself.

6. Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.

7. What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

8. A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.

9. When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is.

Oscar red10. There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.

11. Work is the curse of the drinking classes.

12. Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.

13. True friends stab you in the front.

14. All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.

15. Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.

16. There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.

17. Genius is born—not paid.

18. Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.

19. How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being?

Oscar cape and hat20. A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally.

21. My own business always bores me to death; I prefer other people’s.

22. The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything.

23. I like men who have a future and women who have a past.

24. There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope.

25. Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.


Hat’s Off to Bowlers

A big part of the nonfiction Steampunk book I am writing is going to be a series of timelines to help place people, places, events and cultural movements in relation to one another. I am really looking forward to doing this coming up in the Fall, and the first I am working on is about fashion. So as I delve into my research I will be writing a new monthly series that is going to focus on different types of hats. This month will pay homage to the steampunkiest of hats, the Bowler.

found on The Graphics Fairy website

found on The Graphics Fairy website

As with any mention of a Stetson, Bowler should always be capitalized because it is named after a person, or in this case, persons. The brothers Thomas and William Bowlers first created the hat in 1849. Their task was to create a hat that would protect the head of Edward Coke, the brother of the second Earl of Leicester, and other men who pursued horseback riding and other outdoor gaming in their leisure time. According to the story, when Coke showed up to pick up the hat he stamped on it to test its strength. In later years the Bowler became associated with city gentlemen, and beat out other men’s headgear as the most popular in both the UK and America in the 19th century. By the 21st century, we don’t have many examples of Americans still wearing them, but they are still required garb for many men in England. During the annual military parade, for instance, they are part of the military costume.

In Steampunk circles, it not uncommon to see women sporting a Bowler hat as well, or to see tricked out Bowlers that include goggles or other steamy adornments. I compiled a fun gallery of just a few of the many Bowler hat adaptations out there on the interwebs. Enjoy!