If you are a Steampunk fan, you have probably seen a meme that looks something like this:
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?
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!
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.
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!
Ever since watching the campy Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes I have been thinking about mechanical dragons. I have been sitting on a photo of the new mechanized Malificent-as-a-dragon from Disney’s parade for months, so I went out and scoured the interwebs for some more scaly Steampunk friends to join her. I hope you enjoy the gallery!
As a person living very far from home at the moment I am so thankful for the internet, and especially networks that post episodes of my favorite shows. It was love at first viewing of the Comedy Central show @Midnight, which is hosted by Chris Hardwick of the Nerdist podcast series. He is fabulously nerdy and a big fan of cosplayers, so it came as no surprise when he dressed up in clever costumes for several episodes of the improv comedy show leading up to Halloween.
In addition to Luke Skywalker Texas Ranger, he also got decked out by Clockwork Couture in a Steampunk Doctor Who ensemble. From a distance, you wouldn’t know he was posing at the Doctor, but as he told the audience, his splendid cravat actually had his name embroidered in Gallfrayan on it. Someone photoshopped Hardwick onto a TARDIS interior and I couldn’t resist posting it.
During the “Creating with Quicksilver” session, the Major couldn’t say enough good things about a material called Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) foam. My only experience with it has been with bedrolls and yoga mats, but he demonstrated several ways to use it when you are constructing costumes.
EVA foam comes and many different colors and thicknesses. There are floor mats that are popular for kids to play on and these often have texture on one side which can add interest. Unlike many plastics, this foam also readily takes to hot glue without extra treatment. It is easy to draw on it with permanent markers, and can be cut with scissors or for more accuracy, a craft knife. It will dull your blade pretty quickly, though, so if you plan to make repeated cuts it is a good idea to invest in a craft knife that allows you the change out the blade easily.
If you do end up with rough edges you have a couple options. You can use something like a Dremel or other electric tool to grind them down, but it will be very messy when the foam starts flying. Major Quicksilver advises running the blunt side of a scissors across any rough parts to smooth it down without the mess.
EVA is especially good for things like armor that need to look heavy and sturdy but you don’t want to weigh you down. There are tons of patterns out there on the web for different kinds of armor, and the foam is great for layering so you can add bulk to your character easily. It is also easy to mold when heated with a heat gun, or even a hairdryer and holds it shape like a dream.
There are some foams, like polystyrene, which are even lighter and readily available, but be advised that there is often a chemical reaction with certain paints that can actually melt the foam. It would be a shame to build a whole suit of armor just to have it disintegrate while you are adding the finishing touches! EVA, on the other hand, is great for painting, especially with spray paint. But beware that the more a part of your project has to bend the more likely it is that your paint job could crack and flake.
Here are a few Steampunk examples I found on the web to inspire your own creations.
That’s right folks, it’s time for a monster mash. One popular way to “punk your steam” is to add elements of the supernatural to the tales from history, offering explanations that incorporate ghouls such as vampires and werewolves rather than what the history books say, as well creating brand new narratives where monsters play a role. Also, the Victorian era saw the birth of Spiritualism, the belief that spirits of the dead could and often did communicate with the living. All Hallows Eve, which has now been shortened to Halloween, celebrates the creepy and costume, and Steampunk seamstresses and seamsters, make-up artists and makers the world over use it as a chance to showcase their talents and share their knowledge.
Halloween has always held a special place in my heart, and in fact I launched this blog on October 31, 2013, so October is also my countdown the my first blogging birthday. Join me all month long for reviews of Steampunk movies and books that feature monsters and witches, costume construction tips from the sessions I attended at Weekend at the Asylum, LARP-ing games to give you an excuse to dust off your costume early, and other spooky fun surrounding the history of ghost stories and the practices of Spiritualism.
Do you have a scary or supernatural Steampunk story or photos of your Halloween creations that you would like to see appear on this blog? Send them my way at ForWhomTheGearTurns@Gmail.com. I can’t guarantee that I will post everything I receive, but I would love to get some submissions from readers. Make sure that you include the name you would like your creation attributed to as part of your email.
Europe’s largest Steampunk convivial was the host to several markets and tons of talented traders and craftspeople. There was one open to the general public in Castle Square, but the rest were only available to convention attendees. It was fun to be at the open market because of the opportunity to see all the “normals” mixing with the Steampunk crowd, but the closed markets were a great opportunity to visit booth after booth without being overcrowded.
I got a chance to talk to lots of people and collect several business cards, so I will do some posts on individual folks and businesses where you can get some stuff to add extra steam to your own cosplay. For now, here are some pics of the general hub-bub and the kinds of things you could purchase as part of the convention. Even with the pounds to dollars conversion I found the prices for vintage and handmade goods to be very reasonable. I picked up a utility belt, some art supplies and lovely lace collar for less than 50 GBP total.