Monday, June 28, 2010

Low Class Steampunks

My family members have never been rich landowners; the land they had they tilled themselves.

This is pertinent because lately I’ve been going through my late grandfather’s shed, and his tools. Amongst the modern tools, the power drills, the leaf blowers, I’ll come across a rusted hammer or some tool that I have no clue what it is supposed to do. Or I’ll move a shelf and find a posthole digger. Tools of a bygone age that were passed down from father to son for years, but stopped when the last patron’s sons took white collar jobs and bought modern tools to keep in clean and organized plastic toolboxes.

And it got me to thinking about what the lower class of southern steampunks would be like. Something tells me they’d be a lot like my ancestors: overall wearing, sweating, and swearing farmers and railroad workers. They’d be laying the brick next to their clockwork counterparts to construct the new dirigible hangar. Their moonshine distilleries might be prettier, but what they make could still make you blind. The women would be right out there in the fields next to their husbands, brothers, and sons, their skirts smudged with dirt instead of the grease so many of us imagine.

So, as southern steampunks who pride ourselves on our chivalry and hospitality, how do we take this other aspect and work it into how we define ourselves? How so we acknowledge the banjo playing, moonshine drinking, people who live off the land instead of bringing home a paycheck from a factory, or pirating the skies?

Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there’d be clockwork, steam powered farm hands that make this class of people unnecessary.

But I know that this question has been plaguing my mind for a while. Now that I am living near my family, and am confronted with where I came from on an almost daily basis, I wonder how this will change how I define being a southern steampunk. There is one thing that will not change: the southern pride; we might not have the fancy bustles, the big house, or the shiny toys, but we are just as proud a bunch as our pretty cousins.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Steamy Southern Summer Wear...Hats!

Hello everyone,

Several things have caused me to start thinking more about my steampunk clothing choices, including the sweltering conditions both inside and outside the convention space at Project A-Kon, Mr. Taineous's contributions regarding hats during one of the panels there, and the recent post by Joie-Elise, "Summer and the Southern Steampunk's Wardrobe."

Today, specifically, I wish to discuss hats. I am in the process of constructing a new dress for hot weather, but the hat is causing me to, er, perspire, and I haven't even started on it, let alone, put it on!

With my dress at A-Kon I wore a very small open-weave straw hat that seemed to allow air flow, but the form I have in mind for the new hat is made of thin felt of some unknown fiber, almost certainly polyester. Even though it will cover only a small amount of my head, I am afraid that it will be unbearably hot, so here is the solution I am considering...

Make a plaster mold of the outside of the hat, then use that to make a new hat-form out of a stiffened loosely woven fabric or mesh, using a paper-mache technique. I don't know if this will work. Do any of you fine folks have experience with hatmaking? Do you consider temperature when choosing a hat? Do you just go without?

I really would like to see more discussion on dealing with hot weather and how it affects us all in the South.

Yours Sincerely,
Leslie F. Lynch

Thursday, June 17, 2010

An Introduction and a Topic for Discussion

To all of you fine Southerners and to all of you visiting this fair and esteemed collection of writings from our local community south of the Mason-Dixon, welcome.

I had been asked to contribute to this aetheric periodical and add my thoughts to those of my peers. Though I must admit, with no small degree of humility, that I feel privileged to be considered among such wonderful company. First, an introduction:

I am Doctor Q, a morally ambiguous musical arranger (an MP3-J or DJ if you like), as well as a master of ceremonies for hire. I have inflicted my musical taste on the general public at the many successful Mechanical Masquerades here in Terminus, as well as at other assorted and sundry locales, most notable of which is at the great gathering of gaslamp and gear enthusiasts known as AnachroCon. While born a Yankee, I have travelled a good bit up and down the east coast states for prolonged periods of time and now called the South my home for some time now, and I find the place suits me – well Terminus in specific. It’s fast paced enough to provide for my needs, while retaining just enough of that southern charm to not be too stressful.

As an adopted Southerner, I have a few unique views on how the South has interpreted the Steampunk subculture. First, I had never truly understood the term “Southern Hospitality” until I finally took the plunge and began actually socializing at the conventions and such with my fellow retro-futurists. This community has among them the kindest, warmest, and most welcoming people among their number as nothing I have ever been a part of before, and it is this welcoming, inclusive spirit that I do all I can to foster, while at the same time not appear too soft, as I am after all a card carrying member of a number of nefarious science organizations.

Most notably, I find that those of us who mingle in these circles have many amazing ideas as well as a variety of opinions on what is or is not Steampunk, whether rules should be considered or rejected on its face, whether the genre is open to all forms of expression or not, and a host of other topics.

As one who specializes in musical selection – and graphic novels, but that is a post for another time – I can say only that what impresses me about Southern Steampunks is that we have always been a stubborn and opinionated lot, but for the most part we welcome all new ideas and can debate our own views with respect, candor, and intellectual grace that makes me proud to consider myself among such a great number of fine ladies and gentlemen. And in the end, this sharing of ideas and thoughts is just the start. I know that almost all of us have no problems sharing more: how our costumes were made, how to make it yourself, where to go to get the hard to find parts you need, access to workshops, etc. We’ve shared our style, our art, and in my own case what I consider to be the musical stylings found all over the world with those that come and spend time with one of us or all of us. We have conventions, gatherings, meet-ups, and social salons that have allowed us a level of community that I think is unique to this area, and one that should be fostered, nurtured and grown.

So when I gave a long, hard thought as to what I could share with the community via written words as opposed to musical arrangements, it took me some time to decide what to do. And I have arrived at the conclusion that for now, I would like to offer up some ideas to you all and see what it is the community would like to discuss. Maybe moderate, maybe put my own thoughts in, but overall I think the free and open exchange of ideas is paramount. So let’s get to it.

We have thus far in this blog heard from a number of luminaries as to what they feel is or is not Steampunk. There is the camp that feels that the Neo-Victorian influence is essential, while others take a more inclusive all-are-welcome approach. There are those feeling that a need for historical anachronism in way or another is crucial, that some manner of do-it-yourself craft is needed, while others are content with simply slapping goggles on their head and wearing things they got at Hot Topic. I make no judgments on any of it, I simply ask that you take some time, and share with us what you think it is or is not.

And to that end, I’ll even throw in a bonus thought for comment: I have a distaste for the word Steampunk. It’s true. I can – and likely will – write a long post here on its history, where it came from, and why I think it is nowhere near the best word to really encapsulate the subculture as I see it, but it is too late, as the word’s gotten too much traction to stop. So I use it begrudgingly. So if you see me use words like Retro-Futurist, Anachronist, Neo-Victorian, or Gearhead – just know it’s because I find them to be more appropriate for the topic and use them generally interchangeably. Your thoughts? Like the word just fine or do you prefer another?

Please comment and share and I promise to toss in my two pence here and there.

Thank you for your time and stay tuned for further installments.
~Doctor Q

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Southern Beginning

I received the honor of being invited to contribute to this blog last week, and have been pondering what exactly to contribute. My mind not being one for focusing on one project for long tends to throw topics at me faster than I can handle them. I suppose that I’ll just start from the beginning.

I am at once a born and transplant Southerner. My parents grew up in North Western Arkansas, with my dad’s family hailing from Tennessee and my mom’s family from Alabama. But I was born in Kentuckey, and lived a military lifestyle of moving every handful of years. But, my first real run in with Steampunk was in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Shortly after I discovered Steampunk, I was hired on as a wardrobe girl for a traveling show, and got to see the influence of Steampunk all over the Americas. And it is far reaching: from peddlers on the sidewalks of Buenos Aires selling goggles and insects sculpted from brass and glass, to watching a couple of airship pirates rock out in a bar in Vancouver, Canada.

Everyone I met was very nice, very fun, and dressed in lovely clothes. But nothing in my travels ever really outshone the times I had at the Clockwork Balls hosted by the Clockwork Cabaret in Chapel Hill.

I like to think it’s because, as William said in his first post, we thrive on the elegance, chivalry, grace, and manners. But we are still just as grease and dirt covered as our Northern cousins. We just hide it with gloves and a good hat. Our cage crinolines might be a tad impractical, but I promise you that you’ll find a good number of wrenches, modified pocket watches, and no few firearms and pretty knives hidden under those skirts. Y’know, just in case.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Brainstorming

After a very long weekend of doing what actors do...eh...er...not waiting tables or procrastinating...I mean to say is ACTING...is what actors do best...I have had some time to think about things, and nothing...and just let my mind wander.

In light of the horrific blemish to my arm this weekend, violence seemed to spring to mind. Topic of conversation perhaps? - Steampunk Tanks and Militia Equipment.

One of our members, Adam, is a militia based character - he's the guy with the cannons on his shoulders.

There of course are sky pirates everywhere, and rogues etc...in our steampunks worlds, but where are the "good guys" - the LAW?? Clearly even in a post apocolyptic (or post-POST apocolyptic) society, there have to be two sides to every coin. I have seen only a handful of steampunk militia - in the sense that we know it today (a group of fighters with a clear leader sporting their colors and weapons) who are on the side of good and not rag tag pirates and the like. What kinds of weapons would they have? shoulder cannons?? and what kinds of vehicles? They would need something faster than airships and possibly smaller to surround...steampunk tanks? steampunk like speed boats? steampunk gliders?


Just had it pass through this crazy brain of mine...any thoughts world??

Good night for now,
Savannah Midnight

Happy International Steampunk Day!

Steampunk Lincoln has been overdone.  I offer you Steampunk Teddy Roosevelt for your consideration.

Have a happy International Steampunk Day!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Summer and the Southern Steampunk's Wardrobe

I think, perhaps, the most pressing matter on many a southern steampunk's mind is how to wear steampunk stylishly in the often wilting summer weather. Assuming that steampunk style takes an obvious cue from Victorian-era fashion, this supposes multiple layers and plenty of coverage. We of the modern world are so used to tank tops and flip flops, that the idea of piling on the clothing when its nearly a hundred degrees outside can seem more than a little daunting. There are some sneaky (and not so sneaky) ways to get the right look, however, and not die of heatstroke in the process. Starting with some period-specific tricks that can be appropriated for steampunk style, I'm first going to take the easy route; fabric.

What your wardrobe is made out of matters. Aside from being genre-appropriate, fabrics like linen, seersucker or gauze are made from natural materials and have light, loose weaves, which allow air to circulate. While that wool frock coat may look smashing, it may be difficult to wear for long periods of time in the hot, hot sun. If your charming ruffled blouse is made of polyester (or any number of other synthetic fabrics) it won't allow air to pass through its tightly-woven plastic-coated fibers and may begin to feel more like a frilly sauna. Pay attention to labels if you buy your clothing, or make sure you know the fabric content of any fabrics you are purchasing if you sew your own. Natural fabrics are almost always best, but those that are specifically designed to be worn in warm weather will trump even the finest silk or brocade. There's a reason southern gentlemen are known for their seersucker suits, after all.

Second, accessorize. Hats are very popular in steampunk style for obvious reasons, and while some can make you warmer by not allowing heat to escape the top of you head, others will help keep you cool due to the shade they provide. This is, of course, slightly easier for women, who may choose to wear broad-brimmed straw hats--try a mosquito netting veil for an even more useful look--but gentlemen have many options taken from the wild (wild?) west. The stetson is a versatile and popular style, as is the gamblers' hat, and there is the less western, more “English” straw boater. Finally, the pinnacle of all hats, the pith helmet, is not only enviably stylish, but has been designed specifically to be worn in sweltering conditions. Personally, I think everyone should own one.

Both sexes may also keep cool beneath the shade of an umbrella or parasol, and you inventor types may even find a way to create a portable, steam-powered fan. Until then, however, there is one very important thing to consider when trying to design your steampunk wardrobe with a southern summer in mind; anachronism.

Steampunk may take much of its aesthetic from a Victorian mode of dress, but don't forget that we're exploring a Victorian era that never was. That means anachronistic clothing is not only possible, but encouraged when in the spirit of the genre. That ruffled blouse I mentioned earlier (though yours is cotton, of course)? Wouldn't it be much cooler and give your outfit a bit of an edge if it were sleeveless? Heavy skirts dragging you down? Make them shorter or bustle them above the knee. Trousers? They can be substituted with knickerbockers or bloomers.

The key to creating your summer steampunk wardrobe is to think outside the box. A proper Victorian woman probably wouldn't wear a sleeveless chemise and bloomers in public, but your airship pirate just might. Long skirts tend to tangle in an airship's rigging anyway.

So, I've given you a few things to think about when choosing a steampunk wardrobe that can be worn in the south during the summer. To recap, look for loosely woven natural fabrics which breathe well, make your own shade with the help of hats and parasols, and don't get too caught up in trying to emulate Victorian fashion. We're not reenactors, after all. Or, if we are, we're celebrating a time period that never was, and whose aesthetics, like speed limits, are suggestions rather than hard and fast rules.

((I realize I may spark some controversy with that last line. Keep an eye on this blog for my next post about personal aesthetic and the steampunk style, which may clear up a few leaped-to conclusions.

Why? What did you think I meant?))

Au revoir
Joie-Elise

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Good Day For Steampunks Everywhere

I had a good day today...and it was capped by the invitation to write for this blog. And it also supplied me with a fairly exciting story to start out with, lucky me, but first...why am I here?

No, I'm not lost in the "aether" or thinking existentially right now, I'm talking about why I am writing in this blog, why me, what makes me want to write where everyone can read it? And my question when approached about this blog was, "What should I write?" Obviously, no REAL answer was given except to be myself.

Unfortunately, myself is a procrastinator who rarely has time for anything except work...and it got me thinking...all Steampunks...by nature...are humans who live in our current day and time. Whether Steampunk is a game, an escape, a fashion statement, whatever it is to you, you're still a modern person with modern issues. Mine is being lazy and slow sometimes, at others busy and overworks (...and under paid). So I write to you from a real persons perspective on Steampunk and using it to better myself. Perhaps having a blog to write in every day (or once a week) will help me become a better modern person with some discipline in tow.

I am an actor (let's not get into the actor vs. actress argument - that's a different blog entirely) and stumbled into the costuming realm during college. That's the long and short of it. Right now I act and design costumes. I am sure more of my history will present itself as time wears on.

Recently I was at the World Steam Expo in Dearborn, Michigan with Penny Dreadful Productions ( a company I co-founded with Matt Silva) as guests. We were invited all the way from Little ol' ATL to be guests...and what a surprise we had! Most of the Atlanta Steampunk community was there. Sort of like Dorothy in the Wizard of OZ, you never see how great you have it at home, until you're away and you keep seeing familiar faces everywhere you look (though our familiar faces were actually present, not delusions). I have come to realize Atlanta is very lucky to be a bit of a HUB for steampunk, yay us!!!

I know other have blogged on that point, so I'll leave it at that :)

So now, for my wonderful news of the day: while working at the work shop (a good thing to be doing in such a place - working on such steamy good things as we were) - we received a telephone call from Mr. Doug Jones! As the details so such a phone call cannot begin to be described, I must say, all of our days were brightened by his voice! So renewed with vigor, we continued to work on steamy things.

We also have received an offer to clothe a couple of models for a steampunk themed photo shoot...which was exciting...until I sat down to sketch the new clothes...and then my muse went off for a coffee break on the dirigible. There I was - ready and willing - and left in the dust. Hopefully a good nights rest will help clear the mind.

Until my mind is cleared - Trudge onward Steampunks!
Savannah Midnight
Penny Dreadful Productions

Call for contributors...

If you live in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas or Virginia...

If you are into Steampunk...

If you want to write about Steampunk in the South...

Then send an email to wmofskye@gmail.com and ask to be added to the contributors list!

Have a steamy day!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Steampunk is... What?

At first, I was going to compare steampunk to a garden of some sort, but then I realized that doing so would imply that there are "weeds" that need to be pulled up by the roots and tossed onto a compost heap. Happily, I have yet to meet anyone in the steampunk community whom I thought needed to be removed from our pretty little flower beds. Oh yes, I'm sure that *someday* I'll run into someone who is "only in it for the cute chicks in corsets" but until then my highly positive opinion of steampunk will remain intact.

Well, let me see... Do I really need to provide a definition of steampunk? Perhaps I do, there are bound to be people out there on the far side of this computer monitor who have just found out that steampunk exists and who would like to know more about it. The thing is, I can't just say "Steampunk is..." and follow that beginning with some simple, trite statement that sums up the whole thing in a nice, neat little package. One thing that steampunk isn't- is simple.

There is the original literary genre of fiction that began the whole thing. Steampunk fiction is complicated enough as a concept to make me want to search out some expert, genius writer to sum it up in a couple of thousand words to post somewhere that other writing genius-types can read it and go "that's almost correct, but..." Yes, indeed, *but-* What people now think of as "steampunk" includes a lot more than the creative writing of near-dystopia futurism of alternate-history fiction. (My goodness, I came close to sounding almost educated there. Don't worry, I shan't stray too near that territory again!) I've seen articles written that claim that "steampunk" is just a sub-genre of cos-play, as if the fact that we choose to dress up in fancy clothes was the be-all-and-end-all of our existence. I've read other articles that dismiss us as "just a bunch of jaded Goths who came to think that there's more to life than mind-numbing depression." Oh, what a positive, free-thinker that author was, eh? I've also seen good people attempting to show we steampunks honestly as fun-loving, creative folks who fell in love with the idea that somewhere, some when, there exists a moment in alternate history wherein good manners, pretty clothes, do-it-yourself creativity, and classical Gothic romance fiction fell in love with Jules Verne & HG Wells- and then schemed to have their hybrid love-child brought into the world in a laboratory constructed by Nicola Tesla. Now *that* one is closer to what I know steampunk to have become in the past decade or so! LOL!

We're not just a bunch of Goths who have discovered that colors other than Black are actually real. Some of us were Goth at one time, I'm sure. Others of us were Creative Anachronists, or historical re-enactors, or just gadget-loving geeks. Some of us were other things as well. Things I lack the education to describe without sounding disrespectful, to be sure. I acknowledge that people who have been attracted to steampunk have come from a huge variety of other interests, to meet in a great melting-pot of creativity, talent, and a fun-loving spirit of community that I have grown to love under the wide-reaching umbrella of the term Steampunk.


Vila

One Man's Views on Southern Steampunk

As Steampunk grows it is obvious that it is as diverse as our nation.  There are unique perspectives from all over…Northeastern, Northwestern, Southern, West Coast, Midwest, etc.  We all have our favorites depending on the area in which we reside.  Mine, of course, is Southern Steampunk.

One of the challenges of Steampunk as a whole is to strip away the negative parts of Victoriana and enhance the positive ideals of the era.  Another challenge is to not rely too heavily upon modern ideas within Steampunk.  We all can pretty much agree that modern is boring…this is part of why we are drawn to Steampunk.  What I wouldn’t give to see Apple Computers actually make a cool looking iPhone rather than the modern glass and metal bricks they continue to produce.  The aesthetic of retro-futurism takes us back to a time when quality mattered.  Things were built to last, to be passed down to our children and our children’s children.  We have come to live in a disposable society. If it breaks, throw it away (or recycle it) and get a new one!  It’ll be better, shinier, and faster!  Cheap plastics and mass production have contributed to this, but we as Steampunks reject this.  We have an ideal, we have a vision.  We demand quality, we demand beauty, we demand civility. 

Fashions of the age also show that the designers care.  Clothing should accent who we are as an individual and allow us to make a statement about who we are.  Taking this into consideration, we can see how Moderns choose to show themselves to the world.  The general public has devolved to the wearing of T-shirts, women’s thongs being displayed and sagging jeans with boxer shorts showing.  To me this shows a lack of caring and a certain level of laziness.  Is this how they really want to be perceived by the rest of the world?  If it is…more power to them, but it is not for me.  I’m not saying that one should never wear a t-shirt and shorts mind you, but there is a time and place for everything.  Unfortunately many times the choices made by certain individuals are not appropriate for the activity they are choosing to engage in.  Even modern dress fashions, particularly for men, are incredibly boring.  Fortunately women have a lot more choice, but men…we are stuck with the monochromatic suit, no vest and if we’re lucky, a festive tie unless you’re at the office.  Then the tie had better be one color and have no patterns or panache to it.  What is wrong with wearing a waistcoat and pocket watch?  What is wrong with wearing a bowler or top hat?  What is wrong with men having color, style and texture in their clothing?  More times than not when wearing my Steampunk clothing I’ve been complimented by the Moderns.  Others don’t quite know how to handle it, though.  I remember being laughed at by a man out in public.   I was wearing a frock coat, tie, waistcoat, top hat and saddle shoes; he was wearing sweat pants, a baggy t-shirt with a Budweiser print on the front and Nike sneakers.  Who, I ask you, was worthy of being laughed at for their wardrobe choice?  Let us not even get into the lax office dress standards that have come along in the past 20 years.  Flip flops, shorts, blue jeans…all are allowed in some corporate environments.  I’m not sure which is worse…boring men’s fashion or beachwear in corporate America.

The South has a rich heritage that is heavily based in the aristocracy of gentlemen farmers, cavaliers, chivalry and creativity both in art and music.  We still have remnants of our grand and wonderful architecture that have been preserved.  Buildings of business and glorious Painted Ladies still survive by the grace of the efforts of those outside the Steampunk community who wish to preserve the history and elegance of these structures.  Ivanhoe once was a huge influence in Southern culture and it still has some influence today.  Even the manners of modern Southerners hearken back to the days of a more civilized world.  It is these influences that I try to integrate into Southern Steampunk.  Elegance, creativity, grace, chivalry, mannerisms, style and a dash of romantic flair…this is the essence of Southern Steampunk.  This is the personification of Southern Steampunk that I and others display to the world.