Monday, November 25, 2013

Yes, Virginia, You CAN Steampunk Christmas

Season's Greetings, everyone!  The days are getting chillier and shorter, and thoughts are veering toward Christmas, even for those of us who strenuously avoid such thoughts til Halloween and Remembrance Day are over. 

This is a post far longer in the making than needed, for which I apologize.  When I had to create a steampunk display for our group's table at a Christmas Faire, I started the seeds of this article.  While creating the visual display of steampunk, I decided I should have a section fitting in with the Christmas theme, so I decided to investigate Steampunking Christmas.
A bit of Googling online (see below), and I found some great steampunked Christmas images, including the Steampunk Santa, by CyborgNecromancer (found here on deviantART), Ms. Koobickle's Steampunk Santa in Airship, from her post in 2009 at her blog, and some awesome embroidery designs on Urban Threads.  There were several others images I found as well, but these ones particularly caught my eye.
The Steampunk Christmas crafts I've encountered range from from Jennifer Dove's crafted Christmas card masterpiece (apparently made with stamps, gears, weights a lot, and it even ticks! details here), to Desert Rubble's wonderful polymer Steampunk Santas, on Deviantart here and here.
And of course, there are Christmas ornaments for a tree with a difference.  I quite like ValerianaSolaris' polymer ornament made from a glass ball and Fimo.
Jen, at Epbot, posted an article about steampunk Christmas ornaments, showing off some beauties she found, including this stunner below, which she names The Ultimate Steampunk Pine Cone of Craftiness (awesome!) and which a fellow crafter sent to her!  
In addition to these, there are many steampunk Christmas collages, gift tags, and Christmas trees bedecked with gears out there.  Then there are the many vintage images of Victorian & Edwardian Christmas cards with a very steampunk feel to them, as this small selection from my vintage image collection shows:
So, the whole point of this post is to say, Yes, Virginia, you CAN steampunk Christmas.  And from all the cool stuff I've seen online, we really, really should.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Steamwench's Jewelry Box, or, Come See What I've Made!

Hello, all.

As I frantically prepare for my 4th ever experience as a vendor (and all within the last 12 months), this time at my second Christmas Fair, at Imaginarius Fantasticus III, I thought I'd share the contents of the Steamwench's Jewelry Box.

Making jewelry was something I had done just a couple of times, for myself.  I had thought about making it to sell, but I seemed to have so many other things to do, and I wasn't sure how to go about it.  Then, just under a year ago, the opportunity to vend essentially fell into my lap, and even I realized it would be foolish to not give it a whirl. 

What followed was a frantic two solid months of getting all the basic supplies I needed and tinkering away at my tiny work-desk every evening after work, and each weekend.  The pace was frankly insane.  I spent more than I had intended on supplies - which shouldn't have been a surprise, as a costumer, I generally seem to run on the "buy more" principle, since nothing is worse than running out of supplies mid-project.  I also had a bit of misunderstanding about just how much product I needed to make.  I could have made half of what I did, and still had plenty.  Good news is, it has meant I have not needed to create things at such a rabid pace since.

For several years, I had been collecting lovely vintage keys, broken pocket-watch and watch parts, and oddments of broken old and neglected jewelry with interesting detail bits or pieces. I enjoy taking all these old items, and combining them creatively with new or other old items, to create jewelry that has a steampunk or neo-Edwardian aesthetic.  I've also been enjoying creating a few entirely new pieces.  

As we come up to the next Imaginarius Fantasticus, which has a steampunk theme, and at which I will be both vending and running the local steampunk community promotional table & info table, I thought I'd share some photos of some of the jewelry I've created.  (And a shout-out to local Vancouverites, come on by the show if you want to check out my stuff in person!)  

Wish me luck this coming weekend!  And as I hastily put this to press, I have actually changed some of my pieces shown here with some awesome improvements!  (The hot air balloon earrings and pendants now have lovely little silver baskets under them!)

And now, adieu!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Time-Travelling Chemist-Druggist, or, Steampunk Quackery

Greetings, all, and Happy Haunting time of year.

As you settle in with your cup of tea, allow me to, once again, apologize profusely for the infrequency of my sessions here in my Salon.  The ever-difficult battle between making a living for myself so I can keep myself in the fashion to which I've become accustomed, organizing events for the local steampunks, and generally having my fingers in too many pies, leaves me little time for costuming and far less time to share it.

However, I am now able to update you one of my latest endeavors.  At the start of this year, I decided it would be a fun idea to create a steampunk quack doctor or chemist/druggist.  This would be a heavily prop-oriented ensemble, versus costume-oriented.  A quack remedy chemist would be all about the medicines, cures, and promotion. 

I quickly lost myself in research into quack medicines, which is a fascinating subject, and covers easily almost three full centuries.  Bizarre nostrums, paregorics and cures really peaked in the 1700's, and were still quite rampant and weird right through the Victorian era.  It wasn't until the early 1900's that controls started coming into better effect.  Caroline Rance's amazing website, The Quack Doctor was a huge inspiration, and place where I lost many, many hours of fascinated reading.  

Creating a quack persona was one thing, but to steampunk it up, I decided she should be a time-travelling chemist & druggist.  Of course, she must have a set of phenomenal credentials, so I created the credentials of PC, DC, TTE and OMG (because why not!).  In order, that becomes Pharmaceutical Chemist, Dispensing Chemist, Time Travel Expert, and OmniMateria Goods (allowing me to use, animal, mineral, vegetal, and manmade components in my medicaments). Using my own initials and the surname of a favourite SCA persona I'd created years before, voila, T.L. Swyfte, Travelling Chemist. came into being:
This is the design I created for my advertising.  This small sign ended up as a small card in my hat, the inside panel of my medicaments box, and the front page of the advertising booklet of my products, which I created.

I had a convenient medium-sized wooden box I'd picked up at a thrift store with a mind to use it for something, and voila, this became my portable product display, with the addition of a front closure, side catches and two side rings to hold the leather straps to enable to carry the box around.
The truly fun part of this persona was creating the list & descriptions of my products.  Hours and hours of research inspired me to create a selection of my own nostrums, all carrying my trademark name, Swyfte's, and several of which were almost wholly taken from actual medicines from the past.  

Once I'd come up with a list of products, I selected my favourites and wrote up an advertisement for each one, and with the assistance of the many wonderful copyright-free vintage borders and graphics you can find on, created the small ads for my product booklet.  I printed the booklet in black and white, with only the cover in colour, deliberately restricting myself to two colours, to keep things more Victorian in feel.  
A stack of my product booklets
My frontispiece of "company" advertising, and the advert for my Solar Re-Animating Solar Tincture, which is based on an actual quack medicine (and the advert not much different from the original - I just added vampiric conditions to zip it up.  Would have added zombification, except I was running out of room.
Of course, every quack druggist ought to have a paregoric to cure everything.  With dodgy claims of "safe" opium.  I'm quite proud of my Combobulating Serum - entirely my own concept.  Who among us doesn't have days when we wish for some serum of this ilk, to clear our befogged and discombobulated minds! 
Other chemists will produce plasters, but only Swyfte will give you Daily Reassuring Plasters, to both ease your discomfort and to soothe, reassure, and comfort.  And our Defibulating Lozenges are quite popular - reveal untruths by plying suspected fibbers with our cleverly disguised lozenges daily! 
Of course I had to include our own Coca Wine - given it was such a common product that even in the 1890's this could be purchased from your Sears Roebuck catalogue!  And what steampunk gentleman hasn't longed for impressively manly moustaches and muttonchops?  Achieve them with ease with our powerful tonic.
Ah, Time Travel's attendant unpleasant side effect for so many folks - pesky hiccoughs!  Annoying, and downright dangerous if one happens to find oneself trying to discretely hide from predatory beasts (or men) in a past or future aggressive setting.  Our lozenges will help!  And we had to have Ambition Pills (another actual "medicine" from quack history.  And the advert wording very much taken from the original.
The back cover
The next step was, of course the "products" for display.  I purchased small bottles online and whenever I saw appropriately-sized bottles. Playing about with the advertisements I'd created and more fun graphics, I created labels for a selection of my products.
Putting together products, advertising, handouts, and the box, resulted in my travelling case below, which I then carried strapped around my neck and waist.
The joy of this persona is that the clothes are far less relevant.  I took an old military hat, added a pin (Girl Genius trilobite!) and tucked in an advertising card.  The rest was just shirt, corset, long skirt.  Here is the final product of my time-traveling quack chemist, BEST SCIENTIFIC Medicaments in hand - ready to hit the hallways and hawk my wares!
And finally, before I go, I would like to once again thank my main inspiration and sourcing for this concept, Caroline Rance, creator of the fabulous website:, and author of Kill-Grief, and most recently, The Quack Doctor (available on and elsewhere).

Friday, August 9, 2013

Mudlark Memory

Dwelling on my last mudlarking session yesterday, made me write this, and I thought I'd share.

Mudlark Memory

River-side, city-sounds
Recede and all is water,
And mud, and smell of river & clay.
History is underfoot;
I trod on pipestems, and dinner plates,
Roof tiles and old pins,
Bottles and buttons, hundreds of years
Discarded and turned to
Slippy footings in the mud.
Swells from river traffic wash
And swash and reveal and conceal.
I’m lost in the scent & grit & grease of history,
Fragments of past humanity overwhelming
The stress of the current grind
And I am washed in the ever-rushing tide
Of past peoples’ lives.

Tracey Ernst
Aug 8/13

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Larking about in Mud

I'm not just a steampunk gal, spending all my time organizing local events, running the local group's websites & pages, and making steampunk costumes.  I am very much more than a steampunk, and I thought I'd take a bit of time to show you another side.

One of my new, but very intense, passions is mudlarking; something I only heard about a few years ago, and which I won't get to indulge very often, living on the wrong side of the pond from London, and lacking the funds to travel there often.

Mudlarking, in modern parlance, is the term for those who hunt in the mud of the Thames foreshore, for the fragments of history which can be found there.  The term comes from the Victorian term for the very poor boys who used to scrounge in the Thames mud for coal and any other discarded or lost items of use or profit.
Last year, I found myself in London as a result of a family trip, which was my mother's wish, as part of my folks' 50th wedding anniversary.  I decided to take a couple hours early one morning, at low tide, to try to find my way down to the Thames foreshore, to see if I could find any of the little bits of history I'd heard you could find.

The very first thing I found, when I found my way down cement stairs to the foreshore, was this blue Victorian glass ink bottle, shown here in it's dark and filthy state, full of greasy mud (sorry, the q-tip was my technique for extracting the gluey mud from the bottle).  It was like a little "Welcome, yes, you're meant to be here!" from the Thames.
I cleaned it up, and voila.  Here it is in it's cleaned glory.  Beautiful iridescent patina from being in the River.  Lovely grooves where you could like your pen.  And best of all, buried in the glutinous mud inside the bottle, was this small pen nib, which had broken off it's pen, likely well over a century ago, has been in the bottle all this time.
In addition to the ink bottle, my hour and a half or less gleaned some clay pipe framents (stem and bowl fragments), some pretty pottery sherds (transfer ware, a stoneware bottle fragment (quite heavy), and a patterned piece of tile with yellow.
Below are a few details: the bottom piece of a pipe showing a pretty leaf pattern heading up the bowl, and a particularly pretty piece of transferware.
In addition, because this was my first trip down, I felt I needed to pick up some emblematic London items, such as flint pieces, chalk, and a whelk.
Well, I was hooked.  The exhilaration of history just LYING there, everywhere, underfoot, waiting to be picked up and held, and taken home, was phenomenal.  To think I was holding things, daily things, which hadn't been used for a hundred years or three, was so exciting.  I love museums ... but this was stuff I could hold, and touch.

So, of course, I decided I was going back the very next morning as well, bright and early.  Particularly since it also dawned sunny and bright, like the day before.  Unfortunately, I couldn't go down any more that trip, as it was near the end of the trip.  However, having quickly found my eyes, I found lots that second morning!
A whole whack of pipe stems, some lovely pipe bowls, some pretty brown patterned yellow slipware, a piece of stoneware with an "orange-skin" texture, and some metal bits.  I also was given a top piece of a Victorian stoneware bottle by a friendly mudlark chap I met on the foreshore, who had a shiny new license and had just dug it out.
Above are the pipebowls I found, showing a variety of time periods.  Below, some details.
And now, I eagerly anticipate an upcoming trip to London this fall, in which I have a week to squander as I wish - which mostly means, mudlarking every single day.  I have become quite obsessed.  I read about mudlarking.  I research what has been found there.  I research the types of things found, so that I will be able to identify them better. 

In addition to reading, I've also spent the intervening months getting my own license, which means I can dig down 3 inches in approved locations - mostly I wanted it so I can unearth half-buried pieces, as without it, one has to be "eyes only" - no tools.  I've also been following some other mudlarkers online (Facebook and blogs).  I've read up on all the rules & regulations, safety measure (common sense, really), and investigated maps and access points.

I've also been picking up supplies to bring with me - little ziploc bags, a trowel, rubber boots, disposable gloves, and a container I can clip to my bag to put finds in.  

I can't wait.  I'm addicted.

The River Thames, its spectacularly gluey mud, and history, await.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Making A Steampunk Vendor's Apron

Hello good folks.  I shall have my automaton fetch you some lemonade (or would you prefer a gin and tonic?), so please, sit back, and relax.

This post hearkens back to the chillier month of November, when I found myself frantically preparing to actually be a vendor, for the first time ever, for a fantasy-themed Christmas Fair, the Imaginarius Fantasticus, which I'd participated in the previous year to promote our local steampunk community (you can find posts about preparing for the brochures, display, promotion, and tablecloth earlier in this blog).

In among the panic of trying to make enough steampunk jewelry to sell (turns out I'm an overachiever, I made tons in that insane 6 week marathon), I realized that, as a vendor, I needed a handy place to put money, keep my change, my receipt book, my cell, and pens, etcetera etcetera.  So I turned to that handy online Encylopaedia of Everything, Google, and started looking for ideas.  Do an image google, and you'll find lots of ideas.  And here is the pattern & instructions I followed, bless Colleen at TheMagicBean.

So, following her instructions, I figured out how big I wanted my apron and its pockets, based on my size (front of waist), how long I wanted it, and what I wanted to put in it.  Then I went rummaging around my scrap fabric, and discovered I had sufficient remnants of the decoration from our community display board (the blue & brown patterned fabric), in addition to a nice striped scrap and a light brown sample of upholstery / drapery fabric scored at a local Fabric sale.  I knew I wanted pockets for bills (one easily accessible and a more hidden/secure one for incoming cash / float), coins (loonies & twonies), my cell phone, pens, and the receipt book.  So, putting that all together, I cut out the pieces below.  (And, not shown, a lining for the back of the apron, the same size as the large striped piece.)
All pieces were double thickness (yes, this became interesting eventually - I ignored her instructions to get a jeans needle into my machine. Jeans needle?  Don't have one).  The striped piece was the back / base (with a plain back lining).  The middle-level pocket would be for stored money (float & incoming larger bills), the front pocket for accessible cash.  The longer rectangular patterned piece with ribbons is sewn up the middle to split it into two, and is for the loonies & twonies.  One wee pocket was for my cell phone, and the other was for business cards or my pocket watch.  Below is my first layout.  Before I realized oh yeah, seam allowances. 
So the front pocket was just going to have two wee pockets on it - the double for twonies & loonies, and the other for my calculator or cell.  I gathered the middle & sides of the double pocket a bit, so it would pouch for lots of coins, and sewed a little snap at the top of each pocket so it would close.

The front pocket itself is also divided into separate sections with seam lines vertically down it, with room for bills for my float, and a section wide enough for my receipt book.  The middle pocket (brown in the photo above) was also divided into a couple of sections, again, for bills, another wide section for miscellaneous, and a narrow section that accommodates two pens.
Here is the apron getting closer to being finished, with the nice long waistband attached (handy for easy tying and for bundling it all up when not in use), and with a key clip for my fancy steampunk keys (or house keys if necessary).  
 And closer up:
Behind the beige portion, where incoming larger bills and the bulk of my float goes (and which also has a snap closure) I sewed in another single-layer pocket which just fits bills, as a secure hiding-place for large bills, to make sure they couldn't accidentally be pulled out when refreshing my active float (which I put in the lower-level, lined pocket.
And here is the final product on the model, with calculator, receipt book, keys, pocket watch and pens.  
I guess my takehome message here is, if, as a steampunk merchant, you want a different and nifty vendor apron for fairs, look around online for inspirations, and make it yourself if you can.  It's not that hard.  And you get to customize for your tastes, and have a bit of fun.

And here are a few photos of the Apron worn at events where I was doing some steampunk vending.
 Thank you KJW Photography for the photo to the left, taken at Trethewey House's Steampunk: A Journey in Time event, in May 2013.