Monday, January 31, 2011

Gingerbread Trilobites

If you are not aware, there is this amazingly cool Steampunk online comic called Girl Genius (actually, I believe they prefer the term "gaslamp fantasy," but since I consider this the epitome of what Steampunk ought to be, I won't shy away from using the phrase). First of all, go read it. I'm a big fan.

Now on to the real point - one of my very favorite things about our Technocrats' Ball was that I got to make gingerbread trilobites (and also sugar-cookie gears - see the picture above). There are a couple of really throw away comments made in the Girl Genius comic to "gingerbread trilobites" which are famously made in a particular city (where the ruling family's symbol is a trilobite). I can't say that my interpretation is necessarily what the makers of Girl Genius had in mind, but I am particularly proud of them and wanted to share (mine were definitely the cookie type of gingerbread, based on a recipe for rolled out and cut gingerbread men, not the more cake-like style of gingerbread). I will now share my super-secret (yet painfully obvious and devastatingly easy) technique, so you may make your very own gingerbread trilobites at home!
Make some gingerbread dough. I used a (very slightly modified) recipe for "Gingies" from a 1950s Betty Crocker Cookbook. If you want to make exactly my cookies, then:

1/3 c. shortening (I use butter or margarine, but only because I am too lazy to measure out gooey shortening, bleh!)
1 c. brown sugar
1 ½ c. dark molasses
½ c cold water
6 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. ginger (I use 1 tbsp. ginger)
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. baking soda dissolved in 3 tbsp cold water

Bake 15-18 min in 350 oven - bur first you have to shape them into cute little trilobites!

First, you need to make a number of oval disks. Take a small scoop of gingerbread dough, about the size of a walnut, into your hands. Roll it into a sphere, and from that into a very short log. Squash the log down onto your cookie sheet, and you should have the necessary oval.
Now, use the blunt edge of a knife to score a line across the oval, about a quarter of the way from one of the ends.On the large side of unmarked cookie, make two lines almost purpendicular to that one, but slightly angled towards each other (\/). Now make a number of lines parallel to the original mark, all down the body of your trilobite.Last of all, add two non-pareils for eyes (I used silver or gold, and they looked smashing). You may instead make two two holes with a chopstick, or even skip the eyes altogether, for more rustic-looking trilobites. Then bake them!
Also, if you were interested, here is my documentation:
Reference to how good the gingerbread of Mechanicsburg is

Reference to gingerbread trilobites

Steampunk Outfit from the Technocrats' Ball

I did a very bad job of taking pictures at the Technocrats' Ball, which was totally lovely and went really well - it was great seeing so many people in their Steampunk best! Luckily, last week I wore the very same outfit (shhhh! don't tell) to a Steampunk meet-up in Waltham at the Charles River Museum of Industry. You'll have to settle for some pictures of that. The bodice is based on a Truly Victorian pattern, slightly modified. The skirt was totally made up, but worked out really well. The overskirt was a recycled costume piece (so there are two shades of purple, but only two - not clear in these pictures). This was just supposed to be a quick and dirty costumey Steampunk pattern test, so it is made in horrid (inexpensive!) polyester fabric that photographs badly, but which is actually really cool for Steampunk purposes. Yay!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Steampunk 102: Who is Steampunk?

Yesterday's post gave you a crash course in some common motifs of steampunk fashion. Today's lesson is an introduction to some of the overarching Steampunk styles.

The three main elements of Steampunk style are
1) Science
2) Adventure
3) History

Any given outfit is likely to incorporate more than one of these, but also likely to favor one over the others. For the sake of this lesson, we are going to say that a historical influence (almost always the 19th century, which is what makes the most sense in terms of the actual course of steam technology) applies to all outfits to different degrees, but is not critical in determining the 'personality.' This leaves us with two main categories, with styles that favor either science or adventure (though usually not to the exclusion of the other). Any of these can be interpreted into a male or female costume, so don't mind the example pictures. Also, these should be inspiration and starting points - it is not an exhaustive list, so don't feel limited!

What follows is a random sampling of some of the most commonly seen styles in Steampunk fashion. Which are your favorites? Are you a slave to science, or a daring adventurer? Leave a comment!


The Engineer
This person might tinker with clock-like contraptions, or design monstrous huge engines, or make any sort of mechanical wonder, probably involving steam technology.
Suggested accessories: engine grease, fitted clothes (to keep out of moving parts), goggles!, heavy gloves, heavy aprons, lots of tools

The Mad ScientistJust as much of a scientist as the engineer, but more interested in studying things than in building them.
Suggested accessories: lab coats, lab equipment, a notebook for keeping track of observations, a good maniacal laugh

The Aviator
This person could pilot an airship, or might instead have some kind of personal flying machine. They sure know the ropes - and the gears, and the engines, and the helium sacks, and the pistons, and... you get the idea.
Suggested accessories: aviator goggles, aviator caps, a dashing aviator's scarf, tailored garments for dangling off ladders and rigging while in the air

The Clockwork Person
This person was made (probably by some engineer!), and not born. Imagine steam-powered automatons so complex that they are difficult to distinguish from their biological counterparts.
Suggested accessories: gears, a maker's mark, rivets that look structural, a portion of clothing or skin (use makeup!) that pulls away or is missing to expose complex inner workings with machinery and gears

The Enthusiast
There is no mistaking that this person is a lady or gentleman. But they also like science. Whether this is a well-bred person who dabbles in scientific fields, or wealthy patron of science who funds the expeditions and research of more serious scientists, they should be well dressed and ready to do what they can - FOR SCIENCE!
Suggested accessories: a stunning 19th century outfit plus a pair of goggles, amazing machines you have made or bought


The Airship Pirate
This is a big one. Pirates are bad-ass and adventurous. Airships and zeppelines are astounding feats of engineering with a historical precedent. The idea of a pirate crew aboard an air-travel vehicle is a staple of Steampunk literature. Likewise, the look of an air pirate is a staple in Steampunk fashion.
Suggested accessories: eye patches or steampunk monocles, loose pirate shirts, baggy bloomer-like pants, weapons

The Military Man (or Woman)
Military elements show up in a lot of Steampunk clothing. Sometimes these are complete fantasy, and sometimes these are borrowed from various 19th century armies, but all they time they are stylish and neat.
Suggested accessories: epaulets, pauldrons, armor, piping and military-style trim, shiny buttons, clean-cut jackets, military hats, medals or patches, military-issue weapons

The Explorer
Somebody get this man a pith helmet! The explorer goes adventuring to far off lands, and might incorporate elements of the local dress into his or her wardrobe. On the other hand, I have no problem with the Anglo-centric model of Steampunk, so the explorer in my mind wears khaki and linen, taking his or her cues from 19th century archaeologists and big game hunters.
Suggested accessories: pith helmets, khaki vests or jackets, linen suits, packs and bags, compasses or navigational tools

The Street Urchin
A lot of people get fixated on the "punk" in Steampunk. The word itself is modeled after other terms, like "Cyberpunk," for sub-genres that were rather more punk-y. I see no reason, personally, that Steampunk clothes should be tattered or streaked with soot, UNLESS you are some kind of Steampunk street urchin or chimney sweep! So that is how I think of these people, though I think some of them may just be confused about the meaning of Steampunk.
Suggested accessories: soot, torn or ratty clothing, caps set at a rakish angle, a lower-class British accent

The Spy or Saloon Girl
Let's face it - a lot of women's Steampunk outfits follow the exposed corset formula. I have seen a lot of "Steampunk Saloon Girls," and also a lot of "Generic Steampunk Woman Who Runs Around In Her Underwear," but I didn't think that last title was really up to snuff. So I'm going to call them spies, because for all I know that is the truth, and the exposed undergarments are a ploy to distract us from their adventurous and dangerous spy plans. But really, they are women in underwear. One way or another, that certainly goes in the "adventure" category.
Suggested accessories: spy gadgets, short skirts, really cute underwear including corsets, hoops, bustles, bloomers, chemises, garters, and more

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Steampunk 101: What is Steampunk?

My previous post was a rather philosophical approach to Steampunk style, and I realized that a lot of people haven't come across the concept at all before. So now, I present to you a basic overview of the fashion elements that are most frequently seen in "steampunk," with some narration from me about why I think these elements have come up and whether or not they make sense. So here is a crash course in the most recognizable elements of Steampunk fashion.

1) GogglesSteampunk is about adventure and science. Goggles protect your eyes from both adventure and science. They are an easily recognizable and particularly fashionable indicator of your dangerous, eye-compromising lifestyle. There is even variety in the style of goggles, making them ideal both as fashion accessories and as emblems of pride for your Steampunk life. Aviators and airship pirates wear aviator goggles, while serious engineers wear welding goggles, and the more polite segments of society wear more decorative and delicate versions. Goggles are obviously practical, and yet Steampunk goggles are usually decorated and unusual. Semi-practical objects which are excessively complicated (and probably designed by a mad scientist or a mad seamstress) are very Steampunk indeed.
2) Gears
There are three reasons to incorporate gears into your clothing for Steampunk. The first is gears which do, or appear to do, something. This is obviously fitting because of the obsession with mechanics and science. If any part of your outfit is or is made to look like a machine with gears and moving parts, fantastic. Reason two for using a gear motif is if you like the look even though you do not really have any mechanical wonders under your belt (or on your belt, or attached to your skirt, etc). Steampunk is a society obsessed with the gear motif, often beyond the point that I can understand. This is why you can get away with reason three - apparently you can sell things if you sprinkle on some gears and call it Steampunk. I have seen this done well, but I have also seen completely mundane items "Steampunked" by the addition of a couple of gears or gear appliques. I honestly can't explain why this works, but I guess it does.3) Clocks
I honestly believe that clocks are only Steampunk because gears are. Timepieces, especially pocket watches, are the most 19th century and most easily portable machines that are easily available. Now combine the convenience of a watch with a fascination for gears and mechanics, and you get the trend for exposed watch-movements and watch-themed jewelry (also, I think the fact that you can buy these things at Urban Outfitters doesn't hurt). Really, though, I would be interested to hear if anyone thinks they have a more fundamental reason for clocks and timepieces being so popular in the Steampunk aesthetic. I think it must be a continuation of the gear fascination, plus some convenience and 19th century influence.4) Wings
Wings are an increasing trend, from what I have seen. I think this is a combination of delight with mechanical objects, and the interest in aviators and adventure. It is neat if you are so much of an adventurous aviator that you have a personal flying machine, and it is only better if you are also enough of a scientist to have built those wings yourself.5) Brass, brown, and leather
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Which came first in Steampunk fashion, the machines and goggles or the color scheme? I vote for the color scheme being secondary, but it is so pervasive that I hesitate. A lot of people only recognize Steampunk by the color scheme of brown, brown, and brass. Still, brown, brass, and leather look really good with goggles, the ultimate Steampunk staple, as well as with other favorites like gears and machines. At least it makes sense.By the way, a side comment here. You may or may not have heard people say "Steampunk is what happens when Goths discover brown." I think this is a very entertaining phrase, but also an inaccurate one. I think the overlap in the two styles of dress is based on the shared source material - the 19th century. Top hats (we'll get to those later) are Steampunk because they are 19th century. Top hats are Goth because they are 19th century. Top hats are not Steampunk because they are Goth. Be careful with the logic, or you'll have Goth bands printing their T-shirts on brown backgrounds so they will be Steampunk. This is ridiculous and unfashionable. So there!
6) Buckles
Buckles look practical for adventuring, but decorative for fashion, and also sensible for strapping on machines and scientific gear. They look good made of brass, on straps of leather, over brown clothes. At this point I hope it makes sense, then, that buckles are Steampunk.
7) Nerf gunsThese modified toy weapons look like tools of adventure, but designed by deranged scientists. They look practical and excessively complex. They are certainly Steampunk in that respect. They also appeal to the do-it-yourself nature of much of Steampunk, which might explain why they are just so popular and far-reaching.
8) Top hatsIn the 19th century, these would have been worn by gentlemen daily. In the modern day, they are practically never seen. This makes them a nice and obvious fashion indicator that you are being old fashioned. They are also an excellent perch for goggles (for while you always see goggles on Steampunk enthusiasts, you rarely see them actually worn over the eyes in the heat of science). Women, while they would certainly have worn hats, would not likely have worn top hats, so this also appeals to the idea of doing the 19th century, but somehow a little off or wrong.9) Miniature top hatsI don't understand this. I saw these mini top hats in Gothic Lolita fashion long before I saw them appear in Steampunk, so I worry that these have shown up in a "Steampunk is what happens when Goths discover brown" kind of way. I just don't see the reasoning for why these are particularly Steampunk, although I could totally see vendors of Gothic Lolita miniature top hats identifying Steampunk as the cash cow it is and trying the "dye it brown, slap on some gears, and call it Steampunk" style of marketing. Anyway, given how much I have been seeing this trend I thought I would mention it, but if anyone can explain it to me better I would be happy to hear.
10) Bustles, hoops, and corsetsThe Steampunk triumvirate is Science, Adventure, and the 19th Century. These foundational garments are 19th century engineering marvels in their own right (there's two parts). Now if you wear them exposed or on the outside, doing the 19th century but wrong, this implies that your lifestyle is too adventurous for you to wear your clothes correctly. That's all three! Or at least, that is my take on it. It might just be spill-over (pun not initially intended) from renfaires and science fiction conventions where women think it is a grand idea to wear ill-fitting corsets, simultaneously proving their alternative-ness and hiking their bosoms up to eye level for easy viewing. But I hope it is about science, adventure, and the 19th century.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My Philosophy of Steampunk Dress

Robin asked me some questions (in response to my bustle posts) so good that I thought I would handle this in an actual post. Of course, then I didn't get around to actually posting it. Mostly, let us boil this question down to "What is Steampunk (in terms of clothing)?" First, a disclaimer: Steampunk is often about do-it-yourself-ness (and then sometimes it isn't!), and there is huge variation in how the term is used. Anyone can call something Steampunk, so I dare not claim to be an expert on what Steampunk is. Instead, I present my vision of what Steampunk should be.
The theory of Steampunk that I support is an alternative history, where steam technology in the 19th century allowed for incredible machinery and futuristic technology to develop beyond what happened in reality. In my mind, then, Steampunk is a best-parts version of history (usually the 1870-80s to be extra specific, but I count anything in the 19th century as fair game) with a heavy dose of science and machinery thrown in. In terms of clothing, then, my favored approach is to start with something legitimately 19th century, then make it in a strange fabric or add science-y or mechanical details. A bustle dress plus goggles says you are a 19th century woman... who might also build incredible steam machines. A tailcoat plus a mechanical arm means you are a 19th century gentleman... who lost his arm in battle and now sports an incredible steam-powered killing machine in its place.
I say there are two basic options. You could go heavy on the technology, building fantastical theoretical steam machines to wear or amazing metal and leather accoutrement. Personally, I am not talented in this area, so unless I want to buy things (check out Brute Force Leather for some great examples of this approach), I will never look truly stunning. The second option, more within my grasp, is to do the 19th century well with an amazing and mostly accurate ensemble, then accessorize and branch out with things that are not accurate. I personally love the idea of having a great 19th century dress which is historically accurate to wear to a ball, but which is fun enough to wear for Steampunk. One outfit, with a multitude of opportunities for wearing it. On the other hand, I also like how friendly Steampunk is, with its lack of rules (despite everything I have just said).
So, in direct response to Robin, I see two ways to use the bustles I had collected pictures of. One is to wear them correctly, under appropriate clothes, for the 1870s-1880s silhouette. You may stop there, or accessorize with fantastical or mechanical or scientific accessories. The other way is to wear them inappropriately for the 19th century, because for steampunk that is OK. For example, you could wear an exposed bustle, which would be scandalous and inappropriate in the real 19th century, but might be quite reasonable in your Steampunk alternative history. You might be an Airship Pirate, with an eye towards fashion but unable to wear long skirts while climbing in the rigging of your steam-powered war-zeppelin. You might be a Steampunk Saloon Girl, scantly clad while you serve drinks to rowdy scientists and mechanics. Perhaps you are a well-bred 19th century lady, but you've taken to a life of Steampunk adventures and so you do whatever you please, which happens to be walking around in your underwear (after all, a chemise, corset, and bustle can be fairly presentable). Who is to stop you?
So some steampunk clothes have little to do with history, while some are close cousins of 19th century clothing. My heart belongs to the 19th century, so for me Steampunk is a just a nice outlet to do things that are "wrong" for real history (like make a pattern-test dress out of shiny synthetic polyester). For other people Steampunk is an ever-evolving concept, completely separate from its initial Victorian inspirations. I have told you what I like , but I do not mean to suggest that is the only way - just my favorite.
Regardless, if any of this spoke to you, you should probably come to the Technocrat's Ball in Porter Square this Saturday. Hit your closet, pull out something cool, and wear it proudly. After all, all it really takes to be Steampunk is attitude.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Technocrat's Ball

The Technocrat's Ball is this Saturday, so you only have a few more days to buy your tickets at the advance purchase price!

Admission is just $25, or $15 for students when purchased by January 28 ($5 more at the door), and includes a dance workshop from 3:00-5:00PM on Saturday afternoon.

Saturday, January 29, 2011
Masonic Hall
1950 Mass Ave, Cambridge, MA
(opposite Porter Sq. Shopping Area)

Workshop 3-5 pm
Ball 7-10:30 pm