Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Dress-to-Capelet Conversion Tutorial

What steampunker doesn't love making their own clothes, right? It can be a lot of work, but so rewarding. But the secret is, it doesn't always have to be a ton of work, and altering or converting a garment can sometimes be far easier than making one from scratch. Cheaper, too!
A good capelet is a fabulous addition to any steampunk wardrobe. Cute, stylish, fun to wear, and yes, it's practical. Perfect for warding off a light chill while still keeping your arms free and unencumbered by a coat.

For my capelet project, I started with this--if I'm being frank--frighteningly ugly dress, which I got at the thrift store for $3.50. Don't worry about the dress's size--the capelet is one-size-fits-all.
While I do like the thick, heavy knit fabric of this dress, the material it's made of isn't really important. What matters is that it snaps up the front and has these very wide, weird, tapered armholes. Why anyone in their right mind would design a dress with sleeves like this, I have no idea, but they really are essential for this particular project.
Lay the dress flat on your cutting surface and, with a Sharpie or fabric chalk, trace a gently curved line all the way across the garment, incorporating as much of the armhole's width as possible.
Cut along the line you've drawn, all the way across the garment. (It is extremely important that the dress be laid out completely flat, to avoid uneven edges. If a few uneven edges occur anyway, just trim them up with scissors. Nothing to worry about.)
If the dress has shoulder pads, for goodness' sake, cut them out! (Seriously, who invented those things? I mean, really?)
Fold the edges over about 1/4 of an inch for hemming. My project is made of material that doesn't ravel easily, so a single fold worked just fine for me, but if you're working with a material that ravels and frays more easily, you may need to fold the material over a second time before pinning it down.
Now, sew up your hem. I chose to do mine by hand so I could work on it while talking to my boyfriend on the phone in the evenings, but of course you could do this on a sewing machine too.
And there you have it!
Really--it's that simple. I chose to keep mine pretty simple, since I like the casual versatility of it, but of course, there are endless possibilities for dressing this up and decorating it. Trims, ruffles, a corsage, brooch, fancy buttons, lacing or cording...make it your own!

Be sure to let me know how your project turns out, should you decide to try it for yourself. I'd love to see the results of your creativity!


Do you have a conversion or alteration project tutorial that you'd like to share on The Facts of Steampunk Life? Give us a shout at factsofsteampunklife(at)gmail(dot)com!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Steampunk Style: Arctic Explorer

I don't know about where you live, but here at my house it's COLD!!! All of the weathermen are talking about all this "Arctic air" that's blowing through, and it certainly feels arctic outside, so naturally I got to thinking about the idea of a steampunk arctic explorer. Here are the results. Enjoy!
Along the creek near my house, there's a limestone wall with tiny little springs coming out of it. During the winter, the springs freeze and keep building up until spring, so just a few weeks into winter they already look like a giant frozen waterfall. What better place for the photo shoot?

 An expedition photo...for posterity.

 Jotting down a few observations, like any good explorer would.

And of course, checking the map and coordinates.

This outfit was a ton of fun to put together--leather trench coat, lots of scarves, newsboy cap, Swiss motorcycle goggles (an awesome Christmas gift from my amazing brothers!), the usual assortments of belts, buckles, and boots, great-grandpa's revolver, messenger bag (another awesome gift, this one from Mom)...and of course, I just couldn't resist adding the rose corsage.

Nor could I resist the opportunity to take a serious moment and pay tribute to Ernest Shackleton and his men, and their truly epic journey to the South Pole. Seriously--hats off to all of them. I actually drew quite a bit of my inspiration for this outfit and photo shoot from pictures of their expedition, found in the book Endurance, by Alfred Lansing. Read it...but only in warm weather. You'll freeze otherwise.

 Of course, even intrepid explorers need to come back inside where it's warm and settle down to a cup of hot chocolate after their adventures.
 A good book is also a must...

...but then it's back to work, mapping out the next voyage and adventure!

Always take your adventures and explorations seriously...

 ...just not too seriously.
Hope you all enjoyed these! I had a ton of fun with this photo shoot, so I hope you have fun looking at the results. By the way, photo credit goes to my sister Karri; she's taking photography in high school, so I figured I could kill two birds with one stone, getting pictures taken and letting her practice her skills at the same time.

Monday, January 12, 2015

My First Foray into Steampunk Photography

A couple of days ago I was digging through some old pictures I had stored on my computer and came across a collection I'd forgotten about--my first steampunk photo shoot!
As near as I can tell, these were from sometime in early 2011. I had just discovered steampunk and was still learning (not just about the genre but about photography as well), so maybe they're not great. But I still think they're kind of fun, and wanted to share them.

{My mom's pair of Victorian boots, my antique collection of Browning's poems, and a pocket watch left over from the jewelry story my dad used to own.}

{Mom's boots, Browning's Poems, an old pocket watch, and a rose left over from a wedding in which I was a bridesmaid.}

{One of my favorite necklaces, a book from my grandpa's library, a pair of my great-grandma's gloves, an old painting, and my mom's leather doctor bag.}

Hopefully I've made progress since then. Next week I'll post pictures from my latest venture into creating and photographing steampunk still-lifes. And later on this week... Arctic Steampunk Fashion!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Interview with Perpetual Motion author, Bruce Hesselbach

{If you missed Wednesday's post, be sure to scroll down and read the book review of Bruce's book, Perpetual Motion.}

MRP:  Welcome to The Facts of Steampunk Life, Bruce! Since the steampunk genre is still fairly new, why don’t you start off by telling us a little about how you came to be interested in it? What made you want to write in this genre?
BH:  I enjoy science fiction and I enjoy history.  Steampunk is an intriguing marriage of these two subjects.  Most of my prior stories were either fantasy or science fiction, set in a fictional world I created.  I had a story that I wrote with a scene in a place similar to Bath, England, and reading about the spas and watering places of Europe made me think that the time immediately prior to World War I would be a great setting for a story.
MRP:  As far as the steampunk genre is concerned, you chose a very unique setting for your story. How did you decide on that location and premise?
BH:  I wanted to get away from using a fantasy world and set my story in the real world.  Most steampunk is set in London during the Victorian age.  I had not heard of a steampunk novel set in Germany and I decided I would write one.   This gave me the opportunity to portray German opinions through Fritz von Lassberg, and thereby give the reader a fresh perspective.

MRP:  I did find it very interesting to see Fritz’s opinions and thought processes through Sybil’s eyes, since we don’t often get to look at those specific ideas through a lens that lacks post-war “twenty-twenty hindsight,” as it were.
Interweaving fictional plots with historical facts can be extremely challenging for a writer, and your story is tied to some pretty significant historical events. What did you find most challenging about it, and how did you handle those challenges?
BH:  This was actually much more fun than work.  Once I picked out a time and place, I could read about many things that I had not heard of before.  One of the points of Dante’s Paradiso is that heaven is a place where you learn things.  I couldn’t agree more.  I learned about the apparition at Knock, Ireland; the history of Meersburg Castle; the battle of Bagamoyo; what Lord Tennyson wore when he went walking on the Downs; what performances Richard Wagner put on when he opened Bayreuth.   It was great fun.  The more I studied about the time and place, the more ideas I had for my story. 

MRP:  I was very appreciative of the attitude that your heroine, Sybil, had towards traditional clothing. Even though I have no problem with a girl wearing pants (provided it is with the permission of her husband or father) I get very tired of reading about heroines’ longings to “rebel” or “buck the system” to wear pants, and their complaining about dresses being so impractical. And yet Sybil has no problem doing anything—even hiking or mountain climbing—in a dress, which I found very refreshing. Tell us a little bit about your thought processes behind that.
BH:   A great example of a Victorian woman not in the least held back by the encumbrance of her dress would be Mary Kingsley, who climbed Mount Cameroon in 1895 while wearing extensive skirts.   This is a 13,760 foot mountain that had only been climbed a couple times before.  She was the first woman to ascend it, and she did it by a new route.  She went in the company of a crew of strong natives.  It poured rain the entire time.  The natives all became exhausted and dropped out.  She finished the ascent alone, an absolutely amazing feat by a fearless woman.  Another time her skirts and petticoats saved her from death, when she fell into a trap set for leopards.  It was a large pit with sharpened ebony spikes at the bottom.  But, due to her Victorian excess of clothing, she escaped what would have been certain death.  Even in our modern times, Sandra Weber wrote a book about Mount Marcy, the highest mountain in the Adirondacks, indicating that she likes to climb it in a long skirt down to her ankles, just as the Victorians did.  My hat is off to her.  Most people have a hard enough time hiking in shorts.  Women used to be called the weaker sex, but I don’t think Mary Kingsley was weaker than anybody.

MRP:  I shouldn’t say so!
Perpetual Motion isn’t like most stories, that simply say “Here’s how it is and this is what happened”. It truly invites the reader into the thought processes of the characters and puts him or her into a position where they have to try to figure it out on their own. The questions raised and the scenarios laid out are such that we really have to think about them—just reading the story isn’t enough. What inspired you to write the story this way, and how did you go about making it work without bogging down the plot?
BH:  One aspect of writing in the first person is that the story is framed by what the character sees and hears.  Just as the narrator has to try to make sense of competing claims and explanations, the reader also has to puzzle things out along with her.  It is a shared journey. 
      I am more a reader of travel and exploration than of fiction.  One thing that I don’t like about fiction is that many writers go on and on about what the character is thinking.  This goes against my grain.  Wouldn’t it be more creative to let you infer what the character is thinking by what she says and how she acts?  In the case of Sybil Hardenbergh, I conceive of her as being far too modest to spend pages and pages telling you what she thinks.  It would go against her character and how she looks at life.  Instead, I tried to imagine how she would tell her story to a close friend.  She would feel free to confide about some things, but still she would maintain a large degree of modesty and reticence.   This becomes especially tricky when she falls in love.  Of course she has obsessive thoughts about her beloved, but she is too shy to spend pages and pages telling you about this.  You mostly have to infer it from what she says and what she does.

MRP:  You explore a lot of hypothetical moral and ethical dilemmas in Perpetual Motion, especially when it comes to issues related to time travel and historical events connected to Christianity. What can you tell us about that?
BH:  I’m very glad you asked that question.  The moral and ethical dilemmas drive the story.  It is not just theoretical; it is a matter of who dies and who lives.  War is a very grim and dark presence.  I present these dilemmas, but I don’t actually resolve any of them.  It is up to the reader to decide what is right and what is moral.  Let me give an example.   In The Turn of the Screw, Henry James wrote a ghost story.  He intended it to be a ghost story and he himself believed in the literary existence of ghosts.  However, a skeptic could read the story and believe that the ghosts where just a delusion of the crazy narrator.  That would be a perfectly coherent reading and the skeptic would still enjoy the story just the same as a believer in ghosts would.  When I became an Episcopalian in 1983, I wrote a poem about an alchemist in which I used alchemy as a symbol for the spiritual world.  I wanted the reader to decide for himself if alchemy were true or bogus.  In Perpetual Motion, I presented a number of perspectives from the devout Protestant Hardenbergh family to the young aristocratic scientist Fritz to the iconoclastic mad genius Erasmus Gegenwart.  I could totally empathize with the strong religious faith that Antoinette Hardenbergh has and this helped me draw her as a character.  On the other hand, I wanted the reader to enjoy the book regardless of whether or not he shares the beliefs of one character or another.   Yes, there are a number of very serious religious and ethical issues raised, but they are all subservient to the story and I am not trying to dictate how the reader may react to these conflicts.
MRP:  There were several aspects of the story that were never really “nailed down,” leaving the readers to draw their own conclusions. Is there a sequel in the works?
BH:  Since this is a coming of age story, I ended it when Sybil showed by her words and actions that she has actually matured from a very impressionable and bewildered youngster into a decisive and brave young woman.  For me, that was the end of this cycle.  In order to provide a more complete picture, I could have carried this story through new adventures and even as far as Sybil’s death.  After all, it is not just Sybil’s story, it is the saga of her family.   I think a sequel would be very much in order and I have had some people urge me to write one.  What writer could resist that?  Even apart from a sequel, I think it would be fun to write a story about Sybil’s father Otto, how he met Antoinette and how he decided to travel 2000 years into the past.  But first I want to finish a different story I am working on, a piece of literary fiction.  When I started going to a writer’s group in my home town of Newfane, I told them that I would keep writing stories until one of them got published.  Now that that has happened, I think I will keep writing stories as long as readers tell me they enjoy them.  

MRP:  Well, in that case, allow me to join the ranks of those readers! There is precious little originality in the literary world these days, but what I’ve seen of your work is most definitely new and intriguing. Keep it up!
Also, thanks so much for taking the time to share with us about your work and your ideas as a writer. It’s always great to get a peek inside the mind of a fellow author.

Be sure to check out Bruce's Amazon Author page and Personal Website
And be sure to stick around for next week's posts--my first steampunk fashion post, a discussion of steampunk wardrobe essentials, and more.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Book Review: Perpetual Motion

Author: Bruce Hesselbach
Genre: Steampunk

When it comes to writing book reviews, I sometimes feel like a broken vinyl record... or King Solomon. It seems that every review I write contains something to the effect of "This story wasn't very original," or "This story was just so cliche."
"There is nothing new under the sun!"
Once in a while, though, I'm fortunate enough to come across something that steps out of line and dares to be different... and this was one of those books.
Perpetual Motion is a story with all the classic elements you expect of steampunk fiction--gears and gadgets and intriguing inventions and gorgeous architecture, to name a few--but it shakes them up, gives them a twist, and with a generous splash of sci-fi and time travel thrown in you get a highly original, thoroughly engrossing novel that is unlike anything you've ever read before.
The author starts off with a setting that, as far as I know, is completely unique to the steampunk genre thus far in its short history: Germany, shortly before the dawn of WWI. From there he keeps the originality coming non-stop, but I don't want to say too much lest I give something away. ; )
This is a coming-of-age story, an adventure story, a family story, a love story. But more importantly, it is a story of ideas and worldviews. The author does a brilliant job portraying the progression of what start out simply as different points of view, as they grow in different directions and become much more serious--matters of morality, of destiny, opinions that could change the face and history of an entire planet.
The most fascinating aspect of this is when you, the reader, realize that you're seeing what is probably a very accurate picture of how and what people thought of real issues and events at that time, before they led into what we now know as WWI. With our modern, 20-20 hindsight, it's easy for us to decide what was right and what was wrong in the days before the Great War. But for the people actually living there, it might not have been so easy to tell, and this book offers a stunning hypothetical look into that struggle.
Another interesting aspect of Perpetual Motion was the way in which the author presents the viewpoints of the various characters. As I said, this is a coming-of-age story, and it is written from the first-person perspective of a teenaged girl who has found herself involved in a very complex world filled with many opposing ideas. Everyone she talks to presents their ideas and worldviews as truth, and the author offers no comment on who may or may not be lying or misguided. It is left to the viewpoint character (and, thereby, the reader) to try and determine what really is the truth and what is not.
Needless to say, this isn't a book you can just lightly skim over and still have a good grasp on the story. This is a book that needs careful attention and demands a lot of thought. That isn't to say that it doesn't tell a good story--on the contrary, it tells a fantastic story sure to delight steampunk fans--but it's a story completely saturated with meaning and thought-provoking ideas. I gladly give it a high recommendation--plus bonus points for being unique. ; )

Click Here to order Perpetual Motion on Amazon.

Monday, January 5, 2015

How I Became a Twinings Snob

I’ve been laughed at, teased, and cajoled, but there’s nothing I can do about it and the fact remains:

When it comes to tea, I’m a Twinings snob.

It’s not that I won’t drink tea from other brands. It’s not even that I don’t like tea from other brands. It’s not that I think people who drink tea from other brands are uncultured barbarians. (I’ve met a few uncultured barbarians who habitually drink other brands of tea, but to my knowledge there is no connection between the two.) It’s not that I consider myself some kind of Anglophile and only prefer Twinings for the name. It doesn't even have to do with the fact that its three centuries of history and doing business from the same address in London make it the most steampunk beverage on the market. Honest.

The simple fact is that at an early, formative time in my life, my brain was programmed to prefer Twinings. It’s true. Here’s how it happened.

I was six years old when my paternal grandfather, a long-time Baptist preacher, accepted a teaching position at the Bible College in Nuneaton, England. Suddenly he and my grandmother (whom we all called “Moofy”), both of whom I was used to seeing on a daily basis and even shared a house with at the time, would be living on the other side of the world for nine months out of the year.

For a six-year-old, they might as well have been moving to another galaxy for nine centuries, but Moofy assured me that we would keep in contact and have plenty of adventures together over the summers. She kept her word. During the school year, not a single week went by without a phone call, letter, postcard, or package (my favorite of which contained authentic, live, invisible leprechauns she had caught in her back garden and persuaded to go live with her American grandchildren). And during the summer, we had our adventures.

Moofy and I were both notoriously early risers, up before dawn most days. My mother (who already had two more children younger than me) was only too glad to get some badly-needed extra sleep and let someone else corral her early bird for a while, so Moofy and I most always had the earliest hours to ourselves.

The summer after Moofy’s first year in England, I was introduced to the world of tea. If I had ever had tea prior to that time, I don’t remember it. Honestly, I find it unlikely that Mom would compound a problem by giving tea to a child who hardly slept at all to begin with. But what are grandparents for if not giving children treats that parents wouldn’t? And in one of her giant black suitcases, Moofy had brought home a whole stash of Twinings tea.

Of course, I’m sure much of my obsession with tea grew from its immediate connection to special mornings with my grandmother, but I loved it for itself, too. Earl Grey, Lady Grey, English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast...I loved them all.

When Moofy returned to England for the next school year, she left the remainder of her tea stash behind with me. The next summer, she replenished it. It continued like that for years. Once I reached my teens, I tried branching out and sampling other brands of tea, but they all seemed to lack something. It wasn’t that they weren’t good, it was just that...they weren’t the same. My tea palate had been built on the distinctive flavors of Twinings, so to me if it didn’t taste like Twinings Earl Grey, it didn’t taste like Earl Grey at all.

And that’s how I became a Twinings snob.

Eventually health problems forced my grandparents to retire and come back to the family farm permanently. By then I had discovered that Twinings could be purchased in the United States as well, so I didn’t need to fear my supply being cut off.

Moofy and I continued sharing our tea experiences for many years. When I had friends over throughout high school, Moofy would invite us to her house for a sunrise breakfast tea. When I moved in to help her and keep her company after my grandfather’s death, I made certain the tea cupboard always stayed well-stocked—with Twinings, of course. When her health began its last serious decline and she lost interest in food, she still looked forward to the tea and snack I made every afternoon. Even at the very end, when Moofy didn’t even know who I was anymore, we could still sit down and enjoy a good, hot cup of Twinings tea together.

As I write this, it has been four years to the day since Moofy passed away. I still miss her every single day of my life. There are so many things I want to tell her and share with her, but can’t. And even though the pain of losing her has settled and faded with time, there’s still a hollow spot in my life where she used to be.

But every morning when I put the kettle on, pull my box of tea from the cupboard, and smell the sweet, strong aroma of Twinings, it’s still just a little bit like those early mornings all those summers ago...and a little bit like Moofy is still here.

And that’s why I’ll stay a Twinings snob forever.


Coming up: A review of the steampunk novel Perpetual Motion, as well as an interview with author Bruce Hesselbach!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A New Year, and a New Steampunk Community!

Hello, happy New Year, and welcome! This is it--the official launch of a brand-new steampunk community, The Facts of Steampunk Life!

My name is Mary Pursselley. I'm an author of fantasy and science fiction as well as steampunk literature, but to be honest the steampunk genre has a much bigger influence on my lifestyle as a whole than any of the other genres I have interest in. I love the endless possibilities for exploration and expansion that steampunk offers. I love the historical origins of the genre, and pillars of culture that it's built on. I love the fashion and gadgetry. Ask my family--I'm a steampunk nerd to the core.
The concept for The Facts of Steampunk Life came pretty much out of nowhere for me, and only a few days ago at that. While part of me (the rational, intelligent part, no doubt) was saying "You need more time! This idea is half-baked! You've got to think about this more before you do it!", another part of me had a feeling that the pieces would all fall into place and that everything would work out just fine. After all, when it comes to steampunk, I am anything but short on ideas.
So, ready, half-baked, foolhardy, or not, I started putting things together to launch The Facts of Steampunk Life. As I worked I noticed that, sure enough, the pieces were falling into place and the ideas were coming rapid-fire. I actually kind of felt like I had more ideas than I knew what to do with.
And that's when it occurred to me that other steampunk enthusiasts out there have ideas they want to share with people, too, but may not necessarily have an outlet for sharing them.
That's part of my vision for The Facts of Steampunk Life--I want it to be a place where steampunk enthusiasts can not only get new ideas and inspiration to fuel their passion, but also share their own ideas and let others be inspired by their creativity. If you're interested in being a contributor to the community, check out the "Contribute" page. I look forward to hearing from you!
For more information about my goals and plans for the community in general, check out the FAQ page and the What are the Facts? page.
Also be sure to subscribe to the YouTube channel and follow The Facts of Steampunk Life on Pinterest.
There's a lot coming up--reviews of steampunk books and movies old and new, interviews with authors and artists whose talents tend towards the steampunk, costume and accessory tutorials, steampunk recipes (yes, there is such a thing), essays and articles on topics pertaining to the steampunk life, and more. So be sure to stick around. It promises to be a fun ride!