(This is a mirror site of my webpage karenjcarlisle.com)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

More Than Just Cogs

First I was a fanatical follower of science fiction – Doctor Who, Star Wars, Blake’s 7. By the 1980s, I was attending 2-3 fancons a year. Then I was a roleplayer. In 1978 my friend Christine introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons.  Then I discovered historical re-enactment (Society for Creative Anachronism). For almost 20 years my life has revolved around the renaissance – either in researching and recreating the clothing of mid-16th century Florence or ‘living it’ at various events. I have visited Florence twice (once for the Janet Arnold Costume Symposium). I still have a fascination for the Medicis. I don’t think that will ever fade. (I even have some ideas for a book…)

Then, in the 2000 I saw the movie Wild, Wild West, then The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) Both had an interesting look. But it wasn’t really until the mid 2000′s (I can’t remember if it was 2004 or 2005) that I really worked out what ‘this Steampunk thing’ was. I was excited – yet another outlet for my historical curiosity and my passion for costuming. One advantage was that I could get away with ‘anachronisms’ – of a sort.

embdress5What is an anachronism? A: A thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists, especially a thing that is conspicuously old-fashioned. (Google) In my case it is a thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists, especially a thing that is conspicuously modern.  

In medieval and renaissance re-enactment, there is a preference to keep everything within period. This is a fantastic challenge.  I have been documenting my research and attempts at recreating Florentine clothing on my Costume website – Purple Files/Florence Files, for many years.  Though I still delight in it,  I was ready for a new venture.

Perfect timing – 2005: I started hearing about a band called Abney Park, seeing steampunk costume pictures, on the internet. I revisited War of the Worlds and the Time Machine. My curiosity was aroused. Here was a combination of  cool Victoriana costuming and my first love – science fiction!

Finally, by 2008 (after stuffing around for a few years), I had taken my first steps into making steampunk costumes.  With just a little tweaking, all those years of renaissance corset making had come in handy – voila my first Victorian corset was created. That year we wore our first steampunk outfits to the Australian Costumers’ Ball (left). To our surprise, there was a small contingent of steampunkers. We spent a lot of the evening explaining what it was all about.

2008 SP contingent ballSince then the South Australian Steampunk contingent has grown. We have had a couple of large (open to public) events – The Voyage of the Olympia, picnics, movie outings (in costume), photo shoots and saw the film of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. (Yes, we sang along with it). Even a trip to the zoo. (Pith helmets come in handy when trying not to get eaten by the giraffe).


What I love about steampunk is that there is such a variety of ways to define it. There is no limit to the interpretations that can be created.

I love the definition in the tv series Castle’s episode: Punked: “…a subculture that embraces the simplicity and romance of the past but at the same time couples it with the hope and promise and sheer super coolness of futuristic design.”

More recently (since steampunk has become more mainstream – or is that just my imagination) there are more and more blog posts, memes and articles on ‘What is real steampunk’ or What is NOT steampunk. Some of the arguments are most likely valid but what saddens me is a small number of rabid followers that seem to spend most of their time telling people what NOT to do. Part of the allure of steampunk is that I do not feel part of a ‘cog in the machine‘ of fashion. I can find my own version, my own style. And enjoy it.

Okay, sticking cogs on a hat or a necklace may be steampunk inspired but does not necessarily add up to full-on steampunk. I will give you that. However the beauty of the movement/genre is its flexibility, its ability to enflame the imagination in so many different ways. This is why I celebrate it.

IMG_6853IMG_0427It provides me with the challenge to research Victorian fashion, sewing, lifestyle and history – if I wish. I can throw in some science fiction or Victorian science. Or not. I can be an explorer, a scientist or even a Scout Mistress (yep, done that  - and got the Kraken training badge). 

DSC_1196I can paddle in the steampunk pond, or experience total immersion of lifestyle. The choice is mine. (I must admit our lounge room has acquired another octagonal side table and glass specimen domes, which are great for keeping the dust down!) We are slowly refurbishing our bedroom with a Victorian/steampunk flavour. Steampunk even sneaks into my everyday clothing, on occasion.

I feel there is more freedom of expression for me, as a costumer, artist and writer.  It has provided me with a spark of enthusiasm, a story to write and the (maybe childish?) hope that humans can find basic courtesy and manners to make life just a little more pleasant.

More Than Just Cogs

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