“We almost sold the engine room,” announced the young man who runs one of the shops (the physical one) I supply, when I wandered in with some new stock last week.
“Came that close!” He squeezed his thumb and forefinger together. “It was going to be a wedding present. They’re going to a steampunk wedding. They still might buy it, but then one of them said, ‘Oooh, I wonder if she could make a steampunk bride and groom…’.”
He looked at me quizzically.
“Maybe,” I said cautiously. “I’ll give it some thought.”
I’d made a promise to myself when I started making the steampunk miniatures: NO COMMISSIONS. I’d done them in the past and my vision rarely coincided with my clients’. It often ended in tears.
This project was interesting, though. The groom would obviously be in the usual smart dress suit with top hat and goggles. I even had the ideal fabric – the remains of a black and gold jacquard scarf I’d found once in a charity shop. It was dressing the bride, though, that intrigued me. There were so many ways that could go…
I held out for at least two days, busying myself with the Garden of Ingenious and Mechanical Delights that is my pet long-term project. Then I thought, ‘Well, if I just make a bride and groom and take them down to Rune Smith, it’s not exactly a commission. The customers can decide whether they want to buy them, or go for the engine room.’
I trawled through steampunk websites and Pinterest for inspiration. Would she be a cheery burlesque bride – all thighs and cleavage? A Victorian crinoline type with parasol and meringue skirt? I didn’t fancy either much. I wanted to do something new.
The fabric scraps box was upended and I picked out everything cream, ivory, coffee and toffee coloured. The ribbon and lace boxes followed. Then the leather offcuts box. A plan was forming. Steampunk is all about innovation, reusing and combining materials in unexpected ways, so that was what I would do.
First lace-trimmed drawers and a cotton lawn petticoat, with gathered organza hem and a layer of coffee-coloured lace. The skirt itself involved a solid day of handstitching all manner of fabric shapes and layers together – khaki drill, cream cotton lace, satin, ribbon, bias-cut pieces of handkerchief fabric and embroidery floss. This was embellished with copper wire and (wince – hate it, but it had to be done) an assortment of watch cogs and fly wheels. I always baulk at gratuitously applying machinery parts that have no function, but I had a feeling they’d be expected.
The bodice was a fragment of pale chamois leather, cut asymmetrically and laced at the front with gold thread. The bouquet was a ribbon rose embellished with more cogs and wire, and I opted for a Game of Thrones type veil in bronze and blue organza with a simple wire and ribbon headdress.
I loved her. I was exhausted. But did she fit the brief? Was she steampunk enough?
I decided to ask for some wisdom from a Facebook group I belong to – one specialising in making miniatures from everyday objects. I posted a quick video of her and asked their opinions. I’d purposely chosen this group, rather than one of the dedicated steampunk groups I belong to, to get a more ‘person-in-the-street’ opinion on what constituted steampunk.
The responses were many and various! Many iconised likes, loves and wows. The comments ranged from the singularly unhelpful ‘Dress her in black!!’, through ‘What IS steampunk?’ to one person who solicitously explained the difference between cogs and fly wheels as she thought I must be confused. As I had hoped and expected, though, many of the kind and lovely people took time to suggest extras and modifications that would help me to fulfil the brief.
The veil – their collected wisdom told me – had to go. The headdress had to include (oh shudder and groan at the dreary cliché!) a top hat, and possibly goggles. The bouquet needed to be bigger and bolder, the bodice more decorated and – at her waist – either a pouch or (I loved this idea) a chatelaine.
So, having added several necklace chains worth of metalwork, a (heavily disguised) kid leather hat and gone along with the other ideas – except the dratted goggles; I have my pride! – I reposted my altered little lady.
Unanimous praise – well almost.
‘I wish she had the glasses’ one of the goggles advocates wrote!
Well if that person is reading this, they might like to take a trip over to the Steampunk Doll’s House, where they will find many of my steampunk ladies and gentlemen sporting goggles in all shapes and styles.
Now I’m off to finish the groom.