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Steampunk :: The Kapowder Room Secrets

by Folksy Support

Written by Connie of Konnie Kapow!

In the first of my shiny new columns for the Folksy Blog I’m investigating some of the different themes and styles to be found on Folksy. I thought I’d dive right in at the deep end by making my first article about Steampunk!

So what is Steampunk?

Well it would seem that this is a very good question! Opinions on what constitutes Steampunk seem to vary quite a lot. However, if you’ve seen Wild Wild West, Return to Oz, Back to the Future Part III, or any of the films of Terry Gilliam you may recognise the jist of the aesthetic. For some it is a fashion statement, for others a way of life, but no matter who you talk to there are a few common threads running through every explanation.

It would seem that you can split the term in two, firstly there’s the ‘steam’ which relates to the mechanical element. “Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, frequently featuring elements of fantasy that came into prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. The term is of an era, or world where steam power is still widely used – usually the 19th century, and often Victorian era England – but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy” says Natalie of Steamstress.

Secondly, there’s a strong theme of “Do it yourself” or “D.I.Y.”, which is a distinctly “punk” ethos.  Jane aka Gaia Noir explains “more than probably any other subculture, the Steampunk scene is FULL of crafters. It’s a bit of a status symbol to say ‘I made it myself” which ties in rather nicely with Glenn of Steam Punk Glass who feels that Steampunk is “a reaction against the throw-away society, where so much modern technology is cheap/badly made and designed to last just until the next upgrade comes out!”

The result says Anne aka Recycloanalyst is “Victorian Gothic fantasy escapism (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories, Jules Verne and H G Wells) the Science Museum in London, the fantastic mechanical creations of Heath Robinson, the drawings of Arthur Rackham (I was brought up mainly on a diet of Fairy Tales from Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen) and the extra-ordinary aspects of very ordinary, everyday objects”.

So now that we have a bit of a handle on what Steampunk is, what does it look like?

From the look and feel of the above mentioned movies, if someone said to me “it’s Steampunk” I would expect a lot of brown and brass and perhaps some pocket watches, goggles or eye patches?

Let’s see then, For Molly of London Fogg, it’s based on “Victorian dress and lifestyles but has to include a sort of waywardness or quirkiness or even darkness. It’s difficult to describe but easy to spot. I suppose one way is to mention its motifs; cameos, filigree, ornate brass laser guns, brass goggles, time travel, steam powered spaceships, top hats, telescopes, brass computers, flying penny farthing bicycles , dragonflies, butterflies…” Yes!  I win a coconut! (What do you mean I cheated?!)

BellaDLuna puts it this way; “For me, Steampunk is the Victorian time traveller, with maybe a little dash of pirate thrown in for good measure”.

And what about all of the contraptions you see? Do they work or are they just for show?
SteamPunk Glass is of the view that “gadgets and wearables are always popular as there are plenty of dress-up opportunities, but it has to be well made, well thought out, and interesting. Spraying it brass coloured and sticking some cogs on isn’t enough anymore, but if the cogs work and do something, or that’s a well thought out Victorian ray-gun, then you’re onto a winner!”

Steampunk seems to be gaining in popularity, what makes it attractive and fashionable?

If you ask London Fogg, she says, “Steampunk has produced a fashion genre of its own – much as punk did in the seventies – but lately it’s started to appear in the mainstream. I saw a photo of Kylie a few weeks ago wearing a black dress with chains, cogs and a sort of pocket watch belt, very much the look.”

Steamstress has noticed this too, “if you look at the major fashion stores and catalogues you can now after many years see traces of this once underground movement coming into the mainstream, though the Victorian and American Civil War/Wild West elements of these periods are now visible from hats, jackets, tops, jeans to boots”

I wonder too whether the rise in popularity has anything to do with the recent resurgence in recycling and upcycling which can be attributed in some ways to the recent financial climate?
Ingrid aka Steampunk Storm says, “Vintage watches have the most beautiful components inside, highlighting the pride that watchmakers used to take.  The intricate parts that no one would see are still works of art that have been engraved with glorious patterns.  A saved balance cock from an antique pocket watch makes a perfect necklace.” For Gaia Noir the recycling aspect of Steampunk is fascinating. She loves “that many Steampunks, through their choosing D.I.Y. crafting and unique items, show a ‘screw you’ attitude towards big companies who tell you to buy/wear/use ugly, throwaway, mass-produced tat.” There is also very much a feeling that people want “things which are unique and one-off but don’t cost the earth. With Steampunk they can have that,” says London Fogg.

From my travels it seems pretty clear that Folksy has some very talented Steampunk sellers and that it is not just a fashion statement but also a fascinating outlook and way of life. I personally love the romantic aspect suggested by the Victorian and Edwardian slant, which has been smeared and smudged a bit by the mechanical elements and grubby shine of metal and recycled components. The juxtaposition of beautiful tailoring for example intertwined with organic looking machinery seems to create a wonderful blend of chivalry and slight menace.

I’d like to thank all of the sellers for their patient explanations and willingness to help, why not check out their shops for something entirely unique, guaranteed to earn you some fabulous compliments?

About the Author of this post…

“Konnie Kapow sells handmade greetings cards and some knitted jewellery she makes when she finds the time and Mr Kapow! her enigmatic and secretive husband paints stuff too! Kapow! Whap!” Connie has a great sense of humour which combined with her talent in design, is what makes her greeting cards so popular! Pay a visit to Connie’s shop to see what she’s been making recently.Twitter :: Blog :: Facebook

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amyorangejuice July 17, 2010 - 6:25 am

Now I know what it means! I have always been drawn to this kind of thing, I think I have read too many Phillip Pullman books! Lush items and sellers and brilliantly written, well done Miss Kapow! How you liking our new Saturday slot? :-)

Susan morrow July 17, 2010 - 7:58 am

you write so well Connie, it’s great to read anything by you. Steampunk though is a great one to start off with, it’s a phenomena about to hit the mainstream I’m sure too. Great choices, love the jacket especially. Looking forward to more Connie posts.
Susie x

Deb July 17, 2010 - 9:07 am

Nice article, and thank you for answering the question ‘What is steampunk?’ – I’ve often wondered! :-)

Glenn, SteamPunkGlass July 17, 2010 - 1:49 pm

An excellent article, it’s such a difficult genre to explain, and you’ve really nailed it down better than I can! :)

natalie stead July 17, 2010 - 4:55 pm

hi konnie, great work on the blog i think you’ve done a great job on collecting all the information on steampunk, and glad i can help. x Natalie @ steamstress

Jo Walters July 17, 2010 - 5:07 pm

Often wondered what it was and now I know! A great article!! Jo @Uniquebeadedgems x

Shaz from OddSox July 17, 2010 - 7:39 pm

Konnie, what a brilliantly written article! I love the word ‘Steampunk’ but didn’t know for sure what it means. Now I know & I still love it. Great contributions from our fellow Folksy shop owners. Thank you. x

Hilary July 17, 2010 - 11:40 pm

This is the best quote ever – “For me, Steampunk is the Victorian time traveller, with maybe a little dash of pirate thrown in for good measure”.

Great article and quite coincidentally I watched wild wild west tonight and was able to say – this is of the steam punk aesthetic dontcha know!

Michelle July 18, 2010 - 9:15 am

Thank you! I have been wondering that – as I am part of Etsy and have run across the term a lot on twitter and facebook.

Bella D' Luna July 18, 2010 - 10:29 am

Fabulous article! You’ve summed up steampunk very neatly, and captured the romance of the genre. It is such an exciting movement, with a lot of very talented individuals driving it forward. Blogs like this can only help to keep up that creavite momentum

Jane (@Gaia Noir) July 19, 2010 - 10:57 am

Very well done! It’s really good to present so many different perspectives on the genre, as there are (as with any subculture!) people who like to nitpick – with so many different takes on the issue, it’s nicer and more of a group effort to define it via the common ground between us. Thanks, and thanks also to the other sellers featured – I loved reading everyone else’s inspirations and ideas.

Victoria July 19, 2010 - 1:16 pm

Great article I really liked your definition of steampunk : )

Linziloop July 19, 2010 - 2:21 pm

“…it has to be well made, well thought out, and interesting. Spraying it brass coloured and sticking some cogs on isn’t enough anymore, but if the cogs work and do something, or that’s a well thought out Victorian ray-gun, then you’re onto a winner!”

Couldn’t agree more – sticking the innards of a watch onto something and calling it steampunk is something that really gets my back up. If the very ethos of steampunk is handmade quality as a backlash to the throw away junk available on the highstreet, things need to be well made to impress.

Looking forward to seeing more steampunk items on Folksy xxx

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