On Matters “Steampunk”

I’m building a Gaslamp fantasy rig to hallwalk with at certain conventions. I use the term “Gaslamp fantasy” because I cling – perhaps naively – to the idea that steampunk is our imagining what a bunch of 19th century Brits thought the future might be like. Whereas the outfit I’m piecing together belongs in a headcanon of my own that borrows heavily from the Discworld (specifically the keeping of swamp dragons), with the cracks filled in with dollops of Monty Python, Jasper Fforde and various other sources of absurdity. Still, it’ll be mistaken for steampunk at any distance and I guess I’d better get used to that idea.

I made myself a promise that should I ever make a steampunk ensemble for myself (accidentally or otherwise) that it would not feature goggles or corsetry. Corsets are very cute. I’ve made and worn quite a few through the years, but they’re over-used to the point of ubiquity. Besides, a slightly-scorched dragon-keeper is going to value mobility a lot more than an hourglass figure.

I might have to compromise on the goggles because, whoa, dragons breathe fire and eye-protection is often a good idea in those situations. They’ll be proper, functional things, though. Ugly as I can manage, in fact. And not an ornamental gear in sight.

Things I’ve Learned While Sewing.

Aviator style caps can make you look like Baldrick from Blackadder.

The answer to “Should I hand-baste this, first?” is always “Yes!”

New project? Put a new needle in the sewing machine. And clean the lint out of it while you’re at it.

Thread snarling and you think you’ve blown the timing on your machine? You haven’t cleaned the machine recently. Do so and re-thread.

Never use stretch charmeuse as a lining.

Sergers are awesome, but not essential.

Make a muslin, first.

People will ask you to sew for them, and then be stunned that you won’t price-match a Malaysian sweatshop.

ADD, Cosplay and Budgets

I have mild ADD (diagnosed at 43, it was an interesting year) and a cosplay habit and a tight budget. Any two of these could be managed easily, but all three together, it’s a pisser. Here are some rules I try to live by.

Don’t buy anything unless you know exactly what you’re going to use it for. No “but it’s so pretty!” purchases. No “but patterns are on sale for $1!” binging. This is the toughest one to abide by and please ignore the six yards of trippy upholstery fabric that I just scored at Goodwill for $8…

Keep the active project list as short as possible and multitask where possible. Technically, I’m running three jacket-based projects side by side right now but all that really means is that I’m learning how to adjust the hell out of a commercial pattern (Vogue 9099 if you’re curious) with the intention of using it as a “master’ pattern for anything that resembles  three-piece jacket, going forward – which includes the other two jacket projects.

Set deadlines / be sure you’re actually going to wear (or sell) what you made. There are some things I’d love to try making, but I don’t have any occasion or convention to wear them at, so they remain on the “someday” list and, for all I know, might stay there permanently.

Set a limit for your project list (active and in hibernation) and don’t exceed it. Otherwise you’ll find yourself buried under a dozen incomplete outfits. And you’ll probably miss any self-imposed deadlines, too. I’ve got six projects on my list and have, so far, resisted the temptation to add more. When I finish one, then I can pick up a new idea / bring a hibernating one back to life.

Plan your sewing days. Set goals that fit the time available, breaking everything down into pieces that are as small as possible. For instance, I won’t say to myself “do the lining this weekend”, I’ll say “I think I can cut and assemble the lining on Saturday. Test fit Saturday night, after dinner. Sunday morning, do the machine-setting bits along the collar, cuffs and facings. Do the hand finishing on Sunday night, after errands.”.

(You can do a lot of hand-sewing on the train, if you’re a commuter, btw.)

Cut any to-do list by a third because you have ADD, cats and an Internet connection.

On a similar note, schedule breaks for yourself. It’s okay to look at cats on the Internet every now and then.

The Joann’s sewing/craft chain has many limitations, but a lack of coupons isn’t one of them. Get on their mailing list. Be sure to make use of them every now and then, as non-users get unsubscribed.

Every town has a discount fabric store somewhere – although “somewhere” could be up to 100 miles away. Visit them as often as you can, as their stock will change frequently. And get on their mailing list, too. Even discount outlets have sales. (Oh, how I miss Fabric Outlet in SF and their 40% off the entire store sales…)

If you happen to live near one of the few remaining textile mills in the the Western world, find out if they have an on-site retail outlet and make a trip out there.

Thrift stores can be awesome for fabric. I go there to buy sturdy all-cotton sheets for making toiles and interlinings (cheaper and better than bolt muslin!), and sometimes lengths of fabric will show up in the linens section, too – see “six yards of upholstery fabric”, above. Table-runners can often be re-purposed if all you need is some short (and narrow) yardage.

Thrift stores are awesome for other things, too. I visit thrift stores when I’m looking for leather (or good-quality fake-leather) garments to cut up, shoes in the I only need for that one costume so why buy new category, of course, mundane aspects of a costume that are cheaper and easier to buy rather than make. I scored a lovely 100% silk rollneck sweater that’s a great match with my 1966 reproduction suit for $5.

Oof, that turned out longer than I expected. But it’s a complicated situation, so I shouldn’t be surprised.