Wednesday, April 22, 2015

New Steampunk Sewing Patterns, umm, yeah...

Sooooo.  McCall's has a new steampunk pattern out.

It's umm, interesting.

It includes chaps, harness thing, some pouches, gun holster thing, piece of leather tied to your arm, and two sizes of top hat.

I mean, I get that leather is a big component of steampunk, but I think someone got that confused with a leather fetish scene or something.  This really feels more Leather Bar than steampunk to me.

It could just be the obviously shoddy material used for the sample, but...seriously?

Why is there a piece of leather to buckle on your arm?  Just a rectangle of leather.

The hats are not really bad, though I doubt the actual construction instructions are worth much, judging from the way his hat looks about to crumple in permanently.  But it might be worth paying $1 for some top hat patterns.  And usable pouches, I guess.

I just really hope poorly constructed faux leather chaps are not something I start seeing everywhere in steampunk.

None of the other major brands have released their summer patterns yet, so if there's anything to report I'll post again.  But I HAD to share this ASAP.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book Review: Prudence by Gail Carriger

 Prudence by Gail Carriger

On Saturday I had the chance to go to a signing by Gail Carriger at Murder by the Book in Houston.  Gail is one of my favorite authors, not only of steampunk but in general.  I've been hugely pleased with her most recent books in the Finishing School series.

The signing was delightful, with Gail being her amazing, charming, and stylish self.  It was the second signing of her I attended so I got all the Finishing School books signed as well as Prudence.

And then I got to actually read this book.  Prudence is the first book in a new series called "The Custard Protocol."  Prudence is the daughter of the Alexia Maccon, the protagonist of the Parasol Protectorate series so this is a "Next Generation" type series.

As such it spends a lot of time introducing the reader to the cast of characters and setting up the premise.  Prudence ("Rue") is given a state-of-the-art airship by her adoptive father Lord Akeldama and sent on a mission to India to secure rights to a special breed of tea.   She assembles a crew and heads off, fairly unprepared for the complicated political climate she's entering.

Gail said in the signing that this series is intended to be an ensemble cast, and she's done a good job giving us four interesting main characters.  Rue and Primrose are best friends from childhood, Rue being the impetuous, adventurous one, and Primrose being more proper and fashionable.  Quesnel Lefoux is the romantic interest for Rue, a cocky French engineer.  Percy is Primrose's twin brother, an easily distracted intellectual snob.  They're well suited for adventures and comedy of manners.  I wish they had slightly more diverse backgrounds, though, as they are all privileged, upper class young adults raised by supernatural parents.

The actual plot of this book is a little thin and feels squeezed into the second half of the book.  There's not all that much that actually takes place in India and very little of that takes place in Indian society.  Pretty much all of the interactions Rue and friends have are with British citizens or native supernatural species.  So it's a book that travels to India that has pretty much no Indian people in it.  The native supernaturals are Indian, but don't really get much in the way of personality or development.

This series is meant to be all about travel through the British empire, but I'm not that comfortable with how it engages with British Imperialism.  It comes down decidedly on the side of imperialism with the justification that England is better than other countries, essentially.  While there is an attempt to show how imperialism leads to problems with native populations the solution to that problem is to strengthen the Empire and forge new treaties between Britain and the natives, essentially to impose British law more forcefully on India.  Frankly all of this earns this book a massive side-eye from me, especially with the total lack of Indian characters.

This is the only photo I took Saturday, of my tentacle nails.
I gave Gail a sheet of them as well.
  If you need some, email me!
Furthermore this book feels very similar to the Parasol Protectorate.  I was looking forward to seeing this universe 20 years later and looking forward to new technology, advancements, etc, but really I can't think of any that were showcased.  The Finishing School books felt like they took place in a distinct social, technological, and aesthetic environment from the Parasol Protectorate, but this feels very same-y.

So ultimately I have to count myself disappointed.  I had really high hopes for this book and it didn't live up to them.  I feel like this is the weakest book Gail has released, and she seems to be really struggling with this new series.   On the bright side I enjoyed the characters and the budding romance, so I won't be abandoning the series or anything.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Book Review: Ticker

Ticker by Lisa Mantchev

I got this book a couple of months ago but it took me this long to get around to reading it.  I often get burnt out on steampunk books and it makes me hesitate to read a new, unknown book because I'm afraid it will be just like every other steampunk book.

That's the biggest flaw with the genre, IMO, actually, that so often steampunk novels all feel the same to the point where I, who read a lot of them, get really confused about what happened in which book.

Thankfully, once I actually started reading Ticker, I didn't have that problem.  While her protagonist may be a bit similar to other spunky, rebellious, trouble-making steampunk heroines, and the romantic lead isn't that distinctive, the world the story is set in feels original and different.

Creating a steampunk world is a balancing act between recreating Victorian England and creating a new sci-fi world.  I find most books end up going too far in one direction or another.  This book doesn't spend much time at all on world-building, and yet the setting feels cohesive.  It's not Victorian England, but there are similarities.   It feels like a world that is similar to Victorian England except in all the places where that would be annoying or get in the way of the story.  It feels like the author is having genuine fun creating the world without worrying about rules, which makes the book itself fun.

The world is filled with steampunk inventions and contraptions.  Steam and clockwork powered vehicles, horses, and gadgets abound everywhere.  Many of them really feel original as well, such as a device that taps out Morse code text messages to the characters.

Which brings us to the main plot.  Penny Farthing (yes, really) is the heroine.  She was born with a heart defect which took the lives of two of her sisters.  When she nearly died her heart was replaced with a clockwork alternative, sparking protest in society against human augmentation.  Unfortunately the doctor who installed her heart has gone on a killing spree experimenting on his victims to improve his ability to cure Penny.

Most of the book's action is of the breathless running and fighting kind that is very common in the modern steampunk novel.  It remains light and fun for the most part, although some of the content is quite dark, since it deals with forced medical experimentation.

There's also a romance, naturally, between Penny and the head of the investigatory agency.  This is actually what I felt was the weakest aspect of the novel.  We are told about how incredibly attracted these two characters are from the very first moment they meet, but it feels like telling instead of showing, and I never really FELT their attraction.  Marcus (the romantic lead) never fully came into focus for me as a character and felt fairly one-dimensional.

Overall, though, this is a fun and imaginative steampunk world to visit.  The real strength is in the little steampunk details and aesthetics.  I'd love to see illustrations or other visual renditions of this book!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Spring Sewing Patterns!

McCall's has just released their spring patterns, which include this steampunk offering;

 Have to admit, my first impression was not great. Mostly because I think the example dress is terrible, from the materials to the quality of construction. I'll admit I hate pastels, so someone else may feel differently.  The underskirt is pretty boring and steampunk-standard.  I really love the back of the jacket, but the weird front that seems to be trying to do a 1910's style looks really odd to me.  Of course the bustle cage is cool, but I wonder how practical it is, attached only at the waist.  The ruffles are apparently "raw edge finish" which I personally dislike because so few fabrics really look good that way.  It also feels lazy in a pattern, IMO.

Butterick has released this Downtown Abbey-esque pattern, which I feel a bit "meh" about.

Again it could just be an unimpressive sample dress.  But I feel like there are better patterns out for this period.

Vogue has this interesting dress, which I feel could be a good base for casual steampunk.

Simplicity has a couple interesting offerings.

They seem to be making a more serious attempt at a real corset pattern.  The front of the pattern tells you all the details of their corset that are good.  Like steel boning and busk and back lacing.  They include different cup sizes, but apparently some only have boning going to the underbust?  But both drawings appear to be a cupped corset with no boning in the cups?  I'm confused.

But okay, the cups might actually be useful for a cupped corset.  But the corset still appears to mostly just stop at the waist.  The actual photos look better than the line drawings, which look like bustiers.  But there's still not much waist-to-hip curve, which means anyone with natural curve will find this uncomfortable or won't actually get any waist cinching.  Plus it's very short, so really more appropriate as the top of a dress, as it's shown here.

I don't know.  This might be fun to play with, but I think it would require a lot of modification before really being good.  I also wonder if they've stopped adding ease to corset patterns yet.  If not, you'd still need to automatically go down two sizes from what their chart recommends.

Finally, Simplicity has this AWESOME vintage dress pattern.  I swear one of these months I'm going to make myself a 50's dress and I keep changing my mind about which pattern I will use.  Not steampunk, of course, but still.  Plus, plus sizes!

ETA:  As pointed out in the comments, Simplicity also has pattern 1392, which is for steampunk doll clothes!

  They also have a free tutorial for making goggles and a fascinator to go with your doll. I'm not a doll person, but these are really cute!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Apologies for the radio silence

Hi everyone!  I know things have been silent for a while.  First I had a severe back flare that meant I wasn't getting ANYTHING done except playing video games.  It also was pretty depressing and I just couldn't work up enthusiasm for blogging.  And then there were the holidays and I was traveling for two weeks and now that I can work on things again I've been pretty busy.

I'm trying to catch up on my corset commissions and I'm also doing some home improvement projects.  They're small DIY, low-budget things, but that's taking a lot of time.  I have been wanting to ask my readers, though: should I post about my home projects here?  They're not actually steampunk related, unless you want to say something simple like painting cabinets could be steampunk.  I have a more personal blog that no one reads where I COULD post about them.  I've always tried to keep this blog as on-topic as possible, so I'm asking.

Should I post about my home improvement projects here?

Yes, I'm interested!
No, keep it strictly steampunk.
Maybe? (Explain in comments.)
Poll Maker

Thanks for voting!  I really am interested in my reader's opinions.

On the steampunk front there are things coming up in my area that should get me back in the swing of things.  I am keeping my con schedule light again this year for financial and personal reasons.  I will most likely only be attending/vending at small steampunk-specific events.

Here are some of the events I'm keeping an eye on at the moment for Texas:

Steampunk Express (Cogs, Leather, Lace and Steam) - The Texas State Railroad is having a steampunk weekend April 24-26.  There are lots of events planned, but details are still slim.  This sounds super cool so I'm looking forward to learning more about cost and vending and whatnot.  FB event here.

The Corrupted Cog - Austin, TX May 9-10 - From the organizers of Weird West Fest, it's a new event right off 6th street in Austin.  They're going for a dark, macabre side of steampunk and I'm looking forward to it!

There's a Sherlock Holmes exhibit currently at the Museum of Natural History in Dallas and I'm going to try to organize a steampunk group trip.  I'll post details once I have them.

I will also be giving TWO corset making workshops this summer at the same location as my workshop last year outside Dallas.  Details to come.

So yeah, the next few months are starting to look busy.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Recent Corset Creations

I'm unfortunately still laid up with my back, 4 weeks later.  I haven't sewn in FOUR WEEKS, OMG.  It sucks, and there's not really much more to say.

I thought I'd share my last two completed commissions.  They were both rather challenging overbusts to fit.  The first was a plus size overbust with a waist yoke.  The fabrics are difficult to photograph, so excuse the flash.  This is on a dress form that doesn't have the curves of the intended wearer, but you get the idea.

The next was a commission for an underwear overbust from a steampunk friend who is gifted in the bust region.  She wears a 40H bra!  It was quite a journey getting the fit right, but we both are happy with the result.  She got great shaping and is thrilled with how it feels.  At one point I had to resort to drafting the pattern in 3D paper form to figure out how to make the bust work.  It's a trick I like to use when a flat pattern just isn't enough and you don't have time to sew a trial.

And here's the finished corset.  It's two layers of white coutil with bones in internal coutil casings.  The top layer is floating per client request.  Normally I wouldn't float the top layer because I think you get a smother result without it floating, but I aim to please.

In the side view you can see just how much bust curve there is.  Many corsetmakers would say this much bust increase requires a pattern with gores, but I think I've proved that wrong. With good patterning and lots of bones, you can avoid gores.  The full bust circumference is spread over three panels.

You can see when the corset is on it's intended body, many of the wrinkles smooth out, although I'm still not happy with the look of the seams.  This was definitely my most trying corset to fit ever, but my client is thrilled with the result and has already ordered one in black, too.