And now, for something a little less serious, I am going to talk about one of the more shinier aspects of steampunk: DIY
I cannot craft anything. Even sewing projects have to be simple, or I give up on them. Everyone goes on about how they’re modding this, or sewing that, or making such-and-such jewelry with these pieces and whatnot. I just nod and say “omg awesome!”
What I do like about this is how very hands-on people will get with their crafting. Even if they’re not doing anything, but planning or brainstorming, there is a sense of handiness, or contemplating how to bring a project to fruition. How to work with one or more materials into a single cohesive whole. In the air, you can catch a whiff of... possibility.
And if they do have the crafting skills, they happily jump into their projects and some of them take pictures along the way. They’ll talk process, and share tips on how to shape pieces, or create their own ways of doing things. As with all processes of creation, some old procedures are re-discovered to be useful and some new tricks make the going easier. They learn these skills and end up with a rather broad skill-set, as well as broad knowledge of how things work. These are usually people with normal day jobs. There’s something very tenacious about them. There is this sense of discipline.
And then they finish. Which is my favourite part, because these projects — you can see them, and touch them, and know they’ve been built by the hands of people you know. In the face of mass-production, personality and personalization injected into each project, lovingly toiled over, can give each item you buy a bit more value. You can put a face to its maker. And crafters can take pride in their work, and have a hefty dose of accomplishment.
Now, steampunk isn’t just about the DIY. However, DIY is the most physical aspect, which I think is why people are attracted to it. Airy-fairy philosophical waxing, such as I have done, is all very well and good, but there are times when we just want to touch. We can touch metal and cloth and what-have-you. This isn’t the only movement so attuned to hands-on physical form and function, of course, but it is one part of steampunk which enables it to build its community of crafters.
One of the effects of the Industrial Revolution was how it took away artisanship and broke it into piece-work factories. Steampunk, I feel, reacts to that, by getting pieces all over and putting it together, remembering the process of creation, and, I think mostly importantly, remembering the faces involved in the process.
The nice thing is that this return to knowing where our stuff comes from is totally do-able, from visiting the farmer’s market to buying from craft stores. The only problem is that it’s so darn expensive, but that’s another conversation for another day.
Photo credits to Peter Chamberlain and Myke Amend. Myke is also an illustrator, painter, and sculptor. You should totally pop in and say hi.
Jaymee Goh is a freelance writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She can’t make a lot of things, but she can bake cookies!