Steampunk, Fiber Art, and Greased Lightning

My embroidery, using shisha mirrors and free form, traditional stitches in a “steampunk” theme… selected for use in the Quilt Festival brochure

The Quilt and Fibre Festival of Waterloo Region and Beyond was held a few weeks ago!

I was in St.Jacobs to assist with the CEGG embroidery guild display in the Old Mill, to see the quilt show and have high tea at the Schoolhouse, and to enjoy the ambience of this lovely old Mennonite town, now one of Ontario’s favourite tourist destinations.

I could tell you a great deal more about this area and about its German and Mennonite roots, but I won’t. Google it. I could tell you a great deal more about the quilt shows, but I won’t. If you are a quilter, you probably already know about it, and if you are not, you probably don’t care.

Such reticence is difficult… my digital camera is full of amazing images of amazing fiber art, but I can’t show you without the artists’ permission, and that is too complicated to bear thinking about. Trust me! You may see more quilts, or quilts by world-recognized artists at the huge American shows, but fibre art and quilting are incredibly popular here in Ontario, and the creativity and workmanship are second-to-none. Besides, it all feels so “cosy” and accessible… the artists are there to answer questions about their work, and you go home after a day or two inspired rather than intimidated, refreshed rather than worn out by the “big” shows.

A small fiber art group, The Group of Eight, was sharing the space with us, and I was fascinated to see their work in response to a steampunk challenge. A guild challenge occurs when someone suggests a theme and all the members attempt to interpret it in a unique way… sort of a dare, I suppose, and in good fun. The variety was amazing. Steam punk… a witty “collision of disparate elements” is a rich source of inspiration for all kinds of art.

I realized that I have been playing on the fringes of steampunk in my own work… I love the interesting shapes… radial symmetry, star and gear shaped motifs, tessellations, asymmetrical arrangements, tiny things, and shiny things. Part of my interest in the film, Hugo, blogged here on May 7, was seeing that clockwork mechanism from the inside! So, of course, I turned to the Internet, to learn more.

Originally coined to describe fantasy and science fiction in steam-powered settings, the term “steampunk” has come to identify an aesthetic movement. Its campy redefinition of Victorian style blends elements of technology and romance, and its influence extends from literature and art to music and fashion.

Wikipedia tells us:

Steampunk is a genre which originated during the 1980s and early 1990s and incorporates elements of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, horror, and speculative fiction. It involves a setting where steam power is widely used—whether in an alternate history such as Victorian era Britain or “Wild West”-era United States, or in a post-apocalyptic time —that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology, or futuristic innovations as Victorians might have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art. This technology includes such fictional machines as those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or the contemporary authors Philip Pullman, Scott Westerfeld and China Mieville….Steampunk also refers to art, fashion, and design that are informed by the aesthetics of Steampunk literature.  Various modern utilitarian objects have been modded by individual artisans into a pseudo-Victorian mechanical “steampunk” style, and a number of visual and musical artists have been described as steampunk.

I wish I hadn’t thrown away those two broken wind-up alarm clocks, or the box of really cheap old watches. Now I am on the alert for  “authentic” steampunk embellishments… nothing from the craft store, thank you!  I already have a nice collection of rust for dying fabrics using vinegar and rusty nails. Or perhaps I will just applique and embroider wonderful images based on steampunk themes.

Steampunk art reminds me of how much machines have changed. When the automotive industry started using electronic components and then computerized elements, ordinary service stations could no longer repair even minor problems. Men like my father, who was a mechanical genius, had to take their vehicles back to the dealership and pay their monopoly prices for repairs that formerly would have taken place in the driveway, over a bottle (not can!) of beer, with the neighbourhood “experts” gathered around to lend a hand and the benefit of their experience. Another social ritual destroyed by “progress”.

A boy I knew in high school bought a derelict Jaguar sports car, lifted the engine out with a block and tackle, and rebuilt it with his buddies. There it sat, week after week, in the middle of his mother’s  front garden, but they eventually drove it. I would later see it parked on the university campus, always clean and polished. Loved, like “greased lightning” in the movie, Grease.

My computerized sewing machines permit no home maintenance beyond changing the needle and cleaning out lint.  Like cars to-day, they have to be taken to a dealer, out of town for me, and left for weeks, before they can be ransomed for funds that I would rather spend on fabric. Sigh!

We don’t even put a new refills ballpoint pens anymore, with the spring and the clicky retractable bit. We throw them away and buy new ones!  At least the quest for new designs with electronic engineering has not… yet… messed up the bicycle, or the flushing mechanism in the toilet, or my scissors.

Let’s hear it for steam power, mechanical components, and things you can SEE moving, and FIX yourself.  And the design inspiration from the elegant simplicity of intricately connected wheels, and gears, and chains, and levers, and other mechanical parts!

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2 Responses to Steampunk, Fiber Art, and Greased Lightning

  1. Greetings I am so excited I found your web site, I really found you by error, while I was searching on Digg for something else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just like to say thank you for a marvelous post and a all round enjoyable blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to browse it all at the moment but I have saved it and also added your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a lot more, Please do keep up the excellent job.

    • motleydragon says:

      Thank you, Marsha
      As you look around, I hope you will find much to interest you. Curiosity and Enthusiam are my watchwords, and the unusual punctuation mark called interrobang, a combination question mark and exclamation mark. Question, and Exclaim!? Welcome.

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