Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Search for a Steampunk Prom Dress

Sarafina writes,

"I'm a 17 year old girl who reads both your blogs. I'm sort of home-schooled (i.e. taking community college classes rather than high school), and this year the high school/home school dance is steampunk themed.

"... I totally don't have the funds for some crazy awesome custom made dress from Etsy (sadness), and the same goes for a leather corset, so the point of this rather rambling email is to ask you if you have any ideas for a steampunk prom dress that you would be willing to share. I have access to thrift stores in the bay area, and if it turns out well I'll share pictures. Thank you!"

I actually already responded to Sarafina's e-mail, but then I decided to go back and add visual aids to my thrift store shopping advice, which I think makes it more useful. Then I might have gotten a little carried away... so I figured I'd make the whole thing a post in the hopes that it might help someone else out there looking for a more formal steampunk look.

Keep in mind that I am in no way an expert on steampunk fashion, and I'm also the farthest thing you'll find from a steampunk purist. So please think of this advice as merely "guidelines" for the complete novice, and remember that steampunk is all about personalization, and you should always strive to make your outfit your own.

So with those caveats, here goes:

I'd start by looking for a vintage bridesmaid dress that you could modify or add to. Look for solid color jewel tones like a rich red, purple, blue, emerald, etc. (Although black is always classic, too.) Ruffles and full skirts are ideal.

(All images via Ebay. All of these dresses are pre-owned, and averaged between $20 and $30)

Then look for a second full skirt in a complementary color, and pin up the dress to show the skirt underneath. (Or put the skirt on top - whichever works.)


You could also pair a blouse with full skirts instead of a dress, so keep an eye out for peasant-look blouses or high-necked Victorian ones.

(Again, all images via Ebay's pre-owned clothing auctions.)



(Also note the layered/pinned skirts.)

If your skirts are short, then consider wearing some fun patterned tights: stripes are classic, as are fishnets and scrolly patterns.

Since a corset really does add a lot to the look, you might try DIY'ing an under corset/waist cincher like I did for my own steampunk costume:

(More pics & details here.)

All you need is a little vinyl, grommets, & shoe laces or ribbon to lace it up. Total cost is less than $10 - and the best part: no sewing required! Add the under corset on top of a good ruffly dress, and that's half your outfit right there.

Another alternative to a corset is a good vest buttoned snugly, or an extra wide leather belt.


A nicely fitted jacket can also work wonders:

(Look for rich fabrics like this to keep it formal.)

Steampunk is mostly about the accessories, so once you have your foundation pieces grab lots of leather belts (or one extra wide one) from the thrift store, and play with layering them low on your hips. Hang things like pouches and little bottles and old keys off them for extra detail - but don't go overboard. Keep it a little more formal by sticking with two or three items, tops.

Also look for pocket watches (cheap ones are everywhere these days - you can get them on ebay for less than $5) which you can wear as a necklace or on your waist. If you're wearing a high-necked blouse, look for some fun jewelry or a lace handkerchief to pin at the neckline:

A little top hat or a pair of goggles is ideal for headwear, and fortunately the little hats aren't too hard or expensive to make. (There are tons of tutorials and free patterns out there - just google "tiny hat tutorial.") Feathers look great on hats or by themselves in your hair, too.


For your feet, leather granny shoes with low heels are perfect, or find some slim fitting boots.

(via Ebay's pre-owned auctions)

Failing that, you can also wear regular heels and make simple felt spats to fit over them (look online for patterns/ideas) to give them a more Victorian look.

For a purse, look for a pretty embroidered or satin evening bag, or make a drawstring pouch out of a nice fabric and hang it from your belt. Because this is a prom, I'd leave the steampunk weaponry at home this time, so icks-nay on the modded Nerf guns and rocket packs and such. (Save those for your next convention.)

And, most importantly: HAVE FUN WITH IT! Remember to put a little "punk" in your steampunk: a bright color here, a crazy accessory there. Spend some time online looking at steampunk outfits for inspiration; that will be your best resource. (DeviantArt and Flickr are great for this.) You'll start to see how other people have pieced everything together, and once you break down all the layers you'll see it's not quite so daunting.

Ok, guys, so tell me: what'd I miss? Add your advice (and links to pictures) in the comments!

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Lightbulb Moment

In my last craft roundup I mentioned that I wanted to find something small to display inside an empty lightbulb - and that was all the inspiration reader and artist Caroline B. needed! Check it out:

Caroline knit this tiny fish sculpture, and then used a bit of wire to carefully display it inside the bulb. GENIUS. Especially since the bulb looks like a floating bubble!

Love this so much. Even the simple wooden base is perfect.

I'm trying to convince Caroline to put these in her Etsy store (she's concerned about shipping them, which is understandable), but in the meantime you can see more of her projects (tiny felt teddy bear, anyone?) over at her blog, Uniqart.

UPDATE: After all our positive peer pressure, Caroline has decided to hold a drawing to give away this cutie over on her blog! Just pop over here and leave a comment to enter - and good luck!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

In a Word: AWESOME

After my Word Art tutorial a few weeks ago a few of you sent in your own Wordle and Tagxedo creations. And for some reason I'm rather partial to these two:

Made by Trisha F.

Made by Ginni B.

Helloooo, new office art!

Then Isabella A. went and drew me these two pictures:

Epbot Who?

You guys, my 'bot does cosplay better than I do. SO NOT FAIR. But I love it. (Especially the Dalek one. *squee!*)

Plus, I was just about to post this when John returned from our P.O. box bearing gifts! Check it out: Jordan sent me the original of her baby Epbot sketch!

(I'd like to point out that envelopes can really never have too many stickers. Fortunately, most of you seem to instinctively know this, and act accordingly.)

(And please excuse the crappy iPhone photo)

Needless to say, this kind of thing makes me grin like an absolute idiot, so thanks for making my week, ladies!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Zoo Cuties

Here are more of my favorite shots from our day trip to the Virginia Zoo. I made sure to bookend it with the two cutest types of animals there, too, so don't miss the end:

Did you know some people have Fennec foxes as pets? And they can get along with house cats? Just sayin'. (JOHN.)

(I used to think meerkats were cute, until I looked at this one after looking at those Fennec foxes. Now, not so much.)

Apparently this zoo is also home to a rare two-headed kangaroo:


And speaking of accidentally funny photo perspectives:


Boo'tiful PLUMAGE.

Here's my personal zoo crew, hamming it up for the camera:

That's my folks on the right, and my grandmother in the chair. John is the one who suggested they all point and laugh, and then failed to realize no one else was doing it.

We chased this butterfly for several minutes, waiting for it to land. When it did, it only stopped for less than a second, so I'm *amazed* this shot turned out.

Now I'm going to show you something pretty, and then I'm going to show you some nightmare fuel. Ready?

Ok, here's the prettiness:

Fix this image in your mind.

And now....


[Pyscho shower music]

(That's his inner eyelid; his actual eye is red - but still manages to look less evil than this.)

This guy was hanging out near an observation window, waving at people:

The sun was directly behind us, but I did my best with the reflection on the glass:

And now: big kitties!!

Those shots were all taken through glass, too; I just managed to block the glare with my own reflection.

I saved the best for last, though, so hang on to your socks, cute fans.

After hanging out in front of the red panda habitat for ages looking for the elusive little fella, we finally spotted him directly over our heads, fast asleep in a tree branch that stretched across the path:

At this point I made everyone stand around with me for nearly 20 minutes while I camped out underneath him, waiting for him to wake up.

Eventually, he did. Sort of. Just enough to yawn and reposition, which gave me this:


And, finally, if you think you can stand it, check out the cutest picture I have ever taken in my whole entire life:

[falling out of chair]

[collapsing from cuteness]

Sunday, April 15, 2012


You guys have probably seen videos online of projection-mapping technology that allows places like Disney to project virtual reality light shows on to physical structures. The new Magic Kingdom show "The Magic, The Memories, and You" uses this to spectacular effect on the castle - so much so that I actually like it better than the fireworks now. (Hit the link to watch the show on Youtube.)

In fact, the MK show recently added the lantern scene from Tangled, and it makes me positively weepy every time I see it, it's just so stinkin' beautiful. [girly sigh] (And here's just the Tangled update, if you haven't seen it.)

Anyway, I just stumbled across a Samsung commercial over on LikeCool (another great site for procrastinating) that uses that same technology on a human face, and my mind is completely blown.

Before you watch, keep in mind that the model's eyes are actually CLOSED the entire time, and his skin is painted white. So everything you see - the expressions, the blinking, the clothing - everything - is a projection. SO COOL.

Hope you guys find it as fascinating as I do:

Ain't living in the future grand? :)

Friday, April 13, 2012

My Parents' Home Makeover

Now that I'm all rested up, I can show you what John and I spent our 10 days in Williamsburg doing!

Actually, since I don't have any "before" pics (both to protect the innocent and because I kinda forgot), I'll just have to explain as we go.

First, we painted everything downstairs (except the kitchen), then the stairwell, the upstairs hall, and two bathrooms. We concentrated our design efforts on the downstairs.

The dining room wasn't the most dramatic transformation, but I think it's my favorite:

All we did here (besides paint) was change the drapes, de-clutter, remove everything from the walls, hang the clocks, and re-work everything in and on the curio cabinet.

Somehow that curio cabinet had about twice as much stuff crammed in there as it does now. I cleaned it all out (we donated at least 8 flower vases to the thrift store) so I could feature Mom's blue Delftware she collected in Holland. (My folks lived there for two years a while back.)

The running joke during our stay was that every morning John and I would get up to find Mom had changed or added to whatever we'd done the day before. This curio was no exception: she kept putting more stuff on top of it. (I'm not going to tell you how many things were on the living room mantle when we first arrived... but let's just say the poor thing was barely holding up.) (Love you, Mom!)

The living room was the largest and most time-consuming project. In fact, it's still not quite done, so please don't judge us too harshly:

This room used to be a deep TARDIS blue, because our first makeover was going for drama and colonial-style formality. It was awesome, and my folks loved it for many years, but the time had come to lighten up the dark room and make it a bit more casual.

Hey, look! I found a really bad 'before' photo on my camera just now:

Told ya it was TARDIS blue. And that's the back side of the green couch we replaced - plus a lot of furniture that got moved out to the garage to open up the space.

To begin, John installed frames on the wainscoting to simulate wood paneling. Because their walls are perfectly smooth, this worked perfectly - and the bright white made a huge difference.

In-process shot:
We used some leftover beige paint as a primer on the bottom, to cover the dark blue. After that it still took two more coats of white - but without it, it could have taken four or five. (Take it from a former pro: Plain white paint does *not* cover well.)

The new green is still growing on me, to be honest - even though technically I'm the one who picked it. I originally wanted a more muted, olive-ish tone, but Mom loves the brighter blue-greens. So together we came up with this.

The green makes most of their dark antiques pop beautifully - and really, most Victorian mansions had surprisingly bright colors on the walls - but it's hard to photograph accurately. I think that one above is pretty bang-on, but some of my other shots make it look more minty than it really is.

After the painting and paneling were done, the next challenge was furniture: both getting it and placing it. This has GOT to be the hardest room in the world to arrange around a TV, so it's become a family tradition that Mom moves the furniture around about twice a month. (Another running joke - but pretty accurate.)

The challenge is those two large doorway/pass-throughs, and a fireplace on the focal wall, which my folks don't want a TV over. (Too high.) After puzzling and measuring and moving everything half a dozen times, we finally came up with the arrangement it's in now.

The TV is on the left, between the windows. They still need an area rug and coffee table to fill the space, but we ran out of time before we could find the right ones. The good news is they won't buy anything without checking with us first. [Right, Mom & Dad? Right?]

Yes, there are two Lazy Boy recliners in the room. We had to work with what we were given, mkay? Hopefully they'll be replaced with leather club chairs sometime soon. [hint hint, guys. Hint hint.]

Those curtains presented another challenge: since we needed the longer length (95 inches), the cheapest panels we could find were over $30 each - and the only acceptable colors started at $50 each. Two hundred bucks for drapes? Aw, HECK no.

So, we purchased some 84-inch faux silk panels in a champagne color at Wal-Mart for about $12 each, and then one more panel by the same brand in a chocolate. John cut the chocolate panel into strips and attached them to the bottoms of the existing panels (harder than it sounds, believe me). After a day's work: Booya! John saved us $140! (And really, is ANYONE here surprised that John can sew? Anyone?)

The curtains have a beautiful shimmer to them, too, and look surprisingly nice with the green.

The TV used to sit on an open glass stand, low to the ground and with wires everywhere:

The new media cabinet is a rich dark wood with gleaming silver feet and hardware. If I lived closer, I would probably steal it. Just sayin'.

(It's on clearance at American Signature, btw, if you have one of those near you.)

The only other new furniture is the leather couch and the chair beside it, which replaced the green couch and an old wingback chair, respectively. The new stuff is more streamlined and modern, but not so much as to look at odds with all the antique clocks and tapestries.

Speaking of clocks, you might have gathered by now that my Dad collects them. Heh. There are eight in this room, three more in the dining room, and two or three in the hall.

Mercifully, he doesn't keep them all running at once. He alternates, so that only two chiming clocks are running at any given time.

Dad doesn't just collect antique clocks, though; he also repairs them. He buys or is given broken ones and works on them in his free time:

See why I knew he'd like steampunk?

(Btw, if you missed it, you can see my folks in their awesome steampunk outfits here.)

(Which reminds me: we're discussing building a light-up wooden cane for his costume next year.
And yes, I
do know that I have the coolest parents ever.)

When I mentioned to my folks how much I liked the clock hanging on the wall there, they seemed puzzled and told me, "That's just a movement without a case." So I guess someone only attached it to the wood plaque as a means to hang it - but I think it looks pretty amazing like that! Maybe I'll start looking for my own case-less clock movements now...

Getting back to the house, here's the entry hall:

Again, other than paint we just de-cluttered and re-worked everything hanging on the walls. It's so clean and spacious now.

That doorway you see at the bottom of the stairs is the guest bath, which we also made over:

We painted the walls a light beige, and then John fauxed them with metallic copper and umber glazes. (John and I used to be professional faux finishers, which is why I'm allowed to use "faux" as a verb. I know it sounds funny.)

I refinished the antique mirror to an aged copper, and primed and spray-painted the light fixture a deep bronze. Then we installed all new bronze fixtures, a wooden wall cabinet, and hung that gorgeous wall art that Mom & I found at Kirklands (only $39!). We ordered a bronze faucet for the sink, too, but it didn't arrive in time to install before we left.

When I refinished the mirror I also did a pair of matching wall sconces. Here's the pair before I glazed the second one, just to show you the technique I used:

Rest assured we didn't ruin anything valuable; these are plastic, and the mirror was a $20 find at an antique store.

And that's it! (I left out the other bathroom and the upstairs since they're not terribly interesting.) It's fun being able to show off our efforts - although next time I promise to take "before" photos, since I know that's half the fun of looking at the "after"s.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite shots from our last day in Virginia, which we spent at the zoo:


After this we all went home and watched Youtube videos of Fennec Foxes and red pandas until we collapsed from cuteness overload. :D (Pics of the red panda coming soon!)