29 June 2014


Steampunk is a fairly new phenomenon in Young Adult Lit world, even though the original steampunk has been around for a while. It's a bit confusing as to where it originated, because it can be considered a retroactive term; although the word itself may have been coined by science fiction writer K. W. Jeter in the 1980s when he was searching for a genre title for his work, early examples would include the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells; Fritz Lang's film Metropolis in 1927; and the CBS television series The Wild Wild West, which aired in the 1960s.

The genre includes recent science fiction that is set in a recognizable historical period (most commonly Victorian or Edwardian), in which the Industrial Revolution has begun, but has taken a slightly different turn than the one it did in reality. This is probably its most restrictive definition, but the genre has expanded to include fantasy, alternate worlds, dystopian works…in some ways it seems like you can include some Victorian fashion and some steam- or spring-propelled machines and gadgets, and label it steampunk.

The best known YA books in the genre are probably Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy (in which a weird combination of the mechanical and the organic are melded to create fantastical living creatures) and Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines quartet (featuring giant mobile cities that roam the landscape "eating up" smaller cities). More recent additions would be Catherine Fisher's Incarceron and Sapphique, Cassandra Clare's Infernal Devices books (Clockwork Angel, etc.) Kady Cross's Steampunk Chronicles (The Girl in the Steel Corset, and three more), Gail Carriger's rather silly series that begins with Etiquette and Espionage, and Stephan Bachman's disturbing story The Peculiar.

A certain group of kids (and perhaps a larger group of adults) are enthusiastic proponents of this genre. I have liked isolated books within it, but am not, in general, a fan. What I do like, however, is some of the fashion. Who doesn't like velvet, leather and lace, especially when tricked out with corsets, gears and goggles? (I found this "Steampunk Librarian" online by "ghostfire" on DeviantArt.)

So since we are focusing on science fiction this summer at the library (for our teen summer reading program), of which steampunk is one sub genre, we decided we'd find some way to craft it up with a steampunk theme. This brings me to today's photos: a steampunk gift for Anarda, my co-teen librarian. I found a bigger, cooler, more versatile (because not boxed-in) steampunk gears stencil, and an old art apron, which I washed and bleached so it looked like new, and made her a steampunk smock to wear at our craft events this summer.

This technique is super easy--just lay down the stencil, get a stencil brush (flat-ended with stiff bristles), pick up some paint on the brush, pounce it off so it's not too wet, and then pounce it up and down inside and all around the stencil. I mixed red and a metallic gold on this one, to give it a little depth and interest. Let it dry, then 24 hours later throw it in the dryer to "set" the paint, and it's subsequently wash-and-wearable.

I also tried out this stencil using my spray bleach technique on an old gray t-shirt, but it's in the wash right now so I'll post it later--if it turned out! The bleach is a lot harder to control--and therefore easier to mess up--than this dry-brush paint technique.