|A karakuri robot- read on to find out more!|
Of Geisha and Robots:
In my quest to not work a 'real job' this semester (and tick off my parents in the process), I'm taking on more design commissions than I have ever before. On one hand, this is wonderful: I can explore a bevy of looks, cultures, and colors- some of which would look utterly ridiculous on me (there's a reason Miss Kagashi doesn't wear blue...) and furthermore GET PAID! On the other hand typically I'm not the one who makes the costume, so I don't have a hand in breathing life into it or have final say on what precisely is used: but such is life. If I tried to make all of my design commissions with the full love and care I give my sewing/crafting ones, I wouldn't be able to eat- let alone take a full course load.
My current costume design commission is for Vespertine Nova Lark, a local crafter and jeweler whose work can be seen (and purchased) on her etsy. Vespertine approached me about conceptualizing a steampunk geisha and I have to say that it's been an interesting challenge considering Alisa's absolutely mythical interpretation. Instead, I decided to go for a more technological approach using an interesting piece of Japanese history: karakuri robots.
These automata were made in Japan as parlor toys for the rich from the 15th to 19th centuries and were made using advanced pegged and swivveled woodwork and clockwork. Using keys, coils within the bodies of these astonishing automata stored up energy to set them on their various tasks. The two most popular examples (which can be purchased in kit form) are the archer and the tea server.
The archer would draw arrows from his quiver, aim, and fire them from a bow and actually had to be programmed to miss to make it seem more lifelike and create suspense! The tea server was programmed using a weight system to deliver a full cup of tea so someone. When the person was finished, the empty cup would spring a mechanism that sent the karakuri back from whence it came.
Those of you who've read the landmark steampunk novel The Difference Engine, will automatically know what I'm talking about. One of the tropes of steampunk costuming is the clockwork doll (not the band, as awesome as they are) and personally they annoy the tar out of me, as typically they are unimaginative and serve as an excuse for girls to don a fluffy skirt and douse themselves in an awful paint job (and those are the good ones). I've decided to do a spin on the clockwork doll and make it into a karakuri tea serving girl- which is damned similar to a geisha, if I may say! I'll post the finished design here when I've got it painted and scanned.
How My Heritage Made Me Realize What Joy Was
As many of you know, I'm working on a nativepunk. As not a lot of you know: I'm a little nervous. After the reception my articles on Native American steampunk received in various places, I became a little uneasy about going forward on the project I'd designed. It's true that I had done my research, spoken to my family and adult members of various tribes who had seen the AIM movement of the 60s and 70s, to academics, to people who had never set foot on a res or knew what a Potawatomi was.
|Want to know what I did to make this character steampunk/Alt Hist? She can read and write English...|
It's true, my outfit displays someone who is clearly a warrior: I will be wearing warpaint indicative of my tribe (red and black) and of the Great Lakes region of the United States, a roach (a headdress worn by many tribes East of the Mississippi), leggings, and my adaptation of a breechclout mixed with a bustle. With the exception of the bustle bit, these are all garments worn by men. To me, it's not a question that I'm wearing artistic and fictional adaptations of Native American clothes, it's that am I going to get in hotter water for wearing drag? I suppose I could always plead Two-Spirit... but I shouldn't have to.
|A roach made with scrap metal and wire pieces and my choker recycled from some made long ago by Tawny that was strung on wire.|
But most of all, there is a great power you feel when you make something and display it for the world to see. There is no greater joy, no greater pride, and no greater determination. This Native American Steampunk project of mine is not regalia or ceremonial clothing by any means, but the process is truly similar as a prayer (not necessarily a religious one) goes into every stitch, bead, and dab of paint. When I put on my roach, which I made with my own hands, I feel powerful and proud. When I make the mask of red paint on my face, I feel brave, like I want the world to see me and look me in the eye. I looked into the mirror, and even though it was just a headdress, some paint, and a necklace adorning my otherwise ordinary attire- I felt power (and dare I say magic) coursing through me.
That is the power of someone who creates: no matter what form. And I hope someday that you all feel that, or you can feel it every day, like I do.
On the project docket:
- Finish the clockwork tea server design for Vespertine.
- The Nativepunk (set to be debuted at Oklahoma Steampunk Exposition in April). Currently I'm hand embroidering/appliqueing/beading a motif to trim the corset.
- A female pilot outfit (design/sewing) for Salathiel Palland, owner of Off the Beaten Path Bookstore.
- A blue silk sherwani coat for G.D. Falksen (hopefully to be presented to him for World Steam Expo in May).