Monday, March 14, 2011

My Nativepunk and Some Anachrocon Memories

The photos from Anachrocon are in, folks, so I'm pleased to present the first incarnation of my Anishinaabeg Native American steampunk creation, which I premiered at Anachrocon 2011 a couple of weeks ago. The judges were so impressed with it that I won 2nd place in the masquerade!

Photograph by Ryen Wilson.

Let me take you on a tour:

An Ottawa or Huron warrior- late 18th century

I was inspired by the Potawatomie portion of my heritage and the typical dress worn by warriors in the post-contact period from the 17th century to 19th centuries. And yes, I'm aware that 99% of the time men were warriors- but hear me out. This is steampunk and this is the modern age and if I can't take an old stereotype or social rule and make it my own in science fiction, then when can I? I wanted a scavenged and traded look, maybe a hint of feminine influence from Western fashion.

-The roach (headdress) was made by myself and from a secret material I'd rather not share (I'm sorry purists, but at $40 a hank, I couldn't afford porcupine guard hair), scrap pieces of brass, curled wire, and watch hands (yes, watch hands!). The roach was traditionally worn in battle to appear more impressive and also advertise the wearer's scalplock or braid as a trophy. It was a punctuation of, "Go ahead, come and get me. Try and take it!"

-The bone choker was made with the help of my jedi master Tawny, who donated pieces of the chokers that she wore when she was my age. It's not only a lovely looking piece, but the recycling definitely gives it more meaning for me. I strung it on wire so that the hairpipe wouldn't shear through it, like leather or sinew.

Bust shot. (Photo by Sam of the Imperial Podcast)

-The shirt was a thrift store find that was tea-dyed, aged with paint, and decorated with leftover watch parts, metallic studs, and whatever pieces of scrap metal I could find wandering around the house. Traditionally men went shirtless. I'm going to assume that you all know my thoughts on this.

-The corset is a nod to a lot of different native influences. It's made of blue wool, similar to stroud cloth. Stroud was a very rough, dense grade of wool that was traded between Europeans and Native Americans and it could only be found in a strict range of colors- typically indigo blue, scarlet, and white. I spent about 12 hours total on the hand-embroidery and beading around the center belt. The design itself was my own invention (i.e. I didn't steal it off of someone's bandolier pouch), taking traditional woodlands star and floral elements. I added some metallic studs for an industrial feel.

-The skirt and apron are a direct nod to the traditional breechclout that men wore (though admittedly I'm wearing one of those underneath as an insurance policy when picking things up or sitting down). My friend Morgan, who runs a steampunk leather business, gave me a bunch of pieces of scrap leather and suede that appear in this outfit. The piece that makes up my apron flap was dye-damaged; so I painted it up (more Woodlands floral patterns), added some jingle cones for a bit of sound, aged it, and strapped it to the bustled skirt.

The skirt was meant to look like I had taken it from a supply wagon- so it was appropriately aged, broken down, and generally beaten to hell (HOORAY, NO HEMMING!). On the bustled side points there are clusters of tassels and more tinkling cones. Morgan also donated some of the lovely conchos that I tacked my bustling to.

-The leggings were made from a pair of army surplus trousers bought for a mere $6.50. I kept them fairly unabused, but added a strip of suede along the inseam and some decorative brass studs. They're held up with some stout, tooled leather straps around my mid-thighs.

-The mocassins (or makizan) were made by hand myself out of a pair of hideous suede trousers that were just given to me. Admittedly I ran out of time, so I wasn't able to decorate them... but boy were they quick to sew. All they needed were a quick wet-stretch and they fit my feet like a glove.

Another nice shot by Sam from Imperial Podcast

-The gun was made to look like a repurposed Western rifle. This was the biggest pain of the whole outfit, not hand-sewing moccasins until my thumbs went numb or spending hours embroidering my corset. The stock was an old drill rifle which took 4 hours to sand clean and ten minutes to gratifyingly bash against the basement floor.... it was totally to give it a well-worn look... it was stained with leather dye (thanks again, Morgan!). Add a barrel made from an old windchime and a brass funnel and that part was done. The macehead (which is Iroquois, but I always thought it to be SO COOL) was made from an ornamental ball found at Joann fabrics and painted up then attached with copper plumbing brackets. I have nicknamed it "Polite Reminder", am working on translating this into Anishinaabemowin (Algonquin)...

As a lot of you read, this outfit filled me with a lot of different emotions; pride, joy, fascination, rage ("why did you sand that by hand? I have an orbital sander!" "...."), and even discomfort. I was worried about how people would take this creation, even how other people of Native American descent would think of me after this. However, creating and wearing this outfit taught me something: If you have the inspiration to design it, the love to make it, and the drive to keep going even after your fingers blister- then you should probably have the balls to wear it, no matter what people might think.

The folks at Anachrocon seemed fine with it, or at the very least very polite... or mildly terrified as I don't look like the friendliest person wearing this. This is partially why I chose to smile in my photographs... also because nobody digs (and I quote the awesome author Sherman Alexie on this) a "Tonto face". I spoke with a lot of people who were glad to see others wearing outfits outside of the traditional Euro-American models you see plastered all over the internet or at cons. Some were wearing multicultural outfits of their own, such as Randy Taylor in his offbeat interpretation of Inca Steampunk!

I asked him what the staff was for. He said, "For calling the aliens to the Nazca lines." I decided that we needed to be friends. (Gretchen Jacobsen)

That staff lit up, too... Hee!

I also spoke with a fellow named Edward Neary, who wore a Bedouin-inspired outfit he was looking to expand upon (it still looked pretty nice, Edward!). There was even a group of 5 or 6 friends who decided to wear Russian touches on their ensembles. Some of the best global threads, however, belonged to Joanne Alford, who mixed English sensibility with bold Japanese design. She'll be featured as a Traveler this month, so stay tuned!

Also to the three people who greeted me with "How"- lame and childish. I wasn't outraged per se, mainly annoyed and somewhat saddened. I took the opportunity to gently correct one of them, but I couldn't catch the other two.

Ah well. Don't let that paint a bad picture of Anachrocon, however. Most attendees were genuinely congenial and there to have a good time. Though fairly small, the enthusiasm of its members makes it appear larger- the added bonuses of a consuite, diverse programming, and the lovely Atlanta weather didn't hurt either! I would really recommend this for a reenactor (as a lot of the programming would interest them) or a new steampunk as an introduction to steampunk conventions and to gather new ideas and techniques from presenters such as Penny Dreadful Productions or Laura, the Cyborg Seamstress. Personally, I ran a panel on Basic Hatmaking and sat on a Costuming Advice Panel.

I was also honored to be interviewed, along with G.D. Falksen by Jack Walsh from "This is Atlanta" on WABE. Mr. Walsh is one of the two fellows behind the documentary "Four Days at Dragon*Con", which is currently playing on public broadcasting stations across the country (check your local listings).

While in Atlanta, G.D. Falksen and I stopped by the studio of renowned photographer Thomas Dodd and modeled clothing by Anthony Canney.

Right now? I've got a costume to work on! Salathiel Palland of Off the Beaten Path Bookstore has commissioned me to make her a steampunk underground railroad conductor! Its an interesting, but fun challenge. Thanks for checking out my handiwork, as always, and it was nice talking to some of your first-hand in Georgia!

Another marvelous photo by Thomas, wardrobe by House of Canney.


  1. You look incredible! I absolutely love it. I've always had a fascination with the native people of where I grew up in upstate New York, so pretty close...

  2. This is the first Nativepunk outfit I've seen and it is so awesome! You recent post on Roma people has inspired me to make a steampunk costume based on that culture. I hope more cosplayers look at many cultures for steampunk ideas rather than just recreating English fashions.

  3. That is so beautiful! I love the face paint/decoration as well; it's all really well put together. It makes me kind of sad, though, that it's become a touchy thing to wear things from certain cultures. It's too bad that people intending only respect and to show appreciation and love for a culture's history can't be free to show it in well-designed outfits such as this. If there were more open access to awesomeness like this, maybe the not-respectful influences would have less of an impact on how the average person sees things.

  4. Thanks for mention. You have inspired me to do a lot more research into the culture to properly do the outfit justice. I enjoyed speaking with you because you bring a kind of excitement to the genre. By promoting other cultures you are helping steampunk grow. Your outfit and your ideas were mentioned in both of the panels I attended last weekend at Momocon and I think that some of the newer folks are going to be looking to you for inspiration.

  5. could you tell us about the makeup? I love it!

  6. Jeni, Thanks for the kind words and posting the photos I took of you and G.D.
    Love your Native outfit and I hope we can explore that theme the next time you're in town. So glad to have met you!

  7. Sure, the makeup is a rehash of some traditional makeup I've seen in period paintings. Aninshinaabe warpaint tended to be red and black, red symbolizing life, energy, and passion. I used a bit of black just to rim my eyes and make them pop amidst all that red.

  8. I absolutely adore your outfit, it's simply gorgeous.

    I agree with others comments, both here and elsewhere on this blog, regarding the positive impact your promotion of other cultures has.

    I do have a question though ... what are your thoughts on the most appropriate greeting? What I mean is, should a person greet another in their own native manner, in the native manner of the person they're greeting, or in a third more neutral manner?

  9. Just say hello! Every tribe (hell, every band) has their own way of greeting one another, one's friends, one's family, etc. and if you can't ascertain right off the bat which they belong to (which most of the time, you really can't) then it's just best to greet them like an ordinary person... because they are!

    Personally though, if you see me out and about I wouldn't object to an occasional friendly "Bozho" (Boh-joh)- which is a polite greeting in Anishinaabe, but hello's just fine too.

  10. You're not alone! I'm working on three Nativepunk costumes- one that pays homage to each of my three Native American heritages: Algonquin, Delaware, and Sioux. I'm so glad to see you have done it so amazingly as to inspire the rest of the world to steamy heights!!

  11. Every time I read your blog I get inspired and feeling creative. Thank you so much for thinking outside of the box and sharing it with us!

  12. i think the only time an outfit like this could be objected to is when it is thrown together, solely for the purpose of one's own personal gratification. when someone has put the time, research, and effort into constructing and outfit, garb, regalia such as this, it's obvious that there's respect to the people represented inherent, and so an honorable imitation. (one thing i tend to be touchy about - calling any native clothing "costume". costumes can be bought at walmart and take no effort and generally don't come from a respect for the culture behind it. garb like this takes just what you put into it - time, effort, respect, honor)
    being a Creek/Cherokee descendent and historical re-enactor, as well as big steampunk/sci-fi fan, i'd love to discuss ways of developing a Nativepunk outfit. also, i might have some tips on where you can acquire more period pieces, though what you have used definitely has a great appearance! nicely done! is there a way to private message you so i can remain anonymous here?

  13. Sorry for the name change *lol* I thought it would propagate through old comments.

    Thank you for your thoughts on that.

    I'm of Maori decent, and even in these modern times it's still common custom to greet other Maori in the traditional ways, even in the most mundane of situations. Not simply to say 'kia ora', but to hongi and embrace, even a kiss on the cheek. Admittedly, even as an 'ordinary' greeting, I find myself more inclined to hug than give a handshake. But there is a, er, special handshake which is common across younger Polynesians.

    I can completely understand your point of the varied greetings depending on the relationship between the people, and the fact that it can often be quite impossible to tell the specifics enough to give the correct one. While I can tell the difference between a Fijian and a Samoan a mile off (I say this only as an example, because I realize many can't tell the difference between different Polynesians), I'd be hard pressed to do the same between different tribes within the same culture. Though, Maori do share a common greeting so as such it's not the same as the rich diversity you speak of.

    It's just, I've always felt that the very least I can do is to learn to greet someone in their own customs. In an attempt to show, that while I may be ignorant of many things, that my heart is open to learning and I hope they'll recognize and welcome that attempt and understanding, however weak it might be. If that makes any sense at all.

    I suppose, I just wondered if with Nativepunk that there might be some ideas for how to greet others when attending such events.

    As for attire. At the moment I'm trying to better my skills as a weaver before attempting anything too profound. I'd like to try and create a kind of bustle, but done with a puipui, and maintaining the movement and musical nature of the natural material. It'll probably take a long time before I'm comfortable enough in the skill set to attempt such a garment, but the journey is probably more exciting than the hopeful end result.

  14. Great Costume, and in fact I saw it at AnachroCon, but if you do not mind me asking, why is it Steampunk and not just historical or Alternate Historical?

    I am curious as to your answer and inspiration, or any other readers opinions. I have a term I use, 'Victorian era Eskimos with or without ray guns!' and your costume doesn't really say anything but Native American or Wild West, but not Wil Wild West to me. So, respectfully, I am really asking why you call it Steampunk?

  15. This is fabulous. Really really makes me wish the records center hadn't "burned down" so I knew my mother's heritage (she was adopted)so I could make something without feeling: A. Like I'm doing something I ought not do or B. Silly. Anyway, way to go, the outfit is faboo and don't mind the haters.

  16. All I can say/write is super-mega-ginormous Wow! and that seems rather inadequate. :-)

  17. This is the best costume I have seen in years for anything!

  18. Absolutely beautiful. Your attention to detail, creativity, workmanship and, yes, rage (a necessary component) show through. You are an artist.

  19. Only I can say this is one of the most wonderful costumes made about steampunk, with a true creative and documented work. Awesome, fantastic, inspirating! I'm more fan of you everyday!!

  20. "lame", "childish", how so? it's called "having fun". i'm nearly three quarters of a century in age and i hope i never get too old for fun, and enjoying seeing else having fun. you go girl, and ignore the stuffed shirts

  21. Absolutely LOVE this!! I'm Navajo/Lakota, and I would have never thought of going NativePunk...unfortunately, my sewing/costuming skillz are nil. :-( I am completely in awe of your work, and very much envious. Absolutely gorgeous!

  22. This is a stunning ensemble. Creative, flattering... totally inspirational.

  23. Prawned. James Prawned.March 15, 2011 at 1:34 PM

    Greetings fellow traveler. I *loved* this post! Thank you so much for sharing with us.

    You mention a couple of times worrying about what people would think, but it seems like maybe doubt was your worst enemy. After reading of your concern about the reactions and judgment of other people, I was surprised when you got upset about the way they greeted you. I think a lot of people would die of shame to learn they had offended someone when they intended to convey something like "Hi! Great outfit! Thank you for making this place awesome!"

    Granted, something got lost in translation (it always does), but none of us know all of the meanings and customs and secret handshakes. When you run into someone whose cultural and/or (pre/post/alternate-)historical meanings are not known to you, how do you address them? Saying 'hello' doesn't always work, it is actually seen as rude in some cultures. (What, you don't care enough to ask "how do you do?") The very problem we were trying to avoid in the first place.

    I always try to learn how to say "Hello" and "Thank you" and "Excuse me" in the local language(s) when I travel, but I am always tripped up by idiom or some aspect of culture that goes beyond mere words. Something as simple as which way your feet are pointing when you sit can be very insulting in some cultures. There are so many details like this that I ALWAYS mess something up. I would really like to hope that when I do mess something up, the person isn't sitting there thinking "how lame and childish... I'm not outraged per se, just mainly annoyed and somewhat saddened".

    I am sooo happy that there are people like you who are willing to share their passion and energy and creativity with the rest of us. When I look around the 'scene' all I see is freedom of expression, acceptance, all-inclusiveness, and respect, and I try to give back the same. And, occasionally, I see an opportunity to learn something new from someone who is deeply passionate about something I know nothing about.

    I think people aren't always going to have a clue what you are doing or how to relate, but ignorance is not the same thing as prejudice. Ignorance doesn't KNOW, prejudice doesn't CARE. So in a way, ignorance is opportunity - a lack of knowledge that can be remedied. Ignorance always cuts both ways: the person on the receiving end is obviously getting short shrift, but the person who is ignorant generally lives in a boring, unimaginative world that they think they have all figured out and therefore can't change. They need new insights so they can find new points of view.

    That's where you come in. Next time you are out in this awesome outfit and you hear somebody say something silly, wave them over. Ask them about their outfits if they are dressed up, their ideas if they are not. Find that place where they are close enough to you that a bridge could be built, if anyone cared. And build it. Then BLOW THEIR FRICKIN MINDS with the knowledge, creativity, and intensity that went into your outfit and the way you feel about it.

    I like to give them a small reminder so they won't forget - preferably not 'mental scarring'; I prefer giving out temporary tattoos with a symbol taken from the theme of my outfit, they cost almost nothing and for the rest of the event you'll see people with a little bit of you on them, almost like having a clan or a tribe or a family... and that is what it is all about, isn't it? Bringing people, wildy disparate and varied and historied people, together to share a little bubble of spacetime where our differences bring us closer together, instead of separating us.

    I know you already know all of this; I'm just an echo bouncing back at you from the strange and varied landscapes of the world. So I will (inevitably!) leave you with this:


    ("... about some tea and scones when we meet? My treat.")

  24. In the bit about the roach, you wrote "It was a punctuation of, 'Go ahead, come and get me. Try and take it!'". That reminded me of something Herodotus wrote about the ancient Greeks: when Xerxes told Leonidas that all would be forgiven if he would just lay down his weapons, Leonidas replied "μολών λαβέ". [I hope the blog can handle the Greek letters; in Arabic letters, and in Wikipedia, it is 'molon labe'.]

    A literal translation into English is slightly difficult because it uses a form (verb subordinate-verb) we don't have a sentence structure for, but roughly it would be "... having come, take", delivered in an almost overly polite way. In meaning it is close to the line Hamish speaks in Braveheart - "Well, we didn't get dressed up for nothing" - subsuming any actual threat beneath a sense of humor and welcome invitation; the point is in the *unspoken* implication, not in the words themselves.

    Today, people equate "μολών λαβέ" with anything from "bring it on!" to "you can have my gun when yadda yadda yadda"... declarations that explicitly boast of one's martial superiority. But the original statement by Leonidas was not bragging or taunting or trying to look mean and nasty, it was almost bemused shock that anyone would even consider the idea of taking weapons away from his army of people who had been raised since birth to be perfect warriors. "You want to take our weapons? Really? Then please, go ahead, take them. I mean, *I* think it's probably a bad idea, but if that's what you want then by all means, help yourself..."

    All of that, in two words. The arts of subtlety and laconic wit are, apparently, dead.

  25. second to invisiliz's comment. I was directed here b/c I love clothes and living vicariously through people who can sew. The outfit is so awesome and the blog post. beautiful work, all your efforts and passion show 100%
    "This is steampunk and this is the modern age and if I can't take an old stereotype or social rule and make it my own in science fiction, then when can I? " you go girl! maintain your high level of awesomeness

  26. oh and you look beautiful in all the photos, including the studio portraits.

  27. I LOVED your Native American costume. <3

    It's always a pleasure seeing you, dear. Will I be seeing you at SPWF or are you just going to WSE this year?

    Thanks so much for the shoutout btw! Haha, I mentioned this blog in a panel this weekend when an audience member asked about non-European Steampunk costuming, actually! Just spreadin' the love around. <3

  28. Lots of random thoughts/reactions/comments going through my head, I'm not going try to create a narrative, this may be all over the place.

    "And yes, I'm aware that... but hear me out... this is steampunk and... make it my own..."

    OK, I'm an oldish fart but not Gandalf so I'll try not to sound like I'm orating from some high windy place here. But I do have some comments about the 'punk' part of 'steampunk'. One very busy year near the end of the 70's I became a teen, socially and politically aware, completely ostracized from my conservative culture, and homeless; right when punk hit the US. Not my own doing, but extremely fortuitous and I'll take what I can get.

    We'd just had the single-most vapid decade since, what, the Roaring 20's or something, and everyone was uber concerned with image and style. Surfaces. So it didn't take long for two different aspects of punk to emerge - broadly, and with some overlap, there were people who were punk on the inside and people who were punk on the outside. The latter swiftly converged on what was almost a uniform code, pick what type of punk you want to be, buy the Docs and get a funny haircut, and you were a certified punk, As Seen On TV. Or: tear up the maps, burn the dictionaries, go with your instincts, and be yourself until you bleed.

    It's not like a lot of people had a choice with that last bit, I add here lest I sound too much like we knew what we were doing. Our parents had started out in one of two possible states, hippies or squares, but consolidated into just one: disco dipshits. Forming a coherent self-identity was an act of survival, some instinctual process the organism fired up in the face of impending oblivion.

    The fashionable punks eventually became fashionable somethingelses, because fashions always change. But the people who were punk on the inside, some of them now old farts people might see around town and think a PTA meeting was going on, are still punk as all get out. Inside, to the bone, spirit in spades. And the thing I learned from seeing what changed and what remained is this: if someone has the courage, creativity, and will to stand up and say they are punk, I'm not going to say otherwise. If they eventually decide they are something else, that's cool too, because this isn't the frickin girl scouts, punk is being yourself, not fitting some pattern. And if they stay punk forever, hey, more (and more interesting) people at parties. Everyone wins when humans dare to be human, even when it is scary or it hurts or it is cold and there are wolves after us.

    So when you said "hear me out... this is steampunk and...", you had me at "hear me". With all of the respect, admiration, pride, envy, love, kinship, joy, and celebration I feel whenever I encounter someone who is so punk (or steampunk!) they leave a ragged smoking hole in the air when they pass by.

    Never surrender. Be yourself, be awesome... same diff, really.


  29. WOW! This was totally unexpected! I'm tempted to go to WSC to join you in more Nativepunk awareness!!! :3 And I must say, great roach, there! :)

    Once again, great work!!

  30. Had the pleasure of meetin you at AnachroCon 2011@ the panel you did. Loved your Nativepunk regelia! So original creative and something I have longed to see in steampunk. Way to represent! I am currently working on my own steampunk outfit with a friend of mine who also attended your panel and loved your outfit. Congrats you now have two GA fans.

  31. Totally love that corset style!

  32. Bozho! This is beautiful, and as a fellow Bodewadmikwe (CPN), I am really interested in taking out heritage(s) and incorporating them into Nativepunk / Steampunk choices and styles. This is really interesting, and I love how respectful, well researched and thoughtful it all is!

  33. People might try different cultural styles, but there's a feeling that it might be taboo for someone to do so who isn't of that culture, I think.

  34. I was at AnachroCon (The chick in the work apron who passed the time in panels by handspinning) and thought your AlgonquinPunk gear was bravely done and beautifully executed. Even though steampunk is in many ways an idealized look at Victoriana, I think that to have a full understanding of it, we need to take an honest look at trends of the time like racism, empire, and cultural appropriation. I am heartily in favor of costumes and persona that function in part as a "Take that!" to those attitudes.

    My husband and I are working on a set of Meiji-jidai Japanese-inspired duds for next year. I hope you'll be coming again, and I can't wait to see what you'll be wearing.

  35. Love it! Very unique! I have never thought about mixing steampunk up with different cultures. So many unexplored avenues there!

  36. this is awesome! Very inspiring. Makes me want to think harder about what if myself and my own culture I can put into my own steampunk costume!

  37. Absolutely beautiful! I wish I had the time and talent (mostly the latter, lol) to accomplish something of that sort. Unfortunately, I can't even manage to use a sewing machine to stitch a straight line, let alone a work of this magnitude and complexity. Brava!

  38. Wow, love this. I stumbled onto this via Pinterest. I've been looking for a way to combine my Mi'Kmaq heritage with my love of steampunk. Thanks for the inspiration!

  39. The pictures are not loading on this page. :(

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