Jema Hewitt is a woman of many talents. Within the Steampunk community, she is known as Miss Emilly Ladybird, an adventuress who mines the world for beautiful and exotic diadems and polymer baubles to make beautiful Steampunk “devices” sold and displayed at Dickens and Rivett. She is also an accomplished costume designer, whose wedding designs, as well as her Steampunk fashions, are to die for and therefore in high demand — seriously, check out her Absinthe Fairy dress (complete with wings!). Ms. Hewitt’s design expertise is in demand all over England, and she has lectured at several universities through her Nottingham based Kindred Spirits workshop.
Last, but not least, of Ms. Hewitt’s accomplishments is that of authoress. Combined with her jewelry making, and her photographic eye for composition, she has just released Steampunk Emporium: Creating Fantastical Jewelry, Devices and Oddments from Assorted Cogs, Gears, and Curios (North Light Books). Jema was working on her book at the same time Jeff and S. J. were, and she very generously shared some of her photographic portraits of her jewelry with them. If you like what you see, there is more to be found, as well as easy-to-follow instructions on how to make pieces of your own in Jema’s book.
In this first section of Jema Hewitt’s raw interview, she discusses her original thoughts on Steampunk and her role within it. Part II will feature more discussion on her jewelry making. So, without further ado, Miss Ladybird.
The Steampunk Bible: What is your personal definition of Steampunk?
Jema Hewitt: For me, Steampunk is about Victorian Science Fiction. It is an imagined fantastical history that can be applied to literature, clothing, objects and to an extent, music. The Steam part obviously refers back to the Victorian age of steam – huge machines, new breakthroughs in engineering, intricate beautiful detailing and a sense of epic adventure in science and exploration. The Punk part is about doing your own thing, creating and recycling. Not taking established ideas too seriously and having fun.
SPB: How long have you been involved/interested in Steampunk?
JH: Even before it had a genre name! I loved the real Victorian fantasy and sci-fi literature when I was a child, like Jules Verne or Gaston le Roux and my favourite children’s authors were those such as Joan Aiken and CS Lewis who mixed fantastical elements with real history. I remember reading “The Difference Engine” when it came out and enjoying it – I’d been a huge fan of Gibson’s cyberpunk fiction too.
I studied theatrical design at University, so I’d been making corsets and dressing in Victorian costume as part of the Goth scene since around 1992⁄93. I suppose neo-Victorianism took over my life in 1997 when I started running “The Company of Crimson”. This was a role play campaign written and run primarily by myself for a group of friends. We devised Victorian characters for ourselves, went out to the theatre in Victorian costume, held ghost watches in castles and generally enjoyed ourselves, while solving ever more extraordinary science and supernatural based plots. We didn’t call ourselves Steampunk at the time, as it wasn’t a term bandied about with the same freedom as now. But that’s definitely where we were heading!
SPB: What differences do you see between now and when you started?
JH: Oh there are huge differences. It is now a genuine established genre! Mentioned in “The Guardian” and everything! Back in 1997 we were just random nutters who dressed in Victorian costume and made up crazy stories. Now every art director worth their salt is going wild on steampunk styling in film and fashion shoots, and there are actual stores that sell “steampunk clothing and jewellery”. Corset manufacturers are ten a penny and the world supply of cogs has practically dried up…
Social media and the internet has had a big part to play in this rapid expansion of interest I think – forums and face book groups put likeminded people in touch, you can self publish short stories on-line and the internet has allowed people to have access to niche manufacturers and second hand suppliers in other countries, thus easily purchasing unusual goods on-line.
SPB: Who and what within Steampunk influences your work?
JH: Most of my influences come straight from the original Victorians. I am a huge fan of Art Nouveau, the elegance of form and the combining of the unusual with the beautiful. I constantly refer back to artists such as Lalique, Alphonse Mucha and John R Neill (who illustrated the original Oz books).
I really enjoy the work of graphic novelists Brian Talbot and Alan Moore, but I’m not sure how much my work is actually influenced by them. I also love Colleen Atwoods costume designs – I think her work with Tim Burton has had a lot of influence on the popular image of “Steampunk Style”. Philip Reeves “Larklight” books are definitely as close to my personal vision of Steampunk as any modern author has come.
I have many friends from my college days too who have been working for years as artists and sculptors, quietly creating their own mad Steampunk things! Doktor A’s Mechtorians are just amazing, as are Herr Doktors incredible off world inventions. Chatting to them influences me, definitely.