Last Wednesday, we were introduced to the versatile talents of Ms. Jema “Emilly Ladybird” Hewitt, whose beautiful jewelery graces the pages of The Steampunk Bible’s fashion chapter. This week, we wrap up Ms. Hewitt’s raw interview with a talk about her passion for jewelry making and her role in the Victorian Steampunk Society.
If you are interested in knowing more about Ms. Hewitt, you can learn about her jewelery making, and how to make your own Steampunk jewelry, from her new book Steampunk Emporium: Creating Fantastical Jewelry, Devices and Oddments from Assorted Cogs, Gears, and Curios. You can also visit her shop, Dickens and Rivett, as well as her costuming studio Kindred Spirits. She will also be appearing with coauthor S. J. Chambers in London at Viktor Wynd’s Little Shop of Horrors/The Last Tuesday Society, September 6 at 7 pm. To find out more about that appearance, visit here.
SPB: What are the defining design elements of Steampunk jewelry?
JH: For me personally it needs Victorian style detailing and an element of clockwork or engineering. I really love it when pieces move, but the jewellery I mainly create is not in that price bracket. My pieces have a feeling of elegant usefulness to them; I want them to be objects that might do something wonderful at any moment, like open the gate to Atlantis, or enable you to see Shangri-la.
I think they should be handcrafted with loving care and skill, not necessarily shunning mass production of parts, but the parts should be put together with style and flair, whether they are precious stones and 24 carat gold or wire and vintage buttons. I love the use of recycled vintage objects – that is definitely “punk”!
I make pieces for both Ladies and gentlemen, and I think it’s really exciting to see unusual cufflinks, cravat pins and watch fobs actually being worn again. There’s a lot of scope for different styles and prices of jewellery out there and some wonderful creators. What I do dislike however is seeing a random watch part just glued onto a backing with no further creative input.
SPB: What is your process? What goes into the crafting and conception of your pieces?
JH: Most of my pieces originate with a story idea, I’ll be having a “Marie Antoinette on the moon” moment or a “Vampires on Venus” evening. I imagine who might need the piece and why, I sketch a few random ideas and shapes, usually fairly badly – they are just to remind me of important points, and then I rummage through my boxes of antique parts, broken clocks and watches and start putting it together.
I sculpt — using polymer clay, embed — using resin and generally combine a lot of multimedia techniques as well as traditional smithing and jewellery construction. My background is in props and model making rather than engineering or horology so my pieces are inexpensive costume art-jewellery not fine gem setting and silversmithing.
I use a lot of vintage brass filigree and old cogs donated by local clockmakers! There is so much Victorian and clock/cog styled material available in the jewellery/altered art and scrapbooking world now. I’m like a child in a sweet shop and I use it all! Friends and family will send me random bits and pieces too which is always exciting.
When it’s finished each piece will have a mini story to go with it, usually about its origins and subsequent discovery by “Emilly ladybird” who works in acquisitions at Dickens and Rivett, auctioneers. This story is often posted to the main site along with the piece if it’s for sale, I also write an on-going story on Twitter, as Emilly ladybird, during which different pieces appear as plot devices.
SPB: Can you tell me more about the Victorian Steampunk Society?
JH: The VSS is a not for profit organization whose aim is to promote and support the Steampunk movement in the United Kingdom. It provides a contact point for press or enthusiasts to learn more.
There are just 8 Full Members who form the main “organizing committee”, headed by Lady Elsie and Major Tinker. Anyone who attends a VSS event is awarded Associate Membership and they are also encouraged to volunteer as event organizers and assistants. Honorary Fellowship is also bestowed upon those luminaries felt to have made a huge contribution to the Steampunk movement in the U.K.
It encourages members to behave courteously, with beautiful manners and genteel behavior high on its list, taking the best parts of the past and mixing them with modern creativity and responsibilities.
The VSS organizes an assortment of events through the year, including the largest dedicated gathering of Steampunks in the UK – “Weekend at the Asylum” a full festival of literature, art, performance and music in historic Lincoln, cumulating in a grand ball.
VSS Members also attended the recent Steampunk exhibition at The Oxford Museum of Science and exhibited at London’s MCM Expo. They also support a number of charities and raise money for assorted worthy causes.
SPB: You’ve been organizing Victorian/Steampunk events for over 15 years. How have you seen these types of events evolve over the years?
JH: To begin with we were either mobbed or sneered at if we went out in costume, I remember one time around 1999 when The Company of Crimson were in Cambridge and it literally took us half an hour to walk 50 yards, so many people wanted their pictures taken with us. I suppose it was really unusual to see folks dressed up – you couldn’t just buy Victorian outfits (this was before e-bay!) So we’d made everything ourselves.
We found all the attention a bit intimidating to be honest; although we tried to be gracious, perhaps we were a bit naive… however, recently I saw 10 members of the VSS pose with style and good humour for no less than 20 minutes, just so a group of tourists could take pictures in Whitby.
I think nowadays because there are so many more people dressing up, and because the general public is more aware of Steampunk, everyone is more prepared for the attention and so settles down to enjoy it.
Events have gone from small interactive role play weekends with lots of plot — to dress up socials including visits to museums and steam fairs and afternoon tea. There’s a lot of emphasis on involvement for all the family, bringing your “coglings” along is encouraged at many events. People still tend to have an “alter ego” when in costume or posting on forums, an interesting name and a bit of a back story, which keeps things fun.
I think to be honest the main difference is the sheer size and frequency of events. Long may it continue.