Steampunk Queen Jema Hewitt talks to us of pastfuture delights
Mookychick talks to Jema Hewitt: Steampunk Crafts Queen and creator of Miss Emilly Ladybird and Steampunk Emporium. What colour is Mr Woppit, and would he like a chocolate button?
Miss Emilly Ladybird – When they announce your presence at ambassador’s balls, what title do they give you?
They usually say, “My lords, ladies and gentlemen of fortune! May I present… Miss Emilly Ladybird, Adventuress!”
I travel the world seeking out exciting scientific and mystical artefacts that will later be sold by my employers Dickens and Rivett, auctioneers. Inevitably the getting hold of such objects can involve many sticky situations, which you can read all about in my twitter stream.
We trust you’ll be attending the Asylum Steampunk Convivial in Lincoln this year. Would you recommend it as a Steampunk experience?
Oh most definitely, It’s organised as an annual event in September by The Victorian Steampunk Society and about 800 steampunks take over the Historic Quarter of Lincoln, which for the whole weekend is transformed into a steampunk mini city. There is a wonderful market inside the old castle, lots of workshops, gigs and picnics as well as grand entertainments such as the major’s soiree and the empire ball. It is the friendliest most fun place to be, whether you are with a group or come alone, you are sure to feel inspired, discover unusual things and make new friends.
Your sense of steampunk fashion is exquisite. What do you plan to wear to Asylum this year?
Oh, I have a few ideas… whether I shall have time to create them all, we shall see… but I have some luscious peacock patterned satin that has asked to be made into a clockwork gin cabinet bustle… I’m also planning a steamrena outfit as my dear friend Jack Union has convinced me to join the fun of the fighting Mechs… Dungarees are so comfy after those formal ball gowns, although I shall never be parted from my teeny weeny corset even while wearing overalls…
What do you require from steampunk attire? One perfect outfit, or multiple outfits for each occasion?
I feel it’s terribly important as a lady of adventure to have an extensive wardrobe, Mr Woppit doesn’t agree, but he’s always complaining about the extra weight in the hot air balloon… But can you imagine the difficulty of descending into a damp cavern after the statue of Me-He-So-Pa-Te in an 8 foot crinoline, Or indeed the shame of attending The Queen (god bless her) for afternoon tea in waspwaisted corset and split leg bloomers? However there are those for whom sartorial elegance is but a footnote and I feel they should still feel welcome at all steampunk gatherings, provided they are still dressed with a smile and a quick wit.
In truly civilised fashion, you like to greet all new followers of @emillyladybird with the offer of a cocktail. What’s your own favourite cocktail?
I am a devotee of “green silk” which is a large splash of absinthe topped up with cream soda and plenty of ice. However I’ve never met a cocktail I didn’t like, well drink, anyway. I love to experiment with drinkies and have invented several , including a “black bat” for the BBS Brigadier which fades from black to purple and involves blackcurrant vodka and a “Monster Hunter” which layers red, clear and blue liquers in a shot glass. I have a terrible weakness for Margaritas and am also partial to a Hendricks gin and tonic with a large measure of crème de rose mixed in…. I could go on, but it’s probably best if you just pop over one evening when you don’t have to drive home….
Miss Ladybird, we see by your side an equally enchanting companion. Could you introduce us to Jema Hewitt, steampunk craftswoman extraordinaire? You could? That’s very kind. Jema, it’s well-known that Miss Emily Ladybird is your glorious alter-ego. How did it come about that you invented such an exuberant creation?
Well…. It all started in Second Life, I was looking for a name to set up my avatar, and being put on the spot I borrowed the name Emilly from my gorgeous white bunny and picked the surname Ladybird from a list! But then, Emilly Ladybird started to take on a life of her own! Within Second Life there are lots of wonderful places to visit and soon she was having Victorian Steampunk adventures, dressing up and drinking way too much! Then she just kind of took over my body in the real world and started insisting I sold all this gorgeous jewellery for Dickens and Rivett!
Your bespoke gowns show that you’re a talented seamstress. How did you ease yourself into sewing? Did you study professionally?
My mother taught me to sew when I was really little, I used to turn the handle on her old singer sewing machine, so I can’t really remember learning, but I took textiles GCSE, then an art foundation and finally did a degree in Theatrical Design, specialising in costume. I’ve worked really hard by myself as well, reading old books and making up old patterns to hone my sewing techniques and learn all the tricks of Victorian Haute Couture. Pattern cutting and design are my favourite bits though; I actually don’t enjoy the basic sewing bit all that much!
What artefacts do you make in particular?
I can create pretty much anything to be honest; I mainly make the epic wedding gowns, historical gowns, corsets, millinery as my company “Kindred Spirits bridal-Originals”, while Emilly Ladybird is responsible for jewellery, small props and artefacts. Obviously at the moment most of my work has a Victorian or steampunk twist, but I’ve also made Tudor wedding gowns, fairy tiaras and giant scary alien beast puppets. The pieces I sell in my Etsy shop are mainly jewellery and millinery.
What is the oddest thing you’ve ever made? Odd by either others’ standards or your own? ‘Odd’ in the most glorious sense, of course.
Oh my, as I’ve worked freelance in film and theatre for over 20 years I’ve made some pretty peculiar things along the way. The giant snakes that used to twist through the ceilings in the Adams children’s wear shops, a giant rat costume with red glowing eyes, a collapsible caravan, some very odd medieval headdresses, a flying bike, an absinthe fairy costume, a pair of Swarovski crystal encrusted burlesque pasties… a gin dispensing bustle… oh hang on, that one’s not finished yet…
Where does the majority of your artisanry and manufacture take place? Do you have a workshop?
Yes I do, I have a very small Aladdin’s cave of a studio in Nottingham Uk where all the wedding gowns, costume making and workshop teaching takes place. The jewellery and writing mainly happens on my dining table at home in Derbyshire, where I am assisted by a Disney style cast of small animals, handsome princes and cute birdies.
It seems to us you’ve made some quite big pieces, like the wings you once wore to Lincoln. Have you found yourself exploring the heavy-duty side of crafts, like sculpture and welding and carpentry as opposed to lighter crafts like needlework and bead-threading and, let’s face it, gossiping away in the morning parlour?
Oh I do not fear the power tools! I started out building huge sets, sculpting scenery etc but I’ve found myself drawn to ever smaller precision needing art forms. Occasionally I’ll do some carpentry, make lids for my display cases and the like, but my studio is not really set up for the really big stuff it’s all clean for fabric… My fairy wings were a great collaboration between myself and Herr Doktor – a model making friend from my student days, so their stupendous kinetics are really all credit to him. I’m not all that hot on electronics… but there is more collaboration in the pipeline.
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘clockwork’?
Tick tick tick, no hang on that’s Hook’s crocodile… ummm cabaret, pretty dollies, oh those’ll be my dolly inspirations, zombie romance writer Lia Habel, whose clockwork doll character in SL started my dolly jewellery passion and the lovely Captin Ron who is the model for the Clockwork Dolly in my book. Both of whom are beautiful and very clever ladies.
What sort of Victoriana / Steampunk motifs do you most find yourself being drawn to in your creations?
I love character archetypes, so I usually create a range of pieces on one theme at a time, so first men in the moon objects will all be based round cavourite, or if I find some awesome skulls and crossbones I’ll start thinking zeppelin pirate! Most of all I love the absinthe fairy though so I think I’ll keep making variations on pieces she inspires for quite a while yet!
Bar the Queen herself and Ada Lovelace the Enchantress of Numbers, women had a slightly rough time in the Victoria era. But steampunk seems gloriously egalitarian…
Yes it does, doesn’t it? Jolly good thing too! The thing is there were some awesome ladies out there in actual Victorian times, having adventures, working for reform, writing, painting etc, where would those Pre-Raphaelites have been without their models, or the soldiers without Florence nightingale? But if you did do your own thing and were rich you were considered most eccentric and if you were poor history just took no notice. I don’t think women were duller in Victorian times. It’s just history was written by and most positions of power were occupied by men. Steampunk is about fantasy though, so if someone would like to be just an elegant duchess hosting parties that is just as valid as being a submersible captain.
If you could make one single Victoriandustrial / Steampunk element a standard in today’s society, what might that be?
Hats. I love hats. They make everyon look gorgeous and elegant…. bowlers, toppers, fascinators, big brims, little ones… we should all be wearing hats.
Oh, and airships. I want airships to the moon, and rocket packs… I’m not so good at picking one thing. Did you notice?
It seems to us that you’ve found at least one of your true callings through Steampunk. Are there other tribes, fashion or otherwise, that you’ve felt a part of?
Most definitely, I was a Goth for many years, mainly dressing in black Victoriana and tiny corsets it’s true… but Goth none the less… I also have live role-played for most of my adult life too, but running my own historically based campaigns in fabulous places like stately homes and so on rather than going to large fest type events. I am also involved in the burlesque scene with many friends being performers and costume clients. I love the steam punks, but it’s one of many circles in which I feel at home.
You’ve been invited onto a ride from London to the depths of the Ottoman Empire by steamship. Which three guests will you invite to join you?
Emilly would have Dante Gabrielle Rosetti, Gaston Le Roux and that nice Rudyard Kipling, Jema would like the company of David Devant, Rorschach and Sheridan le Fanu.
Only three? Can’t I have the whole ship? Now, that would be a party!
Oh, you’ve created a book! Steampunk Emporium! It’s an absolutely beautiful book. What might readers expect to find within its pages?
Why thank you! I am thrilled with the way it has come out. It’s a how-to book of steampunk craft projects, making jewellery and artefacts. There are 5 sections each with a different character and theme whose stories provide the inspiration for each step by step project. I tried to include something for the absolute crafting beginner in each section all the way up to challenging projects for experienced artists. There are necklaces, earings, gadgets and devices as well as projects for the boys, cravat pins, cufflinks and the like. It’s styled to look like an old parchment scrapbook full of vintage photos, so even if you’re not a maker, it’s still a lovely thing to look at!
May we expect further books from you? Would you ever dabble in fiction?
I am really hoping to write some more crafting titles. I’ve done 5 now and I’ve got a few more really fun ideas floating around with my publishers, so we shall see… I would love to write fiction. To be honest I can’t help but write fiction, even in my craft books. However I’m too busy earning a living to sit down and just write a novel, and I’m not someone who can write in half an hour each day before breakfast… but yes I’d love to do a saga of Emilly’s adventures – expanding on the twitter stories, so if anyone wants to offer an advance I have lots of words and plot waiting…
And thus, Miss Emilly Ladybird and her creator Jema Hewitt depart, with a whispered swish of bustle and a murmured promise of future adventures…