Steampunkery Guest Post by M.K. Hobson and #giveaway *CLOSED* of The Native Star

 Some Costuming Thoughts for On-The-Go Steampunks
Hello! I’m M.K. Hobson, author of THE NATIVE STAR and I’m simply tickled to be here on Candace’s Book Blog to help wrap up her Steampunkery month.
I’ve been intrigued in 19th century aesthetics and culture since I was in grade school, lo these many decades ago. In high school, I ran around in waistcoats. In college, my goth punk look was rife with distinctly steamy overtones — along with my pink hair and nose ring, I wore black crinolines, high laced boots and old Victorian watch fobs. While my primary creative outlet has always been writing, I’ve always really enjoyed costuming as well. During high school and college I was very active in student theater productions, and I always tended to gravitate toward the costume department. The smell of fabric burning under the iron! The sailor-like swearing at each broken needle or heel-caught hem! Costumers were a salty bunch, my kind of people. After college, however, I got away from costuming because I had a small child and it was just too labor intensive, mess intensive, and cost intensive. But now … steampunk has arrived! And now my daughter is almost a teenager (and likes wearing costumes of her own) so I have started making costumes again.
One of the reasons I write about the mid-19th century is because it is an aesthetic that really calls to me. I love the complex dresses, the many little accessories–hats and fans and watch chains and fobs and handkerchiefs and all those little elegant things that we in our modern life have replaced with blackberries and other technological gizmos. 19th century costuming, however, comes with a wide variety of challenges:
  • Time. I’m going to put this one first, because it’s just that important. In sewing, understand that everything will take longer than you think it will. Items you imagine you’ll be able to “toss off” in a weekend will take you a month. Plan accordingly.
  • Foundation garments. Before you can even begin to think about sewing a dress, you have to sew a whole suite of foundation garments, up to and including a corset. This is because your finished garments have to fit OVER your undergarments, and you can’t take proper measurements until your undergarments are done. For the most part, foundation garment sewing is pretty easy (the occasional flat-felled seam here and there notwithstanding), but fitting and finishing a corset is a whole different kettle of fish. It requires patience, skill, practice, and not a few specialized tools and supplies. Also, if you’re making petticoats or a bustle skirt, I hope you’ve got a line on cheap broadcloth, because you’ll be buying a metric bustle-ton of it.
  • Patterns. So you’ve got your undergarments sorted, you’re ready to make the dress—how? Well, if you know how to draft a pattern, you can get inspiration from  the Fashion Plate Archive from Bunka Women’s University Library ( But if you don’t happen to possess advanced spatial cognition and a degree from FIT, there are some modern sewing patterns available drafted from actual historical patterns. I have used and liked ones from Truly Victorian ( and Laughing Moon ( — I really like their corset pattern), but there are many others to choose from. You’ll be tempted to skip the step of making a toile (or muslin), but don’t—especially when it comes to bodices. 19th century bodices were generally trim and form-fitting, and to get that sleek look you’re probably going to have to  make lots of alterations, especially if, like me, you are much taller (ahem) or much larger (double ahem) than most human females.
  • Materials. One nice thing about steampunk is that a sense of fun, wit, and beauty take precedence over historical accuracy, so if you want to make an intricately detailed tea gown out of PVC vinyl, you’re certainly welcome to do so; it will likely earn you an appreciative “what-ho” from those of the masculine persuasion. At the same time, however, some level of historical accuracy is appreciated—and you should at least *know*, when you’re running around in an intricately detailed PVC vinyl tea gown, what materials said teagown would actually have been made from, otherwise you’re really not in on the joke, are you? My point is, feel free to be creative with your selection of materials, but take some time to research how it actually was—it’s a lot more fun, anyway!
  • Styling. This is what makes or breaks a steampunk outfit, and what almost led to my downfall with the infamous “purple dress” I made this year for a series of cons (including Steamcon). I gave myself plenty of time to make the foundation garments and the dress … but when I got down to the wire I realized I hadn’t given myself enough time to complete and/or find the elements that would be necessary to style the outfit — things like the headpiece, the jet jewelry, the elbow length gloves. Luckily, I had just enough time to pull it all together, but it was a mad rush, and I risked being caught with my (ahem) bustle down.
  • Transportation. Here’s another thing to take into consideration, especially if you want to trot your costumes around at a con. Transporting a full-on Victorian ensemble is no small task. There’s a reason all those Victorians lugged steamer trunks around with them. Hats have to have boxes, dresses have to have bags, and let’s not even talk about the individual requirements of parasols, fans, and bowlers. With Victorian gear, it’s not always a matter of space, it’s a matter of cushioning and padding, because so much of the delightful frippery is eminently crushable or breakable. Feathers are a particular nuisance. I find that tissue paper and those hard-sided plastic storage boxes you can get at the Dollar Tree are your best friend.
  • Maintenance. Speaking of those plastic Dollar Tree boxes, make sure you get an extra one and fill it with sewing supplies — needles, thread, scissors, extra buttons, hem glue, two part epoxy, etc. At Steamcon I had to resew, by hand, the entire train of my skirt just before a panel. Nota bene: if you make a skirt with a train, the train will get stepped on. A lot. If by some incredibly fortunate occurrence you don’t need these things, someone else at the con certainly will. Through such trials of fire are lifelong friendships forged.
To sum it all up, costuming is a lot like writing. It can be intensely rewarding, depressing, thrilling, despair-inducing, infuriating, and uplifting. But just like writing, you don’t have to launch into a novel right away. Start short: maybe assemble a costume from found elements from your local Goodwill—you’ll be amazed at what you can repurpose. Then, when you’re ready for a bigger challenge, get sewing! We can’t wait to see what you come up with.
The Native StarM.K. Hobson’s first novel, THE NATIVE STAR (, is now available from Bantam Spectra. She blogs about history, costuming, writing, and other amusing things, at her Website,
Fantastic to have you here M.K.!  And love the tips!  I’m anxious to get on finding/making an amazing costume myself.  Maybe if I get a new sewing machine…
The Giveaway: CLOSED
M.K. Hobson is giving one lucky reader a copy of her book The Native Star.  I reviewed this book here, and gave it a 5 moon rating.  This book really was very nearly a Once in a Blue Moon book and I think it may end up on my favorites for this year list.  I loved that it felt like a mix of YA and adult.  Though it’s an adult book it wasn’t full of sex (no sex actually), though it had plenty of sexual tension!  
To Enter:
Leave a comment about your favorite Steampunk wear.  What is the clothing or accessory item that you find the most intriguing?  
Leave contact info as well!  Must be 16 or older and open to the US/Canada only.  Ends Dec. 15th, 2010
Thank you M.K. Hobson for the giveaway!
Thanks for subscribing!


  1. my fav steampunk wear? most definatly hats! with goggles!
    the clothes are also nice and lacey but look so heavy. so its gotta be the topper that wins =) hehe.


  2. My favorite “Steampunk wear” is a victorian dress! I know it is a hassle to wear with the corset and all the layers, but it looks so good! I love it. I love the whole steampunk look. Great post! I really enjoyed reading about the costuming.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Great post — I really admire costumers — such attention to detail! I’m a fan of those ‘delightful’ fripperies — beads, fur trim, dangles, jewels and gems and even a gear or two here and there. The trimmings are what make me swoon! (Like Ms Hobson’s outfits!) Thanks so much for the giveaway!

    unabridgedchick at

  4. My favorite piece of Steam wear – is whatever I’m wearing at the time – my clockwork printed tailcoat (with removable tail!), my lace trimmed bloomers with velvet over bustle, any one of my hats (and I have a lot of hats!). I love it all. And I’d wear it all the time if I could.

  5. honestly I loveee the shoes and the hats and the boostyas i so cant spell the bodices the skirts r awesome to and of course the jewlry with the gears im seriously addicted to all things steam punk

    your book sounds awesome ty i just love that cover

  6. I like the hats! I crush on the sweet hats, because I look silly in hats, so I’m jealous of people who look great in them (like my BF…)

    But I love them!

    basicallyamazingbooks [at]

  7. Hm … this is a tough one – I love the universal image of the goggles, when I was reading “Boneshaker” and she first mentioned the goggles I flipped! At the same time, parasols mixing with leather boots really makes me squeal! So … I am torn. I love the mix of old and new and never-before! Thanks for the post!

    And the beautiful pictures that are making me SO jealous!

    apereiraorama @

  8. I don’t even know if I can choose one thing that I like the most. Of course, the goggles are fantastic, but I also love the victorian dress, including the corsets. And, the jewelry is pretty cool too.

    Ms. Hobson, I love the pictures of you in your steampunk finery!

    PolarisGreen at gmail dot com

  9. I think my favorite would have to be dresses!! I’ve always loved Victorian style dresses and giving them steampunk elements would be so fun!

  10. Im so in love with steampunk- so incredibly cool.
    My favorite would have to be Masks/Goggles… and anything with clock parts!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge