I began by trawling the internet for pictures of steampunk outfits. Naturally many were way out of my league, looked uncomfortable, impractical or simply showed off way too much of my skin – nobody needs to see my thighs or stomach thank you very much. Eventually I settled on an idea for my basic outfit; a long skirt or two, shirt, corset and waistcoat – that gave me some idea of what I needed to buy and what work would be involved.
Over the course of many weeks, I checked out my local charity/thrift stores. I was constantly on the look out for anything that I could appropriate into the costume. I came up trumps with two cheap skirts that I could layer up. Appropriate shirts and waistcoats were however, sadly lacking.
As time drew on and I needed to get a move on, I gave up on finding anything second hand. A cheap high street store was selling grey waistcoats for the office and so I picked one of those up along with a basic white shirt that I knew could be altered. The only piece I spent significant money on was a corset. Although these can be made at home, for someone just starting out in sewing, the task was just too daunting. I justified the corset by buying a plain black one which I knew I could re-use for multiple cosplays and Halloween costumes.
After playing around with the skirts, I determined that the lower brown skirt could be left as it was. The purple upper skirt just needed to be lifted in two places. I tested this by pinning some of the lower skirt up to the top with safety pins, to check how it looked, and eventually just sewed those spots together. This meant that the entire skirt section of the costume probably took less than fifteen minutes to complete.
The shirt was one of the bigger projects. I followed this project video courtesy of ThreadBanger to create a low boatneck and hemmed it using my sewing machine.
A few years ago I had inherited this very basic sewing machine from a family member and it had spent those years resting comfortably in a large drawer in my craft room, with me insisting to myself that at some point I would learn to use it. I didn’t even know where to begin and the instructions were rather useless – I think Egyptian hieroglyphics might have been clearer.
Another quick YouTube search revealed a great video that talked me through the process of threading the machine and after practising with the machine on some old bits of fabric, I was away. The hemming could easily have been done with a needle if you don;t own a sewing machine, it would just take much longer.
I actually made a few personal alterations to the shirt in the Threadbanger video; for one I didn’t keep the shirt’s collar as I knew I wouldn’t be using that as part of my outfit. I also didn’t do the shirring as I had other plans for the cuffs and collar (plus it looked complicated!)
After removing the buttons I dyed the shirt, along with a length of lace from a local craft & haberdashery store and some white cotton, in a bath of tea to create the vintage colour. I dyed them in an old pot on my stove for around twenty minutes then immediately transferred the shirt to my tumble dryer to let the heat “set” the colour a bit more. Over a few nights spent in front of the television, I replaced the buttons with some more appropriately coloured ones, and hand sewed the lace all along the collar and cuffs as it wouldn’t have gone through my machine, using the thread I had dyed in the tea so the colours would match.
The last piece of my clothing was the waistcoat. This had initially been a very bland grey, however as it was made of 100% polyester, a tea bath wouldn’t take to the fabric.
Google found me a dye called “iDye Poly” which is specifically designed to dye polyester, I picked a pack up on eBay and it worked very well. Again I removed the buttons before dying the fabric in my old pot. Unlike tea, iDye Poly is a chemical dye and the smell was utterly overpowering, I had the door to my kitchen wide open and my extractor fan running for the whole half hour I was dying the waistcoat – the wooden spoon I used to agitate the water went out in the trash that night.
This is not a process you want to be undertaking with your children around. A quick turn through my washer & then a tumble dry had the waistcoat dyed in around two hours. Sadly my pot was a little small and so it had dyed unevenly, luckily this wasn’t too big an issue with a vintage look like steampunk.
The waistcoat would be the top layer of the costume and so it was where I wanted to place most of the little embellishments that really make the steampunk look. I had bought some vintage-looking buttons to replace the original plastic ones but that wasn’t enough.
I had looked around for some cheap cogs or gears but been unable to find any at a price I was willing to pay, however on attending a craft fair I found some small metal shapes – technically ship’s wheels – being sold for pennies and picked them up. I also found an old chain lying around the house and commandeered it for the waistcoat. The pockets on the waistcoat are fake, just a slit in the fabric, so this chain worked well to fake the pocket watch look. I sewed it inside the slit on one end, and connected the other to my newly replaced bottom button. I laid out the “gears” in a form I liked, and photographed it before sewing each one on individually with a very fine thread, using the photo as a reference.
That about wraps up the clothing part of the costume, next week I’ll be covering the accessories including creating a unique necklace, embellishing a simple hat, creating some basic goggles and customising a Nerf gun.
I hope you feel inspired to have a go at creating your own costumes, even if you’re concerned that you wouldn’t be any good. I felt that way too a few months ago and now feel much more confident about approaching sewing tasks.