Meet Lady of Mischief, Coraline Hackworth
Created by StaffWriter on 9/20/2012 9:40:34 PM

Sarra Loew, knitwear designer and member of Seattle's Ladies of Mischief, explains her character creation process and how it influenced her knitwear designs for The Ladies of Mischief's new knitting book, The Ladies of Mischief Interrupt Their Knitting To Present To You, Needles and Artifice: A Refined Adventure Story with Ingenious Knitting Patterns.

Who is that mysterious lady? What are her dreams and her greatest fears? How does she sound when she speaks? Why does she wear that curious brooch? All of these questions needed to be answered when I created a steampunk character of my very own.

I’m Sarra Loew, a member of the Ladies of Mischief, and contributor to our first publication: The Ladies of Mischief Interrupt Their Knitting To Present To You, Needles and Artifice: A Refined Adventure Story with Ingenious Knitting Patterns available now from Cooperative Press. Each Lady of Mischief has a distinct personality and set of interests; together they make a fascinating group of adventurous ladies. In this article, I’d like to share the process of creating my character and of designing knitwear for her. The first part of the article is the character portrait of my Lady of Mischief, Miss Coraline Hackworth. The second part of the article is about designing knitwear that is inspired by Coraline. Make yourself a cup of tea (Darjeeling if you have it), and settle in for the story.

Character Portrait: Coraline Hackworth
The Ladies of Mischief were first envisioned in fall of 2010, when several members of my local knitting group and I got together for a meeting to discuss a shared goal: to create a steampunk knitting book with a great story and kickass knitting patterns. We had been playing with steampunk for a while at that point, holding themed parties and attending local events such as Steamcon. We envisioned the Ladies of Mischief as a society of Victorian ladies who had grand adventures around the world, each in her own fashion. The Ladies are all unique individuals; some are at home in the engine room, some in the ballroom, and some are only at home on the open sea. These disparate Ladies are all joined by a love of knitting and the bonds of friendship. Therefore, the character creation process was essentially wide open. Where to begin?

When I first thought about my character, I started with a few main questions :
●    Class/Status: Is she a working class girl, an aristocrat, or somewhere in between? Is she well-known or undiscovered? The answers to these questions determine how she moves through the world.
●    Occupation: Does she work at a shop? A laboratory? An engine room? Or does she not work at all? The answer to these questions helps determine her interests and her daily life.
●    Ladies of Mischief Role: How does she contribute to the Ladies of Mischief society? What made her join, and why does she stay? The answers to these questions determine when and how she joins the adventure, and what she does while involved.
●    Motivations: What does she want to do with her life? What is she most afraid of? When Coraline makes a wish, what does she wish for? The answers to these questions help determine how she reacts to all situations.

These basic questions led me through the process of developing Coraline’s backstory. In order to understand where she is today, I had to know how she got here. I ended up going back in time to her grandfather’s era, and then all the way through her present day.

Miss Coraline HackworthHere are the answers that define Coraline Hackworth:

Class/Status: Steampunk characters can run the gamut from plucky mechanics to devious rulers. I knew that I wanted my character to have resources, and lots of them. I chose to make Coraline a nouveau-riche aristocrat, the sole heir to a large fortune and a global company. She was raised to move smoothly in society, but also to appreciate the value of hard work. This background allows her to attend lavish parties one night, then geek out with engineers about the latest technologies the next. She’s well known among society circles, and can navigate the social scene relatively well, but her take-charge manner and occasional arrogance sometimes ruffles feathers. As a member of the middle class (albeit an upper level one), she isn’t involved in the marriage games that occupy most of the upper class. This is just as she likes, since she would rather be out exploring the world instead of trying to find a good husband.

Occupation: All of my steampunk characters have to have an occupation. It doesn’t have to be a professional one, but I need something that they can be passionate about. For Coraline, I liked the idea of having the freedom to travel the world and the means to be at the forefront of technology. I decided that Coraline Hackworth would be the president of Hackworth Airships International, a global airship company. The company started out modestly, when Coraline’s Grandpappy Hackworth (her pet name for him) started Hackworth’s Air Adventures, a hot air ballooning company. Over the years her grandfather, then her father, built the company into an airship empire that developed air trade routes around the world. Grandpappy Hackworth hired his first employee, an engineer to develop new ballooning technology, and ever since the Hackworth name has been associated with the latest innovations in air travel. Coraline has always been fascinated by flying and world exploration. She is captain of the Lilith Ascending, her personal airship and the test environment for many of the newest Hackworth inventions. She maintains a powerful, authoritative attitude at work and on the ship, which softens (somewhat) around her friends. Her love of command can lead her to be very bossy with her friends, and very fond of pointing out what they’ve done wrong or could do better. Fortunately the Ladies take it in stride and simply ignore the orders they don’t agree with.

Ladies of Mischief Role: Coraline is an only child, and when she found the Ladies of Mischief, she found a family that she didn’t know she was missing. The Ladies share a passion for knitting and a creative spirit that keeps them designing new and exciting garments. They provide some much-needed grounding to Coraline, who is very used to being the one who knows best and getting her way. The Ladies also enjoy a good adventure, so Coraline is often joined by one or more Ladies when she goes out exploring. Long airship trips include lots of time for knitting, so she added a yarn room to the Lilith Ascending so that they will never run out of yarn during a trip. She found friendship and acceptance among the Ladies, and is now fiercely loyal to them. They only need to reach out and Coraline will be there to help with whatever scrapes the various Ladies have gotten into. She might tell them in exacting detail what they did wrong, but only after they have been safely returned from peril.

Motivation: Coraline wants to spread the love of air travel to everyone on the globe. She is most at home in the sky and dreams of finding ways to give everyone the thrill of flight. Dignified flight, of course, with afternoon tea and very comfortable chairs. She’s afraid of letting down her family and somehow destroying the company they’ve built over three generations. She also worries that someone might try to hurt her by hurting her friends. As the sole heir to a fortune, she has been the target of some evil plots, but she might have a slightly exaggerated opinion of her own value to the world at large. She also has a secret fear of running out of tea, and tends to squirrel tins of tea away in the many secret hiding places in her ship.

Finishing up the Character
Once I had Coraline’s life story sorted out, I knew how she would participate in the Ladies of Mischief adventure story. However, there was one more aspect to iron out with this character.
Many of the Ladies, myself included, are modeling the knitted garments for the book photography, so our costume and appearance are part of our character development. I wanted to capture Coraline’s power along with her refinement. I’ve always leaned toward the fancy side of steampunk, and I chose wardrobe pieces that suited an aristocrat. I added her fierce energy by choosing a mohawk hairdo for Coraline, using styling to show her independence and energy.  She wears a necklace of an owl in flight and prefers severe black with pops of bright colors.

Knitting for Coraline
As a knitwear designer, I make things that I want to knit and wear. The Legacy Frock Coat design is one that I had started years ago, and it was so perfect for Coraline that I knew it had to be in the book. Legacy is all about the combination of style and function. The long sleeves and back are ideal for keeping Coraline cozy while walking the airship deck. The open front gives her freedom to move while adventuring, and show off a lovely corset while in fancier locales. It’s designed in bulky yarn so it’s quick to knit (Hackworth engineers love efficiency), while the style lends an air of refinement.

The Legacy Frock CoatThe frock coat shape is especially important to Coraline, which we represented in the name. Grandpappy Hackworth was a stylish man in his day, and the frock coat was popularized during his lifetime. Coraline loved her grandfather and was especially fond of his beautiful frock coats, which he would let her try on. It’s not surprising that she wanted to knit and wear a modern version, moving forward while keeping her grandfather close to her heart. The Legacy Frock Coat represents Coraline’s spirit of invention while always respecting the past.

The photoshoot for the Legacy Frock Coat needed to convey the adventure and excitement of airship travel, and show Captain Coraline in her element. Sadly, there are no dirigibles available to shoot on, so we looked to ships of the past for our setting. The Tall Ship Lady Washington has lovely historical details, which are all truly functional as well, so she seemed perfect for the setting for Coraline’s ship. We scheduled the shoot for a time when she was docked at the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle, and the crew was kind enough to allow us onboard. It was an incredibly warm and sunny day (A tricky day to wear all wool!), and our photographer had to climb down into the belly of the ship so she could review her shots, but despite the issues we all had a lovely time.

Being on a real wooden boat was an inspiring reminder of the bravery required to head out into the world, with just some boards and ingenuity keeping you and your crew safe. The pattern images capture Coraline’s power and refinement, while also showing off the beauty of Legacy.  This photoshoot was all about showing Coraline in her position of power, and I believe it worked!

In Conclusion
As I went through this process, Coraline Hackworth went from a rough sketch to a full color picture. She contains aspects of me, taken to extremes and transformed into a new yet familiar individual. Making this character was a lot of fun. Sending her on an adventure with her beloved friends was thrilling. Modeling her on a real ship was an inspiring moment.  I hope that you feel the excitement when you read our adventure story, and that you feel just as glamorous and fierce as a world-traveling airship captain when you wear designs from our book.

P.S. If you’re wondering where her name came from, it’s my little homage to Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age , and the Neo-Victorians he envisioned in our far future.

P.P.S. This book is a labor of love that could not have been completed without the diverse talents of several Ladies. I did create the character of Coraline, but I had help from several Ladies of Mischief to: come up with the frock coat name and its historical backstory, research and coordinate with a ship we could shoot on, acquire the  yarn for the pattern, get the pattern test and sample knit, schedule hairstyling the day of the shoot, and on and on....


Note from the Editrix de Mode: A review of "The Ladies of Mischief Interrupt Their Knitting To Present To You, Needles and Artifice: A Refined Adventure Story with Ingenious Knitting Patterns" will in published in an upcoming SPC release.

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