Compounding Fashion in a "Steampunk Apothecary"
Created by ProfHoppingood on 8/5/2013 8:50:27 AM

Professor Hoppingood reviews Jema Hewitt's crafting manual, Steampunk Apothecary.

Fair disclosure: I usually try to remain an impartial critic when reviewing a book in order to maintain my journalistic integrity.  That being said, from the moment I laid eyes on this book, my fingers were immediately jealous of my eyes and wanted their turn to flip though the lavishly illustrated pages, to wit, I was prejudicially inclined to enjoy this work from moment I encountered it. 

Steampunk Apothecary, by Jema Hewitt, is the latest in a growing field of publications that are both "how-to" guides for steampunk crafting and books worthy of gracing the coffee table or bookshelf for idle appreciation and creative inspiration. Framed within the fictional adventures of Ms Hewitt's alter ego, Emilly Ladybird, and her traveling companion, Mr. Woppit, the introductory narrative at the beginning of each chapter is charmingly simple and evocative of Victorian literary styles, and while not precisely works of high literary merit, they do set the conceptual and inspirational foundation for the collection of projects in the chapter.

Each chapter is founded in one of five familiar steampunk adventure tropes: the fairy hunter, the kraken hunter, a "broken dolls picnic", vampire chateau, and library labyrinth.  Within each of these chapters, projects which are in keeping with the theme are beautifully photographed through various stages of progress. Adding further beauty to the book is the rich graphic layout, in which the photographs are presented as though arranged in a scrapbook.  The projects are accompanied by step-by-step instructions as well as techniques, helpful tips, and suggestions for substitutions where appropriate.  The final chapter includes more detailed information on several of the techniques presented, such as wirework for jewelry crafting and the creation of faux patina effects, a glossary of terms, suggested resources, and a fairly thorough index. I was also pleased to find in the appendices a refresher on basic color theory!

One of the more impressive elements of this book is the wide array of crafting techniques and multiple media that it highlights.  These include polymer clay, beadwork, wire-bending for jewelry, sewing, fabric transfer printing, shrink plastic film, epoxy resin casting, basic leather-working, metal etching, rubber stamping, and several more.  Many of the projects combine these elements in mixed-media creations, and often incorporate found-objects and remnant watch parts.  Each chapter contains projects of different media, so that something is found to inspire the creative endeavors of every artist. 

Fairy Wing Tiara from Steampunk Apothecary by Jema HewittThe "artefacts" that most stand out are the Fairy Wing Tiara, the Kraken Ring, the "Adventures first, Explanations later" Cravat,  the Riddle Pendant, and the Drink-Me Bracelet. Of course, there was a nod to that perennial favorite: the mini top hat pattern.  (And truthfully, every fashionable steampunk wardrobe must contain at least one top hat of any size!)  At initial glance it might be thought that a shortcoming of the book may be its seeming predominance of more projects for a lady's wardrobe than for the gentlemen, but many of the pieces are most certainly suitable for the fashion stylings of both genders, especially in this enlightened age of gender-bending couture that pays no heeds to blasé mainstream cultural strictures!

Drink-Me Bracelet from Steampunk Apothecary by Jema HewittUnlike many recent additions to the publications of "steampunk accessories" books, the selected projects, while encompassing techniques that range from basic to very advanced, are perhaps more suited to a crafter who already possesses some modicum of skill in these techniques but is looking to expand their abilities.  A few of these projects require rather advanced skills with polymer clays, and in fact, the author cautions us that sculpting "takes practice, and the wondeful thing is that you can always squash polymer clay flat and start again if it goes wrong."  I find that kind of honesty refreshing in a "how to" book!  Another indication of the more advanced nature of the instructions is that the Ms. Hewitt occassionally will reference a technique without giving demonstration of its execution.  For example, in the directions for the mini top hat, she calls for an invisible slip stitch around the crown of the hat, however, there is no corresponding image that illustrates how an invisible slip stitch is achieved.  That being said, a determined crafter can easily search online or in any number of sewing references to learn how to do this, so this small ommission should not serve as a deterrent to anyone!  These projects and the growth in skill they encourage, while not beginning projects, will serve to inspire the expansion and extension of existing skills, and a refinement on previous abilities and techniques.

In conclusion, A Steampunk Apothecary is a lavishly illustrated instruction manual for accesories that encompasses a delightful array of creative techniques.  This book will both inspire steampunk crafters to new begin new projects and learn new methods, but it will also add beauty to your bookshelves and stir conversation around your coffee tables.


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