An Interview with Jema "Emilly Ladybird" Hewitt, Part 2 Created by wilhelminaframe on 8/11/2011 11:34:45 AM
In the 2nd part of her Jema "Emilly Ladybird" Hewitt interview, Editrix de Mode, WIlhelmina Frame speaks with the charming Jema Hewitt, the brains and beauty behind Ms. Emilly Ladybird and her new book Steampunk Emporium.
Jema Hewitt is the brains, and the beauty behind Ms. Emilly Ladybird. Jema has been a costume and jewelry designer for over 20 years. She regularly contributes to crafts and bridal magazines and has written several jewelry design books -- her latest, thrilling offering being Steampunk Emporium.
Jema and I chatted recently as the 2nd part of my Jema "Emilly Ladybird" Hewitt interview about her origins in steampunk and the new book.
WF: Let’s talk about how you discovered steampunk?
JH: It was actually quite a long time ago really. I always loved Victorian science fiction when I was a kid , things like Jules Verne and Alice in Wonderland and all those wonderful adventure stories which kind of jumped through time. And the authoress Joan Aiken, I loved her stuff when I was a kid and they set my taste for adventure. As I became older I became more interested in the Victorians, sort of the classics, Charles Dickens. I love Edgar Allen Poe, Sheridan Le Fanu and of course, Dracula. Then when I went to university I studied theatrical design and I was a bit of a goth and I loved making corsets. I had a wonderful tutor who taught me how to do that and I got obsessed with making Victorian costume. And then, of course, once I’d made all the Victorian costume I had to find someplace to wear it so I was doing a lot of live roll playing and my friend and I decided to start a mad Victorian supernatural campaign where we could go out on picnics, to beautiful places, like Newstead Abbey in our glorious Victorian costume and it just got a bit out of hand, really. That must have been in ’97, ’98?
("95", Jema's husband yells in the background)
I’m being corrected. (laughs) Well before the word steampunk was being thrown about in popular usage. Although we weren’t completely airshipped out we did have mad inventions and peculiar scientists and all the fun bits of steampunk. And slowly but surely I discovered that other people were doing similar things and it all went downhill from there.
Then how would you describe your steampunk style?
Mine’s very much based in realistic Victorian things. I start with a basic of absolute perfect Victorian and add cool stuff to it. The Victorians were fascinated with things like vampires and faeries and the supernatural generally so to add those things into quite standard Victorianness wasn’t that difficult. Now I’ve been able to play with it a bit more. I like the punk side of it so I’ve gone a bit more Vivienne Westwood and added in a few flourishes and asymmetric bits and safety pins.
Westwood is a favorite of mine as well.
Well yeah! Some of her early anglomania designs are just fantastic. And they, of course, are very much based in historical costume but with a twist. And that’s what I like about steampunk. I like the historical, but with a twist. I try to use good fabrics, linen, cotton, silk, things that actually would have been around at the time. And then I give it a twist by doing creative pattern cutting and doing things that might have been a bit outrageous for the time.
What would you call your visual influences?
I love Art Nouveau. I was a real Alphonse Mucha fanatic when I was at college. All those wonderful Arts and Crafts movements, the Rossetti paintings. There’s lovely sinuous lines, big peacock feathers, the Bohemians and the Romantics. That’s a really big influence on me and that particularly, in my jewelry design, comes out. I like to use brass filigrees, abstract shapes and really big gems swirling out of things which is very Art Nouveau.
So let’s talk about your jewelry design and your book that was just published, Steampunk Emporium, which seems globally to be very well received. How did you come up with the concept for the book?
I’d written jewelry books before but they have always been very straightforward and I knew I wanted to do something that was really special and inspiring that had stories and ideas. I was doing my own side adventures as Emilly and making jewelry to match the adventures and selling that online. People really seemed to like what I was doing so I thought it would make a fantastic book to marry the stories and the pieces. And if I liked making it then other people would like making it! So I put together a proposal and hawked it round to all the British publishers and they looked at me as if I had two heads and didn’t get it at all. But then I found this fantastic book which had all kind of goth craft projects and it was by North Light Books and I thought at last! This is a publisher who will understand the concept of weird craft projects. Then we just had to decide the shape of the book which I decided would be best done by getting the characters and having themes. Once I had the characters then it was easy to design the jewelry for them because, you know, a zeppelin pilot is going to need some sort of fabulous device that’s going to tell her with one of the aether winds to get on to. It was quite fun making up all the things that people were going to use.
It’s kind of funny because steampunk has a kind of form and function, yet it’s fantastic, imaginary form and function. You see that very much in the way that the book is put together.
Well cued! That’s very much what I was aiming for. I know there have been other steampunk books before that have very much concentrated on ‘here’s a thing, here’s how you make the thing’ but to me it’s all about what the thing does, where it came from, who’s using it now and who’s going to use it in the future. It’s the stories that make steampunk. Everyone has their alter ego and their character. That’s what makes it really special and differentiates it from other alternative genres.
What would you like to see happen in steampunk fashion?
I’d like to see a bit more experimentation. I’m probably the last person who should be saying this, what with liking my big Victorian ball gowns and things but I’d like to see a bit more extreme stuff from the ladies. A bit more punk. Maybe some amazing Mohicans with their ball gowns. Maybe more slightly casual steampunk. You don’t always have to wear a ball gown. I made engineer’s overalls that fit over a corset and they looked great and were so comfy. I could do all day at a convention without feeling like I was going to knock everything off the stall with my bustle every time I turned round. It was quite liberating actually. More overalls!
It’s funny you say that! Someday, hopefully, you can come across the ocean and you may see a little bit of a difference because in the United States we do tend a little more to the casual side of steampunk.
Yeah, there’s quite a lot of differences, I’ve been told, so I’m excited to see them.
And while we would like to see you in the United States soon there are other places where people might run into you and your creations.
Oh yes! I’m going to be at Lincoln for the Weekend at The Asylum, which is the big UK steampunk convention. I’m also going to be at the MCM Expo in London over the Halloween weekend at the end of October. I’ll also be in London as part of a panel for Selina of The Steampunk Bible . She’s coming over from the states to do a British launch and that’s September 6th. And my big Union Jack dress, very patriotic, is currently at the Kew Bridge Steam Museum until August 29th
Is there anything else that the good people of the internet need to know from you or Emilly?
Yes! They need to know a really good cocktail recipe. Absinthe and cream soda. It’s lovely. Hooray!
Thank you so much for speaking with me and The Steampunk Chronicle and we will keep up with all your adventures.
It’s been a delight and lovely to hear you again.
To keep up with the adventures of Jema & Emilly check these websites:
To purchase Steampunk Emporium:
For more information about Jema’s appearances check these websites:
The Weekend at The Asylum
Steampunk Bible Panel
Kew Bridge Steam Museum Steampunk Exhibition
London MCM Expo / London Comic Con