Vintage and Steampunk

Of Weddings and Apprentices

“Blessed is the generation in which the old listen to the young; and doubly blessed is the generation in which the young listen to the old”  — Anonymous (the wisest person on the planet, apparently)

We have now toddled back home from Up In The Aether: The Steampunk Convention, and are settling back in and re-acclimating to life in modern times.  It’s raining lightly, Ken’s STILL in the yard taking care of the vegetable garden details  (I came in an hour ago, I am not a lunatic) and I’m baking up some waffles for a breakfast-dinner if the addle-brained one ever comes inside and dries off.  Meantime, I wanted to share two anecdotes from the Con that may help explain WHY I like being a part of the Steampunk Community, and why I love, love, love going to a local con. Sure the outfits are purdy – but I’m not a cosplayer. And it’s fun to make up a character, but my roleplay days are behind me. And honestly?  I’m not really a con-person, this really is the only con of the year I attend.  But there’s one rock-solid reason I’m grateful for the Steampunk community at large, and why I align myself with it – strongly.

Steampunk – at it’s finest – respects and honors the past. Steampunk is armed with enough smarts and imagination to revel in it whimsically and perhaps a touch brilliantly, while setting an example for that wide-eyed, soaking-it-all-up generation of children that will take our place when we are gone.

This was the first year for Up In The Aether (it’s predecessor, World Steam Expo, ended last year), and it carried a challenge to form it’s own unique identity. We certainly don’t want to forever think of it as “that con that filled the hole World Steam Expo left.”  Personally, what set UITH apart for me this year was the extra focus given to Making.  The DIY sessions were exemplary.  I now know how to pickle copper for cheapsies, properly clean tools from last century, what sort of vile diseases may linger on some long forgotten hinge, and exactly what that doohickey really was that resembled Lucifer’s Tuning Fork. And more. Oh, and there were sessions for us FOODIES!  We learned about Victorian era cooking from a local steampunk/chef, who along with his longsuffering sidekick, cooked up a whirlwind for us – we were fed tomato and celery salad (better than it sounds after he whomped up a good vinaigrette dressing that the Victorians NEVER heard of), chicken croquettes (needed parsley) and raspberry shrub (INSTANT ADDICTION.)

Oh right. I mentioned two anecdotes.  I get sidetracked so easily!

Anecdote The First – The Wedding. 

Our hotel had also booked a wedding for Saturday afternoon. Apparently the wedding party had booked another venue, canceled when they found a better place, but unfortunately that place fell through.  Three weeks before their wedding, they booked the Double Tree in Dearborn. Now, this wedding wasn’t in some back room, it was RIGHT IN THE LOBBY. The same lobby that was the hub of all our activity, the same lobby we had to walk around all sides of to get to our event rooms.

Recipe for disaster?  Nope.  At some point, the wedding guests began to arrive, and a strange blend of Urban Detroit wedding-formal began mingling with all sorts of Steampunk. I personally saw respect offered from both camps, smiles and nods passed between folk, polite words were offered at every opportunity.  Some of the wedding guests inquired about who ‘all these well dressed folks in the hotel’ were. They were given friendly explanations, and a few of them even ventured out to browse the dealer’s rooms. During the actual wedding, the con-goers moved quietly around the perimeter, and spoke in hushed tones.  I LOVED the juxtapositioning of the converging special days for so many people.  Many of the steampunks offered good wishes and congratulations to the bridal party.  (Later, I learned that the bride hadn’t been given an advance clue about our con, and was less than thrilled  – I pity the wedding planner that forgot to tell her, but ah, what can we do?)

Amusingly, I recall the second year of World Steam Expo (our previous con) shared the hotel with both a wedding reception AND a Japanese convention. Somewhere, in some dust-gathering wedding album, is a family portrait of a very traditional, upright family, but that picture also includes a lady in a pith helmet, alligator skin corset and wielding a butterfly net. Thanks, elderly grandpa, for hauling me into the photo and snuggling up against me!

Anecdote the Second – The Master and the Apprentice

We attended as many DIY workshops as possible. Among those were a couple of REALLY good sessions run by Steve Brook. From the UITA website:

Steampunk Fabricators is a Detroit based Art, Design and Engineering guild specializing in one of a kind Museum quality art projects. Steampunk Fabricators Art Projects have enjoyed global recognition and have been shown in Museums, Galleries, Television, Video, and Fine Photography. The mission of the guild is to rescue and combine vintage turn of the century period objects in a modern way to create historic tribute to the craftsmen of the industrial age. Founder Steve Brook, a veteran Automotive Design Engineer, states: “Until recent times Art and Engineering were always two sides of the same coin. The art of Leonardo De Vinci is an example of the harmony between the two. Our goal is to restore the balance of art and engineering while celebrating the aesthetic qualities of the Victorian age.”

These were wonderful sessions. Steve has a respect and reverence for handcrafted objects (especially workshop tools) from the past. He spoke about how objects back then were created individually, by hand, for a specific purpose, by their builders.  And the fact that we can hold those objects today, and they are still strong and sound, and in many cases, still working perfectly, speaks so highly of the skill and dedication that went into the objects.  Steve is apparently an empath too, he feels about tools and crafted objects the way I feel about older buildings.  The energy and soul of the builders gets into the items they build.  He mentioned that he loves working with older shop tools, as the ‘mojo’ of those from the past that either crafted the items or worked hard with them over the years gets into the tools. He likes that extra boost to his own projects that comes from working in harmony with the past.

During both sessions we attended (“Rescue, Restore and use Vintage Tools” and “Working with Vintage Materials: The Good, The Bad, The Beautiful”), we shared the front row with a small boy who listened intently, did not fidget, and seemed as into the concepts as any adult in the room.  At the end of the first session, Steve turned his attention fully to the kid.  He asked him his name (Jeffery) and told him he had a present for him. Steve gave Jeffery a very, very old screwdriver set – those kind that are like nesting dolls, where you keep unscrewing them and there’s a smaller one, unscrew that and there’s another smaller one, all the way down to a tiny screwdriver perfect for repairing glasses. And this was no knockoff screwdriver set. It’s not like he had a bucket of them in the back to appease the kiddos.  This was a well made, vintage, quality item. He described it to Jeffery and then presented it to him.  Jeffrey took it gratefully, and dammit, I couldn’t see for a minute after that for the tears in my eyes. It was just one of THOSE moments.

The next session we attended, guess who was in the front row again?  Yep, Jeffery!  We learned a lot about the dangers and delights of working with old icebox handles and other wacky bits of hardware from days gone by.  Steve had a scrap box filled with intriguing goodies he used for his demonstrations.  At the end of that session, he targeted Jeffery once again, and told him he could choose anything he wanted out of the scrap box to keep. Jeffery chose a very intricate looking whatsamathing. Steve told him “you can’t just use it like that! Take it all apart and make a lot of cool things.”  By now, you could sense the bond between the man and the boy.

I like knowing that the world I live in has a Jeffery in it, who’s possibly using that vintage screwdriver right now to make a few cool things out of that thingermabobber.  Who knows what Jeffery may offer up to the world as he grows, learns, and experiments?

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Lori Alden Holuta lives between the cornfields of Mid-Michigan, where she grows vegetables and herbs when she’s not writing, editing, or playing games with a cat named Chives.


  • Zann

    Fascinating “inside” view of a con. Although I could not attend, I too was impressed at the breadth and depth of the Maker offerings. The snitty bride will calm down when she realizes she will have a wedding story to top most others; hopefully her photographer caught the unique ambiance. Thanks for posting this!

    • Ceejay

      Personally, I’d be thrilled to have such fantastically dressed folk in the background at my wedding! I hope she does turn it into a fun memory over time.

  • Greg

    Thanks for sharing this Ceejay! Sounds like a wonderful time. I’ve never been to any type of con, but this one sounds like a very creative and inventive time. I would probably not dress in costume, but would definitely be soaking it all up from behind the camera.

    • Ceejay

      I’m not a con-goer myself – I think of this one as an annual gathering of the nation. I’m not able to get to lots of the events that take place around Michigan, but I ALWAYS make room in my life for this one. If you’re able to come next year, please do! Dressing up is fun but certainly not required. We’d love to meet you!

  • Kristen

    Thank you so much for sharing this! As a crafter I find myself also very glad to have little Jeffrey in this world. We need more little Jeffreys!

    I’m also a friend of the Steampunk Chef you spoke of and absolutely adore his cooking. He has a blog that while he unfortunately hasn’t had a chance to update it, the recipes there are amazing! I highly recommend the 15 hour red wine brisket, tomato basil bisque & Mulligatawny soup!

    • Ceejay

      Kristen, thank you! I just peeked at Aaron’s site and can’t wait to take more time to browse (its a bit late here tonight!). I’ll list him in my foodie links on this site’s front page. I really did enjoy his rambles and babble and food advice.

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