Steampunk is the New Green

steampunk pendent Steampunk, a genre combining future living with the romance of the Victorian era, started to come to prominence in the 1980’s. Influenced by fantasy and science fiction writing, and inventions for time-travel by H. G. Wells, steampunk has started to trickle into the mainstream in recent years.

It has gone beyond being relegated to the novel and expanded into all other aspects of art and design, making its way into fashion as well. The style is most often characterized by the use of found and repurposed objects, open circuitry and exposed gear cogs. There is also a blog devoted to all things steampunk called The Steampunk Workshop.

The mentality of do-it-yourself that is pervasive within steampunk is what helps this aesthetic cross into green culture. The clothes, jewelry and modded phones and computers are all created with vintage or thrifted items to achieve the proper “look.”

Growing up, my mother had several pieces of jewelry that she no longer wore. Not wanting to get rid of them because several pieces had sentimental value, she searched out what to do with the hardly worn items.

She happened upon a woman that would take old jewelry and recreate miscellaneous items into beautiful new pendents and pins from the old. My mother had at least two pieces created from this woman. The resulting products contained gem stones, pearls and gear parts from old watches. Who knew that my mother was at the beginning of an aesthetic culture called steampunk?

steampunk jacket Adjowah Brodi of the Weekend Store offers beautiful handmade items typical of steampunk, such as cufflinks made from old watch parts and bracelets made from old watch faces.

Etsy is also chock full of steampunk influenced handmade items. Dust Design Co offers beautiful pendants (pictured above) and rings, also made from vintage watch parts. They are simply elegant in their nakedness.

Steampunk characteristics have also found a home in clothing too. Check out Bonzie, who specializes in thrifted and upcycled fabrics to create steampunk clothes. I am currently enamored of their antique tapestry jeans jacket (pictured), made with antique fabrics and frilly lace trim.

Image credit: Dust Design Co and Bonzie, respectively.

Written by Kelly Rand

Kelly covers visual arts in and around Washington, DC for DCist and is editor of Crafting a Green World. Kelly has also been published by Bust Magazine and you can find her byline at Indie Fixx and Etsy’s Storque and has taught in Etsy’s virtual lab on the topic of green crafting.

Kelly helps organize Crafty Bastards: Arts and Crafts Fair, one of the largest indie craft fairs on the east coast and has served on the Craft Bastard’s jury since 2007. Kelly is also co-founder of Hello Craft a nonprofit trade association dedicated to the advancement of independent crafters and the handmade movement. Kelly resides in Washington, D.C. and believes that handmade will save the world.


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  1. I never realized that I’m involved with steampunk, because I had never heard the term. When I asked my 23 year old if he had heard of it, he described it as “industrial futuism”. He further added that it was like Doc Brown in “Back to the Future 3:. I guess he really has a gift for concise descriptions (unlike me).
    For years, I’ve remade garage store and thrift store jewelry into new bling, combining it with found industrial elements such as small gears, washers, copper tubing etc. I’ve also remade thrift store clothes into a more modern style. After Katrina I tried to remake as many destroyed items as I could. My biggest accomplishment was creating a free-standing herb garden from a broken “Papa San” chair, lining it with my destroyed window screens and filling it with compost and dirt from wetlands and woods which were now accessible, since all the trees had been blown down.
    New Orleans has had a thrift store aesthetic in fashion at least since I was in high school (I’m currently 52). We have a wonderful recycling center called “The Green Project”, which has an annual competition called “Worn Again”. Contestants are given a bag of used clothing and old fabric and create a complete outfit. They are then modeled in a fashion show and judged. I believe the outfits are also auctioned. This year, they promotion went almost completely paper-free, the promoters silk screening onto old fabric not only the bags given to contestants, but also their posters and brochures. They sponsor a similar competition using old furniture and cast-off building materials to create fine furniture. Proceeds go to both to the Green Project and The Preservation Resource Center. This organization has been instrumental in recycling materials, many of them inherent to our unique architecture, from buildings demolished by Hurricane Katrina. It is also one of the only paint and solvent recycling center in the nation. It accepts donations of almost any left-over or discarded objects. Several years ago, for example, there were about 80 toilets and 150 sinks available for sale. My sister found a beautiful pedestal sink there when she remodeled her bathroom. Every city should have an organization like this! Why not get some like-minded friends together and start one on your own?

  2. Great post! I’ve been a big fan of Bonzi for awhile now. We featured her on the Indie Wedding Guide;A resource for brides to turn to when looking to minimize waste and create their wedding with the idea of using indie designers, a do it yourself attitude and those famous three R’s: reuse, recycle and reduce.

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