Category Archives: Gadgets

Steampunk Gadgets – a video by yours truly

panel-for-backgroundSteampunk Gadgets

The link takes you to a Youtube video, with Cogpunk Steamscribe (in her Steampunk Sunday persona) discussing the delightful gadgets of the Steampunk cosplayer.


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Filed under Celebrating 30 years of Steampunk, Gadgets, Steampunk, Steampunk Cosplay, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Sunday, Steampunk Technology, Steampunk Themes

Tomas Barcelo’s Steampunk Cannon





Seriously, one of the best gadgets I’ve seen in a long time.


Filed under Art, Gadgets, Steampunk, Steampunk Aesthetic, Uncategorized

Parasols for Fun and Profit

The Parasol paradeAmong my favourite gadgets I’ve seen in a movie were the umbrellas used in ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’, where the umbrellas held dart guns, were bullet proof shields, as well as being stylish and keeping off the rain.  Of course, Steampunk literature has it’s fair share of weaponised parasols, and parasols used in combat.  Alexia Tarabotti, also known as the Lady Maccon, of the Parasol Protectorate by Gail Garringer, is an expert in using a parasol as a weapon. In real life, suffragettes were taught how to use hat pins and parasols as weapons for their protection.

Personally, I love the concept of something as dainty as a parasol disguising an actual weapon or gadget. There are many sorts of canes that hide equipment in their hollow centres, and I can’t see why a parasol shouldn’t be able to do the same. There are cane swords … so why not parasol rapiers? A parasol that converts to a microscope/telescope/sextant?

Parasol Combat

Parasol Combat

Since Steampunk is all about technology, gadgets should show up everywhere and familiar objects should be used in new and original ways. As my writing goal for today, I am going to investigate five new ways of using a parasol other than the ones I’ve already suggested.

Parasol Holster

Parasol Holster

Parasol Holster

Parasol Holster

Umbrella Hat

Umbrella Hat

Map Parasol

Map Parasol

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Filed under Gadgets, Steampunk Genre, writing, Writing Style

Steampunk Ghostbuster Proton Packs

Matt the Tinkerer and his Steampunk Ghostbuster's Harness

Matt the Tinkerer and his Steampunk Ghostbuster’s Harness

I am extremely fortunate to live in a city with a vibrant Steampunk Community. I am even more fortunate to have made a lot of new friends within the community, while at the same time reconnecting with an old friend from school and discovering a shared love of the Steampunk Aesthetic. One of my ‘new’ friends is Matt the Tinkerer; he is a new friend only in the sense that I met him and his family through the South-East Queensland Steampunk community. Matt is an inventor, and he designed and constructed his Steampunk Ghostbuster proton pack, and my own, and the one his fiancée Colleen wears. He assisted the other Steampunk Ghostbusters with their equipment, which is why our equipment looks so authentic.

The back of my ball outfit, phot taken by Susan Wolf

Some people have approached me and asked to purchase my pack. The answer will always be ‘no’, because it is :

  1. A work of art by an inventive genius;
  2. Irreplaceable; and
  3. You should make your own.

To assist in designing your own proton pack,  here is a labelled original pack from the original movie.

You can see that my pack lacks a lot of this detail … because I am a middle-aged woman who can’t really carry around too much weight on my back while wearing heeled boots. You can see that Matt’s pack is much larger, more detailed, and much, much heavier. When you are designing your pack, you should take weight constraints into account. The male members of my team always have sore backs after a night in costume. They look amazing, but they pay for their commitment to their art.

Below are some other Steampunked proton packs.

Steampunk Ghostbusters proton-pack by James Odinson Mclardy

An assortment of proton packs. As you can see, you can get fairly creative but you should still be recognisably a Ghostbuster.

I may be a tad biased, but I like Matt’s interpretation better than this.

One of the proton packs used by the League of Steam.

Of course, not everyone is as creative or clever as Matt the Tinkerer.Of course, it also helps that Matt has the love and support of Colleen. But half the fun is giving it a go. You can’t make a hash of it, because it is your interpretation!

Matt the Tinkerer and his beauteous Colleen.


Filed under Alternative Subculture, Gadgets, Steampunk Cosplay, Steampunk Ghostbusters

Post-Mortem Photography: a Steampunk Perspective

Trigger Warning: If you are soft-hearted or have a weak stomach, please be aware that some of the images in this article are of deceased Victorian-era people. If you do read on and are offended, please don’t send me negative comments about the subject matter. This was an actual Victorian-era practice.

Photography was a new technology in the Victorian-era, and as with all new technologies there was some resistance to its acceptance. However, when a beloved family member died, and you had no photographs or any other form of portrait to remember them by, post-mortem photography became the last opportunity to capture their image. This might seem morbid or gruesome to our modern sensibilities, but the heart wants what the heart wants.

ComfortLost child

We Are Seven


———A simple Child,

That lightly draws its breath,

And feels its life in every limb,

What should it know of death?

I met a little cottage Girl:

She was eight years old, she said;

Her hair was thick with many a curl

That clustered round her head.

She had a rustic, woodland air,

And she was wildly clad:

Her eyes were fair, and very fair;

—Her beauty made me glad.

“Sisters and brothers, little Maid,

How many may you be?”

“How many? Seven in all,” she said,

And wondering looked at me.

“And where are they? I pray you tell.”

She answered, “Seven are we;

And two of us at Conway dwell,

And two are gone to sea.

“Two of us in the church-yard lie,

My sister and my brother;

And, in the church-yard cottage, I

Dwell near them with my mother.”

“You say that two at Conway dwell,

And two are gone to sea,

Yet ye are seven! I pray you tell,

Sweet Maid, how this may be.”

Then did the little Maid reply,

“Seven boys and girls are we;

Two of us in the church-yard lie,

Beneath the church-yard tree.”

“You run about, my little Maid,

Your limbs they are alive;

If two are in the church-yard laid,

Then ye are only five.”

“Their graves are green, they may be seen,”

The little Maid replied,

“Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door,

And they are side by side.

“My stockings there I often knit,

My kerchief there I hem;

And there upon the ground I sit,

And sing a song to them.

“And often after sun-set, Sir,

When it is light and fair,

I take my little porringer,

And eat my supper there.

“The first that dies was sister Jane;

In bed she moaning lay,

Till God released her of her pain;

And then she went away.

“So in the church-yard she was laid;

And, when the grass was dry,

Together round her grave we played,

My brother John and I.

“And when the ground was white with snow,

And I could run and slide,

My brother John was forced to go,

And he lies by her side.”

“How many are you, then,” said I,

“If they two are in heaven?”

Quick was the little Maid’s reply,

“O Master! we are seven.”

“But they are dead; those two are dead!

Their spirits are in heaven!”

’Twas throwing words away; for still

The little Maid would have her will,

And said, “Nay, we are seven!”

These photos were often the parent’s only portrait of their child, and the last opportunity to have a family portrait. The Victorian society might seem to have had many flaws, but they were clannish and often put the concerns of their family before anything else. Even though families were larger and the infant mortality rate was higher than today, this doesn’t mean that Victorian parents didn’t deeply feel the loss of every child. Indeed, I see post-mortem photography as proof that parental affection hasn’t changed over the centuries.

Father & childFamily portrait

You can see the real grief in the faces in these portraits. This is the last chance to have a keepsake of their precious child. These photographs were not made for any macabre purpose, or because the Victorians were morbidly obsessed with death. These were people taking advantage of a newly introduced technology to help soothe the pain of loss.

The tragic loss of an entire family.

The tragic loss of an entire family.

Taking portraits of the dead.

Taking portraits of the dead.

In this era of instant photography, when every phone is also a camera, and our computers have cameras as well, it is hard to believe that these photographs would have been an expensive luxury for many families. But the money was found, somehow. The Victorians were sentimental, in a way that 21st century people are too sophisticated to understand. These photos survive because they were treasured, and not because it was fashionable to have portraits taken of the deceased.

With her dolliesPosed as if just thinking

The deceased were often posed as if they were sleeping. As a metaphor for a Steampunk writer, I believe these post-mortem photographs could represent family connections, the strength of love between family members, or even as an analogy for the briefness of mortality. Photography was still an innovative technology. This mixture of Science and raw Emotion can be a very powerful writing technique.


Filed under Analogy, Gadgets, History, Mementos, Metaphors, Mourning, Steampunk, Steampunk Themes

Velocipede Fashions: A Steampunk Feminist Perspective

1870s Bicycle Outfit for a Woman

One of the great innovations of the Victorian era was the velocipede, the human-powered vehicle. With the advent of the motor vehicle, roads had to be maintained to a higher standard. Less horses meant less horse apples on the roads. This made conditions perfect for the introduction of the bicycle and all its cousins, the velocipede.

Man on a penny-farthing bicycle being chased by his sister (Maggie & Bob Spiers) - West Wyalong, NSW, Circa 1900, in the collection of the Museum of NSW.

Man on a penny-farthing bicycle being chased by his sister (Maggie & Bob Spiers) – West Wyalong, NSW, Circa 1900, in the collection of the Museum of NSW.

The Steam-powered Bicycle

The Steam-powered Bicycle

Riding a bicycle in skirts in awkward and even dangerous, since trailing hems might catch in the spokes or chains. As the popularity of velocipedes grew, their were several strategies to get around this. Machines were made to accommodate people wearing skirts, though none were truly successful. Some machines were designed for to occupants – suggesting that the couple riding should be one man in trousers who would do all the work. And … bicycle outfits were designed that didn’t have skirts.

Three women on velocipedes.

Three women on velocipedes; with their skirts obviously causing problems. (And the little doggie is about to get run over.)

Two person velocipede

Two person velocipede

Victorian Bicycling costume

Fashionable Victorian Bicycle Costume

Then, apart from the scandal of women in trousers, people feared that riding a bicycle or velocipede would give them ‘Bicycle face’. I kid you not. Just as people were going to suffocate if a steam engine went faster that 35 miles an hour, riding a bicycle had its own risks … the one one acquiring a rictus from the daily use of a bicycle.

I must suffer terribly from ‘car face’.

Joking aside, the bicycle offered a new freedom that even the working class could aspire to. It was certainly a boon to city women, because bicycles were light and manageable and affordable transportation. It gave them a taste for independence.

The earliest usable velocipede was created by Karl Dras, which he first rode in public on June 12, 1817. He obtained a patent in January 1818. It was made entirely of wood and was limited well-maintained pathways. Then the Michaux brothers created a company to mass produce their version of the velocipede. It ran from 1857 to 1871, and this vehicle was sometimes known as the boneshaker. The boneshaker was made entirely of wood at first, then later it was made with metal tires. Metal tires on cobblestone roads … no need to guess where that name originated from! As technology was applied to the development of velocipedes, more comfortable machines were developed, until the machine was an all metal frame with rubber tires like the bicycles of today.

While young men were risking their necks on the high wheels like Penny Farthings, sensible women preferred riding the tricycle. Tricycles of the late Victorian era often had well designed brakes and steering systems.

It was built by Rousseau of Marseilles, circa 1869. Image from Museum of Retrotechnology website.

It was built by Rousseau of Marseilles, circa 1869. Image from Museum of Retrotechnology website.

Image from the Just a Car Guy blogspot


In this modern era, we usually only see bicycles. I think it is a great shame. The variation on the different type of velocipedes would have made for a quirky sight on the roads. As a Steampunk writer, I can match the velocipede to the character, knowing that a reckless boy would prefer a Penny Farthing over a tricycle or quad-cycle. It is another way to add to a characterization by showing, not telling.


Filed under Fashion, Gadgets, History, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist

The Skirt Lifter: a Steampunk Feminist’s Perspective

A Victorian-era Skirt Lifter

Anne’s Victorian-era Skirt-Lifter

Now, before we go any further, a Victorian skirt-lifter was an item of apparel and NOT a man with wandering hands. They were  decorative and fashionable, but they were a functional item as well, lifting hems out of the dirt. The hem wasn’t meant to be lifted permanently, and so a proper skirt-lifter was an actual gadget. My friend Anne showed me one today, that belonged to her great-grandmother (GGM). Her device hooked into the waistband or belt and at the end of the chain was heart-shaped clip that gripped the hem of the skirt. The chain ran through the decorative loop at the waistband, and had two silver balls that were used to lift the hem up and down. It was quite beautiful, and utter perfection because it had a lovely story to go with it.

Her GGM acted as a lady’s maid for a fine family in Suffolk. This family were friends with the royal family, and one of princesses used to visit with her family. Anne’s GGM received the skirt-lifter as a gift from the princess at the end of a visit. I think this is a wonderful piece of history. I always feel that an item means so much more when it has a story.

I wanted to show you Anne’s skirt-lifter in action, I couldn’t find one like Anne’s online, but I did find one very like it. Anne’s is much prettier than this one. Modern cosplayers often devise skirt-lifters of their own, and usually leave their hem ‘up’ to display pretty underclothing and stockings. Alas, most of these lifters look more like suspenders clips than actual Victorian-era skirt-lifters. They are pretty in their own way, but don’t have the same functionality and charm of the originals. As well, those clips would tear or fray delicate fabrics.

As a writer, I like to get the details right. Now that I know what a real skirt-lifter looked like, I can write about it with confidence. I know they were at their most popular from the 1870s to the 1890s, which is right in the era when my own Steampunk novel is set.


Filed under Bling, Gadgets, History, Jewellery, Steampunk Feminist

The Glorious Gadgets of Edward William Barton-Wright: a Steampunk Feminist’s Perspective

The glorious gadgets of Edward Barton-Wright

The glorious gadgets of Edward Barton-Wright as illustrated in ‘Suffrajitsu’.

I recently wrote a review for two issues of a graphic novel: Suffrajitsu – Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons. One of the panels illustrated a room full of therapy machines, housed in a gym where Bartitsu is being taught. I found this detail most delightful because Edward Barton-Wright did actually invent and build several different types of therapy machines, built clinics, and was a physical therapist for the latter half of his career.

Edmund Barton-Wright demonstrates his blue light ray machine, circa 1905.

Edmund Barton-Wright demonstrates his blue light ray machine, circa 1905.

The illustration has several cabinets and electrical paraphernalia that resembles the images of a couple of Edmund Barton-Wright’s therapy machines. Sadly, as EBW wasn’t really recognized as a historically important person until late in the Twentieth century, there are few surviving photographs of these machines. He was using heat therapy, light therapy, radiation therapy, vibration therapy, and electrotherapy when all at the highest popularity, but his machines were of his own devising.

Light and electrical energy therapy machine designed by Edmund Barton-Wright.

Light and electrical energy therapy machine designed by Edmund Barton-Wright.

Other gadgets in the illustration remind me strongly of other therapy machines available around the same time. You wouldn’t see gadgets like this today, but these types of therapy are still used. Hydrotherapy was still popular in the Victorian & Edwardian eras, and has been since Roman times, and it is still popular today. Light therapy is still very important, particular for infants born with jaundice. Electrotherapy has lost some of it appeal; electric shock therapy is still in use but other forms of therapy and medication have mostly replaced it.

Below are some pictures of other gadgets used around the same time as Edmund Barton-Wright has his clinics. If you are interested in reading Suffrajitsu – Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons, you can find out more at

Latest Physical Therapy Equipment Machine for Light Treatment  from a steel engraving from a German Reference book dated 1906.

Latest Physical Therapy Equipment Machine for Light Treatment from a steel engraving from a German Reference book dated 1906.

Doctor River and his Electro-therapy equipment in Paris.

Doctor River and his Electrotherapy equipment in Paris.

Electro-therapy treatment for arthritis in the 1900s.

Electrotherapy treatment for arthritis in the 1900s.


Filed under Gadgets, Historical Personage, History, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist

Steampunk Gadgets and Verisimilitude; or, How to Bling Up Your Narrative

Steampunk Enterprise Desk Lamp

Steampunk Enterprise Desk Lamp, Art by Joe Keller,

The topic of this blog was the request of a friend who is also a writer.

You want to add gadgets to your Steampunk novel, but are you uncertain about how to go about this process? You’re worried that your gadgets lack any originality? Take a deep breath and stop worrying; this is rocket science! And you are in charge of the rocket. You don’t have to have a science degree to write about gadgets. A little research can be your friend here.

Image from website

Image from website

Need inspiration? Spend ten minutes just looking at gadgets online. What sort of gadget are you looking for? Make your search terms as specific as possible. So, say you’re looking for a striking form of transportation for your protagonist.

Suggested List of Locomotion Search Terms: steam, steam-powered, electric, Victorian, Edwardian, motorised, velocipede, bicycle, vehicle, engine, train, flying, lighter-than-air, dirigible, airship, airplane, aeroplane, balloon.

Let’s pick three at random: steam-powered, flying, velocipede. A whole pile of interesting images pop up! Here are three of them:

Steam-powered Copeland high-wheeler

Steam-powered Copeland high-wheeler

Steam-powered velocipede

Steam-powered velocipede

Glider designed by George Cayley, British aviator, circa 1852.

Glider designed by George Cayley, British aviator, circa 1852.

Aren’t they lovely? Now imagine a vehicle that incorporates the most interesting features of all three. You pick what features really strike your fancy. Now write down a fulsome description of your imaginary machine (and draw it if you like), and how it works, and what it must feel like to ride in it. And now you’ve sorted your first gadget! Give it a wonderfully bizarre name, and you’re away…


Filed under Bling, Gadgets, Genre Markers, Setting, Steampunk, Verisimilitude, writing

Victorian-era Medical Gadgets to inspire the Steampunk Writer

Violin Vibrophone ; a quack cure used for Tinnitus. It was supposedly able to be tuned to match the ringing in a subject's ears. The Victorian equivalent of sound-cancelling earphones.

Violin Vibrophone ; a quack cure used for Tinnitus. It was supposedly able to be tuned to match the ringing in a subject’s ears. The Victorian equivalent of sound-cancelling earphones.

I was in my late twenties before I realised that the practice of Modern Medicine was both a science and an art, with a dash of the supernatural thrown in to spice up the mix. I had my suspicions when an elderly male doctor tried to prescribe sedatives for my sinus headaches; I went to another doctor who told me to take mild antihistamines and cured the headaches. My suspicions were confirmed when both my sister and a good friends were told their medical conditions were nervous complaints, and both sought second opinions; one suffers from terrible endometriosis and the other had an ovarian cancer the size of a grapefruit. This was latter half of the 20th century, so imagine what it must have been like in the 19th century.

An attempt at recreating the effects of a leech as a medical instrument.

An attempt at recreating the effects of a leech as a medical instrument.

Medicine was still finding its way from the infamous barber surgeons and private physicians (who were mainly academics). Bad blood and bad air was still considered the cause of many an ailment. At the start of the Victorian era, cupping, leeches and balancing the humours were still part of the medical playbook. The rise of science meant their was a corresponding increase in scientific medical research, which eventually led to better diagnostics and much more effective medicines and therapies. However, the increase in new technologies also increased the number of weird and wonderful attempts as medicine was still feeling its way. It also led to a proliferation of quacks and their remedies designed to part both the desperately ill and the hypochondriacs from their money.

Vaginal Speculum - alas, poorly designed

Vaginal Speculum – alas, poorly designed

Tonsil Guillotine

Tonsil Guillotine

Hysterotome- for amputating the cervix

Hysterotome- for amputating the cervix

Some of the innovations made during in Victorian medicine can give you nightmares. The three instruments above are just some of the horrors that were invented. Some of the instruments were so scary that just looking at them makes me shiver, so I can’t imagine how the patients must have felt when approached by a surgeon carrying one. No wonder this is the era when the science of anaesthesia was discovered.

Doctor Clark's Spinal Apparatus Advertisement, 1878

Doctor Clark’s Spinal Apparatus Advertisement, 1878

Many of the new therapy machines looked like Medieval torture devices, even though they invented with the very best intentions. There is a lot of opportunity for a writer to use such gadgets to add suspense and conflict into the life of the protagonist. Imagine having to suffer under a well-intentioned doctor who was subjecting your hero to these implements. How much worse would it be if the doctor wasn’t well intentioned?

If you are writing about medical matters in a Steampunk narrative, a little research will turn up a whole spectrum of wild and wonderful gadgets. You can find an implement to symbolize just about any disorder. As an example, a woman with ‘no voice’ might be having tonsil trouble, but might be afraid to speak because she has seen a tonsil guillotine. She has to overcome her fear to find her voice and her power. To relate this back to the modern era … a person should always be prepared to get a second opinion.


Filed under Analogy, Gadgets, History, Metaphors, Science, Steampunk, writing