Steampunk Utility Belt: The Prep

Project 8, part 2 – Your Biggest Fan (Part 1 here)

An assortment of my fans! Clockwise from top left: vintage sandalwood fan from my grandmother, moon-viewing fan from a Sister City celebration event, vintage Japanese traditional dance fan, vintage fan from my childhood that happens to perfectly match my Meiji kimono, and vintage Chinese landscape fan.

Welcome back to the Steampunk Utility Belt project! This week I got all the prep work finished for the project, and boy, was it more than I anticipated! There are a lot of fiddly small pieces to all the various pouches and straps in the pattern, so my first order of business was cutting out every piece of fabric and interfacing (including some exotics like fusible fleece and even fusible foam!).

I’d already washed and ironed my fabric, although since it’s about 30 years old it did stain my iron a little due to the less-colorfast dye. Luckily I was able to clean it all off with subsequent steamings!

When I sew, I like to have everything prepared beforehand. Every button ready, all the pattern pieces cut and darts marked, and so on. This way, when I’m in the mood to actually sew, I don’t have to do any of the “boring” work – I can just sit down at my machine and make the magic happen! I’d be interested to hear if other people work this way as well, or if it’s just me; let me know in the comments!

The pattern cutting took a couple of nights all on its own, but the real marathon was fusing. Part of the problem – utterly self-inflicted – was that the instructions call for a heavier weight of fabric than I selected. Since I really wanted to use this lighter cotton, I also had to add a stabilizer to all the non-lining pattern pieces – which meant in many cases fusing the stabilizer, and then fusing the foam/fleece interfacing to the stabilizer!

Pictured: not my finest interfacing work. Mitigating circumstances: the foam is supposed to be slightly smaller than the fashion fabric. Counterpoint: I still totally failed at evenly fusing the first layer of stabilizer to the cotton. I’m only human, and this took hours. 🙂

I also had to make some decisions during this process. As I mentioned before, I already knew I didn’t want skirt-lifters, and was planning to draft a parasol-holder. After several attempts, I determined three things:

1. I’m too short for most of my parasols to be strapped to my waist, particularly if they’re dangling from straps. All but one of my non-collapsible parasols were hitting my ankles – or worse – the floor. I also worried a bit about color transfer either to or from some of my parasols. (I have one in particular from Alice and the Pirates that’s known for color bleed if it happens to get wet.)

2. If for some reason I must attach a parasol, my collapsible ones all have a ribbon on the handle which I could attach to one of the clips intended for a fan belt, or alongside the phone pouch.

3. This is a utility belt, and parasols are fripperies. Clearly they don’t belong on it. 😉

Very good; no parasol-holder then. Whew! But wait, another decision had to be made: whether to make the small or large fan pouch:

Since, naturally, I have fans in multiple sizes. Sigh!

In my defense, my day job has been extremely busy and full of decision-making lately, leaving me little brainpower left for this sort of thing, but I truly agonized over this. Finally, as you can see from the picture, I just gave up and decided to make both sizes (and hoped I had enough clips/D-rings). I also utilized this strategy later in the week at the optometrist’s office when faced with purchasing new glasses – fortunately for me, my husband was kind enough to give the thumbs-up to just getting the two frames I couldn’t pick between! 😀

You can see here the construction difference between a more traditional folding fan and the Japanese dance fan. Two more things I can’t choose between!

Fan storage may seem silly to agonize over, but fans were extremely important to the Victorians. Joseph Addison said “Women are armed with fans as men with swords, and sometimes do more execution with them.” Well, that might be overstating it a bit, but fans were very popular accessories throughout the Victorian era. They changed in size throughout the era, and were particularly large in the 1880s.

Image courtesy Vintage Dancer

They could be in satin, paper, lace, or even made entirely of feathers! And of course, there was a whole flirtatious language of fans to allow women to communicate silently and tastefully with other people at balls.

Image from 1866 Cassell’s Magazine. What I want to know is who was casually placing their fan on their right ear? And what did the left ear mean? 😮

The fans used from the 1860s onward typically were modelled on fans from Japan, where they have seen similar cultural usage in dance, theater, and intrigue for centuries. There were even war fans, tessen (literally “iron fan”), mostly used as signaling devices! They are still used today in theatrical performances such as noh. For example, “In ‘Hane-ōgi,’ the actor holds the outer rib of the opened fan with his left hand, places it on his right shoulder and moves it rapidly forward. This motion depicts the release of an arrow.” As steampunk celebrates the anachronistic, the complex, and the obsolescent, I simply had to ensure that I could carry the right fan for the occasion at all times!

Now that all my pieces are assembled, I’m ready to get sewing (and fanning, should we have another heat wave!). So join me in the next installment, when I begin attaching all these strange pieces together and hoping that I haven’t missed any important bits! 😀

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