With the fluttering noise of the engine, the airship docks. I step out onto the platform and the blustering wind whips my red hair across my face.
“Welcome, to airship Steamed.” As I hold my purple hat on my head with one hand, I shake Melanie Grace Phillips’ hand with the other. “Watch your step.”
We stretch our legs in a long stride across the wide gap between the dock and the airship, to board. I lead her into the plush parlor.
Melanie Grace Phillips eases onto the crimson settee, featuring elaborately carved lion head legs and claw feet.
I sink into the chenille cushioned armchair across from her and lean forward. “Live Steamy, your Esty shop, carries everything from bloomers to Steampunk chandeliers, where do you get your inspiration?” The engine purrs and with a clinking nd rattling sounds the blue willow teacups shake on the pillar and claw tripod table.
Miss Melanie grabs the settee with one hand as the airship lifts off. “Generally I just collect a lot of junk, anything I see that I like the color, texture, shape or size of I pick up, haul around, save for later. I throw that junk in with all my other junk, and I step back and think what can I possibly do with this now. Sometimes it just hits me, it all comes together in a mad flurry of excitement and inspiration and it’s wonderful and awesome. And sometimes it doesn’t at all and I have no idea what to do with this hunk of… well, junk, in which case it gets pushed aside for the time being and must then patiently await its own day of possible inspiration. My favorite part about Steampunk is that it calls upon all your resourcefulness to reuse and recycle things.”
I grasp the armrest of my chair as the airship rises. “Yes, I love being green: reusing, recycling and my favorite green message is read an eBook, save a tree.” Since the china cups cease rattling, I pick up the tea pot and poured my guest and myself a cup of Earl Grey. “I love your southern belle style ruffled tiered skirts. I also noticed you offer a full range of sizes in them from extra-extra small to plus sizes. How did you come up with the idea to use more than one color on the ruffles and the patchwork ruffles?“
“First of all thank you! The ruffled skirts are some of my favorite as well. And it is so much fun to wear.” Miss Melanie reaches her slender fingers between the plate of fresh lemon slices and the cream pitcher. She pinches a white cube from the sugar bowl and plunks it into her tea. “The idea came from staring one day into my open box of fabrics. I had so many mix match patterns, old drapes, old sheets, fabric swatches, and thinking my goodness, I need to do something with all of this stuff. The patchwork idea just sprung into my head because I had several fabrics of various patterns and colors that looked nice together. Then I had one of those poofy underskirts that I used for a Southern Belle costume I bought off etsy, so I thought I could sew the patchwork onto that and make ruffles! I’m a self taught seamstress so the first one was a little funky but that’s ok because I kept that one and I got it figured out so I could make more.” Miss Melanie picks up a demure spoon from the table and dipping it into her teacup, she swishes it side to side, taking care to not touch the sides.
“How ingenious. I adore the fancy antebellum skirts in patch work.” I pinch a slice of lemon, picking it up, I inhale the invigorating citrus fragrance as I squeeze a few droplets into my tea.” You offer several hand stamped steampunk garments. How did you get interested in the craft of stamping clothing?” I pick up the dainty saucer holding my steamy tea as the subtle, aromatic scent billows around me.
Miss Melanie lifts her tea cup from the blue willow saucer. “Live Steamy was founded on the idea of providing casual Steampunk, not just costuming. I have always found ways to fit my southern belle, Steampunk, Rococo, 50’s, 20’s and other styles into my daily wear. So making designs casual and wearable everywhere was just a natural part of building our business.” She tilts her teacup to her lips and draws in a long sip. “ But I actually started hand stamping shirts simply because I didn’t know how to silk screen. So that was just my creative way of working out the problem. But I love the freedom that the hand stamping gives me, it’s far more time consuming but I love doing it. And I stamp everything! Baby clothes, yoga pants and of course all of the t-shirts.” Melanie takes another sip, then sets her teacup on its saucer with a clink.
I bring my teacup to my lips, tendrils of steam rise from the cup and blow warm on my face. “I’m glad you started hand stamping clothing because yours is adorable.” I took a sip, savoring the taste, a subtle nutmeg flavor with leafy undertone and a slight tang of citrus. “When you’re designing your items do you make sketches first?” I return my cup to its saucer and set it on the table beside Melanie’s. ”Do you keep an art journal where you draw or note down ideas that you come up with?”
“Oh, you make it sound so organized. I have a file box with a folder for ideas but it’s a scary place. There are really nice sketches of clothing designs on drawing paper and lots of mad scrawling on torn notebook pages and about 100 sticky notes with scribbles. And that is just what actually makes it into the folder. I have notebooks with ideas on corners and loose recycle paper with notes all over the place. If I can’t make a new idea right away I scribble a picture and jot down the idea and possibilities of how to make it happen and what colors or fabrics, all of that. Every so often I will sit down and try to neatly draw out an idea but its usually rubbish. My husband is the drawing artist, I am very tactile. I actually had him draw me a few forms and I traced them in black and now when I need to design I can just trace that form onto a new sheet and go for it from there, that helps a lot. But mostly I get an idea in my head and I just go to straight away to making it.”
I hear rattling and clinking. I glance at the tea table and see the cups and saucers shaking. I know what that means, the airship is landing. I have time for three short questions. “Since you work with a variety of items, how does designing different types such as jewelry, hats and clothing differ?Which do you find the most challenging? Which do you like the best?”
Miss Melanie holds on tight to the arm of the settee, bracing for the shaky landing. “I think I’m too feisty of a person to stick with one thing for long. When a new idea comes along I nearly overwhelm myself with the excitement of it and I throw myself into it completely. That is why we make such a huge variety of items. The challenge of this comes in a few different ways: tools, supplies and skills are the big ones. Making jewelry takes different tools than making clothing, making clothing takes different tools than making décor items. It gets to be super pricey when you need such a collection of different tools and supplies. Then there is the know-how. This is a huge challenge but also my favorite part. I love to problem solve and be resourceful. Figuring out how to make something I want happen is exhilarating. I think my biggest challenge though is actually making clothing. As I said earlier, I’m a self-taught seamstress, I deeply wish I would have paid more attention when my mother tried to teach me. I do not yet know how to read a pattern and often I run into complications when trying to figure out the technicalities of what article of clothing I want to make or change something into. Sewing is very exact. And I’m much more of a ‘where the stars fall’ type of person. I really wish that I could make corsets, getting to that skill level is a goal of mine. But as long as I’m always creating, learning and growing I’ll be a happy girl.”
“I know the readers of Steamed are happy to have met you. Not only to find out about your casual clothing for Cons they may go to and everyday wear, but also browsing the items in your store will help with descriptions and provide some inspiration to their writing as well.”
With the airship now docked once more, our chat comes to an end. We rise from our seats, walk out of the parlor and exit the airship, but lucky for us, Melanie Grace Phillips left her calling cards and will receive visitors anytime at Etsy - www.etsy.com/shop/livesteamy, Facebook – www.facebook.com/LiveSteamy, Twitter - www.twitter.com/LiveSteamy and her Blog – www.livesteamy.blogspot.com.
Maeve Alpin is the author of four Steampunk/Romances: Conquistadors In Outer Space, To Love A London Ghost, As Timeless As Magic, and As Timeless As Stone.