Photo by Mike Liebner
Women Of Retropunk: Amber OBoyle Kulp
Eric Renderking Fisk | January | February 2018
Eric Renderking Fisk: Tell us about yourself and your background.
Amber OBoyle Kulp: I had a perfectly normal upbringing, nuclear family, hardworking parents, all the typical American dream stuff. Went to school, got a nice corporate job, got married. Was a nice white picket fence dream for a couple years, then all hell broke loose. I ended up leaving with a premie baby, a special needs child and no money, no assets etc, etc. That was both my lowest and my best moment. After years of being a little mouse, I discovered that I not only have a backbone but that I am bone deep stubborn and Irish crazy to boot. When the psych teams told me that I should really seriously consider institutionalizing my son, for the first time in my life I stood up (literally) and said eff you. Moved my mom in as a parenting partner and spent the next few years scraping by going from therapy session to therapy session, from one doctor's appointment to the next, at home therapy, occupational therapy, ocular therapy, the list is endless. The list was endless.......as was the court battle. But you know what, I am still here, and despite it all, my son is entering trade school this fall and my daughter is on the honors list. I can't thank my mother, my best friend/new husband, and family enough for having faith in me. Not to mention being just as crazy as I am. Not to be sappy but I wouldn't trade a moment of my past for something sweeter since it has led me to where and who I am. I don't have a lot but what I have, I earned, I built with blood, sweat, and tears.
ERF: Tell us about how you discovered Steampunk, what is it about this genre that you love so much.
Amber: I fell into steampunk. We were doing stuff in our little shop, doing show after show where we really didn't fit in and one of our regular costumers asked us if we were going to do the steampunk show out at Strasburg Railroad. I said whats steampunk, and she said: "that's what you do!" Ok, nobody told me that, hahaha. I'm just obsessed with corsets, science fiction books, and fantasy. And old movies, and fluffy dresses and goth and wings and on and on and on.....basically I have "oh sparkly syndrome" If a material catches my eye, I collect it, especially thrift finds. yep, I'm addicted to upcycling, reusing and re-purposing. I love steampunk because there are no rules, nothing you can't use to create something else. antique torch, its a lamp. Old jacket, it's a corset. old prom dress, you just got paired up with my old leather jacket and some light up horns for a runway ensemble at the Troc. Old Halloween bat, I just stole your motor for a pair of motorized wings, Steampunk lets me pair anything and everything that catches my eye. There are no rules and no limits.
Oh, and weddings, I love steampunk brides. They are so much fun to work with, I have designed dresses with huge skirts and tops with cutouts just to show off beautiful tats! hoops and fluff and more!
ERF: I'm really enjoying the pictures that you've sent along for this article, thus all your entire role in the Steampunk genre, your contribution is incredible.
Amber OBoyle Kulp: Ha, you give me way too much credit, contributions to the genre, ha way too important for, lol. I'm just a crazy chick doing her thing!
ERF: That’s great though. You’re doing your own thing- everyone should.
Amber OBoyle Kulp: I love this sugar skull pattern, I make it in curvy girls too. that is important, almost no one makes stuff in sizes 18 and above. that is absolutely ridiculous, the average size of the American women is a 16, Marilyn Monroe was a 16 for heaven's sake. and these women can't even find decent garb in their sizes. I mean look at this, it is a custom underbust in a size 20, It is crafted from pieces of vintage silk, model Kassandra Kulp, but the girl who bought it broke in tears in the middle of my vending booth cause she couldn't find anything pretty in her size at a reasonable price at the whole damn fair before she came to my booth.
ECF: My wife is voluptuous, and she is also annoyed at how all the good clothes are designed for women who have smaller than average figures. In that sense what you’re doing is very personal to me and I thank you for it. What you’re saying with your work is far more important than what’s being said and done by a lot of other fashion designers who don’t cater to average healthy size women.
Amber OBoyle Kulp: Your right it is damn hard for curvy girls, they don't fit in off the rack patterns but if you're a designer you should be making your own patterns anyhow. heck, I don't even use patterns, I'm dyslexic, I can't. I make templates for everything. God made people in all sizes. we don't expect all guys to be 6'2" tall dark and handsome so why are the expectations for women so narrow?
I went on a rant. It really is a pet peeve of mine.
ERF: No it’s all important! This conversation exactly the reason why I started this in the first place. People like you deserve more recognition.
Amber OBoyle Kulp: Thanks but I really don't feel like I'm doing anything special, just designing for the girls I actually see. there is nothing wrong with being a size 2 either, it's just that a size 2 isn't everyone body type so why are all the fashions for a size 2?
ERF: Which do you prefer? Steampunk or dieselpunk?
Amber OBoyle Kulp: Oh, definitely Steampunk, it has a more historical and natural feel to me. I tend to use a lot of antique lace and vintage materials so my style tends more towards steampunk although I do really enjoy the sexual aggressiveness of dieselpunk. It is very in your face, I am HERE, you will not ignore me. And I do enjoy that aspect of the genre. But overall, I would say I enjoy steampunk more as a design style, even though intellectually I am probably more in line with the bluntness of dieselpunk.
ERF: What’s your favorite “go to” source of inspiration? Is there a movie or book that’s a constant source of information?
Amber OBoyle Kulp: Oh dear, I'm afraid I don't see much TV other than history channel now and again. I really don't have a regular source of inspiration other than everything I see. I love museums and riding in the car my hubby, he has such good peripheral vision, he is always pointing out hawks and other wildlife to me. He can see the outside world so much better than I.However, I do have to admit I am very dangerous in any sort of supply store, whether it is a material store, a bead shop or Home Depot, I love to feel the texture of things. What they could be, what they would be if someone paid attention to them.....
... Things just catch my attention, the shine of a certain material, the shades of a piece of carnelian, the shape of a wire, the feel of a piece of wood. The feel and shape of a stone, an old beaded gown, the swish of a fabric against my skin. I horde pieces of fabric and stone until I find just the just design for them. I have a material I have been keeping for years until I find just the right thing to do with it, One of my favorite gifts lately has been a gorgeous swath of silk that sister-in-law and mother found for me when she visited her homeland last year. I can't quite decide what to create with it, so it sits waiting for me...
ERF: What is your creative process? How do you go about starting an idea, fleshing it out into a finished project? How much modern technology is utilized in your creative process?
Amber OBoyle Kulp: I am both very visual and very kinetic. What usually starts my creative process is the material itself or an image that catches my eye. I work very well with images and customer sketches. It is nothing unusual for me to be walking somewhere and suddenly see something, usually a raw material and say this would make a really cool skirt, trim, lamp, wing etc. I really do have oooh sparkly syndrome. By the time I get home the whole thing is planned out in my head, now if only I had time to make all the stuff floating about in my head.........I flesh things out as I go along, figuring out what needs support, reinforcement or times I see it in process. That's why I hate constructing outside of my workroom, I can never quite tell what I might want ahead of time and it is so frustrating to know exactly where what I want is and KNOW it is lying in the third bin to the left 4 hours away!
ERF: What are some things you're able to create in the 21st Century that you couldn't a century or two ago, thanks to that modern technology, whether or not it fabric, computers, 3D printing... anything. What modern technology could you not live without?
Amber OBoyle Kulp: I don't use much modern technology like computers or cad in designing or building, I'm very hands on. But without modern materials, adhesives, fusing, and paints I wouldn't even be able to stabilize the antique materials and laces I do use! Oddly enough, I just had this discussion with my teenage daughter the other day about how much advances in fiber and material technology have changed our daily lives. Things that take me an hour with a sewing machine would have taken days, fibers that no longer need to be ironed and starched to lay properly, the reflective sheen that all of the modern sateens and polyesters have, faux suede, glues, leather treatments etc etc. the list goes on and on and on, just the fibers and materials that our children think always existed, like polar fleece and faux fur are incredible. Remember in the eighties when spandex suddenly became inexpensive to manufacture? we were all fascinated by it! It was the first polyester alternative for stretchy clothing. We were so fascinated we didn't realize how ridiculous we all looked, hahaha.
What's in store for Steampunk, and will it ever go mainstream, or should it? Do you like its exclusivity? And of course, what's in store for your future in Steampunk? Are you going to branch out in other directions?
ERF: Before I let you go to finish your next project, do you have any final thoughts?
Amber OBoyle Kulp: I have to say I am ridiculously pleased to be chosen as Women as the Month. It is an honor to be added to the short list women this page gas honored. I don't know what is in my future or your but I sure it will be quite an adventure!