fbpx Clockwork Alchemy Returns to SF: “Carousel of Clockwork” is this year’s theme for the steampunk convention in California | The Steampunk Explorer

Clockwork Alchemy Returns to SF

“Carousel of Clockwork” is this year’s theme for the steampunk convention in California

Monday, February 11, 2019
Clockwork Alchemy entrance

Singer-songwriter Aurelio Voltaire, steampunk maker David Lee, and authors Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris are the headline guests slated for Clockwork Alchemy, which returns March 22-24 to the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport hotel in Burlingame, California. This year’s theme is “Carousel of Clockwork,” which will be reflected in a “Dreamer’s Circus” fashion show and a small carnival midway with games of skill.

“Carousels became popular during the Victorian era,” says convention co-chair Sandra Forrer. “It does evoke the feeling of a circus or fair or carnival, but we wanted it a little more open than just saying ‘Circus.’”

Lee, one of the best-known makers in the steampunk world, is the Maker Guest of Honor. Author Guests of Honor Ballantine and Morris are a wife-and-husband team who wrote the award-winning Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series.

This year’s Fashion Guest of Honor is Karin McKechnie, a costume designer who specializes in 19th century outfits. Her clients include film producers, burlesque performers and “rodeo queens.”

Program Highlights

Activities include panels, workshops, a maker showcase, a curated vendor bazaar, a gaming room, an Alchemist Tea Parlor, and a War Room where you can learn techniques for battling miscreants such as zombies and airship pirates.

Aurelio Voltaire

Voltaire, a frequent performer at geek culture events, will headline Friday night’s Aural Alchemy concert. He describes his music as “a collection of murder ballads, tongue-in-cheek exercises in the macabre, with just enough bawdy songs about Star Trek and Star Wars to keep a convention audience rolling in the aisles.” His “Lair of Voltaire” YouTube channel has more than 120,000 subscribers.

He’ll also be participating in a Q&A session and presenting a panel on one of his favorite topics, Gothic Homemaking. “Picture a young Vincent Price and the Crypt Keeper taking over for Martha Stewart and you’ve pretty much envisioned Gothic Homemaking,” states the description on his YouTube channel.

Lee Presson and the Nails will headline the Emperor Norton’s Ball on Saturday night. Other musical guests include Strangely Doesburg, Unwoman, Dogwood, Bellow Wing, Aaron Shay, Sarah Shay, and Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands.

Aside from Ballantine and Morris, the author guests will include Harry Turtledove, Madeleine Holly-Rosing, Lillian Csernica, Anthony Francis, Valerie Frankel, Laurel Anne Hill, Eddie Louise, Michelle Lowe, T.E. MacArthur, Chip Michael, A.J. Sikes, B.J. Sikes, Dover Whitecliff, and Drake & McTrowell.

The Suitcase Challenge

Lee will present a series of panels and preside over a local edition of “The Great World Suitcase Challenge.” Participants build or modify a suitcase that they use to package a steampunk project they’ve created, such as a jet pack, bar, or Gatling gun (presumably non-working). Winners receive a handcrafted medal.

You can learn more about Lee’s work on the Hatton Cross Steampunk (HCS) Facebook page.

Aela Badiana, another HCS member, will also be there and will likely have her own presentations, Forrer says. She’s known for her bellydancing workshops at steampunk conventions.

Professor Phineas J. Flockmocker

One perennial highlight of the convention is the Artists’ Gallery, featuring original steampunk-themed paintings, costumes and maker projects. Past galleries have included works by Dr. Nathaniel Blackheart, Prof. Phineas J. Flockmocker, Prof. Tittiger, Paul X. Stewart, David Graybill, Vadim Voitekhovitch, Cindy Joy, Kij Greenwood, and others. Blackheart is the curator.

Prof. Flockmocker made his Clockwork Alchemy debut at the 2018 convention and will be returning this year, Forrer says. He’s best known for his appearances at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair in Daly City.

Other highlights this year include:

• Battle Croquet. This is a new War Room activity based on a version of croquet that debuted at the 2015 Surrey Steampunk Convivial in the UK. It was re-imagined as a team sport (two teams of three players each) requiring at least four referees plus one “bomb warden.” It’s played with eight balls, 16 hoops and four pegs.

Clockwork Alchemy will use an American version of the rules as taught by Battle Mistress Brigit Z.

• Hamiltunes. This is a group-led sing-along featuring songs from the Broadway musical Hamilton. Participants can follow lyrics on a big screen and sing along with pre-recorded orchestral tracks. It’s officially sanctioned by the musical’s producers.

• Fashion show. Themed “A Dreamer’s Circus,” the fashion show will feature original and restyled designs, many modeled by the designers themselves. The rules stated that all entries had to be designed and fabricated by the entrant, or made from thrift store or vintage pieces and restyled by at least 30 percent. Exceptions were made for accessories such as goggles or hats.

The entry deadline was Nov. 12, 2018. The photo gallery below includes some entries from last year’s fashion show, which had a travel theme.

• Gamemaster-led RPG. New to the Game Room will be an opportunity to participate in a home-brewed steampunk-themed roleplaying game with pre-made characters. Each session will run for three to four hours. Signup sheets will be available throughout the weekend.

Clockwork Alchemy is mostly family-friendly, the main exception being “Midnight Fables with Grandma Dogwood,” an adults-only event featuring ribald tales, songs and comedy. It will be held on Saturday night after the Emperor Norton’s Ball.

A schedule listing the full lineup of panels and workshops should be posted on the website shortly before the event.


Weekend passes to Clockwork Alchemy cost $99. The organizers stress that there are no separately ticketed events — the pass provides access to all activities, including Friday night’s Aural Alchemy concert, Saturday night’s Emperor Norton Ball, and the Alchemist Tea Parlor, which is open all weekend. Admission is free for kids ages 12 and under if they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Day passes cost $65 for Friday, $70 for Saturday, and $50 for Sunday. Forrer notes that Friday will feature a full day of programming.

This marks the second year in which Clockwork Alchemy will operate as an independent convention. Prior to 2018, it was held over Memorial Day weekend in conjunction with Fanime, a large anime convention in San Jose. It is run entirely by volunteers. Alyssa Rosenbloom is the other co-chair.

The hotel is located at 1333 Bayshore Hwy, Burlingame, CA 94010.

You can get a sense of what to expect from the photo gallery below, which features scenes from 2016, 2017, and 2018.

See the convention website for more info. See also our previous coverage: “Steampunk Fun in Burlingame” and “The Clockwork Runway” (2018); “Fancy Gadgets and Proper Villains” and “Creativity in Costume” (2017); and “Steampunks in San Jose” (2016).

Keep up with news in the world of steampunk. Sign up for our free weekly Steampunk Digest, delivered to your inbox.

The Steampunk Explorer is on Patreon. A monthly pledge of $1 or more supports our work and provides access to premium content. Get the details here.

Stories by Category: