Now, that I've made my first outfit with the treadle, I think I can better answer the question that people have been wondering and asking me - that is, why go to the trouble of treadling an old-fashioned sewing machine, with all its scuffs and quirks, when you can power through with a smart and sophisticated, modern piece of technology? I have a nice, little Pfaff and a Janome overlocker so what could a nearly 80 year old Singer possibly offer?
Well, there's some things that a treadle can do better than its modern counterpart - stitch quality, controllability and gentle occupation, for example. There's also the appeal of the almost indestructible construction and the history associated with these machines. But, initially, for me, the underlying attraction was the desire to live more simply with less dependence on large institutions or the need for expensive and, sometimes, unreliable, power sources.
A few years ago, we experienced some severe flooding which left us without power, for a few days. Nothing was damaged and no-one was hurt but we were a little shocked by just how distressing we found the inconvenience of being without our everyday appliances - for even a short while. The knowledge that we were so dependent upon something over which we had such little control, made us feel vulnerable and, so, I began to reflect upon which aspects of our technological lifestyle were worthwhile and which were burdensome, in the sense that they were impacting upon our own inner resourcefulness and weakening the control we have over our existence.
There's no doubt that life is easier, now, than it was a hundred years ago, and not many of us would welcome the harsh realities of a world without washing machines, air conditioning, detergents or, for some, hair straighteners. But, I, sometimes, wonder whether there's too much in the way of physical ease, these days, and whether, with the huge technological explosion of recent years, this development has extended to mental ease and leisure, also.
It's quite obvious that much has been achieved in the name of progress, over past decades - it's been an era of high creativity, innovative ideas and intellectual prowess. However, these advances have largely stemmed from just a small section of our population. While the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates of our world have been busy changing our lives for the better, the majority of us have been happily taking advantage of more and more sophisticated 'user-friendly' applications and time-saving gadgets which, effectively, further reduce the need for any mental or physical exertion on our part. It seems that a few, super-smart individuals have conveniently created a world of technology that can be happily controlled by someone with the brains of an amoeba. On second thoughts, does an amoeba have the capacity to control anything? Or, does the technology, in actual fact, control it?
I suspect that time-saving technology was initially viewed as an opportunity to free us up for more worthwhile and productive pursuits. And, to a degree, I think it was successful in doing that. But, I wonder whether we've travelled too far along the road from hardship to actual lethargy. Instead of sparking more creativity and inventiveness, this free time seems to have led to expectations of instant gratification and valueless entertainment, feeding mindlessly off the ideas of others rather than working through all obstacles to find self-expression and fulfil God's purpose for our own lives.
This leads me to wonder if a lack of toil has led to an abundance of idleness which, though sometimes tempting, has proved unfulfilling, in the long run. We hear a lot about excess, nowadays. Whether it be extreme sports, consumerism, gambling or gaming. Is that a sign of too much leisure or, perhaps, boredom? Was there a more purposeful balance between work and play, in the past? The irony is that, though people had to physically work harder, in days gone by, life was lived at a slower pace. Were previous generations more adept at savouring the moment and appreciating their lot in life than we, who are spoilt with choice and consumerism, are able to achieve? And, despite the irrefutable harshness of life, did this balance result in a healthier way of living, both physically and spiritually? Just as apparent as the increased levels of obesity and heart disease, is our society's conscious rejection of Christ - I suspect that there's a connection here, somehow.
Much has been written about the so-called Dark Ages and the anomaly of imposing such a judgement upon an era which produced the first universities, improved living standards (despite the cruelty of war and disease), unprecedented opportunities for women and significant achievements in the arts and literature. I wonder, though, if future generations might have just reason to label our own times as 'dark', based, not only upon our Christ-lessness, but also upon the overall loss of creativity and resourcefulness amongst the masses. In only a few short generations, the majority of us have lost the ability to sew our own clothes, mend our appliances, create our own lighting, produce our own food - and the list goes on. We could counter such a criticism with the perfectly valid evidence of our technological achievements but, aside from the creative opportunities that this technology has afforded those willing to explore its potential, these advances have been largely consumed, rather than produced.
Of course, all this is pretty general and I am ever grateful for the advantages that we have inherited and been gifted with, in our times. Our family has enjoyed and benefitted from the use of technology in our homeschool and in some of our creative endeavours, and we have appreciated the ability to communicate and form relationships through our mobile devices and the Internet. But, more and more, I am finding myself consciously rejecting those particular aspects of modern living which appear to simplify and liberate, whilst actually removing our inner choices and imposing new, external burdens and expectations on our daily lives.
So, when asked 'why treadle?', when there's a perfectly good power socket actually touching sides with my sewing table, I think I might be inclined to say, 'Because I can and, while I can, I'll take advantage of my God-given creative capabilities to do so' - and, because I don't want to turn into an amoeba;-)