Friday, October 21, 2016

Driving a Stick Shift and Other Mechanical Machines

Okay, so in this post I'm going to go somewhat off topic but it will relate it to sewing machines. You'll see...

First I want to preface this by saying that I am a modern gal. I'm not stuck in the 20th century, or out of touch with technology.  I have all the Apple devices - iPhone, iPad, Mac Book - and one of my favorite games to play with my family is Rock Band on Wii.  (No, I don't knit by the light of a kerosene lamp while listening to Pa play the fiddle or anything like that.)

Yet there are a few things from the past that I still prefer to their modern counterparts.  For example, this is in my sewing room:

Yes, I love listening to vinyl records on my vintage 1970s stereo receiver. (I'm in a glam rock phase right now, and I'm getting down with the Sweet and Mott the Hoople.)

And I am a confirmed devotee of the manual transmission.  This is the stick-shift in my Honda Civic Si:

I don't understand why people don't like to drive these anymore - less than 10% of new American cars are stick-shifts.  To me, it is the only way to drive, and I'm never really comfortable in an automatic (I am one of those people who stomps the floor where the clutch should be, while grasping for a stick-shift that isn't there.)   

When driving a stick-shift, I feel like I have better control and performance.  For example, if I need a burst of speed to get around someone, I can drop it down to a lower gear and GO - ditto if I'm going up a hill and need extra torque.  I don't have to wait for the automatic transmission to figure out what I need, I already know.  I already know when I'm slowing to turn a corner at exactly what speed I will resume and I can shift accordingly.  An automatic doesn't know that, it has to figure it out as you go.  Basically it all comes down to the difference between shifting pro-actively, with a manual transmission, or re-actively with an automatic. 

So what does all this have to do with sewing machines?  The connection should be pretty clear when you're looking at a mechanical machine like this:

This is a machine that you control manually, just like my car.  It has actual knobs and levers that move actual working parts inside.  I can adjust my stitch length while I'm sewing to fine tune it - just move that lever up or down like a stick shift!  It even has a clutch (the stop-motion wheel) to disengage the motor, like my car.

Most of all, it is a tactile experience.  I feel in control of the machine, and it responds to my manipulations.  I can actually feel what I'm doing, there is nothing lost between me and an electronic pad that tells the machine what to do.  As for the stereo, that is also tactile device, even if it is an electronic.  I like the feel of the vinyl records and even the way they smell.  I like the texture of the sound you get from needle on grooves.  I like holding the record in my hands and putting it on the turntable. I like tweaking the faders on my tuner.

We used to get up and walk over to the TV and turn a knob to change the channels.  (While we were there, we adjusted the antennae and the vertical hold - remember?)
(This is one I found on eBay)

We rolled down the windows in our car by hand, too.
(from Pinterest)

We touched, turned, and pushed things directly and they responded.  If they broke, they could be fixed with common tools.  I miss that!  

In today's world we seem somewhat removed from our actions. We push a button on a backlit electronic pad to operate our appliances, change the channel, or roll down the window. These innovations make life more convenient, but I submit that they also rob of us of the satisfaction of doing simple things for ourselves.

Even so, there are some mechanical devices I would not want to use today.  I don't want to go back to manual typewriters, for example.  If you have ever typed on one, you know it is hard work and the results are not that great. While it might be amusing to type on a manual typewriter for nostalgia's sake, I wouldn't want to actually use one again. (Remember messy carbon paper, correction fluid, and typewriter ribbons?  Keys jamming up? Returning the carriage every time it dinged? Backspacing to underline a word or to center your text? No thanks!)

I'd be interested to hear what other people do and don't miss about mechanical machines...


  1. I love all my vintage sewing machines, but I also would not like to go back to manual typewriters. I also use a percolator on the stove to make coffee and a manual can opener. They are so much easier to keep clean. Some of the older things are still the best.

    1. Deborah, I remember looking everywhere for a small stove-top percolator to take on a camping trip. I finally found one at an Antique Mall and I love it!

  2. I liked ELECTRIC typewriters (used both). I have a manual transmission in my Kia, but it's because my friend and I were smoking on the test drive and she burned the seat. I kind of liked it anyway so I bought it. I love vintage sewing machines, old houses, and old trucks. I prefer digital music because I can't scratch it or wreck a needle.

    1. Good point, Barbara. I wouldn't mind typing on an electric now and then (the famous IBM Selectric with the correction ribbon!) And I do like digital music, of course, but the vinyls are fun now and then for a change of pace.