Last week’s poll was about inventions:
I found the answers intriguing. On the one hand, this is a sewing-focused blog, so it’s not surprising that the largest amount of you voted for the Sewing Machine as the item you would ‘invent’ if sent back in time to before it existed. On the other hand, at least to my mind, with the possible exception of the stocking frame, the sewing machine would be the most difficult of these to recreate and invent.
I’d have no problem making a paper clip, barbed wire or a spiral hairpin with some pretty basic materials, the postage stamp is a easy idea to recreate, the sandwich is a slam-dunk, I know how a printing press works well enough that I could explain it to a medieval craftsman, and variolation is a scarily easy concept.
But the sewing machine?
I may work with it every day, I can take one apart to some degree and put it back together and make it work, but I still couldn’t really explain to an engineer what would be needed to recreate a working one.
There is an interesting discussion of how useful a modern person would be in a historical situation. Of course, the answer depends hugely on the person, and the period.
I think I’d be reasonably useful all the way back to prehistory: growing up on a farm gave me a decent background in a lot of really practical, hands-on skills, from plumbing (I can start a basic gravity intake and transport the water for miles), to carpentry, to medicine of the scientifically-proven herbal variety, to cooking in cast iron over fires, to (of course) agriculture. My trump card would be sewing: hand-sewing goes back millennia and as far as we can tell has been valued for all that time.
But I couldn’t tell an inventor in 1790 how to make a working sewing machine.
So, if you voted for sewing machine, could you actually work with an engineer/mechanic and make one? And what about the other stuff? Do you understand variolation? Could you make barbed wire quickly and easily without tearing yourself to shreds? Or would your skill just be awesome sandwiches?