Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Needlework Tuesday - Permission to Practice

Years ago, I read a book called The Practice Effect by author David Brin.  I was fascinated by the concept of items starting out as low quality, and that only with constant use they became better.  Clothing started as rags and the more they were worn, the better quality they became.  Staff were hired to wear a wealthy man's clothing and use his goods to improve their value.  If you stopped using and item, it would slowly revert to it's previous, coarse state.

Science fiction right.  Maybe not quite.  Consider the skills that you have.  You obtained them through constant use and practice, if you don't use them, they become rusty and not as fluent.  The often cited example of never forgetting how to ride a bicycle does acknowledge that you might wobble a bit at first when you try riding again after many years of abstaining.

Needlework skills are much the same.  If you want them to improve, then you have to use them, repeatedly.  Not only using them, but practicing as well.  Yes, we need to practice.

You would never expect sporting professionals to not practice and only ever play in games.  They practice far more hours than they ever do spend hours in competition.  Most of the time, I never practice my needlework.  I am assuming that like most of you, my stitching time must produce an item.  Practicing is wasted time.  That is just not so. 

Athletes do warm up exercises, so should we.  I know hand quilters who keep a simple project, such as a pre-printed panel, to stitch on for a few minutes prior to working on a main project in order to limber up their fingers.  For knitters, a simple garter stitch scarf would serve the same purpose. Stiff fingers are awkward and result in uneven tensions.

Yesterday, I received and newsletter from quilter Leah Day and she talked about practicing.  I have included that video below.

I practice. I knit tension squares.  I stitch test blocks for quilts.  I often grumble when I do this, but I don't really begrudge the time spent as it has saved me from huge errors in the long run and has resulted in a better outcome. 
I have included several photos of my practice pieces for machine quilting.  It is two layers of fabric with batting in between and I use contrasting thread to practice new motifs again and again, until I am satisfied.  When it gets too hard to see the stitching, I add another layer of fabric on top and keep stitching.  With the different colours it doesn't matter is they overlap.
(you could also put a piece of batting inside and old pillow case and practice with that)
Only when I am satisfied, do I move to my actual quilt top.  I have no intentions of ever using these practice pieces for anything, they are just for practice.  If I didn't overlap the stitching, I could trim them to an appropriate size, add binding and use as place mats.
It doesn't matter that they might never be used for anything, what does matter is that I am practicing my skill and learning and improving my technique.  This makes me happy and I end up with a better quality finish for my project, which was my goal in the first place.  So give your self permission to practice your stitching and never consider it wasted time.
I want to improve my sock knitting skills.  Kate at the blog Arts and Socks pointed out a new free class at Craftsy  called Knit Along 2016 Socks. It's not for the beginner, though if you've knit one pair of socks you'd probably be able ready to attempt the lessons.  I've signed up, watched the first lesson and have my wool for the first pair.  I am looking forward to learning more about sock knitting so I can avoid the problems I've previously encountered.  Thanks Kate.
These socks will require more attention than television watching will permit, so I needed another project.  Several years ago, I bought the pattern Fast Forward by Canadian  designer Natalie Servant and  then it sat.  I finally purchased the wool last year and yet it sat.  Nothing like the present for getting started.

Here's where the practice comes in.  Following the pattern, I used 4mm needles and started. I had about eight inches knit and realised the tension was way too tight.  Ripped it out and started again using 4.5mm needles.  Still a bit too tight, rip again.  Now I am using 5mm needles and it's almost perfect.  Sure, it's a drag ripping back that much, but I knew that I'd not be satisfied if I didn't and it would have been a much stiffer scarf in the end.  Now it will be soft and almost cuddly.  I am using Cascade 220 Heather wool in colour 2425.   I purchased enough for a co-ordinating hat as well.

At the end of the day, and at the end of the project, I am glad that I spent the time in practicing which ever skill I utilised.  I end up with a better project and that makes me happy.  If I'm not happy doing my crafts/arts/needlework, then I am doing something very wrong.  For this week, I wish you all happy practice.

Needlework Tuesday is a regular weekly post where I share the progress of my various needlework projects over the past week. I enjoy the encouragement that I receive from my readers and in return visit their blogs and cheer them on with theirs. You are welcome to grab the cute little mouse and create your own Needlework Tuesday post. Leave a comment with a link and I'll be sure to visit with you.

Mister Linky is waiting below for a link to your current needlework post, regardless of whether it is practice or not.

Cover image used courtesy of Penguin RandomHouse Canada.



Marie said...

Great post, Heather. I hardly ever think of practicing, but you make some really good points. Sometimes I hesitate to start a new project because I'm not sure my skills are where they should be. Practicing would certainly help in that situation. I'll have to keep it in mind.

I created a post yesterday, but forgot to link up. It's done now.

Have a great week.

Kate said...

I will be interested to hear your opinion of the first sock. While I learned a lot from the videos, I don't like the fabric of the sock.