mental health, quilting

From Beginner to Expert

My first block for #100Days100Blocks2018 was a legit stunner. I am still surprised that I did that. And many of you asked how. I am not an expert quilter, yet. My real area of expertise is in mental health.  So I thought I would share my thought approach to quilting, specifically developing a growth mindset.

Dr. Carol Dweck of mindsetworks.com coined the terms “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset.” She defines a growth mindset as, “The understanding that abilities and intelligence can be developed.” A fixed mindset views abilities and intelligence as permanent.

A growth mindset looks at the various skills involved in quilting (selecting fabric, piecing, basting, quilting, hand sewing) and asks, “How I can get better?” A fixed mindset assumes how things are is how they will be. A growth mindset believes people developed skills by learning. A fixed mindset assumes a person came by their skills naturally, without much effort.

One of the mistakes we make when comparing our work to another person’s work is assuming that person achieved that work with ease. My first block  for 100Days had to be re-cut right away because I forgot to to allow for the double seam allowance needed for fussy cutting. Then I had to rip and re-sew many times to get the center to line up. When all was said and done, I probably invested two hours into making that block. I struggled to execute my vision. None of that struggle is obvious from the photo.

In her book Grit, Angela Duckworth talking about improving a skill through deliberate practice. First, identify a stretch goal, something outside your current comfort zone. Work relentlessly towards that goal until you achieve it and get feedback on the process from others who are better than you.

My stretch goals for 100Days this year are:

  1. Improve fabric selection, especially mixing color and patterns
  2. Improve my fussy cutting skills
  3. Increase the precision of my piecing.

I also have a way to measure each of these:

  1. overall visual impact of the block, feedback it generates online, how many patterns, colors, fabric types did I use and did that work?
  2. how well the seams line up, is the selected image properly centered in the block
  3. Are my seams straight, is the finished block the correct size, do seams match where they are meant to?

To prove that I wasn’t always this good a picking fabric, behold two of my disaster blocks from last year:

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I hated how block nine came out so much that I re-did it with a solid pink in the middle. Block 43 I also hated, but I left it to remind myself I’m learning. You can see that even my block photography needed work.

Here is the lesson I was learning about fabric selection last year: there is a difference between blender patterns and focal patterns. Your eye needs space to rest on a block and blenders give your eye rest. My fabric pull last year was almost exclusively focal fabrics and solids. None of the patterns worked well as blenders. This is the reason I had such a hard time mixing patterns…they didn’t mix!

For this year, I’m using Tula Pink fabric, and I have blender fabrics. I’m noticing that I’m using those fabrics the most because they bring the block together. For example, I’m using the tortoise shell fabric Tula Pink’s Slow and Steady collection a lot.

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Notice how every fabric choice has a pattern but the block doesn’t look too busy.

One of the things I enjoy about declaring this quilt about improving skills and learning is that it gives me freedom to play. Here’s an example of something I tried that did NOT work.

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There is something wrong with these colors, and I can’t explain what it is…I’m still learning about color…I can say that I look at this block and think, “Gross!” So it didn’t make it into the quilt. Oh well and on to try again.

I also want to clarify between honing skills and falling into perfectionism. For example, I recently ripped and re-sewed a block because my seams did not nest exactly. They weren’t that far off:

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I didn’t rip and resew because I needed to be perfect. I ripped and resewed because I’m experimenting with pinning vs no pinning and different methods of pinning. I wasn’t satisfied with one method, and I wanted to try again. My third goal is to increase the precision of my piecing which I cannot do I do not try and improve my technique. I’m asking myself, “Can I do better?”

I also have a three rip rule. If I can’t get it right after three rips and resews, time to leave it as is or make a big change.

Here’s an example of choosing done over perfect: In this block I chose matching fussy cutting/pattern over nesting seams.

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What is the skill you are trying to improve? Once you figure it out,  decide how you’re going to measure it and follow makers who do a better job than you do. Ask people for feedback.

Try, Fail, and Try Again. This is how experts are made. It’s hours alone in your sewing space. Over and over until you figure out what works for you. Then you get to show the masterpiece on Instagram, creating the illusion that you create with ease.

Let’s get practicing!

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