I’ve made dozens of quilts in the last 25 years, so when I decided to make a baby quilt last spring, I figured it would be a cinch. Silly me. I forgot that being out of practice would mean a lower skill level than I remembered having.

Trip Around the World quilt under construction.

This baby quilt was the perfect project for getting back to quilting. It was small enough to finish quickly, and I was familiar with the pattern. Despite the simple machine quilting design, it proved challenging. I discovered that, despite years of experience, quilting was harder than I remembered.

Of course, the difficulty was easy to explain. Quilting is like exercise. If you stop going to the gym for more than a few weeks, you have to be realistic when you return. You are not going to be lifting the same amount you did during your last workout. Everything is going to be harder to do. The same holds true for things like sewing. I can always look up how to thread my machine if I have somehow forgotten the steps. But my free-motion quilting is not going to be as smooth or precise as it was if it’s been more than a few weeks since I last quilted.

Sandwiched and ready for quilting.

This is why people suggest doing things daily. Draw daily, write daily, run daily, sew daily. It’s about building stamina and momentum, but it’s also about keeping in shape. With regular practice, difficult things become easier to do. But the benefits of that practice only last so long. You can’t practice once and be done.

At the same time, regular practice isn’t guaranteed to keep us improving. Sometimes it just helps us to keep from sliding backwards. The yoga classes I take twice a week help me to maintain the flexibility I currently have. I’d like to be more flexible and more yoga might help me to do that, but I’m happy if I can just keep from losing ground. There’s no question my body is getting stiffer as I age.

Baby quilt for Grace, made by Kit Dunsmore.

My big lesson from making this baby quilt was this: if I am not going to be quilting more frequently, then I need to allow myself time to warm-up and practice when I finally do decide to work on a project. Otherwise I’ll just be frustrated with the results, remembering what I could do in the past and not being able to meet my own expectations.

What practices do you have to help you maintain your skills? Have you come back to a beloved activity only to find you can’t do it as well as you remembered?

2 thoughts on “Without Regular Practice, Skills Fade”

  1. I love your quilt. I totally agree about little and often being better than investing huge effort for short bursts. I definitely found drawing initially quite hard after not picking up a pencil for a while. And I wasn’t as good as I thought which is demotivating. It took time to rebuild those synapses from eye-brain-hand.

    1. I also notice this with drawing and writing. While we may still have a basic ability after a break, the finer skills definitely erode away unless we keep at it. I guess it’s a use it or lose it situation.

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