Thursday, November 29, 2012

Learning Curves

Looking back over the decades of my adult life, I realize that I've not attempted a number of things which intrigue me.
At times lack of finances and lack of time to spare have been valid constraints.
More often it has likely been that I can't bear to do things badly--or if not badly, perhaps in a
mediocre fashion.
Better not to attempt, my reasoning goes, what I will surely mess up, lose interest in, leave uncompleted.
Bluntly stated, this is about wanting to do a particular thing well--without putting in the tedious hours of practice that is necessary for the honing of skills.
I admire fine needlework, both vintage pieces of museum quality and the efforts of modern crafters.
For a number of years I have told myself that I would learn to do hand quilting.
I have a fair degree of competence in piecing quilts; I value accuracy in cutting and stitching and am persnickety enough to pick out and redo a seam which doesn't meet my standards.
For many years I made clothing for myself, for my extended family, and even for those who were willing to pay for my labor.
I can neatly accomplish the hand work necessary to finish a well-made garment.
Therefore--I encouraged myself--I should be able to carefully layer batting, backing and a neatly pieced small quilt, baste the 'sandwich' together, place it in a hoop and start placing beautifully even small stitches.

I enjoyed piecing this wallhanging last spring as a gift--it was a delight to carefully cut the owls from the batik, create the star points from snippets of other batik fabrics.
I pinned and basted the layers--and then--I procrastinated for several months about
taking that first stitch.
On the evening that I finally picked it up, determined to make a start, I experimented with several needles of varying lengths. I tried on all three of my thimbles--they all turned my middle finger into a stiff, awkward , useless thing.
I set stiches one at a time; I prodded my needle through the fabric picking up several stitches at a time, pulled them out. The stitches meandered along like the tiny footprints of an inebriated mouse.
Still, I took the project along when we vacationed in early September with J.'s sister and brother-in-law.
Lazy mornings on the screened porch, long cozy evenings curled in a squishy chair found me stitching on--pulling out my worst errors, finishing the piece.

I wasn't exactly proud of the finished quilt, although I could admit it had charm.
Some frantic emails to other quilters, a phone call to J.'s niece, [an accomplished quilter] viewing a variety of 'tutorials' had not made me good at what I wanted to do.

When Susan came with her family last week for Thanksgiving, she brought, as promised, a vintage oval quilting hoop on a stand.
The hoop adjusts to various angles. I had ready a small quilt made from blocks remaining from the huge quilt adorning our bed. This I felt would be a good 'practice piece' and it isn't
going anywhere to be critiqued.
Susan, by way of demonstartion, popped a thimble onto her middle finger and with the needle propelled by the thimble quickly took a line of tiny perfect stitches.
She assured me that with practice I could get the hang of this, meanwhile learning to be content with stitching that was neat, small and consistent if not the classical epitome of 10 or 12 to the inch.
I am persevering--not with the goal of perfection but with the hope that I can eventually accomplish something that will satisfy my standard of competance.
I have a smaller project loaded onto my round hoop and sometimes, for a few moments I almost fancy I'm 'getting it,' achieving a sort of rythym that moves the needle at a reasonable pace. I'm disciplining myself NOT to pick out stiches unless they are truly straggling!
And the other challenge?
Over the years in places I've lived there have been sing-alongs of Handels' Messiah
 at Christmas or Easter.
It always sounded like an enjoyable challenge.
When we attended the patriotic concert given by the local college choir early in November, the director announced that any who wished to participate in a performance of the familiar choruses from Messiah, could leave their name and address on a sign-up sheet in the vestibule.
Cheered on by my friend Gracie, who was at the concert with us, and with a "Why not?" sort of affirmation from J. I rashly signed my name.
Time went by and I supposed the whole project had fallen through.
On Saturday I received in the mail, the above score and a CD for practice purposes.
I'm familiar with most of the pieces in The Messiah; 20 years ago I was part of a choir who performed 'Worthy Is The Lamb' at the funeral of a family friend.
I grew up singing in church and school choirs.
I can read and sing the contralto part.
All this, I'm finding, is a far cry from being note-perfect with only a week between receiving the music and the performance on December 3rd.
There will be no rehersal.  Participants are to arrive a few minutes early, find the appropriate section of the choir and [hopefully] follow the director--or keep quiet when 'lost.'
I've pounded this out on the piano a few times, struggling with the accompaniment which is beyond my skill while trying to follow the alto line.
The CD is interesting.  First there is a recording of the five pieces performed [I assume] by the college choir. This is followed by each piece recorded with choir in the background and the alto part flawlessly sung by one beautiful voice full in the mic.
There isn't time for me to practice this as I should.
My preference would be to have both notes and words so nearly memorized that I scarcely need glance at the score and could instead keep my eyes on the conductor, be in the grip of the music.
I will have to settle for quietly blending, reading the score note by note.
There is one section I know I won't have down--many measures where one is chanting one syllable through tight runs of eigth notes. Nothing short of pure memorization and repeated drill would
 conquer that page.
Learning to accept my own mediocrity is humbling.  It is frustrating.
I still want to do well all things that I undertake.
The patience that practice demands continues to elude me.
Perhaps I can yet find joy in the doing of that which I can't perfect.


  1. I would consider both endeavors beyond me, so I applaud your grabbing the opportunity. Good luck.

  2. I think your work is so neat, it puts mine to shame, my only excuse is that homemade things should show a little error here and there, precision lies with the machines. Love the quilt hoop, think I will try something smaller next time.

  3. I love to hand-quilt - whilst I am not brilliant, I am reasonably tidy and when things are "for my eyes only" it is not the end of the world if I get the odd wonky stitch. In a box of needlestuffs bought at auction, I found a well worn Victorian silver thimble, which had been that of a quilter I believe, looking at the wear pattern. I think she looks after my sewing at times, probably tut-tutting in her corner of paradise!

    As for singing Handel's Messiah, you're on your own there. My voice has gone awol with my chest so poorly in recent years, so it needs some practice in private to get it even singing along with the radio!

    I know what you mean about things we always plan to do (gosh, I have SO many of them unachieved) but I think that perhaps the fact that I haven't tried them means that I just had "eyes bigger than my belly" when it came to crafting . . .

  4. P.S. You "done good" on your lovely wallhanging, so no need to worry about it not being "good" enough. It's lovely.