Once upon a time I was a high school teacher. I taught science. I love teaching, and I loved the kids. What I didn’t necessarily enjoy was the parent/teacher conferences. If the teen was performing wonderfully well, those things were a breeze. However, if the kid was having some issues with the subject (and the issues weren’t behavioral), sometimes those meetings did not go so well. If a student was struggling to understand some concept (especially if that concept dealt with the mathematical side of chemistry and physics), I could just about bet my last full bobbin that the parents/guardians would push extra work, extra tutoring, extra time spent with the concepts so that the teen would begin to fully grasp what was taught.
In other words, “Let’s make this kid spend just about all his extra time on this subject and take away some of the time he spends on the subjects he’s good at or finds easy.” And that’s a natural inclination, especially when you’re dealing with getting that teen through this school year and onto the next one – or graduation, which produces even more stress.
That works, to some degree. I found that the additional work and study generally helped most students push through, come to an understanding, and do at least average enough to muddle through the rest of the school year. However, what I also discovered was that this process, while helpful gaining an understanding of the science class, was actually harmful to the student in the subjects he did well in. That student atrophied in at least one of the other classes he or she excelled in.
Atrophy means a gradual decline in effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect. So, if Johnny spends just about all his study time perfecting his knowledge of how to balance chemical equations, his literature skills – which he normally does really well with – may actually suffer to the point that his “A” in language arts meanders down to a “C” because he’s not using them much at all.
So, what does any of this have to do with quilters and quilting? Well, the same thing. Except we don’t carry the pressure of having to pass a test. But let’s look at it through the quilting experience.
We all have certain designers we love. We have certain blocks and techniques we love. We all have certain patterns we enjoy making. The issue is, we tend to gravitate towards those. And since there is basically no outside pressure keeping us in check, we almost automatically make those every time we begin a quilt. Allow me to throw in a personal experience as an example.
I mentioned a couple of blogs back that my guild’s first vice president threw out a challenge to us to make a mini-quilt every month – about 12-inches square – to display in our home somewhere to celebrate the season. February was red and hearts and all things Valentine’s. March’s quilt is to incorporate green, for St. Patrick’s Day. My February quilt was this:
It’s red and pink and all heart-y.
But the hearts are paper pieced. For those of you who have read my blog for a while, think back a ways. What quilts have I recently worked on or completed?
Farmer’s Wife – paper pieced
Halo Medallion – paper pieced
Dear Jane – paper pieced
Do you see a trend here? I love paper piecing and that little February quilt went together like a charm just don’t look too closely at the binding.
However, I wasn’t always good at paper piecing. As a matter of fact, I was pretty darn terrible at it and worked hard for several years to become not only comfortable with it, but good at it.
When time came to design my March mini-quilt, I automatically thought about an Irish chain done in purples and greens. I worked with EQ8 and came up with one and immediately thought “I don’t need no stinkin’ paper piecing pattern. This is squares. I can piece those.”
Before I began on my paper piecing self-improvement mission, I could piece just about anything thrown at me. But I found that piecing all those one-inch squares was challenging now when it used to be easy. And while I still had no trouble matching and meeting corners, the quilt, that was supposed to finish at 13 ¼- inches (mine’s a bit larger than the challenge but it fits on the display rack better at this size), it meandered out to almost 14-inches.
My piecing skills have atrophied. I need to work on this. Pronto.
So, I’ve said all that to say this: Continually change up what you’re working on and the way you approach your piecing and quilting. Keep your strengths exactly what they are – your strengths. Work on new techniques or the ones you want to be better at, but don’t neglect the areas your naturally talented in. Work on both. If we want anything to atrophy in our lives, it’s cellulite.
Love and Stitches,
Sherri and Sam