When I first got my longarm, I wish someone had told me a few things about how to get started. While I like making things up as I go, as a teacher (Latin and history!) I also like having a rubric to follow, a goal to meet, and metrics to use to figure out if I am meeting those goals.
As I got going those first few months, I had a baby and a pre-kindergarten kiddo, so my time for that was limited to naps for about an hour a day, and until recently, that was still the case. I heard a lot of advice that “PPP” or “Practice Practice Practice”, but I had a hard time because I felt so overwhelmed with everything I had to do to get better. What worked for me was to set up two things: to set up a kind of schedule for myself with practice goals, and to lay off the perfectionism, already!
The problem for most newbies as I see it–in *anything* that’s a brand new skill, from quilting to woodworking, to cooking–is that we are exposed to the nonstop perfection of the high end. They didn’t get there by starting out awesome (and if they did, they’re wunderkind and can safely be set aside into their own category, not part of mine), they got there by doing the work of practicing. And not practicing everything all at once, but practicing by breaking it down into small parts and doing that one thing until it becomes comfortable, and then continuing to work on it until it becomes second nature, and THEN working on it to the point where they can riff off it and improvise.
This sounds totally intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. For some things, it just doesn’t take that long to work through the process of getting it right, or even close-enough-to-make-no-never-mind. For me, I found that if I wanted everything done right all at once, I would set up this perfect storm of awful for myself and I’d give up in despair, and sometimes a week or so would go by as I thought with dread about using my machine.
Don’t let this happen to you! You can practice and be kind to yourself. Tension not perfect? That’s really ok, you can still work on the motions and it’s not a wasted time. Make your goal getting that machine moving, not having everything exactly right, right away. Getting better will happen, but if you set things up so that you only allow yourself to be perfect, you’re setting yourself up for failure before you even start. Take pictures of your work as you go, so you can see the improvement over time, when you need a boost.
I believe this to be true for everything, from rotary cutting, to piecing, to quilting on a domestic to quilting on a longarm. When I taught (and I taught every age from 5th grade to college), I found that the most effective means of determining competence was the mini-quiz: stop, take a minute to test yourself on what you’ve learned, evaluate it, see if you need a practice session or two, then go from there. I am more interested in gauging gradual improvement, and the mastery will come only after we have established competence all the way throughout the process. You can do it! I can do it! We all can do it!
Happy quilting, my friends! Be joyful in your practice.
p.s. the pursuit of excellence and having high standards? Totally different than perfectionism, which can be crippling and stifling to creativity. If you’re interested in the books I used to help get past the problem of perfectionism, let me know.