Quilting like bicycling?

There’s a saying that insinuates once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget.  Therefore, whenever you want to describe something simple, you say it is as easy as riding a bicycle.

There’s only one thing wrong with that saying for me.  I never could learn to ride a bike without training wheels.  Apparently, I have no sense of balance.  For a while, that made me feel stupid and left out.  I got over it as bike riding became less important.

Still, the old adage lingers in my mind.  Once you learn how to do something, you should be able to do it forever.

I don’t think that’s true.  For example, about 35 years ago, I took adult woodworking at the local high school – for five years.  I did it enough that I turned my woodworking into a part time business, building children’s toys and child size chairs.  I haven’t been near a band saw, planer or anything bigger than a hand sander in at least 30 years.  I will tell you straight out, I would have to learn all over again.

Sewing has been with me longer.  I first learned when I was 13.  I started quilting in 1979.  I have made at least 100 quilts over the years, since I was teaching and needed multiple samples.  I do almost everything on the machine and consider it an extension of my hands.

Then I started Quilt University in 2000.  I did enough sewing to make samples for the classes I taught, but gradually, I was spending 90% of my time sitting in front of the computer.  I knew I was losing my skills when I went to wind a bobbin on my Bernina and did it wrong.  I had forgotten the thread path for bobbin winding!

In the summer of 2010, I woke up one morning with a hole in my vision.  While performing a totally natural function, my eye had malfunctioned and now there was a small tear in my retina.

It took more than six months for the problem to advance to the stage of surgery and then to heal so that I could be fitted with new glasses.  Before that happened, I could tell that my vision was deteriorating again.  The surgery had involved inserting a gas bubble in my eye to hold the tear closed as it healed.  Unfortunately, the gas causes the speedy formation of cataracts.  Within 6 months of the first surgery, I had the cataract removed.

With all that finally behind me, I was ready to get back into the sewing room, but life had other plans.  It’s too late to make a long story short, but let’s just skip ahead another 8 months.  I have finished going through my mother’s house and have seen it through a successful sale.  There is more paperwork to do but I am ready to get back in the sewing room.

I set aside a whole weekend and went in there full of enthusiasm.  It took me a couple hours to reorganize the project I had walked away from nearly two years ago.  But I was persistent.

Finally, I sat down at the machine and started sewing.  I noticed that there seemed to be some puckering, at the beginning and ends of my chained pieces.  I lifted one up and gave it a tug from each end and heard the dreaded snap as the thread broke.  The tension was wrong.  I adjusted it.  Still wrong.

I moved to a different machine.  Same problem.  I changed all the settings.  I rethreaded the machines.  The puckering was gone, the stitches felt smooth to the touch but they still snapped if I pulled on the ends of the seam.  Finally, I changed both the thread and needle.  And then I apologized to the machines.

Seriously.  I explained that it wasn’t my fault I hadn’t been in there sewing.  I promised to do better.  Emotionally exhausted, I went in search of a cup of tea.  When I returned, both machines worked just fine.

I ran into more bumps as I had to adjust each machine for a perfect 1/4” and relearn the settings I needed for each one.  You think you will remember this stuff forever, but take my word for it, you should write it down!

two blocks - churn dash and cake stand

Churn Dash and Cake Stand

Now that it has been a couple weeks, we are all friends again.  There are 12 blocks on the wall, testament to 12 sets of directions that make this process easier for my students.    All the tricks I used to know are coming back to me and they will find their way into the class, too.  The more I do, the more I want to do!  It’s like a runner’s high without all the sweating!


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