I've been thinking a lot about practicing lately.
Knitting has taught me that getting better necessitates doing it over and over and over again. So it only made sense that after making my first baby quilt, I needed another quilting project. I am not yet confident enough to branch out into new patterns so I decided to make the same pattern, London Crossroads, and scale it down into a table runner. Practice ensued.
First came cutting.
Believe it or not cutting, for me, has not been as easy at it seems. Using a quilting ruler and rotary cutter are skills that require a certain vigilance. I learned the hard way when I reversed my ruler away from the 1/2 inch side, and I cut a whole set of 2 inch strips, rather than 2 1/2 and 3 inch strips rather than 3 1/2. Back to the fabric store with the adage, "Measure twice, cut once" (in my father's voice) resounding in my mind.
I worked on even seam stitching. In my first quilting class, our instructor had us practice stitching 1/4 inch seams before we began piecing our quilts. At that time I didn't fully appreciate the necessity for exactness in seam width, but that became utterly clear when we began putting our blocks together and matching points.
Quilting is so exact and each piece of it contributes to the whole. Even pressing has rules which guide setting the seam and the way the seam is pressed. All of this requires concentrated thought, since for me the art of quilting is far from automatic.
I layered the backing, batting, and pieced top and then pinned the sandwich all together. And now I start quilting, trying to remember how to bring my thread to the top and very carefully "stitching in the ditch" to quilt this piece. I deliberately reread instructions and slowly proceed.
My life right now imitates the practice I attempt.
Yesterday, I held conversation with a young woman who followed up her did-I-work question with a what-do-you-do query. I paused, seeking words to define what "retired" means for my life. I told her that I was still learning how to be retired. It feels like spending more time with family, intensifying volunteer time at church and with Strawberry Fields. Reading more, exercising more, pausing more, and breathing more slowly and deeply. I stammered a bit, then changed the subject. I really don't know yet fully how to do this, because, you see, I am still practicing.