Hone Those Skills!

Yeah, yeah, I know: this is one of those things I’m always coming back to, about how you need to practice your craft and work hard and all that. But it’s true: if you want to get really good at what you love, you have to work at it.

Granted, you might be naturally skilled. Maybe you’ve been drawing amazing landscapes since the day you first held a crayon in your chubby little fist, or maybe your parents’ friends were clamoring to pay real money for the animals you crafted out of Play-Doh, but the inescapable fact is that if you don’t work at it and hone your skills, you’ll never find out exactly what amazing things are in you waiting to be created. So there’s that: if you practice at what you can already do, you’ll get better. Duh. You knew that already, right? But there’s more! If you hone your basic skills—sketching portraits, shaping pots, needle-sculpting faces, painting wet-into-wet—the confidence you build will allow you to try other things that might have otherwise seemed intimidating.


And—you guessed it—I have an example from my own craft. I could give examples from my art, which is writing, but those would be boring (no pictures!), so we’ll do it this way, never mind that when I show stitching projects as examples, I can see (with my supersonic X-ray vision) people all over the country rolling their eyes. “Clothes. What does that have to do with art?” But never mind that.

As I maybe have mentioned once or twice before (you can insert your own snorting here), I love to work with fabric, but I don’t have the very best sort of relationship with sewing machines. There are things I’d love to do that are just daunting to me, like—yikes!—inserting gores.  You know, those triangle-shaped pieces of fabric inserted into skirts and dresses that make them fuller at the bottom? Those things. I like to sit cross-legged, and doing that in regular-fitting skirts is a problem, so I like really full skirts and would like to make some regular skirts into Really Full Skirts. I know how to do this, technically, but doing it with cotton jersey? Yikes X 10.


I recently thrifted this dress:

Freeman-Zachery gores 1

It was new-with-tags, Double-D Ranch brand, and it had possibilities. But yikes! What a lot of work it needed. I took off all the cheap metal stuff around the neckline and tossed the dress in an acid-green dye bath, and then I tackled The Real Experiment: adding gores by hand. It had some already, so it wasn’t as scary as it would have been if there hadn’t been a guide. Here’s how it turned out:

Freeman-Zachery gores 2

I’m totally pleased with this experiment and am now confident I can add gores to other, previously-problematic garments. Because I’ve been sewing cotton jersey by hand almost every single day for the last couple years, I’ve learned how the fabric acts and how to deal with its quirks. Because I’ve been sewing by hand and mending things for decades, I have confidence in my ability to work around problems with tucks or appliqués, mended bits or inserts or whatever.


Here’s the deal: as you work, you gain confidence in your ability to adapt and adjust. It’s not just that you get better at what you do (sketching, painting, sculpting), it’s also that your proficiency gives you the confidence that you can expand and experiment. If you know your tools and materials and have a good relationship with them (you know what to expect from them and trust that you can work together), taking risks doesn’t seem so risky. That dress up there? New with tags? Originally $200, and I took a pair of scissors and made that first cut right up the middle. Those miles of hand-sewn stitches had convinced me that, one way or another, I could make it work, and indeed, it worked just as I’d hoped. If it hadn’t, it might have become something else I liked even better, and that’s the coolest part: I can’t wait to find another garment and go a little further. Who knows where it will take me?


Go. Practice. Experiment! Take a risk~~

Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.

U0183_CM_NoExcusesArtJournaling.inddLearn how to make time to practice art making with No Excuses Art Journaling by Gina Rossi Armfield.






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