Practice Makes?

hexipuff mosaic stitch needlepoint, designed and stitched by needlepoint expert janet m. perry

The writer Malcolm Gladwell, I think in his book Outliers, repeats the truism that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something.

10,00 hours, that’s an awful lot of time.

If you stitched 2 hours a day that would be 5,000 days or over 13.5 years.

I’d think he was nuts except that I didn’t really become proficient at needlepoint until, you guessed it, I had been stitching for over 12 years.

Even so, there is always more to learn and always ways to improve. In a recent post, Mr. Xstitch mused about striving for perfection in stitching. He’s right, we should try to improve. Gladwell is right too, we should practice.

It’s the practical application of these things that is hard. Sometimes it seems as if practice is dull, sometimes it seems as if there is too much to learn, sometimes it seems as if we know it all. But we CAN always do better.

My strategy for doing this is simple. I have a basic strategy at work in all the stitching I do. I never have just one project going and having more than one allows me to work at different things. Here’s what I do.

On every canvas have one or two things that are new or unfamiliar to you. Not too many, but a couple of new stitches, a new thread in a familiar stitch or a new technique. Then you can concentrate of learning those things and not find yourself wondering if it was the thread, the stitch or the technique that made things such a mess.

Have a project that is designed to focus on practice of the basics. Let’s say your Basketweave needs improving. Pick a canvas and thread you really, REALLY love. Do it in Basketweave in your favorite thread. Yes, it’s practice but it isn’t pointless practice. The end result is something you will love.

Finally have a canvas that is in an area you want to explore in more depth. Perhaps it’s a color you don’t like much. Perhaps it’s a technique you have failed at. This canvas should be small. It should be something where you give yourself permission from the beginning to fail or abandon. I didn’t do this for years but would struggle on to finish a project where I sucked. Now I don’t. If I know I’m tackling something new, I say at the beginning that I can stop when I have done enough. If it turns out well, wonderful, if I mess up I know I should try again later.

That’s three pieces. The practice piece will go slowly, but that’s OK, it’s practice. The one I’m doing currently (pictured here) I’ve been working on for over three months. I ought to finish it next month sometime. I just finished an exploration project and will begin the new one this afternoon. These are just bits of stitching so they are going fast. The new thing project also starts today.

My final bit of advice is to stitch a bit every day. Pick the piece you feel like stitching and do that. Turn your practce into a delight, even if it’s only for 30 minutes.


  1. Robin in Houston says

    Perfect post for today. My 15 yr old grandson was assigned The Outliers as summer reading. His reaction to your post was “That’s cool” which is high praise indeed. And it was followed with questions about how long have I been stitching and do I work at doing it better. Made my day!

  2. says

    The practice thing occurs in everything. I remember reading a book by a baseball scout and he said the way to get good at baseball was to throw a ball against a painted square on a garage door or wall and catch it for 15 minutes everyday.

    Keep Stitching,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>