Thursday, February 23, 2012

10,000 Hours and Deliberate Practice

Ok, now, this topic is usually found on sports websites, and you may be wondering why I am mentioning it in a stitching blog.  Embroiderer Trish Burr recently wrote a blog post that ties into this idea.  It compared her early needlepainting to her more recent, advanced work.  It was timely for me too, because I had just unpacked and started work on this old UFO:

Cottage Garden - Inspirations 53

"Deliberate practice" was conceived by K. Anders Ericsson, and popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers.   You have probably already heard the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something.  The catch is that it needs to be deliberate practice, which doesn't mean blindly following a coach's advice, but which does mean identifying and correcting your individual weaknesses.  To me, that means stretching and trying new ideas, rather than always doing the things you are already good at.

In her blog post, Trish discusses her desire to constantly be improving her work, and her willingness to make mistakes.  I particularly identified with this quote:

"Every time I make a mistake I see it as an opportunity to learn and improve. Learning embroidery should be full of quiet contentment not frustration. Living in a world where we have instant gratification in everything from cell phones, to computers to online shopping this is one area where we can cultivate a sense of patience."

As for my UFO from 2008, while most of it still looks ok, some of it is not so great:

Those rosette stitch roses are far from ideal!  I remember that I could not be bothered to use a single strand of floss for them, and honestly, it feels like I was a completely different person then!  Compare the same stitch done again last week:

Even these continued to improve as I went along, and I have a great tip to share in a future post.

What I've learned from all this, is not to be afraid of mistakes.  A lot of my UFOs are UFOs because I was afraid of messing up.  Seeing mistakes as part of the learning process, and deliberately practicing and correcting those mistakes, actually feels very freeing to me, because I know now that my current limitations are only temporary.


  1. I have a number of UFOs that I have been systematically taking out and looking over with a definite eye to getting them done or passing them on. Several I stopped working on because of some mistake or other that I saw, but did not know how to correct. With more experience under my belt, I can look at some of them and now say, "No problem. I know how to fix that!" Great feeling, isn't it?

  2. Isn't it wonderful when you can see such a difference in your stitching. Over time it improves gradually, but comparing work from several years ago gives you a real sense of accomplishment.

  3. Thanks, Diane! The amazing thing to me, is that I didn't have to be practicing embroidery for my embroidery to improve! I've mainly been cross stitching since then, but as they say, "a rising tide lifts all boats."


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