Ever feel as if you’re going backwards?

A couple of weeks ago, the lovely Lucy at Love Lucy, wrote a wonderfully honest post. In it she talked about being please with garments she’d made but then disappointed and disheartened when some didn’t wash well or fit as well as she had first thought they did.

I confessed to Lucy that I had a similar experience thirty years ago that put me off knitting for a quite while…

King Cole Cotton Yarn

Young and smitten with my fiancé, I decided to knit my, now, husband a jumper. I’m afraid I don’t have any pictures, but it was navy blue with a strange white hieroglyphic type pattern – Yep, you’ve got it. It was the mid eighties.

I was very pleased with the result, but when it was washed it grew and grew and grew. I was devastated. All those loving stitches stretched so far it was no longer wearable 😦 All that wasted time! 😦

Now, a lot older and wiser, I know I should have washed and blocked a swatch of the yarn before I started. But back then I had never heard of blocking.


A lot of people commented on Lucy’s post saying they had been through similar experiences. This made me recognise, whether we admit it or not, we all go through something like this from time to time. It’s all part of the process of learning, identified by learning theorists as the “conscious competence” learning model.

The conscious competence model tells us about the psychological states involved in the process of learning a new skill. If we consider this model, we can see that when learning any craft, it’s all but inevitable, we’ll go though a stage of being really pleased with our efforts only to later realise we aren’t as expert as we thought.

Here’s the model…

Stage One: Unconscious Incompetence

This is the stage before we begin learning. We don’t understand or know how to do something and we may not appreciate the level of skill involved.

Stage Two Conscious Incompetence

We can identify deficiencies we have relating to the craft we’re learning or want to learn.

Stage Three: Conscious Competence

At stage three we know how to do something, however performing this activity requires concentration.

Stage Four: Unconscious Competence

This final stage is when a skill becomes second nature and, depending on what it is, we may even be able to perform it while doing something else.

But it’s not just that simple…

When we learn a craft, we don’t move smoothly from stage one to four. Instead we master some skills, reaching stage three or four. Using these skill then allows us to recognise we didn’t know other essential facts or skills.  Lucy, and everyone  who commented on her post (including me), were talking about being at stage three or four in some skills, then recognising we had been at stage one regarding others skills. This recognition took us to level two – we now saw our deficiencies in these hitherto unrecognised skills – but at the same time felt disheartened, because it felt like a backwards step. However, in reality it meant we had moved forward, learning there was more to discover.

Knowing this model and recognising we don’t just move smoothly from stage one to four, but have to go back to learn new things we didn’t know existed, helps me:

  1. Cut myself some slack when I make mistakes or don’t know something – even in an area where I’ve been learning for years.
  2. Become more confident and positive about my work.
  3. Look for what else I might be able to learn about the craft.

How do you feel about this sort of psychological model? Does it feel like the ‘science bit’ you want to ignore or a dog yapping in the background. Or does it help you understand and feel more positive about past or present hiccoughs in your progress?  I’d love to hear what you think.

I hope all you current endeavours are going smoothly.

Bekki Hill

29 thoughts on “Ever feel as if you’re going backwards?

  1. What a fabulous post! I have a very wise friend (she’s a personal and business life coach/mentor) who gave me exactly the same analogy but it was related to taking on a new role at work, not craft!
    It really helps when it is broken down into levels that you can relate too.
    I was really pleased with the discussion I had generated through my post. It wasn’t the post that I had intended to write. It just ‘came out’. Thanks for the link back.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah well, I have a similar background to your friend 🙂 The great thing is that these models are applicable to everything 🙂
      Your post did generate a great discussion – and as you see, got me thinking on too. I think the things that ‘just come out’ are often the best posts. Thanks for the inspiration for my post.


  2. This worry has definitely held me back from venturing into clothing (mainly for crochet … I’m a complete beginner with knitting!). As great as the competence model sounds, I’m not sure it can be applied to crafts. As you say we can be on varying levels at the same time. Crochet and knitting have so many techniques involved that you can be a master of a particular method, but a complete novice at others 🙂 very interesting though.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very interesting post. I’m just about to write a blog post about a dress I’ve just ‘made’ that had so many issues it might send me back to buying RTW permanently. I don’t always learn from previous mistakes. I am far too impatient (lazy?) to make a muslin every single time. Sometimes I can put a zip in first time, more often it takes a couple of attempts. I thank the sewing gods that knit fabrics and patterns are currently popular and I can worship at the altar of my overlocker which allows me to make things without worrying about zips, buttons or interfacing.
    I was going to say that the only craft I can do almost without thinking is knitting but then, if I’m doing a complicated pattern or executing a particular technique, or even just concentrating on counting rows, I can’t do it then either.

    Like so many things in my sewing room it seems I am still a ‘work in progress’.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think we’re all still works in progress. I’m the same with knitting as you, so yes you never reach level four unless you really narrow it down to a very specific skill. Sorry to hear you had so many issues with your recent dress – I look forward to reading the post. I too lack patience 🙂


  4. It occurs to me that making things is actually pretty brave. If you have some experience, you always understand that there is risk involved. Even if you take whatever precautions you can (tutorials, advice, books, making muslins, etc.) there’s always a chance that the finished item just won’t work and that you will have wasted time and materials that could be very expensive or one-of-a-kind. And the risk that you’ll be disappointed and feel bad about your skills and your work. It really is a leap of faith to cut into that precious, beloved fabric. I think we’re a lot braver than we give ourselves credit for. There are so many people who wish they could make things, but don’t have that courage to try and the willingness to struggle, fail, try again, and learn. How many times have you heard people say, “oh, I’d love to, but I could never sew/quilt/knit like that!”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s an excellent thought. We tend to think of bravery being about things like putting your head in tigers’ mouths or doing bungee jumps. But you’re right, a lot of people don’t have the courage to create.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post Bekki. 🙂 I have studied the theory before, but what strikes me is that in this context, the crafts are concurrently developing, growing and changing, with new techniques etc…..as you say you didn’t swatch and block back in the eighties, but that’s partly because blocking just wasn’t the ‘thing’ back then that it is now…and top-down seamless knitting barely existed…top down set-in sleeves….the list goes on…everything grows and expands in waves doesn’t it, including us. 🙂 (unfortunately autocorrect has a long way to go, it was absolutely determined that I wanted to say U.S., not ‘us’!! What the hell…)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Naughty Auto correct. Absolutely agree it does evolve. So much I’ve learned that never existed when I first learned to knit. Mind, that yarn really should have come with some warning about it needing blocking, even if it wasn’t what we did, it would have been impossible to create a garment that lasted past a wash without blocking. Interesting thing is, I’ve kicked myself about that jumper for years and, even though I knew about blocking, it wasn’t until I read Lucy’s post that I realised I shouldn’t be blaming myself.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You’ve turned this post into a thoughtful learning experience, but my head went to a sillier place – perhaps if you’re familiar with Pinterest you may also know the website Pinterest Fails. It’s basically a compliation of people trying creative projects and having them go horribly wrong. We’ve all been there and it’s good to be able to laugh about it. It’s also great not to let it discourage us from trying again.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi thanks for that thought 🙂 That jumper would have definitely made Pinterest Fails. I agree, it’s good to laugh – at the time I was devastated and it totally discouraged me.


  7. I learned this model in an ou course. When I was promoted at work I really could appreciate the four stages I went through as I became competent in the job. I can see that it applies equally to learning any other skill. Learning how to blog was just like this! I think that with hobbies we are probably harder on ourselves than we need be!
    Interesting thought provoking post

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello! Thanks for your thoughts. I think you’re right. It’s interesting how several of the comments made on this post are highlighting how hobbies, which are supposed to be enjoyable and relaxing, can be minefield of self criticism and self-doubt.


  8. Great post, Bekki, I saw myself in so many of these comments. I like your break-down process, it makes sense, but the foibles along the road to create trip me up so thoroughly. I am currently re-making my first top, and it is going so much better that I was feeling a tad confident. Well, we can’t have that, can we. So I made a very major boo-boo, but will proceed ahead and see how long it takes anyone to spot it. A work in progress, that’s me…must have courage to continue…must cut myself some slack!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. Writing it and the subsequent discussions have been very freeing for me too. Good luck with finishing the top – who said it had to be perfect? And what’s perfect anyway?


  9. I love the science behind theories – my friend (the other naked bum’s wife) is a student nurse who is dyslexic and I’m allowed to help her with her essays. She obviously has to research behavioural theories and I’ve been fascinated by what I’ve learnt from them. It definitely helps to understand the processes and our reaction to them.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. In maths, we call it unknown unknowns, (stuff you don’t know you don’t know), known unknowns (when you know enough about something to know you don’t know), known knowns, and unknowns knowns (when you know it well enough that you don’t need to think about what you know)

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great post, Bekki. It was interesting to read, and the theory makes a lot of sense. Learning a complex task is a multifaceted experience. This post is a good reminder that we need to approach learning with a spirit of adventure and a forgiving attitude (toward ourselves). If the experience is rich, and there is learning going on, one hasn’t really wasted time, no matter how the project turns out. Of course, the hard part is to remember that if the project doesn’t turn out! 😉 I think STH really put it well, it takes courage to create things, and like several commenters have observed, a little sense of humour helps, too. (PS: I left a comment the day you posted this, but for some reason it disappeared, so I am sorry if this is a duplicate. I haven’t been able to comment on various blogs from my iPhone lately, I don’t know why. ) Enjoy the weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment Carina – I definitely never received the first one 😦 You’re right, STH put it well. On the surface needing courage to knit or whatever sounds silly, but it isn’t. You have a fab weekend too.


  12. What a great post, thank you because that makes so much sense to me. Your friends openness and honesty was great because it opened the door for other people to admit their own struggles. That is what is great about blogging.

    I had never considered this before, your theory makes a great deal of sense – learning takes a lot of concentration and I am often guilty of multitasking – so tend to stick with things I know. Maybe it is time to challenge myself a little.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello! Glad you found the post useful. I’m still thinking about this post today – almost a week later – and how much Lucy’s inspiration has help me. You’re right this is one of the great things about blogging 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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