The Fine Art Of Unlearning

Entry for Living Out Loud Volume 25, Always Learning

In this new age of technology, it seems that whenever I want to learn something new I must first disregard any information I have on the subject. I have to dump all previous knowledge in order to process the new because it usually no longer pertains. Much is done in newer, faster, and more interesting ways.

Even something as simple as driving has changed…seriously. When I took drivers education (many eons ago), hand positions on the steering wheel were 10 and 2. Due to the possibility of breaking ones wrists when the air bags explode, it was changed to 9 and 3 when my kids took drivers ed. For all I know, it might have even changed again.

Have you ever thought about how difficult it is to unlearn something? It’s akin to brainwashing. I don’t know about you, but the more I try to forget something the more I think about it. I always consider how every bit of new information I take in will correlate with what I already know. I have a difficult time starting fresh when it concerns an area that I feel I am somewhat educated. I am only comfortable in learning shortcuts if it feels like a familiar process.

I once thought it would be fun to learn to play a ukulele. Not because I have a single musical bone in my body, but simply because I thought it was a cute miniature guitar. I soon got over the urge.

I’ve considered learning pottery or stained glass. While I think it would be fun, and I do love creating things, I would probably end up cluttering my house with useless objects.

And yes, I’ve always wanted to dance. Since I look like the energizer bunny on crack, I’d probably flunk dance class. I could try clogging, but I’d probably hurt someone or myself.

While I’m always up for learning new things, there are only two that really have captured my interest lately. The first I’d like to learn is how to renovate my kitchen cabinets. I don’t want to have them replaced because they generally use laminates. I have solid wood cabinets that are currently inflicted with water stain. I realize attempting this will require power tools…and most likely a visit to the emergency room. Good thing I have both AFLAC and homeowners insurance!

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit the second thing I’d like to learn because it’s rather shocking that I am not knowledgeable in this area. I need to learn how to create a spreadsheet on my computer. Yes, I know how to use one that is in existence, but I have no idea how to set the cells in the columns (are those even the correct terms?) to create one from scratch. And yes, my home business requires these for my year end taxes. Thus, I must depend on my hubby to recreate it for me. Yes, he could teach me, but he gets aggravated at me which in turn makes me aggravated at him, kind of an endless cycle. I think I might just get off my rump and sign up for a computer class at the local adult learning center. It seems that as soon as I learn how to do something on my computer, a new program comes along and all my newly acquired knowledge becomes obsolete. The bright side of learning to create a spreadsheet is that I don’t have to unlearn anything because I know nothing!

And then of course, there are the things that I have taught myself only to find out later that I’m doing it all wrong. I have taught myself to bead, needle punch, and crochet. I am a self-taught quiter. I’m not great but I get by. I usually give credit to my wonderful sewing machine. However….You see my husband bought me an incredibly smart (and expensive) computerized machine nine years ago. Did I bother to read the manual? Well, I might or might not have, I plead the fifth. Let’s just say I’ve made incredible things with it, but have had diffiuclties at times. Yesterday, I decided to start another art quilt. I pulled out my quilting foot, and decided to read the instructions since I’d had difficulty using it in the past. I learned you’re supposed to lower the feed dog when using it. Hmm, who knew the feed dog could be lowered? Obviously not me! Wow, could that be why the stitches kept clumping and puckering when I used it? I read on. Seems I’m supposed to lower the good old feed dog when using the button holer. Could it be that my buttonholer actually does indeed work? I deemed it useless years ago! Also seems I was supposed to use a different spool holder when using metallic thread. Gee, I thought my machine just didn’t like me! I could go on, but I think you get the picture. I actually read the manual after nine years, and even though I knew the gist of the machine, I now have to scrap most of the knowledge I’d carried over from my old machine. So last night, I started a new art quilt. With my machine manual right beside me! I am learning the fine art of “unlearning” and “relearning”.

Oh yeah, I’ll get back to that spread sheet…just as soon as I finish fighting with the feed dog.

This is the very first art quilt I ever attempted.


This is an art quilt I made for my sister.

42 thoughts on “The Fine Art Of Unlearning

  1. Art quilts … what a fun craft. I am of the geometric quilter group (and stain glass) .. must be the math teacher in me. Sometimes reading the directions ruins the fun and the creativity … I have been known to skip over them often, too. I learn crafts the best if I can watch someone for a little bit and then ask them questions later after I try it.
    If I lived closer, I would be over to help you with those spreadsheets and cabinet doors. The worst part of the cabinets will be stripping the old finish off .. but, you seem to be creative, adventurous and brave … I know you can do it without a trip to the emergency room.

  2. I’ve never come across art quilts before and yours look great. My skill with textiles is akin to my skills racing horses – zero. I can craft but laziness normally puts me off after a while. I enjoy learning new things, but once I’ve learnt them I tend to move on, which frustrates a lot of my friends. I am one of these people that much prefers to try everything once. Spreadsheets at least I can do. Maybe we should trade skill sets?

  3. I don’t think that you really have to unlearn anything. I mean, when we talk about learning, we talk as if we’re just acquiring something, but what we’re really doing is refining. Like what I’m going to have to do with that vague and confusing opening statement…

    Okay. So when we’re learning, we make mistakes, right? Becoming a novice, then an expert, then a master is really a matter of learning not to make mistakes. So learning is a process of identifying all the wrong ways to do something and how to avoid them.

  4. When I learn something new I have to do the whole unlearning thing too… but not because I’ve learned it wrong or it’s obsolete… it’s because I have no more room in my feeble brain to fit any new knowledge without forgetting something I already know to make room for it!

    BTW…. I still love and treasure my art quilt. You’ll never know how much it means to me! Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

  5. I have created a lot of spreadsheets for work. That said, I have a difficult time with directions. I read them but it’s like I’m reading Chinese or something. I never understand what they are talking about. Fortunately, most things are pretty intuitive. I’m just careful to never touch anything like a sewing machine or a microwave oven.

  6. Ha. I didn’t know that about the driving hand positions. I looked it up in CA’s handbook and it does say 9 and 3 and even lower at 4 and 8.

    In Nia we practice something called the “Beginner’s Mind”. For instance when I take a Nia class from another teacher, I take it as if I don’t know it. I let go of what I know and let her lead me through the routine. It can be a routine I know very well, but I wait and let her lead it. When I am able to act as if I don’t know it, I always learn something new. My body is open to the different senses and the way the teacher is leading and so it is new to me. She might use a different way to describe a move and when I am not thinking of it in my OWN way, I get to learn her way and maybe take it into my class and my students. No, it is not easy, but it is an awesome practice to work on because it can be applied to ALL aspects of life. The beginner’s mind.

    I got new cabinets about five years back. They are wood not laminate. They have NO nooks and crannies, handles, or crevices so cleaning them is easy. I LOVE them.

    I didn’t know the feed dog could be lowered because I don’t even know what it is.

    Geez, SC, could you have attempted a more difficult quilt your first time? I don’t think so.

    I think it is awesome that you just DO. You do all this stuff and learn on the way. Yeah if you have to “unlearn” something to learn it correctly it is not easy, BUT . . . think of all that you got done in the mean time! You’re awesome!

  7. I live by the motto – if all else fails, read the instructions. Ha! The quilts are beautiful! You are very talented! Spreadsheets are not difficult to create, but I definitely recommend a computer class. You won’t be sorry. Do you have Excel? Be sure your computer class is specifically for the program you plan to use. Blessings, Suzi…

  8. Okay, first I have to say……….BEAUTIFUL quilts, Suzi!

    OMG, I’m sooooooo impressed with your detail!

    “Have you ever thought about how difficult it is to unlearn something? It’s akin to brainwashing. ”

    Yes, absolutely! Especially when it comes to computer stuff. I feel like I just get the hang of something, then something new comes out and I have to relearn it.

    I’m more of a self-taught person. I tend to do things the hard way – trial and error. But for some reason, I seem to learn better that way. I taught myself HTML coding for website design and customizing, and I can’t tell you HOW MANY mistakes I made doing it that way, but it was kinda fun to discover it on my own.

    You seem to be a lot like me. By just picking it up and doing it.

    Hope you had a great weekend, my friend!


    • Thank, Ron. I am impressed that you taught yourself HTML. I got a book from the library once on HTML and glanced at it, shook my head, and took it back! I like to dabble in a lot of things, but when I teach myself it is often not correct.

    • Thanks. I think I’ll leave the kitchen renovation to hubby…however, if I start something and he lacks my ability he’ll take over the project, so there’s an idea to get those cabinets done!

  9. excel (the program that will help you in handling spreadsheet) is very easy, have you ever tried the help in the excel spreadsheet in which you work?

    they usually spoonfeed the process.

    you are quite computer savvy- i think so, so i think you may first try the “help” option in excel, i have learnt a lot of windows-based softwares in this way.

  10. Fabulous post. I learn things on a need-to-know basis, and yet learning is what keeps our brains supple.

    I know I’d put off that spreadsheet thing until I absolutely had to do it. Deadlines are so motivating!

  11. Your quilting is wonderful. I believe it is therapeutic for many. My mom loves to crochet and really just relaxes as she pushes the needle through the yarn.
    I agree, unlearning can be hard. I struggle with knowing what I knew and pushing myself to try and implement a new strategy to pick up a skill.

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