I've been tatting for a long time and like anything requiring a skill, my work improves with every stitch I do or every project I accomplish. There are two specific things that have really helped me to improve my work and to be really, really embarrassed by some of my first efforts.
The first item was being drafted, at the last minute to train as an apprentice judge during the 2003 PTG Tat Day. This was the Guild's first event and one of the highlights was the Juried Competition. We had established a number of entry classes and Dianna Stephens from Washington came to the event as our Head Judge and one of our Premier instructors. The Juried competition was a means to evaluate each entry against criteria but was not judged against other entries in the class or competition. Dianna's clear and concise explanations have done far more to improve my own work than she could image. Her presentation is available online at http://www.domesticarts.com/Judging/judginglecture.htm.
The other event is actually a program I am still trying to complete. This is the Tat Across Time, Inc. Tatting Proficiency program (Additional details available at http://www.tattersacrosstime.org/. This is designed as a correspondence course consisting of three stages: Apprentice, Artisan and Master. Each phase has its own book of patterns and glossary of terms. I've completed both the Appretice and Artisan phases successfully and have completed about half of the projects in the Master's phase. Not only are the patterns, diagrams and techniques well done but once the evaluations are completed and returned, along with the evaluators' comments, my own work has really improved. I pay more attention to the small details like using picot gauges and tatting frontside/backside. My work, at least to my own eye, has become more attractive.
Most of the items I tat have been done as gifts or remembrances for friends, co-workers and family although I've started to keep more items for DH and me. I do know that my youngest sister has yet to give her step-daughters the snowflakes I tatted for them all several Christmas' back. She says, "I won't give the tatting to them until they can appreciate all the time and love that their Aunt Teresa puts into each one." ... My personal opinion, she wants to keep them for her own tree because she's afraid I won't do anymore.
Tatting is a good way for me to de-stress and has become more important in that function as I go a bit older. Tatting is very portable and the very rote of a single knot over and over is like a mantra of my hands.