I have been knitting for almost 60 years. I was 6 0r 7 when I pestered my mother to teach me and I have been knitting consistently ever since. There are patches of years where I knit less than others. There are some periods of time when I knit obsessively. But I was always knitting to some degree.
My first part time job when I got my last daughter into school was at a darling knit shop. This was in the mid 1980's. There were two owners who were very talented knitters and 4 or 5 of us mother-types who were part timers and we had a blast. (I still have sweaters I made while I was working there and I am working my way through yarn I accumulated during that time. The blue cabled cardigan is some of that yarn.)
I was one of the people who custom knit sweaters for customers. My knitting was so even that it looks like commercial knits. If I was working a pattern with the same yarn as the pattern called for, I could ALWAYS get gauge with the recommended needles, both stitch and row. I never had to block garments to size because they were always perfect. I'm not bragging, I'm just saying. It was effortless on my part.
Now, not so much.
This is a sweater I made in the 1980's for DD#2. Not sure if you can make out the details, but not only are the stitches even, so are the cables.
I think I am a better knitter, more technically better, than I was. I have certainly tried many more techniques and continue to challenge myself. But my knitting just isn't as consistently even. I have to knit gauge swatches and adjust needle size sometimes.
This is the current blue cabled cardigan I'm making.
I think the reason for this my lie in my fingers. Or the stiffness that gets into my fingers. They just don't work as well as they did when they were only 30 years old. And I can be okay with that.
I'm not in a competition. No one inspects my garments with an eagle eye and points fingers at me and laughs. Everyone I knit for is unfailingly pleased with my efforts and begs for more. I am the most critical and even I can just say "Oh, well I've got many more miles of living and knitting behind me, than I did then" and let it go.
When I was taking my first sock class, I was trying to knit them as quickly as I could to keep up with the class and knitting a few other things that had a deadline, so I completely overdid. I got cramps in my fingers and joints so sore that I thought I would never knit again. It scared me!
I rested my hands for over a week which meant no knitting, not using the mouse on the computer, generally becoming left handed as much as possible. Adding a few yoga stretches of my hands and fingers several times a day, I was able to slowly come back to knitting. I never want that to happen again so I have devised a strategy that has worked pretty well, so far.
I resist the attempt to "do too much". That means I am not joining knit-alongs that require a time limit. Trying to keep far enough ahead of the gift projects that I don't have to rush to complete. If I am going to miss a date, I give up and give it to them late rather than rushing to get it done. The thing that has been the most help is keeping a combination of projects going and alternating between them during my knitting time each day.
I have a sock going at all times, plain vanilla type for waiting and in between times. Then something with larger needles and yarn so that I am not cramping my hands on too small needles constantly. Right now it is the blue cabled cardi on size 8 needles. Something plain like garter stitch baby blankets may be part of the plan after Christmas knitting is finished. Knitting with cotton yarn is done in small increments and only if I really, really fall in love with the project, as cotton does an incredible number on my joints. It has worked so far and not slowed down my knitting time at all.
Can you see the joints of my index and ring fingers in the picture? Not at all the way they looked when I was twenty. But you know, I think I am a better person, mother, wife, friend, knitter than I was when I was twenty, also.