In my last post, I shared some suggestions for categorizing your UFO’s and deciding what to keep. I offered a little bit of “tough love,” and gave you permission to let some stuff GO. Get rid of it. Make room in your life for things that are new and fresh (both literally and figuratively.) Sometimes, it is obvious which projects you want to keep and which you want to let go of.

Thank you for your incredible response to that article! So many nice comments and emails, and people telling me that they were forwarding it to their friends and guild members. I think that a lot of articles address HOW to finish incomplete projects, but what we don’t talk about is WHY we ended up with that mountain to begin with. While going through your UFOs, it might be good to do a little self examination as well. Why did we start these projects? Because the kit was on sale, or because it was a “fad” that everyone in the guild was in to? Were we unrealistic about the amount of time it would take to complete it? Maybe we even have to dig a little deeper… am I using “stuff” to fill some other void? Am I expecting a completed project to make me feel a certain way? (It kind of reminds me of being really gung-ho on the first day of a diet, imagining the new wardrobe and the envy of our friends at the high school reunion… and that lasts for about 3 days… then back to the old ways. We get so excited about a project, but then the reality of how long it’s really going to take sinks in, we get overwhelmed, and into the closet it goes.) Are we looking to “feel” a certain way… and we think that X fabric/kit/project will make us feel that way, or put us in good company??

Today, I’ll share a few more tips for prioritizing your UFO’s and deciding what to do with those projects that are in the “gray area,” in other words- you can’t decide if they are worth working on.

When looking over UFO’s which you’re not sure about, you can consider the following factors:

How long will it take me to finish this project? Does it just need a border? Is it ready for quilting? Is it already quilted but just needs a binding? Even if you don’t love a project, if it will take a minimal amount of time to complete, it may be worth it to “just do it” immediately (and as soon as possible) to get it off of your mind. This is especially true if you don’t mind doing the steps required. For example, I don’t really like machine-sewing binding to a quilt, but I like the hand sewing part- so it’s pretty easy for me to just push myself to get the machine sewing done and then get the entire project completed. But if you HATE that step, ask yourself if it is something you can hand off to someone else. Maybe your friend hates doing borders- could you offer to do her borders, and in exchange she could do your binding? Or, if it needs quilting, can you have it done as quickly and inexpensively as possible by a long arm quilter? (Ask your long arm quilter if she does pantograph patterns- these are all over patterns which are much faster and therefore less expensive than custom quilting.) Some long arm quilters also offer binding services. It will cost a little more, but the project will be DONE.

Can I “downsize” this project? Was this project supposed to be a king size quilt, but your momentum just ran out? Try taking whatever you have done and turning it into a smaller project which you can get done more quickly. For example, if you have 6 out of 24 blocks done, turn them into a wall hanging or table runner. Make single blocks into pillows or potholders. Return the leftover fabric to your stash for another use, or give it away.

Is there something I can do to “love” this project again? You know how sometimes you find a fabric that you just love, and you buy it because you figure you will find a way to use it? Go through that stash and find the fabrics that you adore and can’t wait to work with. Can you work that fabric into the project some way? Sprinkle it into the blocks if they aren’t done yet. Or, if the blocks are already done, use it for sashing or borders. Working with beautiful fabrics can revive a project that’s grown stale.

Can I consider completing this project an act of love? Can this project be donated to a charity? A lonely or sick neighbor? A local nursing home?? Do you know someone who has been through some difficult times who could really use a thoughtful gift? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, then consider finishing the project to give away. While you are working on it, think of the recipient and how much it will brighten their day and warm their heart. If you are a spiritual person or person of faith, pray over the project as you work on it and ask that it and its recipient would be blessed- this is a form of meditation which can elevate your work beyond the physical. It can help to motivate you to complete projects that you don’t necessarily love or which aren’t to your own taste. You can also contact local charities, shops, and guilds to see if they accept unfinished quilt tops that can be completed and used for charity quilts. Here is another idea- get your friends together one day a week or month, and everyone can work on one person’s project. Many hands make light work! Commit to donating a certain number of finished projects to charity per year.

Can I make this into a fun event? Maybe your guild or sewing group would like to do a swap? Everyone can bring a few UFO’s that they are no longer interested in, and members can swap. Sometimes, we are just tired of looking at our own projects, and it’s fun to do something new. Or organize a round robin event, where each member adds a new part/border to an existing project. This can help breathe some new life into your project- it’s exciting to see what someone else does with a project that you might be stuck on.

Keep in mind that we ALL have projects that we have fallen out of love with, for one reason or another. If you have a large pile of UFO’s, it’s probably unrealistic to believe that you will get to ALL of them, someday. Just when is “someday,” anyway?? For those projects that you still can’t make a decision on, place them in a box and label it with the date for 9 months from today. Mark it on your calendar (you HAVE to do this- and you HAVE to commit to yourself that you will follow through). In 9 months, take a look through the box, and if you haven’t worked on it yet, and you’re still not sure- get rid of it. You have my permission (not that you need my permission, but if it makes you feel better, then take it.) If you feel guilty, then donate them or swap them, knowing that someone else will put them to use. I guarantee that once you move those old things out of your life, you really won’t miss them- and you will feel FREE.

So, now that you’ve decided which UFO’s are worth tackling, here are some tips for getting them done!

Start with the easiest ones first. Getting a project or two DONE will motivate you to do more. To keep things interesting, you can put all of your projects on slips of paper and put them in a basket. When you complete a project, just draw a slip of paper to see what you will work on next. Surprise!

Make it easy. Keep everything you need for a project handy by placing pattern, fabric, thread, etc. in a large transparent zip-lock bag or clear plastic box. Make sure to MARK your pattern when you’ve completed a step, so you can quickly pick up where you left off. (I like to use a pencil to make a large check mark next to a completed step, or draw a single line through a completed step so I know I’ve completed it. You could also use a highlighter to mark the steps you’ve completed.) There is nothing more frustrating than picking up a project and spending 30 minutes trying to figure out where you left off!! Make lots of notes to yourself and pin them to the parts of the project- for example, “these are flying geese units for block B,” or “these are leftover triangles from step 2 on page 3,” etc. Do not think that you will remember. You won’t.

Be ready. ALWAYS have a couple of hand-projects ready and waiting to go, both next to your favorite chair in front of the television, and in a tote bag that you can grab when you run out the door. This could be embroidery, hand applique, English paper piecing, binding, or hand quilting. It is worth investing in duplicate supplies- for example, I have 3 pairs of small embroidery scissors- one next to my sewing machine, one next to my TV chair, and another in a tote bag. That way, when I want to do a project, I have everything I need. (You would be surprised at how many times I will just NOT sew rather than walk into the next room to grab my supplies. Sad but true!!)

Set aside a particular time in your schedule to work on them. For example, you could:

  • –Work on your UFO for 20 to 60 minutes (or however much time you think you can reasonably commit to) every day.
  • –*This is my favorite tip! Set a timer for 20 minutes at the beginning of each sewing session. For the first 20 minutes, work on your UFO. When the 20 minutes is up, you are free to work on whatever you want! This will allow you to work on new things, while still making progress on your UFO’s.
  • –If you’re the type of person who likes to plan, decide which UFO you will work on each month of the year and mark it on your calendar. Reward yourself for completing the project by the last day of the month.

Keep yourself accountable (and keep it fun!)

  • –Consider making an agreement with a friend (or 2 or 3) to complete one UFO per month, then celebrate your accomplishment! If you live near your friend(s), meet for coffee or lunch and show off your completed projects. For “dessert,” do more sewing together!! If you don’t live near each other, send each other a fat quarter or other small gift as a reward for completing that month’s project.
  • –Alternate your new and UFO projects- complete a UFO, then work on a new project. Complete another UFO before moving on to another new project.

Charity quilt day

  • –Ask your guild or local shop to organize a charity quilt day, when you can get together with your friends specifically for the purpose of completing quilts for charity. If your guild or shop can’t organize it, you can organize one yourself! If your home isn’t big enough to host a few friends for a sewing day, ask a library, fire hall, etc. about the use of their facilities.

Reward yourself!

  • –When you complete a UFO, reward yourself. Of course, you can reward yourself with new fabric or a new pattern. You can also consider other rewards as well, which won’t add to your future UFO pile. These could be notions like a new ruler, some pretty baskets for getting your sewing room organized, or a video class for a technique you’ve been wanting to try. (Try a CreativeBug class!*)
  • –Consider giving yourself a BIG reward for completing several UFO’s. What about a sewing retreat? (And of course, bring more UFO’s to your retreat to work on and complete!)

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