The Free Motion Quilting Project: I will NEVER finish this...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I will NEVER finish this...

I've written a bit about how bad my studio has gotten lately. A few descriptive words would include: trashed, bombed, a total mess, disorganized, chaotic, and utterly uninspiring.

I haven't quilted much this summer at all because every time I walk into the room, I just turn around and walk back out again. It's time to clean up!

And I keep meaning to get into the studio and get started, but it's kind of like being presented with the biggest cake in the world, you really have no idea where to start, or how to deal with the sheer enormity of the situation.

Part of the overwhelming nature of the room is the number of unfinished projects. Two weeks ago in a fit of anger about my UFOs, I got a pen and paper and made a list of every single one. That list filled two sheets, single space!

Most of these projects were started long before this blog (more than 2 years ago). They are bed quilts I pieced for family or friends, fabrics I purchased with a specific quilt project in mind, and quilt blocks pieced or appliqued, but never finished.

Looking at it all now, I feel a mixture of guilt, resentment, and a weighty feeling that is hard to understand. It's like I'm underwater, I can't move because this complex set of emotions has me stuck in place.

But this is just JUNK! Yes, it is fabric, yes, it is quilt tops I pieced once and had some intention of finishing, but why is it making me feel so terrible? Quilting is what I do! How and WHY am I allowing fabric and quilt tops to make me feel this stuck and crappy?

Exploring the emotion, I find guilt to be the overriding emotion, which is interesting because I really don't feel guilty that often. People rarely can inspire me to feel guilt, but fabric, quilt tops, and quilt blocks, however, seem to have found that guilt trigger and are firing with extreme accuracy.

It's like this: by getting rid of all this stuff I'm admitting I failed.

I failed because at some point I was happy and excited about these projects. The day they were cut and pieced I obviously had to feel some level of happiness about them.

But at some point in the construction process, the love died and along with it, all desire to finish these projects.

By cleaning it out, by pulling these quilt tops off the shelf, sticking them in a bag, and removing them from their lofty places on the shelves, I am declaring to the world "I will NEVER finish this! I can't do it! I bit off more than I can chew!"

And now that I've written this out, processed this whole idea out of my head, I realize that this is not a bad thing. Reaching the end of your rope can be a good place actually because this is often the point where things start to change.

No, I will never quilt this light green throw quilt:

free motion quilting | Leah DayNo, I will never piece these circle blocks together into a quilt top:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
I will never finish this landscape quilt. Despite this good looking photo, it's actually full of issues and mistakes. Fixing them all would actually take more time than just chucking it and starting over from scratch:

free motion quilting | Leah DayMost of these quilts were intended as bed quilts and the fact is, I just don't make bed quilts anymore!

Isn't it high time I gave myself permission to ONLY work on what I WANT to work on?

It doesn't mean I'm a failure for admitting that I have no desire to finish these quilts. Who I am as a person has nothing to do with these quilt tops! They are just fabric and thread and do not love me and will not care whether it's my hand or someone else's that finishes them.

Yes, I did bite off more than I can chew, but that doesn't mean I can't spit it out and try again.

A large part of this whole process has been looking back at my habit of running headlong into projects with no planning or oversight. As soon as a new project popped into my brain, BANG! I was off to wash and cut fabric, BOOM! I was ready to piece it all together, and FIZZLE.... that's the eventual sound of my energy collapsing when it all got to be too much.

I've been doing this for years without really realizing it. I finally made the connection last spring and since then I've carefully stuck to a very simple rule - I have to wait to start a new project for at least 1 week.

1 week of planning. 1 week of oversight. 1 week to cool down from the surge of adrenaline and joy at doing something new. 1 week to THINK and not just REACT.

After making this rule in May my number of new projects has nearly stopped. Knowing I had a book to write and DVD to produce and keeping a more realistic idea of my time and energy level in mind, I've been able to see that now is just not the time to fall head over heels for a new quilt.

It's also allowing me to more time and planning for the projects I want to start this fall or winter. More time planning means less time working out the kinks when things go wrong. More time planning also means the quilt has more potential to be shared on this blog.

Gone are the days when I just walk into the studio and pull fabrics down and start slicing. This worked at one time, but now my focus is on sharing everything I do in the studio online.

This makes it easier to say Good-bye to many of these old quilt tops. No thread color will contrast brightly enough with these light colors and busy fabrics. If I can't film it, I'm not keeping it!

free motion quilting | Leah Day
So today when I enter my studio it will be with white garbage bags in hand. Every quilt top, every UFO, every project will be carefully assessed, and then sorted. Everything I will realistically finish by 2012 will stay on the shelves.

Everything I can't or don't want to finish is going in the bags. And the bags are going to my quilt guild tonight. I'm hoping the quilt tops can be quilted and donated to charity, the UFOs can be completed by someone who wants a fun project, and the rest will be picked up by whoever is willing to give this stuff a good home.

Yes, it might be easier to just leave these UFOs on the shelves. It might be easier to let another 5 years go by and pretend I'll get around to them sometime. This emotional deadlock had certainly kept them on the shelves this long, why not a little longer?

But I know it will feel a million times better to have this studio cleaned out and for once, only filled with those items that are actually going to be finished.

I'm just glad that by the end of this post, after writing all of this out, I no longer feel like a failure for admitting I can't do it all. That it's okay to let go of these projects I no longer want.

Because in the end, shouldn't we be spending our time quilting the quilts we WANT to quilt?

Here's to cleaning out the UFOs, finding more space within and without, and lightening the load. Now if I can just apply the 1 week wait rule to buying more fabric...

Let's go quilt,



  1. I hope the people in your guild are excited about those projects! I would be thrilled to take the light green top or circles, but alas (or good thing, depending on perspective) I live much too far away. I like your INTENTIONAL thinking as you approach new projects, and I am trying to do the same. Focus on the what's in front of me before adding new stuff!

  2. I'm not a quilter, but I have a similar philosophy. I used to keep all my UFOs... but found I simply cannot return to them. They nag at me, make me feel uptight and anxious, just sitting on the table. Everything wrong about the piece comes with a flashing neon arrow pointing at it. Over time I've realised I can only complete part works IF when I stopped they were working well, and I was feeling good about them. But I have another rule I rigidly stick to... I keep part works or samples in a box on which the lid MUST fit properly. When new things go in, the lid has to shut, if it doesn't something has to go. This process started purely on a practical level - but now I realise its a form of editing and making me sort what pieces remain important to me to keep. Don't think of these pieces as failures, but more part of the journey of development, they served their purpose, move on. And yes my UFOs have gone in the textile recycling bin.

  3. I think a lot of folks take on too much because they wish they had the time to finish everything. It's a busy world and women especially are pulled in so many directions. At least you're dealing with it constructively. Keep up the good work and I'm sure you'll feel better when things are organized again!

  4. YUMMMMM! Dibs on the pretty circles if no one in your guild wants them!!


  5. Oooops, PS - binning the UFOs, gave a huge sense of relief and lightness, and a recharge to the artistic soul.

  6. All of us need to realize that our tastes in quilts and fabric change over time. If they don't, we might not be growing as quilters and/or artists. Passing the no-longer-loved on to people who do love them is freeing and good for us.

  7. dibs on the circles!
    i think that trading UFO's is always fun, i seem to finish rescued tops before i finsih my own.

    be good- cw

  8. The projects we start, but do not "finish" are the building blocks to our mastery of our craft and development of our mature artistic voice and identity. I am really good at feeling guilty, too, so I speak from experience. Appreciate them for what they taught you, then move those "exercises" out of your studio, so you can enjoy your creative power.

  9. I think you are way to hard on yourself. I say this with love and empathy. When I started reading your blog today I said to myself "YAY"; someone is going through the same thing that I did not too long ago. My UFO list was also two pages long. I put many items in the scrap pile. But I look at this this way. We grow, we mature. What was interesting to me even a year ago is not so interesting right now. Life changes and we can't hold on to things just for the sake of holding on. And its all good. Failing would be to waste time finishing up something that does not interest us anymore just for the sake of "I should do it". The word "should" can be detrimental to our psyche if we let it.

  10. I LOVE the light green top and would love to finish it! I did clean out my quilt room and this summer am quilting more than in the entire last year--and am finishing many UFO's and starting some new quilts too! You definitely should be happy in what you are working on and your room should be inspiring! Good luck!

  11. I will try that one week rule. I cleansed last year. I donated quilts to charity and I feel no guilt! There are things I have to do in life...I don't have to finish UFO's.

  12. I agree with Andi! I hope your guild appreciates your donation. I would also enjoy those circles! I'm terrified of piecing or appliqueing circles...keep laughing, it's ok.
    I've been failing at the no buy for the last month after doing wonderful the previous month, darn. But I've been doing quite well at the not starting new projects...except a few simple baby quilts. Three new babies in the family and I just wanted to send a welcoming hug.
    I've spent today catching up on your blog after not having internet for 3 weeks. You've definately had a lot to say!
    I love the Paisley Roots, LOVE!

  13. Above all quilting should be fun! If you don't like an old project, you've hit on the best answer, give it to someone who will love it! I have done this with a lot of craft stuff, books, pattern magazines. You name it. If I don't like it, or it didn't turn out right, I give it away. Life is too short to use junky fabric just because you have it. Once you are done the crative juices will start flowing and we won't be able to keep up with you (like I could to begin with). Go girl.

  14. Way to go, Leah! There is no rule that says you must finish every quilt you start. It is not a failure. Whatever work you did accomplished something--you learned a new technique, you tried a new pattern, you found a new method, etc. You checked that box and it is time to move on. Someone will benefit greatly from what you have started. The best part is you will feel the weight lift and your creative spirit shift into high again. Enjoy the process!

  15. I really like your "wait one week rule". I am going to try to adopt it. I really admire the road you are traveling. What a brave young lady you are. I would like to release the guilt I carry from unfinished projects; especially the ones that no longer interest me. Thank you, so much!

  16. You are going to make some people so happy! I'm usually on the receiving end of these types of projects because I organize a chairty and I can tell you that I LOVE getting the phone call that says HELP, I can't finish or don't want to finish these projects that I started! I LOVE digging through someone's unwanted stash or started projects and being able to pick up where they left off and being able to finish them up and give them to kids in the hospital. Of course I wouldn't finish it the way you would, but I can tell you that a child is ever so happy to receive your project and you are happy to get it out of your house! You are going to make a lot of people happy, including yourself! Good job!

  17. I can so relate to your post - but in my huge library that reflects 20 years of homeschooling. Two days ago I went through a very similar process to what your post described and have 6 pages worth of book list to sell / give away. Hope you have the same "freed up" feeling I have - so rejuvenating. Well done and hope it goes well for the projects you choose to keep.

  18. Hooray! Great approach. No guilt needed. Donate, clean out, focus on what you want to do. Love the "cooling off period". I have instituted the "no buy rule" unless I have a specific project within the next 5 on the list. Consequently I have been using my stash!, finishing projects, and saving money. And hopefully avoiding the "why did I buy this fabric" several years from now.

    Good going!

  19. Well, your guild pals will be thrilled!! lol :D Good for you, getting everything organized to work for you.

  20. Hooray for you! Cast that guilt thing out the window. You may have a lot of UFO's to give to your guild but there is a positive to this.
    Every quilt you started was an educational experience. Every quilt you worked on helped build you into who you are today. So when you bring the UFO's to their new owners - don't pitch them out as enemies. Instead, wave goodbye to the friends who helped you along the way.

  21. Good for you! I've learned long ago, life is too short to drag on working on something you don't like. Your guild members and charity recipients will be thrilled, so you made the right decision.

  22. Yes, it's a relief to eliminate those unloved projects but the adrenaline rush when I GET the idea is the reason I keep quilting! LOVE the feeling of that thrill, madly-in-love, can't-wait, everything-must-wait is toooo wonderful for ME, to have to wait a week. However, for the most part, I DO get 90% of them DONE! Good for you for using sensible judgment if that will help you alleviate the issue of "too many projects" holding you back.

    I enjoy all your posts, all your designs and videos. I machine quilt my projects on my DSM, a Janome 6500. Some of my guild members do not believe me when I tell them my work is free form, DSM quilting and no stitch reg. We have to convince these doubting Thomases and get them sewing on their own DSMs. The QUILTING is the most enjoyable part of the project! Thanks for all YOU do to encourage them.

  23. Well done to you! Life is too short to have regrets about all the things you haven't done - it's good to move on to the things that excite you now - and have a resonably orderly studio =) Good job!

  24. You have a great plan and the fact that it will be over with tonight is the best.

    So..... let's go quilt

  25. I really like your plan. There is bound to be someone in your guild who is looking for a charity project and it sounds as if you have several to choose from. I have a similar problem . . . the fabric is piling up and I am always jumping into a new project. I'm keeping the UFOs to a manageable(?) level, but there is enough fabric here to cover everyone in the country . . . plus!

  26. A few years ago I had an accident with all my UFOs. I had them stored in a cardboard box in the basement and then I had a flood. All but one of my quilts was ruined. Fortunately the one I loved was on top and I've now finished it. There was one quilt that I will make again. It was in the UFO pile because I made a huge mistake when quilting it and had a lot of unpicking to do. Now I can do it again and I'm better at quilting (thanks to you!) so I'm looking forward to making it again. The whole experience was liberating and I've been so much more productive. Everyone should have a disaster like that!

  27. I shop my stash first, and only go to the fabric shop if I need ONE piece to finish a project. I have been clearing out my stash, and my scraps, and my UFO's all year long, it feels good to make myself just do it.

  28. I am sure they will be loved and finished by your guild members, but in the small chance that no one wants the circle, boy...I'd love to have them!

  29. Good for you!!! Too many people let the UFO's suck them down, instead of saying, "I'm the one in charge here and I say what gets quilted and when - and it all has to do with WHAT I WANT AND DON'T WANT!" I'm doing the same thing, although most of my UFO's are not to the quilting stage. But the ones I don't feel LOVE for are going to live somewhere else real soon!

  30. I am so proud of you I can't stand it!!!! You have done what lots of people should do!! Clean up that area - fill it with hope and insperation and out with what drags you down!!
    Great post!! I have felt the same way - create a room of stress instead of fun and laughter - and I am sorting and organzing it - so I can go back to having a good time in there!!

    "Failure is an event, not a person"

    Remember that!!! You have done a Fantastic thing!! And made alot of people really happy!!! Those that get to play with new projects and those that recieve them!!! (if the new makers want to give them up!!)

    I am so proud of you!!!

    I think it takes great courage to assess and let go. Too often we hang on to things after their purpose has passed. I think they become UFOs because they're our practice samples, "fabric sketches" where we experiment and try out ideas. We have reverence for cloth, but no one shudders at tearing out a sketchbook page we're no longer pleased with...
    I'm not suggesting irreverent respect, but the spirit of creativity moves ahead when you're not weighted down. And you share so much of your creativity!
    And your UFOs will continue to teach others.

  32. I also went through that a couple of years ago and decided that I will finish what ever I am working on and NOT start something new until that project is complete :) So far, its working well for me. I still buy fabric with projects in mind, but it stays on my shelf (neatly organized) where I can look and admire it and be inspired to finish what I started.

  33. As we grow, we take on projects. Some we finish … some we don’t… but through all of them we learn something. Just as the caterpillar breaks out of the restrictive cocoon to become a beautiful butterfly so we sometime have to break out of the chains of half-completed projects into a space that allows us to once again be free to make the beautiful things that are in our hearts now.

  34. We understand!!! Oh, I love a new project - planning, choosing colors and fabric, cutting. Actually, "getting ready" is what I am best at. One encouraging thing I've noticed is that once in a while when I pull out a UFO that I really like, I realize that I have NEW skills that will help me to finish it, that I didn't have when I started it. So, some UFP's are keepers.

  35. For years now I only ever do one quilt at a time and I never have a stash of fabric waiting to be used. That way if I ever (God forbid) wake up one morning & decide never to sew again I won't equate fabric with a waste of money. Keeping it simple works for me.

  36. I had to laugh at this post since its another - Been there - done that! One thing I've learned is to get rid of UFO's that I don't want since they seem to just create more anxiety than they are worth and your post proves that! One thing my friends have done in the past is donate UFO's to the local quilt guild or auction them cheapie on Ebay - ahem - I've even been known to buy a UFO on ebay (grin). As for creating in chaos - I did a blog post earlier this year - so you're not the only one - here it is -

  37. I used to be upset about UFO's. I am kinda frugal (ok, cheap) and it would upset me that materials were "wasted" on something that I wasn't going to finish and would probably eventually throw out. Then one day I realized - these things aren't failures, they aren't wastes of materials - they are my learning curve! I decided to appreciate my UFO's for teaching me what I needed to learn. Schooling is hardly ever free and I'll gladly pay the price of a box (or Pod) of UFO's to become a better quilter. :) PS - Your one-week rule is a great idea!

  38. I think all quilters have been in the same ufo situation at one point or another. Giving them to your guild members is a great idea. Have you thought of putting any up for auction on your website/blog?
    Our guild has a crafter's flea market every other year to raise money for our quilt show in the opposing years. This is where members get rid of/let go of their ufos. This can be dangerous because some of us end up buying others' ufos!

  39. I love your honesty, Leah. Keep moving forward with courage. Someone said, "If you never made a mistake, you never made anything". Your personal posts are what I love most about your blog.

  40. darn!!! I wish I belonged to your guild as I an see a couple of those coming home with me - no wait, then I'd have more ufo's so probably a good thing I don't belong after all. All in all, getting rid of things you are not going to finish is a very healthy thing to do. Our tastes and needs change - look at the clothes you wear, or the food you eat - don't keep what isn't you!!!

  41. Great post! I'm right there with you. I'm finishing because that's my way of life. Always must complete it.

  42. Leah, I can certainly understand where you're coming from with regards to sewing what you want to sew !
    Before becoming a quilter I was (and still am when I can find the time) a decorative/folk art painter.
    Once I started teaching, it got to the point of picking projects that would go as a class for the sake of the shop, and not necessarily what I wanted to do.
    That's when I found quilting, it was going to be for me, and still is, 6 years later.
    If we don't enjoy it, it's definately not worth it. And it should never make you feel guilty, there are too many other stressful things in all of our lives that take that piece!

  43. I do like your new method of waiting to start a new project. I have tried many times to tell myself, "Nothing new till you finish something old," and then I really would not get started on the old project and the new project went by the wayside. That sorta works. But the idea of planning and weighing with something you have had in your head for a long time or trying something new is a good idea. Thanks for your thoughts!

  44. holy smoke! you spoke like a loud kind friend to my soul!! i have been anguishing over my 5+ year 'projects' and if i haven't used or finished it by now, let it go!! it is a 'lifting of the spirit' when things are released! and then i know i won't be a special on hoarders either haha! thanks for the therapy ~xo~

  45. If you feel bad just throwing it out, give it away to other quilters who will love your unwanted pieces, finish them and find them good homes!

    I for one, really like them and could use them ;)

  46. Thank you. I needed this. I do the same head long dash into a project and then never finish it. I need some time in my sewing room to do a clean sweep so I am not on hoarders either!

  47. hello everyone out there in Leah Day world I would so love to complete one of those projects have you ever considered selling them......... I am really enjoying the block of month and I hope you do another one next year..... I have learned a great deal from you....... well have a wonderful day to all and god bless


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