The Free Motion Quilting Project: UFO Sunday #9 - Single Focus, Cheetah Speed

Sunday, October 21, 2012

UFO Sunday #9 - Single Focus, Cheetah Speed

free motion quilting | Leah Day
It's time for UFO Sunday - the day we pull out our Unfinished Objects and give them some attention.  Today let's start with a simple question: how many projects are you actively working on right now?  How many work in progresses (WIPs)?

I'm curious because I've been trying to balance 3 very different UFOs over the past two weeks.  One is a book, one is a pattern, and the third is a quilt.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
While I'd like to call all of these WIPs, the truth is there is no way to work on three things at once!  The quilt has sat basted, but unquilted while the book has gotten the most of my attention, in between spurts of work on the pattern.

At any given time, one of these projects have to be put down for the others.  They're not WIPs, they're DRIVING ME CRAZIES! (new acronym: DMCs)

So after struggling through this week of hopping from project to project, I've finally come to a conclusion: this is NOT a good way to work.

A single focus is a blessing.  I sat on the couch last night hand binding the 365 quilt (another DMC) and thought about what it would feel like if I only had ONE SINGLE PROJECT to work on.

Only ONE.  Nothing else distracting me.  No other deadlines.  No other responsibilities.  Just ONE project.

As I sat thinking about it, I began to fantasize about what it would feel like to work on just one project - no weight, no yelling UFOs, no struggle to stay balanced amid the chaos of multiple projects.  Just a single focus that I could speed through with my mind calm and my eyes on the finish line.

I admit, this sounds like a fantasy land of quilting. 

A place where there is no guilt, no worry, no stress - just the joy of stitching a project through to completion. I'd be able to work so much faster!  I would be like a cheetah - blazing through projects with a single focus.

And just to clarify - no, the point of quilting is not to rush through projects with no enjoyment.

I don't want to rush, but I would like to move a bit faster!  There are many quilts I've had bouncing around in my head for YEARS and I can't quilt them because so much other stuff is piled up on top. Where is the enjoyment in this craft under so much weight and stress?

So my theory is now simple (though it might sound like gibberish if you aren't familiar with the acronyms!):

UFOs are created by having too many WIPs.  Trying to work on too many projects at a time, no matter their status or how long they've been in progress will only create more WIPs, which are really DMCs.  Eventually you'll get so overwhelmed and bogged down, they'll all get chucked as UFOs and the cycle starts again!

But there is a problem - how do you put down a WIP?

I've struggled with this question this week.  It would make my life very, very simple if I would just shelve one of the projects I'm working on.

But I can't.

They're ALL just SO CLOSE to being done!  I can't just shelve them NOW when THEY'RE NEARLY FINISHED!

This is the super emotional, totally DMC side of my brain shouting here.  Yes, all these projects are nearly complete.  So close they only need a day or two of work and they'll be done.

But that's the trick - they need a day or two of SOLID FOCUS.  I could knock out one this week if I could only put down the other two.  As it is, I keep bouncing from one to another, making each one take longer because my brain can't focus properly.

Just think of a cheetah - do they try to kill ALL the antelopes in the field at the same time?  Nope.  They pick just one and take it down with speed and accuracy.  They don't waste energy wounding several animals at once - they knock out a big one with one fell swoop.

So let's go for the jugular this week and try to knock out a single UFO with dedicated focus and concentration.  Chances are it will feel far more enjoyable because your brain will not be trying to take small bites out of so many different things at once.

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If you have any questions about finishing your UFO, make sure to post them clearly within your post.  5 questions will be selected and answered on Monday or Tuesday's UFO Followup article.

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UFO Sundays on the Free Motion Quilting Project
Let's go quilt!



  1. I think the key to having cheetah focus is time. If there is enough time to leisurely go about a task, then of course it is easier to focus and enjoy the process. But, I find that when a particular task is large (like quilting a king-sized quilt), I actually need to take a mental break from time to time and work on something else. Otherwise, trying to push through to the finish just creates negative feelings toward the project (and I run the risk of tossing it aside into a pile somewhere). I don't know what the answer is either, perhaps we all need a little balance??

  2. I actually have this little sign on my sewing table ..."FOCUS...if you chase two rabbits, both will escape " (it has a picture of an eagle) I, however, am a little ADD, and I work better with multiple projects ...oh look, a squirrel!

  3. I agree whole heatedly! I need to work on one project at a time! I need to keep that focus. If I don't, I lose traction. I have to re-figure out what I am doing, and to me, that is just a big waste of time. It's so enticing to start a new idea, but from now on, I think I will just keep a notebook;) Sometimes, I need a break on a project. Maybe it's just that I am stumped on a certain aspect of it. Maybe, I just need a break! Believe my when I say I have plenty of things to do to keep my busy in the meantime!!

  4. I think the key is to find what works for YOU... I'm someone who gets bored easily so I need to have multiple projects to choose from. What I have learned over the the last month is that by giving myself a limited choice of UFOs I 1)still have freedom of choice 2)slow down my tendency to start a new project spontaneously 3)finish a few which keeps me motivated to finish more and 4)I'm not overwhelmed by ALL of my UFOs because they are out of sight.

  5. OH girl, I have to have more than one going on at a time, otherwise I get bored, and then don't want to ever finish the project. So I do bounce from one to another, as long as I am moving forward. Right now I am working on 3 tops, bounce, bounce, bounce. Then I am going to quilt one of them, and 2 others waiting. Then I will bind those 3 and 2 others sitting there waiting. So then there will be 5 @ 100% finished, and 2 others almost there. OH and my list of UFO's usually get there from boredom. That list is sitting at around 50, and I am working on knocking it down now that I have a long arm to help with that part, since I have lots of KING size quilts to be quilted.

  6. Why are these unfinished project driving you crazy? Why do you feel like you have to focus and finish? Why can't they just be and evolve when they, and you, are ready? Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.

  7. Leah, I spent the first three decades of my life working on one thing at a time. Then I started getting very, very bored. So I began to work on 3 or 4 things at a time. The great thing about that is, I do whatever I'm in the mood to do at any given time. However, the yang to that particular yin is that, if I start TOO many things, like 6 or 8 or 10 projects, it does begin to feel like a burden. So, like everything else, it isn't black or white, i.e. all or nothing. It's simply a matter of balance. We all have to find our own happy medium--how many projects will give us choice and variety vs. how many projects will send us over the edge. It's an individual thing. And even then, it will change from decade to decade as our life circumstances change. By the way, I just turned 60, so I still have a lot to learn! :)

  8. I am quite pleased that I finally got my WIP list down below 50!
    It's actually down to 48.
    I don't count the other lists:
    1.Rework or Abandon
    2. Questionable to finish
    3. Not Real Important

    It's a good feeling to be under 50 as for years my goal was to stay under 100!

  9. I agree with you and Jen. It would be fantastic to do. Stupid school and work trying to take up all of my time. Don't get me wrong I love my major and my job, but when you want to push out some UFOs or WIPs, they so are not helpful! :D Thank you for sharing!!!

  10. Hum!
    It has to be balance and a bit of variety too! Perhaps the cheetah needs to be applied as a 'sprint finish' when the end of a project is in sight and achievable in the time available!
    Happy quilting!

  11. At one point I had 5 projects on the go and became completely overwhelmed...since then my limit seems to be 3 projects at any given time. Yep, agree...they are all vying for attention and at times that drives me crazy. The solution for me seems to be..let's make a list or 'plan of attack'. That works for me and then I blindly follow my plan, doing one task after the other.

  12. You got me on board Leah. I used to think I could manage a quilt piecing and a quilt a quilting but to be honest for me the answer is one quilt at a time. Then the quilt is a WIP and not a series of UFO.

    I get tired of a quilt when it is hanging around for ages and not progressing.

    I have enough of multitasking at work without adding it to my creative/down time.

  13. Wow Leah! You take the words right out of my mouth! Focus-focus-focus, that's a good skill to develop :-)

  14. I think for some of us UFOs represent a lot more then just unfinished projects we are happy to have lying around. UFOs give me an itch, in whatever part of life they are in. For me they represent bad habits, not starting what I finish, allowing a bit of boredom to stop me from achieving what I want to. The desire to do combating with the feeling of failure or fear of failure stopping me from moving forwards.

    Some people thrive in that position and some of us don't. Thich Nhat Han would say do your quilting mindfully. For me, it is really hard to be mindful, absorb myself in a task when I know that there is a long list of them waiting to be done.

    Pushing ahead on the Compass quilt I find myself battling with many thoughts, why did it take so long and because it took so long it has robbed a bit of the joy of progression. Putting it off and doing something else wouldn't work for me, well I've already done that so I know. What keeps me going is the thought of finishing it to the best of my ability and then starting a new project and following it to completion in one go. I'm not sure how that will feel as I've never worked that way but I want to know and give it a chance.

    I don't like UFOs - so I need to remove them from my life and experience what the alternative is.

  15. I wrote my blog, and read your post and linked to my blog anyway. Because I am putting aside one almost finished project to pick up a UFO that has been sitting for a very long time.

    I did the class project quilt to get the skills to finish the UFO. But one thing I do seem to be doing, even with all the UFOs in the background is concentrating on only one project at a time with a plan to finish up several of them together at a later time. There is method to my madness! Or at least I think so.

  16. I'm trying to decide whether my projects are WIPs or UFOs. Nonetheless, I have 6 quilting projects unfinished. I start a quilt and then WHAM...someone else's quilt takes priority. I rarely keep the quilts I make. On those without a specific time limit, I'm sometimes stumped on what quilting design to today. If I stare at a quilt too long without taking action on it, then I move to another one. I try to use that time before falling to sleep to think about the designs that might look good. Because I'm always trying new designs, there's almost a reluctance to finishing my projects. I relish hand-sewing the binding, and although I try to work quickly, I begin to feel separation anxiety, knowing this "baby" will soon be going to a new home.

  17. I sort of agree with you. One project IS really nice sometimes (I noticed a couple people said their goal is to stay under 50 WIPs or UFOs...I don't think I even have room in my apartment for that many!), I find I create better and with more satisfaction when I have projects in a few different stages going on. As in, one being pieced, one being quilted, one being bound, etc. That way if I get my ass handed to me by tricky piecing, I can go play on a different skill set. For that same reason, I try to have a project always in the works that is "easy," something that brings nothing but a gleeful smile to my face, to give me that "this is why I do this" feeling. This goes for quilting, knitting, even the books I'm reading. :)

  18. I think my inner cheetah has ADHD!!! I've got 4 projects going right now--And I just had a week vacation and still didn't bring any of those projects to completion! :) maybe next week!

  19. Dear Lah, I just wanted to let you know that you have inspired me to quilt my quilt, finally! I had to practice my stitches a long long time before. i felt confident enough to work on the big quilt. Now, I have started and I am excited!

    It took me a few weeks to decide on a quilting design- my quilt is a zig zag, I didn't want to stitch in the ditch, so I settled for some sort of paisley, which I have made my own, starts with a teardrop, then lots of scallop leaves around, twice. The first paisley has terrible stitches on it, but finally my stitches started looking like stitches.

    there is hope!

    Thank you!


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