How to Finish UFOs

UFO: Unfinished Object; an art or crafting project that was begun but not finished, with some extended delay in making progress toward completion. The creator still intends to complete it, differentiating it from an abandoned project. UFO is a common term in quilting and knitting, but can apply to other creative endeavors such as writing, scrapbooking, painting, etc.

Over the last year or so, I’ve seen a lot more emphasis in quilting blogs on UFOs. Last year was a movement toward “A Lovely Year of Finishes,” complete with a button, goal setting, and linky parties. This year’s version is “One Monthly Goal,” or OMG. I love that these encourage quilters to complete their projects, just as Stashbusters has been doing for years.

But the question often comes up of what to do with projects you DON’T WANT TO FINISH. It just isn’t going to turn out the way you’d imagined, or it’s boring beyond tears, or you hate the process, or it was intended for someone not in your life anymore. In truth, you want to abandon it, but you don’t want to be a quitter, or don’t want to waste the effort or materials already used. What then? How to FINISH those unfinished objects?

The first thing to remember is that quilting is supposed to be rewarding and positive, not stressful and upsetting. If you look at a project and a black cloud appears above it, it might be time to make another decision. It doesn’t matter what resources already went into it. It’s too late to change that. What matters is what resources you put into it now, including time, energy, and material.

You have choices. One choice is to make a quilt of a different design than originally planned. What you do might depend on how much you have done. Do you have some blocks made? Can those blocks be assembled into a top, maybe of a smaller size or with a different setting? With sashings if there weren’t any in the original design, without if there were? On point, or with unpieced alternate blocks?

If you imagine your setting as a big 9-patch, you only need 4 or 5 pieced blocks, alternated with something else, to create a small quilt. It could be a lap quilt or a baby quilt or a doll quilt, or a table mat. A narrow table runner might need even fewer blocks.

Maybe you were part of a swap and found the blocks you received vary substantially in size. You can frame all the blocks with one fabric and then trim them to a consistent size. Then use the same framing fabric for sashing. No one will ever see the differences in size. The BEST book for dealing with swap blocks and other setting problems is Setting Solutions by Sharyn Craig. (I do own the book now.)

Maybe you signed up for an appliqué block of the month, but found you hate appliqué. If you have at least one, lovely big block, say 12″ or larger, you could make a medallion quilt with the block as the center.

Other options for a small number of blocks include a tote bag, mug rug, or placemats. My guild members make placemats for Meals on Wheels every couple of years, and nursing homes often use small quilts as door decorations for residents.

Or you could give all the blocks to someone else. Or use them as practice pieces for your free motion quilting.

If you have part of the top already assembled and don’t like where it’s going, try something new. My friend Mary at Zippy Quilts shows some great saves on improv projects she’s done.

What if you proceed and make a quilt top, what then? You can finish it and keep it, repurposing the quilt for something else. Make pillow covers or a travel bag, like Carole at From My Carolina Home. Or give the quilt to a friend or relative who would like it, donate it, make a cat bed out of it… Or don’t quilt the top. Donations often are appreciated at your real-world guild. My guild finishes a lot of unquilted tops for donations to local organizations. And once a year or so, we hold a fund-raiser auction. My friend Karen bought a beautiful quilt top at the January auction. She’s already quilted and bound it. Now she’ll give it back to the guild for a community donation quilt.

If you don’t have blocks or parts made, but simply have a pattern and fabric pulled together, take it all apart. Restash the fabric if you want. Or if the fabric gives you bad memories or no longer meets your quality standards, give it away, too.

Finishing UFOs does not require making a quilt. Finishing can mean throwing them away or passing them on. You can put them in the burn bin, you can wash the car with rags made from them. Finishing means declaring you are DONE with that project. Then it is NOT a UFO, it is a FO, Finished Object. DONE.

The most important thing to remember with UFOs is there is NO ONE who gets to decide how they are finished or disposed of, except you. If you don’t want to finish it, don’t. Life is too short to spend it on stuff (like this) you don’t want to do. If you don’t make the quilt, no one will die and no one will go to jail. NO bad thing will happen.

Here is my one UFO. Yes, one. This one got stuck because I didn’t know how to set and border the 6-pointed star. Now as I look at it, I don’t love it, or the idea, as much as I did when I started it. I’m not ready to abandon it, but I probably won’t hurry to finish it, either.

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Tell me about your UFOs. What stops you from finishing? 

 

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37 thoughts on “How to Finish UFOs

  1. Shasta

    I am impressed that you only have one UFO. I want to be like you! There are just so many beautiful quilt designs out there -(I found three that make me want to drop everything I am doing just to start them) that it is hard to focus on finishing the ones I already started. I am getting to them though, and hopefully my UFO list will be much smaller by the end of thi syear.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Up until about 3 years ago, almost every quilt I made was for a specific purpose, usually a gift. I think my finishing habit stems from that — when I made a quilt, there was a deadline I perceived (birthday, wedding, graduation, birth/shower…) and I hit my deadlines, just as I would have at work. Occasionally I have more than one quilt in process at a time, but even when I do, I don’t switch back and forth between them very well. Good luck getting yours moved along.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      In my experience, quilters are very generous with everything from fabrics and supplies to finished quilts. We all have our favorite organizations, and Project Linus is a favorite for many. Thanks for the link.

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  2. katechiconi

    I have one UFO. It’s an Ohio Star, and I warped the finished diamond sections badly along the way, so it’ll never make a good star. One of these days, when I’m feeling courageous, I’ll take apart the worst parts, trim and remake them, and then I’ll finish it. The fabric is beautiful, and I want to finish it, it’s just the ‘unstitching’…

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      1. katechiconi

        Marvellous examples! I don’t feel nearly so depressed about my banana shaped pieces now! You never know… this may be the year I actually finish it. The Husband has laid claim to it, but is failing to apply pressure so I’ll have to do that bit myself!

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  3. katlorien

    Such an interesting post and some good suggestions. You have given me an idea of how to use some blocks which I like, but don’t want to make enough for a quilt. A table runner it is!

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  4. trueblue92

    I am in a Quilter’s group on Ravelry, and we challenge each other to finish something from a specified list of our own UFOs each quarter. The accountability helps! You have compiled a great list of ideas..I will be linking back here! Thanks for sharing.

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  5. melfunk

    Well, I do all of the above with my UFOs. many times I make more than one out of a large number of blocks. One UFO I remember had blocks that reminded me of Halloween – my least favorite holiday — and I decided to make new blocks in better colors and it ended up with 3 different quilts from that beginning set of blocks. All different creations.
    Lately I’ve taken some of the challenges to see if having someone else pick the UFO I need to work on during the month makes me want to work on it more. Not sure that is the case, but it is fun to try and see if I can get some completions. I’ve done fairly well this year and want to keep on working on my MANY UFOs. it is going to take years to complete them, but I’m having fun recreating them.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Making a game of it can push away some of the black cloud and make it a lot more fun. But like you’ve found (and are good at,) being a little creative in just HOW you finish can make a big difference, too.

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  6. KerryCan

    Lots of great ideas here and SUCH a sensible message! Life is too short to let UFOs make us feel bad about ourselves. The guild I’m in does a TON of charitable quilting so I can give them pretty much anything I don’t want to deal with and it will go for some good cause.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yes, that’s the real thing. Finish it or don’t. Either one is okay. If you don’t “finish,” feel good about what else you learned, like “I NEVER want to do a project like that again!” 😉

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  7. snarkyquilter

    Many of my UFOs have ended up on the backs of quilts I did finish. It gets them out of the closet and saves on backing fabric. And sometimes a UFO is simply put on pause for a long time. Your star may become an example of this.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Amen on the backs of quilts. I am marking one of my UFOs done now, as I used it on the back of my big-block quilt. Granddaughter and I had started a project long ago, and I wasn’t getting time with her to move it forward. I asked her if I could use the parts on the back of her little brother’s bed quilt. She said yes, I did what I could, and now that UFO is FO. The star? I’m not throwing it away. It still needs to brew a bit.

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  8. allisonreidnem

    Thanks for this uplifting post, so much common sense! Funny how sometimes we need to be ‘given permission’ to let go of something before clarity of thought wins the day! I’m not out of love with my UFOs but there are there are other things I’d rather be making. I’m trying having a UFO on the go alongside a new project and finding the thrill of getting near to finishing one spurs me on with the other.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I really think that’s what happens for a lot of people — it’s not that they don’t still like the project, but a newer, shinier one has presented itself. So pick the ones that are highest priorities (promised to your brother, or whatever) and work on it a bit at a time, alongside new ones. The other old ones can wait their turn.

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  9. twemyss

    Goodness, sounds like me, I got 4 still to go but bored with them! But promised myself no new projects until these are finished! But none made and I feel so stink about it as I quilt for Age Concern etc! Also premmie quilts! But a promise is a promise, no new material unless I finish the quilts! And now that it is 30c in Auckland New Zealand and to keep the ozone layer we dont have airconditioning so too hot at the moment to handle material!

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  10. Deanna

    I love your suggestions! This gives me hope that I really might finish my myriad, (20? 30? I don’t know) UFOs.
    They have been collecting for about 40 years. And a few from my Mom even older than that. I better get busy!

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