How to Finish UFOs

After speaking with friends about their UFO piles, I decided to republish this post from early 2016. Remember, YOU get to decide what “finished” means. It can simply mean, there, dammit, I’m FINISHED with this thing! 

For me, I have a small number of UFOs going right now. The six star points shown at the bottom of the post are no longer a UFO — except I haven’t bound the quilt yet! 

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.


Tell me about your UFOs. What stops you from finishing? And how do you get them going again?

20 thoughts on “How to Finish UFOs

  1. melfunk

    Many things get me stuck. I grow wearing of the process. I think I might like it and then find I am bored. I also have traded blocks for many years (that stopped 4 years ago) and never put the quilts together, so they became UFOs. Last year I decided that it was OK for it not to become a quilt. I make purses from them, pillows are a favorite, or make into a smaller quilt. I have given myself permission to change my plan and just get it done. I still have so many already started, and some will make more than one quilt, but I’m now having fun getting them done and not stressing over them. 2017 has me at a 72% UFO to new start. Most of what I started is finished. A couple will go into January, but that is OK.

  2. tierneycreates

    Sigh. I am waiting for the UFO Fairy to come at night (I keep putting UFOs under my pillow) and turn them into finished projects. Alas, this has not happened. My only cure for UFOs is to stop creating them. I am trying (I use the word “trying” very loosely) not to start things I won’t just finish within a month or so of starting them. It sure is difficult to pull out old UFOs to work on when there are SO MANY fun new things to start! 🙂

      1. Lisa Yarost

        Ooooh! I LOVE this idea!! Although I have more fabric than I could expect to use in a lifetime, It is mostly in one or two yard increments. I really like pieced backs, but I’m lazy enough to run to the store for yardage so I can move a project to the “done” pile.

        However, I’ve found myself on an
        unexpected fabric diet, so piecing backs has become more of a necessity than a choice. This could potentially ease some of the “pain” involved in piecing the back of a quilt that I am mentally already “done” with.

  3. Lisa Yarost

    I have so many UFOs that I have given myself a requirement to finish two projects before I start a new one. Since making this rule, I have finished at least six projects, a few of which had been lingering for a couple of years.

    The first UFO that I had ever rescued was a lovely economy block quilt that had really imprecise piecing. I finally realized that if I trimmed the blocks down they would become snowball blocks! It became my son’s “dorm” quilt, a high school graduation gift.

    Since then, trimming down, beefing up, and just plain making smaller have all become standard techniques in my quilt making toolbox.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      What a great solution, making your son’s quilt from otherwise difficult blocks. Yes, there are so many ways to go, as you say. Adding on to blocks can do the trick, or chopping them into bits. I’ve done both! 🙂

  4. zippyquilts

    I still like ALL these solutions! A shop “near” me has a charity sale of UFOs in any stage that have been donated by customers. At least you get a NEW (to you) UFO plus the money goes to a good cause 🙂

  5. Cindy Anderson

    I have too many ufo’s to talk about. They remain in the ufo status because I’m either busy quilting on my long arm quilt machine or having too much fun doing other things. Not to worry though they will have their day. 🙂

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      We all get to decide for ourselves. What I don’t like seeing is people feeling guilty for having them (and you don’t seem to.) Enjoy making and being creative. When the joy in a piece goes, it’s okay to move on. But if moving on causes upset, it’s time to find a new way to work. Thanks!

  6. myquiltprojects

    I have three ufo’s. Mine are because my mind shifts gears and I get creative, and move on before I am done. I am happy to say that the three I have, one will be repurposed and the others will get done. And hasn’t there been a bunch of chatter on blogs about finishing them? I think UFOs are part of the process of learning what goes well and what does not, and what you bores you, and what paths you should not take again. I like your suggestions about repurposing your original idea with something else like placemats or passing it to someone else. Nice outside of the block thinking!!

  7. katechiconi

    My UFO of Shame showcases the triumph of stretched bias edges over my skills at the time of starting it. It’s supposed to become an Ohio star but each diamond section has a lot of banana in its ancestry so nothing fits properly. I love the fabrics still and cannot bear to throw it out. I have an idea of how to use the bits, but it’ll take a lot of work and it’s always so much easier to stuff it back in the cupboard and ignore it…

  8. Chela's Colchas y Mas

    I started a Quilt of Valor this past May.
    I made a big block star for the center.
    The star came out beautifully.
    My problem is that I do not know how to turn this square quilt to a rectangular quilt that would comply with the specs for a QOV.
    Anything I’ve thought if looks unbalanced or takes away from the star.
    I pull it out every now and then to see if I’m ready to continue.


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