Project Process

I’ve been procrastinating on writing more about my Wind River Beauty project. The first two posts were about some of the math involved with developing the design, and my intention is to share my decision-making as I created it. With quilting still to do, it’s still in process and I don’t feel “late” with my report. However, it isn’t one of those projects that has flowed naturally from start to finish, as if freed fully grown like Athena from Zeus’s brain. As it was with making it, I’m struggling with knowing how to write about it.

To help organize my thoughts (and indulge in some productive procrastination,) I’ll write instead about the project process.

A hundred years ago I designed and wrote software, so I learned to think in flow charts. Later when I taught principles of wealth management to undergraduates at the university, I used a very simple idea to discuss the overall process. It’s the same process used for any problem-solving or project work. It all begins with identifying the problem to be solved. Here are the basic steps:

How does this translate to quilting? Anytime we undertake a quilt project, we first need to identify the objective. Sometimes that is easy and sometimes not. Possibilities include wanting to use particular scraps or orphan blocks, making a special-occasion gift, or creating for a contest or challenge. Really, the potential “problems” to be solved or objectives to be met are personal and related to a moment in time, for most of us.

After identifying the problem or objective, we come up with possible solutions. Again, there are endless options. However, they are limited by constraints and available resources. Special-occasion quilts are, by their nature, constrained. You generally choose to make a quilt for the occasion itself, or specifically to suit the receiver. Last year I made a graduation quilt in white and pale greys, based on the request of the graduate. Or perhaps you want to make a quilt with appliqué but your skills are limited. That probably will affect the design you choose. Resources can include time, money, or available supplies. Or, if you need someone else’s help, like a longarm quilter, their availability and cost might affect your plan.

Given all the possibilities and the constraints and resources, you choose the best option as you see it, and begin making. Once begun, almost every project has its share of challenges, which requires another cycle through the steps of problem and possible solution identification, along with the constraining factors. For instance, if you originally planned to make a baby quilt to present after a baby is born, but then are invited to a baby shower prior to its birth, your available time may be reduced by several months. That can call for a change in plans, perhaps simplifying the original design, or choosing to use only three fabrics instead of a range of scraps.

Finally (whew!) the project is complete. Of course, other challenges might arise from that, including how best to use scraps, putting away the supplies, storing or giving the quilt, and choosing the next project. And the cycle begins anew.


Though the basic look of the Wind River Beauty project was clear to me from early on, it’s had its share of challenges. To be clear, nothing in particular has gone wrong. I had to change strategies on construction at one point, and available fabric led to decisions that might have been different without that constraint. And my current skills at quilting (and its design) have slowed the finish. Is this very different from most projects? Not particularly. Perhaps none of them really are Athenas, springing fully formed from the head of the creator. 


17 thoughts on “Project Process

  1. Kerry

    Now what if your husband is the problem! Womanly wiles – make him think it’s his idea. Brainwashing. Compliment him, repeat as necessary. Just go ahead and do! Seriously though (husband is fine – I have used method 1 through 3 many times LOL) those pointers are very useful. My main problem is me! Distraction is the next step, so must maintain focus. I’ll get there in the end. Repeat often and then you have the makings of a habit, and if you use that plan regularly it’ll become second nature. Thank you Melanie.

  2. Cathy H

    This was great timing. I need to focus on what direction to move with my quilting. I am a longarm quilter and instructor. I have way too many ideas as to what to do next. These steps will help me figure this out.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Oh yes!! I hadn’t in fact thought of that, of sort of bigger “life” projects. But of course that works the same way. For you there may be more of a “root” problem to work on. It might take a lot of digging to get to it. Best of luck to you!

  3. snarkyquilter

    Funny how that process always seems to revert to more problems in need of solutions. Yes, all processes need to have the constraints acknowledged from the beginning – whether they be fabric, or time and funds available. Actually, I like the challenge of a quilt project with constraints. It often prevents the paralysis of too many choices.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Oh yes indeed! They all have constraints of one kind or another. But deciding up front a few, perhaps artificial ones does help spur creativity. How can I go around that barrier? It is good brain work.

  4. katechiconi

    I think anyone who has done project management of any kind has learned useful skills to bring to the process of making a quilt. It *sounds* as if the two are totally unrelated, but you’ve demonstrated exactly why that isn’t so. I find it brings a degree of flexibility and ability to achieve outcomes that you don’t have if you haven’t learned how to analyse the problems you come up against and develop solutions.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yes. One thing that struck me is that I don’t know what classes students take, aside from some of their science, that deliberately teach this as a way of thinking. I reviewed the cycle I used (as it ALWAYS is a cycle, when you’re dealing with an ongoing client) over and over in my class, each time we looked at a new topic. Hopefully it helped them frame their work in finance and other areas.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Indeed! We do informal project management all the time, don’t we? Pretty soon I need to get up to start dinner, one more project that has a similar work flow. 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting today.

  5. Chela's Colchas y Mas

    Melanie, this post is exactly what I need. I have been stuck on what to do with a fabric panel. My thoughts are scattered and I am not organized in any way. Your flow chart has given me the boost that I need. Thank you!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Wow, so glad I could help! 🙂 It’s hard sometimes to pull things together. That’s how I’ve felt with actually writing about the quilt project. I’m hoping this will spur me, too. Thanks!


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