Tag Archives: Solving problems

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.

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

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Transformation

These days, HGTV is focused on total house renovation, largely done by hired contractors, and selling fantasy homes. In the old days, many programs looked at the smaller scale of crafts and DIY home decor. Those old shows, and current ones like Craft in America on PBS, elevate making as a means of expression, and as a source of pleasure in transformation. As I watched those shows I remarked more than once about my wish to make beautiful things by my own efforts. But though I took a couple of drawing and painting classes, and occasionally bought craft supplies to try at home, I had no particular skill or talent for it.

Sometimes I’m still surprised at my journey into quilting. In my first experience fourteen years ago, I cut measured squares using a ruler, pencil, and scissors. I sewed them with seams as wide as the presser foot edge. The machine’s tension wouldn’t hold, leaving me repeatedly frustrated. Once my quilt top was assembled, I used tack stitching to hold the layers together. I pinched together wide bias binding, from a package, around the edge and top-stitched. It’s amazing that little quilt held together as long as it did.

The effort was not very satisfying, much less inspirational. I was not transformed into a quilter, but I enjoyed choosing fabrics to go together, and deciding how they would be arranged. Perhaps that’s what spurred my second quilt. It also was from squares, but I had a new sewing machine and basic tools of rotary cutter, a ruler, and mat. Having better tools allowed more pleasure from the process, as well as a better product.

The tools we use include more than the tangible ones like rulers and mats and machines. They also include the skills and talents we develop over time. I remember in the early days of my quilting having to think about each step as I made a small table runner for a friend. My goodness, it was hard!

Terri’s Variable Star Table Runner, about 8.5″ x 25.5″. From my early days, maybe 2006.

Of course, I didn’t use a pattern. I didn’t know patterns even existed. By that time I understood basic patch cutting with a quarter inch seam allowance, so I used the few books I owned for ideas, not recipes. (Eternal thanks to the small number of quilters online, who offered tips and tutorials even without patterns. Because of them, I learned how to quilt. Hallelujah and Amen.)

Besides the books, I started subscribing to American Patchwork & Quilting. Here, too, were patterns that I misunderstood as ideas and inspiration. Though I made a few quilts over the years based on the beautiful projects they showed, I always changed things, subbing a different block into the setting, or changing the size. The quilt below uses the “streak of lightning” setting I saw in an APQ project, though nothing else about it is the same.

Em’s Bed Quilt top (unquilted.) Streak of lightning setting. From about 2007. I don’t have a photo after it was quilted and bound.

Though I always designed my own quilts, it was many years before I thought of myself as a designer. In fact, that thought came to me about four years ago, at a specific moment, which I wrote about here.

While that recognition didn’t change what I do, it did help change how I do it. Seeing myself as a designer made me take design more seriously. Design is something that can be learned, and can be taught. I started studying design principles generally, but specifically related to quilts. I learned about unity, balance, proportion, and movement. I learned how design elements such as color, value, shape, and size contribute to the look of the quilt. And I began to evaluate more carefully what I see and what I make.

Evaluation allows me to identify both challenges and opportunities for meeting them. Currently I’m developing quilts for the class I’m teaching on medallion quilt design. Sometimes when I’m making a quilt, something about it strikes me wrong. Does that ever happen to you? 🙂 I got this far on one of my tops, and was dissatisfied. I knew the problems, but I wasn’t sure about the solution.

bear’s paw center block with borders

The first border of batik around the bear’s paw center block is cornered by fussy-cut flowers. I liked the effect at first, but as I surrounded it with more borders, it bothered me more and more. (Construction note: I used separate blocks, including half-square triangles, to form the borders that create the on-point look. The blocks allowed better precision of placement than I would get by creating large triangles to set on point.) The last border in the picture above is also batik, and it is cornered with more of the red used in the interior.

What didn’t I like? Those corner blocks. Though small, they have a lot of effect on the look. In the interior corners, the black print with red flowers bled into the surrounding fabrics. It wasn’t distinct enough from the batik, the black print, or even the red. On the outside corners, the red is simply too hot.

Another problem is that I’ve limited the number of colors I can use in later borders. There are various blues, greens, golds, and browns in the prints. However, the large sections of aqua, red, and butter yellow make introducing more colors awkward.

The simplest solution to both problems is to change the corner blocks. I looked for blue in my stash that would emphasize the blues in the batik. I had one small piece, about 10″ x 15″. (This isn’t unusual for my stash. I usually buy a yard at a time, but the way I use it, often in small amounts, ultimately leaves me with small amounts.) I cut squares to replace the eight corners and covered the ones already sewn in. Immediately I was happier. The blue transformed the piece, making it cooler and simpler, and allowing blue as another color for outer borders.

As I create my class projects, I explain to my students some of my process, using the jargon of design. Explanation clarifies for both them and me. And I ask for advice and help at decision points. They, also, present their work, and the group provides constructive input.

Over the series of classes, they become more confident in their choices. Some who have never designed their own quilts before are guided through the process, transforming themselves at the same time.

One could define “transformation” as the act or process of being changed. Some synonyms are change, alteration, and metamorphosis. A “metamorphosis” is the transformation into a completely different form, unrecognizable from the beginning. My metamorphosis over many years has taken me from someone with no apparent artistic skill, to one who can change pieces of fabric and thread into things of beauty and utility of my own design, and to one who can teach others to do the same. I like this form, and I look forward to what comes next.

The Six-Pointed Star UFO Is Still a UFO

but it’s a lot farther along than it was!

Remember where I started with six star points and no real plan? Then I figured out how to set the points in their background fabric and made more borders.

I played with EQ7 to try some ideas for finishing. (Oh yes, in case you wonder, there were many more versions drawn!)

I started on the third of these, making 40 chain (double 4-patch) blocks and cutting the alternate blocks. The chain blocks didn’t have enough visual weight to balance with the center, so I switched gears.

This is the result so far, after a fair amount of unstitching and restitching.

As often, it is too big to take one decent picture of it on the floor. I simply don’t have enough head room above it to get the camera high enough.

Those are dark brown triangles in the corners. They look just right in real life, though in the photos they don’t thrill me. The triangles, along with the diagonal lines of 4-patches, provide the weight in the corners I was missing before. The diagonal lines there and throughout the chains give movement. And the value changes from light background through dark triangles provide the contrast I like.

The small 6-pointed stars centering the borders repeat the star shape in the quilt center. I wondered if they would look too small and fussy, but overall I’m happy with the effect. They were kind of a pain to make. I might post again about making them.

Right now it is about 70″ square. I’ll add another 1″ border, as well as a wider outer border to finish. I don’t have those fabrics in my stash, so will need to shop for the right thing. There are too many other things to do right now, so that will wait, and the UFO will stay a UFO for a while longer.

Finding Balance with Visual Weight

I’m working on that UFO. More accurately, I’ve stalled working on that UFO, because of balance problems.

Last time I showed you a couple of ideas for finishing the 6-pointed star with borders. Both were good ideas, and I kept playing in EQ7 to refine them. This was the winner:

Pretty, huh? I liked the airy way the chains of 4-patches wrapped around the center. After arriving home over the weekend, I set to work making 40 double-4-patches to construct the borders. They finished well, and I was excited to lay them out around the center. But I don’t like the look at all. They definitely look better in the drawing than they do in real life.

The balance is all wrong. The visual weight of the center (everything in the center so far, including the 4-patches on point and the 1″ dark pink border outside of them) is too heavy, relative to the weight of the chains. The difference is so stark, the border chain blocks seem completely disconnected from the center, as if they are from different quilts.

Unity: the design principle that all the elements and components of a design look like they belong, that they are unified, or one.

Balance: the design principle that elements and components of a design have equal distribution of visual weight.

My chains are not well balanced with the center, and in fact, are so badly balanced as to look like they don’t belong.

Sigh… 

So it was back to the literal drawing board of EQ7. I have a tentative plan, but you might understand that I’m shy about showing it right now. First I’ll see if it works.

How is your week going? Are you making good progress, or are you in steps-forward and steps-back mode, like I am?

A New Plan for an Old UFO, Part 2

Where I left you last time was having solved the problem of setting the star points into background fabric without using Y-seams. I also showed you an idea for a quilt design using log cabin blocks. It’s pretty, but I really have no interest in making it.

This is where it is so far. At this point it finishes at 54″ square. 

The question is, what to do next? Often I begin a quilt with a center and two or three borders, designed in my mind and with scratch paper, and made directly. When it’s time to add more borders, I often switch to EQ7 for design help. It gives the advantage of trying out ideas without making them. With unlimited iterations possible at virtually no cost, there is not much downside. I did the same for this one.

Here are a couple of options, drawn in EQ7.

Original design in EQ7, 82″ square.

Original design in EQ7, 93″ square.

I like them both, but I have a pretty good idea which direction I’ll go with it.