UFOs…how long is your list of unfinished (quilt) objects?

I made my first quilt in 2004 from a Terry Atkinson pattern. I liked the Alexander Henry fabric so much that I made a pieced back so it is truly a reversible quilt.  Then I started the Underground Railroad sampler. And a quilted jacket.  Then a peek-a-boo quilt with lots of prairie points.  Those three projects, and at least a dozen more, are piled in a closet.  Unfinished objects are a fact of life for most quilters. Why do projects turn into UFOs?  What can we do to manage this ever-growing problem?unifinished objects in my quilting room                                                                  (a pile of quilt tops waiting to be finished)

How Unfinished Objects are born

One reason quilters have a double-digit list of UFOs is Shiny Object Syndrome.  I blame the fabric companies.  Every three to six months, new fabric lines are released, with fabulous new patterns to tempt us to buy the latest and greatest stuff.  Most quilters have limited time to sew but we think we can piece a king size quilt from one inch strips in a single weekend.  All these enticing projects mean we flit from one project to the next in the hopes that with a little bit of effort spread across many projects, something will eventually get finished.

Another reason for lengthy lists of unfinished objects is that life tends to interrupt.  As the saying goes, quilters plan and God laughs.  I have good intentions of finishing the block of the month from 2007, but then my neighbor asks me to make a baby quilt for a friend.  I can’t turn down a commission, so the ten-year-old BOM goes back into the closet while I make the baby quilt.  Deadlines and paychecks tend to be strong motivators!

quilt blocks on the design wall


Managing the list of Unfinished Objects

There are many ways to shrink that list of UFOs.  Most involve equal parts self-discipline and extrinsic motivation, i.e. rewards.  For some dedicated quilters, making a list is all the motivation they need.  Seeing each project written in black and white allows you to prioritize.  Joining an online forum and declaring your intention to get things finished provides accountability. I was part of a group on Ravelry that committed to buying fat quarters for each other as a reward for finishing one of five stated projects during a three month period.  Even though I did not need any more fabric, I did work hard to join the winner’s circle!

My local guild also runs a UFO challenge.  At the beginning of the year, everyone listed twelve unfinished projects. Each month, the program chair drew a number and if you finished that item on your list, your name is entered into a raffle.  Big cheers erupt during show and tell when someone finally shares a FINISHED project!

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Ripping out seams – is there anything to like about it?

We all make mistakes. No one enjoys it, and certainly not when someone else points out our flaws!  But we know when something we have created is not quite right.  An essential tool for every quilter is the seam ripper.  Whether you own the classic blue version, an ergonomic style or an elegant wood-turned piece of art, the act of ripping out seams means we have to face our mistakes.

Various seam ripping tools seam ripper from OffTheWall Quilt






Look on the bright side…at least with thread and fabric, our mistakes are temporary.  The seam ripper is a beautiful tool, a chance to improve our work.  Once the seam ripping is over, no one even has to know it happened!

When do you rip out seams?

  1. Rip out the seam if your seam allowance is wrong.

    One crucial element in quilting is the seam allowance.  Sometimes the fabric pieces are not aligned, so there will be a weak spot in the quilt since there are very few threads holding it together.  Rip it out and start over!  If your seam allowance varies from the standard quarter inch, your block will end up too big or too small, which affects the ovreall size of the quilt and the amount of fabric you need for the project.  If your units don’t meet the specified dimensions, go ahead and rip them out.

  2. Rip out the seam if your points don’t match.

    Granted, this is open to interpretation.  I am actually a fairly lazy quilter, and lots of points get chopped off in my quilts.  Some quilters have higher OCD tendencies and strive for the utmost perfection in their piecing.  Their seam rippers might get more use than mine and that is perfectly okay.  Take a look at your quilt blocks from a few feet away – if you still see the mistake, rip it out and try again.  Some quilters live by the rule that if you can’t see it from a galloping horse, then it doesn’t matter!

  3. Rip it out if you just don’t like it.

    Sometimes our fabric choices don’t allow the block design to shine.  Maybe you cut an animal motif in half and the wrong end of the horse shows up in the center of your block! Even if a quilt block is constructed well, the seam ripper may be called upon for aesthetic reasons.  This is purely a personal decision, but life is too short to put up with “meh” quilts.

How do you use a seam ripper?

Yes, you can actually rip out seams the wrong way!  Don’t worry, the worst that can happen is perhaps an extra hole in the fabric or a slower process.

Keep the blade flat against the fabric.

The blade is sideways as it slides under the line of stitching, then you turn the blade upwards and it cuts the thread. My friend Mel has a great tutorial on using a seam ripper.

Use a small rotary cutter.

rotary cutter and seam ripper

Yes, a rotary cutter can quickly rip out seams!  I demonstrate in this video from my Facebook page.

Seam rippers are like doctors: we appreciate having them close by but we hope we don’t see them very often!

Stretch and Move – exercises for Quilters

I hate to admit that quilting can be painful.  Joint and muscle pains are a natural consequence from being in one position for too long.  Over the past several days of working on a king-size quilt on my longarm, I remembered to take many breaks to stretch my back.  Here are some resources with exercises for quilters to use as a quick reference guide. I am NOT a doctor so please consult your own physician for specific complaints.

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Stretch every day

woman stretching

Have you ever been to an aerobics class?  There are some basic stretches that come to mind from the good ole days when I went to Jazzercise several times a week.  I work my way from head to toe with neck stretches (ear to shoulder), torso twists and ankle rotations.

Grab some simple equipment

tennis ball exercises for quilters

I have found relief for specific back pain from a chiropractor.  An at-home exercise she recommended was laying on a tennis ball.  I use it for both my shoulder and my sciatic nerve. You can see a good description of the technique on this page.

Remember, the goal is to find a balance.  If I have been looking to the left as I guide my longarm over a pantograph, I focus on stretching to the right.  If I have been hunched forward, I spread my arms and lean backwards.  An exercise ball is a great tool.  Some quilters even sew while sitting on one!  I simply lay back on mine for about five minutes to relax my torso.

woman sitting on exercise ball

Keep Moving!

In addition to stretching, keep your body moving!  I cannot stand at the longarm for more than an hour, so I set a timer which reminds me when to switch activities.  With several projects going at once, it is never hard to move to the next task!  If I am piecing at my small machine, I have a steady rotation between the cutting table, sewing space and ironing board.  These small changes in position throughout the day make a huge difference by the evening.

Since I don’t have the money for a gym membership at the moment, I am taking advantage of the free option in my neighborhood – a walk around the block.  Several blocks, actually, since I have a route that is a little over a mile long. I drag my husband along and it’s becoming a nightly ritual that gives us some time to converse rather than stare at separate screens.  Speaking of technology, are you a Fitbit wearer?  There are many tracking devices and apps to encourage you to get your steps in! What are some of your favorites?  Please share in the comments!

Let’s stay happy and healthy by doing some stretches and exercises every day!

Free Motion Quilting – Practice Sketches

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Muscle memory is important for any repetitive task, and free motion quilting certainly qualifies! If you don’t want to spend the time and money creating practice quilting sandwiches out of muslin and batting, then grab some paper and doodle away!

Lori at The Inbox Jaunt has some great doodle exercises and free motion quilting tutorials.

Creating a Zentangle is another way to get into the creative sketching groove and play with designs that can translate into thread and fabric.

sketchbook tools

I bought a 5×7 artist’s sketchbook and some fine-point Sharpie markers to start my mornings with a daily sketch. (Check out my Instagram feed @truebluequilts for #dailysketchbook)  Some days I am in the mood for feathers and sometimes I divide the page to practice different fillers.

Related post: Free Motion Quilting – Starting on Paper

Dividing the page into different widths can help you plan border designs.

sketchbook quilting designs

Or work with circles.

sketchbook free motion quilting

Mandalas are another technique that can expand your creativity as you design a new element for each layer of the image.

Once you have a design on paper, it is time to see how it looks on fabric.  Some people recommend charity quilts or baby quilts as practice pieces, since the recipients are more forgiving.  (This is no excuse for sloppy work!  The comparison is giving a quilt to a non-judgmental child versus submitting your work to a show to compete for an award.)

Related Post: Free Motion Quilting – From Sketchbook to Finished Quilt 

Sketching gets the creative juices flowing and it helps cement a certain design into your memory.  Free motion quilting can start on paper!

Grab a pen and share your artistry with us by using #truebluequiltsketches on social media.