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6 Steps to Finishing Your Unfinished Quilts

You have how many unfinishedThey are the UFOs: unfinished quilts and pieces of quilts that take up physical space in the sewing room and mental space that most busy quilters can ill afford to spare. I have them. You have them. Every quilter has them. They make up a ghostly presence that haunts our sewing rooms.

Here’s how to transform UFOs from clutter that only gathers dust into treasures that gather memories.

1. Decide You Really Want the UFOs Finished

The first essential in finishing your UFOs is feeling a genuine urgency to get them done. Be honest with yourself about this. Maybe designing, piecing, or appliqué are the things you really love about quilting.

Maybe, deep down inside, the basting, quilting, and binding don’t interest you all that much. If that’s the case, it might make more sense to find someone else who really loves finishing quilts to complete your UFOs.

You could offer to swap tasks with another quilter who doesn’t like piecing, or pick up some extra cash by selling your tops on Ebay to someone who will enjoy finishing them, or donate them to a charity group that will make sure they get to people who need them. If you decide you really want to finish them yourself, move on to the next step.

2. Set Manageable Goals: Choose One or Two UFOs to Finish First

You’ll reduce your pile of UFOs much faster if you break down the project of finishing them into a series of achievable goals. Don’t try to confront the whole mountain at once; that’s a recipe for  discouragement.

Instead, pick one or two tops and make finishing them your top priority. Focus only on those tops and don’t worry about the rest of your UFO pile until they are 100% complete. Once you’ve finished your first couple of UFOs, choose the next two tops from your pile and repeat the process.

3. Work 15 Minutes at a Time

One of the great things about quilting is that you can actually make progress by working on your project a few minutes at a time. In fifteen minutes you can sew together a stack of quilt blocks, or cut all the binding strips you’ll need for your top, or pin baste a good-sized section of the quilt sandwich. Give yourself permission to take baby steps towards getting your quilt done. Even 15 minutes a day will get you there much faster than standing still!

4. Say No to New Projects

Commit yourself to finishing at least one UFO before you start any new quilting projects. If you’re a hopeless project starter and find that goal too ambitious, you can set a goal of finishing one UFO from your pile for each new project you start. The key is to link making progress on your UFO pile to the progress you make on other projects.

5. Get Support from Other Quilters

Quilt guilds often have drop-in sessions where you can bring your UFO and get help with any technical challenges that have prevented you from finishing it. Many quilt shops also offer drop-in “finish-it” sessions. You may find that just having other quilters around you will help you make progress. Online groups such as Stashbuster or Quilting with a Passion also give wonderful, knowledgeable support to any quilter who needs a little extra help to get that UFO completed. Don’t be like me and let a quilt that you promised to make for a friend sit around for months or even years because you ran into technical trouble and needed some help to finish.

6. Celebrate Every Quilt You Complete

Take the time to give yourself a pat on the back when you reach the finish line and turn a UFO into a completed quilt. Take a photo of yourself or the recipient with the finished quilt. Write an entry about it in your quilter’s journal. Brag about it on a quilting forum. Post some photos on your blog or on Instagram or Facebook. Enjoy your success! Then you’ll be ready to move on to the next UFO in your pile. You’ll be amazed by how much you can reduce your stack of unfinished tops in just a few months.

Aveena wrapped in rag quilt


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{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Diana November 5, 2016, 5:05 pm

    Thanks for the talk about unfinished quilts! I have loads of them, too many that I do not even want to count! I think that I will take your idea of using just 15 minutes a day and work on one of them till it’s done. Wish me luck…..

    • cdmwriter November 5, 2016, 8:42 pm

      Good luck, Diana! True confession: I spent a good part of the afternoon trying to decide which of my many UFOs to finish so I could make some room in my sewing room. I think I’ll join you in spending 15 minutes on the most egregious one tomorrow.

  • Diana November 6, 2016, 7:12 pm

    Well I did some sewing today but it was not on my UFO’s, it was on to do list! At least what I got done today do not land on my UFO list! hahaha. Yesterday I managed to get a 13″ block done for one of the Guild’s I belong too and then today I completed a different block for the other Guild. Both blocks will eventually become part of a charity quilt that will be complete during the upcoming year.
    I just kept thinking, all I need to do is 15 minutes! But once I got started I just kept going……

    • cdmwriter November 6, 2016, 8:17 pm

      Good for you, Diana! You got more done today than I did. I laid out a set of blocks for a rag quilt, then stalled out on choosing the border fabric. But tomorrow is another day…

  • Priscilla November 29, 2016, 11:52 pm

    Thank you for that verbal spanking! I’ve got at least ten beautiful quilt tops unfinished. Because That’s the fun part. As for the real work, excuses excuses excuses. I won’t go into detail on them. Your suggestions are on point. In addition to the 15 minutes, I think I’ll start with the small, simpler ones first. But before that, I’ve got to gather them and take inventory. They’re tucked away everywhere! Never mind. Maybe I’ll finish them as I find them! Lol

    • cdmwriter November 30, 2016, 7:18 am

      You’re taking the first step, Priscilla, and that’s essential! I accidentally did something very clever and gave a friend with a long-arm quilting machine room to keep her long-arm at our barn after she moved to a new and smaller house, so now she is using her long-arm to finish my UFOs. I feel like an absolute genius.

  • Piroska January 14, 2017, 10:06 am

    Thanks for this. Truly. I need to apply to all my endeavours, not just quilting. I have so many UFOs, to correlate with my oh so many interests (ranges from all sorts of crafts, crochet, needlework to drawing, painting, writing).
    15 minutes at a time sounds so do-able. The space in my brain will thank me!

    • Felicity Walker January 14, 2017, 3:03 pm

      We’d love to hear about your progress, Piroska. I apply the 15-minute rule to many areas of life, especially the ones I’m having a hard time getting started in.

  • Celia January 14, 2017, 2:46 pm

    One of my challenges is to make a firm choice and just do it. I tend to wonder how the top will look like with a different border or backing. Today I made myself to chose my first thought and just do it, as a result my quilt is now ready to be quilted and I love it. One UFO down. Too many to go.

    • Felicity Walker January 14, 2017, 3:02 pm

      Congratulations, Celia! Just doing it, even if there are other possibilities, can take us very far in life.

  • Gloria Matye January 14, 2017, 9:41 pm

    Excellent article. Will try it.

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