The Real Problem with Quilting UFOs

UFO storage

I’ve been thinking about my collection of quilting UFOs lately. Well, a little more than usual, I guess. I have quite a few, though I don’t know exactly how many anymore. Some I think about quite frequently, and others I totally forget about until I go pawing through the boxes looking for something unrelated and happen to find them again. I’m starting to wonder if it’s about time for another purge though.

The problem isn’t that they’re stuffed in boxes everywhere:

UFO storage

or the storage space that the materials take up:

UFO storage

or the spreadsheets that we keep to (try to) stay organized and on top of these projects that are in various stages of completion.

UFO Spreadsheet

Yes, I used to be that obsessive organized about it all! But now look at it–that spreadsheet is so old and hasn’t been updated in so long that I’ve actually finished some of those projects, and others I’ve given away to other folks to finish for donations and whatnot. The last update to that file was seven years ago apparently. I’ve moved many of these UFOs to new homes three times since then!

What’s the real issue then? I used to think UFOs were just a natural part of quilting, or of any art really. With each project, finished or not, we have a chance to learn, exercise our creativity, and grow in our art. This is still true of course, but I think there’s a limiting factor that comes into play at some point, and those UFOs eventually become a weight. It’s the weight of older fabrics and styles that no longer appeal, or perhaps even the weight of having bitten off more than you feel like chewing to complete a project.

That weight can keep us from trying new things and beginning that learn/exercise/grow process all over again. We think “I shouldn’t start another quilt, because I haven’t finished all of those others” and “What if I buy all of the fabrics for this fabulous new technique, but then don’t like it?” Really though, what if “all of those others”, or even some of them, aren’t ever going to be finished? What about the projects that no longer interest you, or aren’t your style anymore? What if you still sort of like it, but it’s just too much work to finish it the same way it’s been started? When is it time to accept that and move on? When is it time to just let them go?

Misery Quilt, in progress

My biggest “is it time” project is The Misery Quilt. I’ve bitten off more than I want to chew with this one. I can do it, but I’m not sure I want to do it. I do like it still, and it will be beautiful if I ever do finish it, but it would take months of lots of amazingly small background stitching, and then many more months of handwork after that to really do it justice the way I had planned. I’m just not sure I have that in me anymore. I don’t even have any place to put it when it’s done without taking something else down, and/or completely redecorating a room to go with it.

Misery Quilt border

I get it out periodically and put another few thousand stitches in it, admire it, think about it, snap a couple of photos for the sake of proving progress, and then fold it back up and stuff it somewhere dark and cool until I get that urge to pull out the stops on a show quilt again. That’s all it was ever going to be anyway I suppose. These are older photos of the quilt, because that’s where it is right now–back in the closet.

Misery Quilt border

I think the biggest problem with it is age and the learning and changing that has happened between the time I started it and now. Between then and now, Inchies and Inchie Quilts happened, so there were other quilts to make, patterns to write, books to finish, workshops to develop–and that kind of thing is still going on now. There are things I would do differently now that would make it a better quilt. For starters, I’d have used a different backing, but I can’t go back and take out millions of quilting stitches in silk thread to fix it.

During the time I was piecing this quilt, I spent time with Diane Gaudynski for a free motion workshop in Paducah. There’s a lot of Diane-style quilting in it already, and much more will be needed to finish it properly. The larger quilting motifs are very detailed which means that the background/filler quilting will need to be very, very small to make it all work. That may just be more than I want to deal with, and again, it’s just impossible to take out all the quilting and do something different.

I’ve thought of other things I could do that would make the whole project more appealing to me now–and even thought of just cutting it up and making something else out of it!–and yet, this thing is still sitting here unfinished. All of this has me asking myself, “Is it time?”

What about you? How do you deal with the UFO issue? Do you have projects that have become “weight” over the years? Is it time to let them go, and if it is, what will you do with them?

6 thoughts on “The Real Problem with Quilting UFOs

  1. I haven’t been quilting long enough to have a ‘years old’ UFO. But posts such as this one convince me that my no UFO policy might be helping me keep my sanity 🙂 I really can’t have more than a couple of projects going at the same time. . . and I must finish LOL I find for me it is stifling to have too many things going at once. I get overwhelmed.

    Your quilting thus far on that quilt is fabulous! You will know what to do with it when you least expect it 🙂


    1. Hi Judy! That’s a good policy to have, if you can stick with it! I’ve always had many projects in progress at the same time, but obviously some get put on a burner that’s not even on the stove, because something else is already on the back one. 😉

      You’re probably right–when the time is right, this quilt will have its day. Thanks for your kind comments and for stopping by!


  2. Interesting piece – I have several very old UFOs. I’m not quite sure why I still have them. I still like them I think – but not enough to actually finish them. I can quite often convince myself to finish something if I can make it into a charity quilt, although I have disposed of UFOs in the past when I know that I will never do anything further with them – I’ve saved as much fabric as I can and then binned the rest. I’ve linked to your piece from my blog – hope that’s ok.


    1. Hi Sarah Eliza, and welcome! You can absolutely link to anything here that you wish–and I appreciate it!

      I’ve finished projects for charity as well, and I think some of the projects that I decided not to finish myself were eventually finished by former guild mates and donated. It’s a great way to motivate for finishing a UFO. I almost think that cutting into this one to make smaller projects, perhaps even stuffed toys or the like, might just be the way to go. Still thinking!


  3. My small quilt group that meets each month chooses a project theme each year. This year it is finishing……so we each wrote our list of 9 projects, in no specific order, that need to be finished or at least worked on. Projects vary from adding a handle to a casserole carrier, binding, new name tag for guild, to finishing a hand quilted queen quilt. It might also be just making 3 flowers in an on going flower garden quilt. We bring a batik fat quarter each meeting and a second one if we didn’t accomplish any thing from our list. At our December meeting we will draw a name for winning the batiks. We laugh when anyone asks “are you started on this months project”? The answer of course is “yes, all my projects are Started”…… Inchies are great fun.


    1. Hi Ebbie, and welcome! My girlfriend is doing something similar with her guild this year–finishing must be in the air!! I’m glad to hear you enjoy Inchies. 🙂


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