Have a pile of UFOs (unfinished objects)? Here's our guide to finishing them once and for all!

March 25, 2020
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We love the beginning of a new year! It’s a fresh start – a time to look back at our accomplishments and struggles of the past year and resolve to be better moving forward. We buy new planners, make lists of resolutions, join groups to help us stay accountable, and even buy products to help us reach our goals. It’s an exciting (and sometimes) stressful time of year.

Research shows that about 60% of us make New Year’s Resolutions. The top 10 most common resolutions are:

  1. Diet or eat healthier
  2. Exercise more
  3. Lost weight
  4. Save money and spend less
  5. Learn a new skill or hobby
  6. Quit smoking
  7. Read more
  8. Find another job
  9. Drink less alcohol
  10. Spend more time with family and friends.

Are any of these resolutions on your list for the year? We know some of them are on ours. While these common resolutions apply to many people, if you’re a quilter, you may have some resolutions that are a little more specific to your hobby. The most common one we’ve heard from our readers is to finish works-in-progress.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a work in progress (or UFO which stands for unfinished object) is very common among quilters. Even quilters who have only been quilting a few years may have a few laying around. A UFO or work in progress refers to any project you’ve started, but have stopped making progress on. It’s possible you ran out of fabric and had to put the project aside while you tracked down more. You may have lost interest in the project after a few months and pushed it aside for something new and excited. You may have even got stuck on a step of the project (like quilting or binding) and decided you didn’t have the time or energy to continue with it.

In fact, we asked our Facebook fans some of the reasons they have UFOs, and here’s a few of their answers:

  • "I have the attention span of a squirrel when it comes to quilts. I get started on a UFO and find four others that need to be finished, plus a dozen different pieces of fabric I want to add to a quilt (not a UFO), two books I've been meaning to read, and three magazines. Before I know it, it's time to go to bed." – Nancy H.
  • "I hand-quilt, so the finished tops outnumber the backs. New quilt designs and patterns keep appearing, so that's more tops for the UFO collection." – Suzanna P.
  • "My UFOs pile up because I doubt my color choices or my skills." – Brenda H.
  • "Figuring out where I left off, especially if I was only cutting my blocks when I put it away and hadn't finished the job." – Barb B.

There are a multitude of reasons you may have an unfinished project. And there’s no shame! But for many of us, when UFOs start piling up, it can cause some problems. First of all, UFOs take up space in our sewing rooms. You may have them in boxes and bags and sitting on shelves or in closets. That space can start to eat into your fabric storage space and can cause visible clutter. Those unfinished projects can also cause stress or guilt. Have you ever wanted to start a new project but then remembered the pile of unfinished ones waiting for your attention? Did you ever buy fabric for a project but haven’t even cut into it yet because you stopped working on the quilt? Having a long list of unfinished projects can add extra weight to your quilting to-do list and make you conflicted about where your precious quilting time should be spent. UFOs can also block your creativity. If you’re weighed down by all the projects waiting for your attention, you may not feel completely free to start new passion projects, try a new technique, or even join a fun quilt along.

Of course, we know it’s impossible to keep your UFOs from piling up. So many quilters are excited to start new projects or just don’t have enough time in the day to finish everything they start. We totally understand! But to help, we created the American Patchwork & Quilting UFO Challenge. We think this Challenge will bring renewed energy to the projects that have been sitting around for awhile.

Our UFO Challenge isn’t a new idea. In fact, we started it back in 2015 after a co-worker brought the idea to our staff. We all agreed that the problem she was facing of needing accountability to finish her projects was a universal one among quilters. So, we decided to start it as an online challenge with all our readers! And it just grew from there!

Here’s the idea behind our UFO Challenge:

  1. Download the Challenge chart.
  2. Fill in twelve projects that you want to finish this year. You can choose from any of your UFOs. You can also add projects that have been on your long-time to-do list to the list. Embroidery, knitting, crochet, scrapbooking, and painting – basically anything creative -- can count toward your list, too! While many people only make one list, we’ve seen quite a few people do multiple lists each year. One list of 12 projects may be those just waiting to be quilted. One list may be for in-progress projects. And other lists may be for charity quilts, blocks-of-the-month, or kits. These are rough rules – we really want to make the challenge work for you, so use these lists however is the most helpful!
  3. On the first of each month, we'll randomly draw a number 1--12. That number will correspond with the numbers on your list and will be the project you work on throughout the month. The list has a place for you to fill in the description of where you were in the project before you start. We post this number on our website, on Facebook, and on Instagram.
  4. At the end of the month, fill in your progress and post pictures for everyone to see. We have an exclusive Facebook group for the challenge that’s very supportive. You can also hashtag your pictures on Instagram using the hashtag #APQResolution.
  5. By the end of the year, you'll have 12 finished projects! Or you'll at least have made a significant dent in your stack of UFOs.

Over the years, our Facebook group has grown to over 10,000 members. We’ve seen their amazing progress and finishes on their projects, so we know the Challenge works and is inspiring people to not only finish their projects, but also be proud of them! The Challenge officially started on January 1 each year, but it’s never too late to join!

Before you get started making your list and joining the Challenge, we wanted to provide a few more tips for finishing your UFOs. Being accountable is key! Did you know that only 8% of people keep the resolutions they make at the beginning of the year? And we can relate. Here are a few ideas:

Get Organized: The first step in tackling your UFOs is to get organized. You won't make progress on your projects if you're constantly searching for fabrics and supplies needed for your UFOs. And you'll lose momentum fast if you can't get out your projects and sew in your free time. Make sure all your UFOs are stored in easy-to-find places and that all fabrics, pieces, tools, and instructions for each project are on hand. Many people who participate in our UFO Challenge use the first month to get organized on their projects, so they have a smooth ride the rest of the year!

 Set Goals: Next, set progress goals for each project (we suggest writing them down and hanging them in your sewing room). It can be a larger goal such as finish a quilt by Christmas, or smaller steps such as finishing two blocks a week. Make sure your goals are clear and attainable. If you set goals that aren't realistic to your time and life, you'll only be frustrated when you miss the deadlines.

Use the Buddy System: Join our UFO Challenge Facebook group, or form a similar group with your friends, at a local quilt shop, or through your guild. Many of these groups check in monthly on your progress, so you feel the pressure and excitement to show off your work to others. The group can also help you work through struggles or give advice on projects, so you don't get stuck.

Reward Yourself: Sometimes a finished quilt isn't all the push you need to complete a project. Try rewarding a finish quilt with a little prize: a fat quarter from the local quilt store, a meal at a favorite restaurant, or fresh flowers. Looking forward to a treat may help you make progress on a project even when you don't feel like working on it. You may even tell yourself that you can't start a new quilt until you finish the UFO.