Ask Jo: So Many UFOs

Every so often questions and comments come from readers that I think others would like to hear my response to.  That’s when I feature them on the blog.  This is one of those days. Today’s question is about UFOs.

Pat asked:
Love love love your blog! Have been following you for years but have never written. You seem like an old friend to me. Anyway, I am wondering why you have so many UFOs?? Don’t you get stressed with so much to do! LOL! I admire how you can do soooo much!! Anyway, just wanted you to know that I so enjoy your blog. Love hearing about your family! Kids & grands are the best!!

I have to say, this question made me remember that everyone has a personal preference and a personal tolerance and mine happens to be high. Part of the reason my tolerance is so high is that I am super committed to being able to quilt but I also live life low budget. Let me explain…

If you’re been around the blog much at all you know that I don’t show visit a lot of quilt shops. I don’t order a lot of fabric. I spend very very little on quilting, yet, I make quite a few quilts. I am not one to see a quilt in a magazine, then go and buy all of the fabric to make the quilt exactly how I see it. I don’t know that I’ve ever bought a quilt kit…a wool kit yes. Quilt kit, no.

So how does that translate into so many UFOs?

I am a saver of all things. A good majority of the UFOs I currently have are really someone else’s UFOs. Blog readers send me stuff all of the time and tell me to do whatever I want with it. They are just happy to have it gone from their sewing room. I would say 95% of all that is sent to me, I pass on. Over the Summer of last year a blog reader sent two boxes full of bits and parts and UFOs. Everything was totally my preferred style and I decided to keep much of it. That meant her UFOs became my UFOs. I am so thankful for it all as it has helped me keep my quilting budget low, has provided me with the opportunity to shoot videos and use my own scraps, has provided projects I could donate to charity, AND provided me hours of lots of fun. I have so enjoyed it. For me, those boxes were Christmas in July!!

This was one of the projects…an hourglass quilt. There were a few strips sewn together and a few extra blocks. I ended up digging in and making it a large quilt.

I was super happy to finish this one. You can read more about it HERE.

This is another gifted UFO from the same blog reader.  It is the cover quilt from the book Spice of Life Quilts by Carrie Nelson.

I had always wanted to make this quilt.  Then the blog reader gifted me this started piece so I dove in and finished the quilt. You can read more about it HERE. I believe there were two finished rows and that’s it for this quilt when I got it. I went on and finished it. It was just the inspiration I needed to make the quilt.

Eleven of the 24 UFO projects I listed were all from that same blog reader. I plan to work on all of them and finish them. I am very thankful that the blog reader passed the projects to me. It helps me stay within my quilting budget and has provided so much fun for me. It’s also allowed me to use what I have. I can’t thank her enough.

Another blog reader sent me her Frolic Mystery Quilt. I am working on this slowly but plan to finish it for an upcoming benefit. I so appreciate having this quilt with nice fabric and great colors that I can donate to the benefit. I love that I won’t have to put a lot of money into the project but yet can still donate a beautiful quilt.

I will happily add to my UFOs by accepting other people’s UFOs. I have the space to store them and they don’t have a deadline. They are also often a good way for me to get creative and design something. You might remember that my daughter Kelli was going to throw these away…
I ended up cutting them down because they were terribly wonky and designed a new block with them.

One of the UFOs I am currently working on is a Spider Web String quilt.

When I was making my original black Spider Web string quilt, I had originally planned on making the quilt bigger. I made the blocks. I started putting the quilt together and realized that the quilt wouldn’t fit on my longarm if I added the last border. It was poor planning on my part. But that left me with eight blocks already made and some pieces already but with the black kite already attached. Rather than throwing that all away or passing it on like others might, I decided to keep it thinking I could always make it into a baby quilt. It turns out, it’s going to be a wedding quilt instead. Saving leftovers and using them is a great way to be frugal AND a way to add UFOs to your stash.

You can read more about the quilt HERE.

Another thing that contributed to the number of UFOs I have is that back before Covid I was doing regular in-home childcare full-time. I ran a pretty regimented house. All of the kids slept at the same time unless I had babies here. I would have about 90 minutes of free time in the afternoon. I spent 30 minutes of that cleaning stuff from the morning and prepping stuff for the afternoon but I had about 60 minutes each day that I could do what I wanted…I just had to stay on the main floor of the house and do it quietly so the kids would stay sleeping.

I quickly learned that cutting out quilts was the perfect thing to do. I cut out a lot of quilts during that time but never got them all sewed as I have more cutting time than sewing time. I never cared though. They were quilts I loved and quilts that I knew I would never lose my love for. I still have a few of those quilts left in my UFO pile and I don’t for a second regret that they are waiting in the wings for me.

I’m very good at using time in my day wisely…for me, I couldn’t get to a sewing machine but I could prep things for me to work on, once my day job was over.

Here are a couple of the projects I’ve cut out that are waiting in the wings for me.

Sugar Bowl: This is a FREE Pattern from Bonnie Hunter you can find HERE.

This is an example of a quilt that I cut out “two at a time”. Anytime I cut out a quilt from shirts, I pull this and I cut pieces for this quilt as well. Cutting quilts from shirt fabrics is more labor-intensive than using quilt shop fabric so if I am cutting out another quilt from shirts, I pull out this project and cut for this quilt too. This isn’t completely cut out…It’s okay. I have the storage space and it’s totally okay for me to keep it.

Here is another quilt I cut out over nap time.

As to why I work on so many different projects at once? I like it. It’s the way my brain works. If I have an hour’s worth of time, I know I can quickly machine bind a quilt. If I have four hours of time, I know I can load a quilt on the longarm and get it quilted. If I know I am going to have grandkids here the next day and they will be napping, I will likely work on a project the day before that will need time at the cutting table. A good example is that I am getting my daughter Kelli’s kids here tomorrow. When I am done writing this blog post, I am going to go sew some spider web string blocks. I will be able to trim them and pull papers from them tomorrow while the kids nap. It’s perfect.

I always have lots of projects going on at once so I can make the most of my time. My grandson Anders will be here later in the week. He is only 7 months old and still takes several naps. I plan to bring down the hourglass turned to flying geese blocks and cut more pieces for them.

With my life so topsy turvy with lots of people in and out I have to do what I can to squeeze in whatever sewing time I can. Having lots of projects going and lots of projects in the wings suits my lifestyle. It isn’t a burden to me at all and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have a large sewing room so I have plenty of space to house the UFOs. If I was retired and had lots of open space in my schedule, I might not have as many projects…so far, this works for my time, my budget, and my want to donate charity quilts for benefits.

I think everyone needs to work to find a way to afford and enjoy their hobbies whether it’s concentrating on one project at a time, using thrifted fabric, using sheets for backing, having lots of projects going, or buying quilt kits. There are so many ways for all of us to enjoy our hobbies. I’m so thankful I found a way to enjoy mine!!

I would love for you all to share how you manage your quilting projects in the comments. Others who are struggling to find ways to manage their quilting projects might be inspired by your method.

15 thoughts on “Ask Jo: So Many UFOs”

  1. Great explanation! You don’t need to give one, though. I have lots of UFOs because they are all at different points and need different attention and time. I can always find something to make forward progress on. I do finish quilts all the time. It is more like stop and start finishes rather than one shot races.

  2. I like to go through my stash 1 or 2 times a year and generally have 4-6 quilts that I’m looking to find suitable fabrics and/or cut strips for. Then I put them in a small plastic bin or a large storage bag and I have a tote with projects ready to grab and go. Makes it easy when I’m heading for a retreat or a sew day – I can just grab a kit and have the start of a quilt to work on.

  3. Cynthia from Nebraska

    I have a number of UFOs and this year have worked to get several of them done, including making something different from one that I had cut out and started sewing that was wonky – and I no longer liked the fabrics! (That’s one to donate.) I use my kitchen island to cut so once or twice a year I will go thru my fabrics (I have a big stash with a lot of older fabric and sale fabric) and patterns and cut out all the fabric for a quilt – so then I have my own kit ready to go, and if I have a few minutes to sew I have something ready. My problem is that I have a number of tops (that I really like) that aren’t quilted because it’s expensive!

  4. Sherry Whalen

    I have quilted for 40 years, much like you do – I like to save ‘parts’ and salvage and recycle as much as I can. I have purchased a couple of kits over the years, but have been disappointed when one of them lacked one the required fabrics. They also make me nervous that I might cut wrong and run out of fabric! With scrap quilts – there is always another scrap that can fill in. But my main reason for having many projects/UFOs to work on – they fight boredom for me, I don’t think I would enjoy working on a single project at a time, and there are definitely times a project needs to go into ‘time out’. If I don’t feel like cutting one day, I pick something different to do. If I feel the need for a finish, there is likely a project that is near completion that I can pull out to finish. If I need something to work on at a retreat (I don’t cut out at retreats, too many distractions lol) – there is probably a project that would be perfect to work on at a retreat. I don’t get bored – I blame my farmer dad. We NEVER said we were bored, because he would find an ‘activity’ for us, and it usually involved a shovel or pitchfork lol!

  5. I think we all have quilts at different stages of done, which is good to have. As Jo said, some days it is not a machine day but it is a cutting out or a trimming day.
    Enjoy your UFO’s no matter how many you are able to fit into you life and studio.

  6. I have many quilts in process since I like the planning and initial sewing phases. I just can’t get them all finished. I have contacted one of your finishers and will be sending a box soon of tops and backings to be completed and donated.

    But, now I am starting to get a few cross-stitch projects in various stages, so while I like your new SAL projects, I am going to work on what I have. I bought a dozen project bags and that will be my limit of UFOs and future projects.

    A question on cross stitch – my current project is too busy for my taste, so I plan to eliminate some parts as well as move other motifs around to fill in the spots. Part of the problem was that the motifs were stitched in white, so those parts were not as obvious on the website. Is this an issue for other stitchers or are people more inclined to stick with the design?

  7. I don’t like having UFOs hanging over my head. I have an area where I hang the quilt top and backing when it’s ready to be quilted. I refuse to fold them and put them away. I’m too lazy to iron them again. Anyway, my rack will hold 4 quilts. When it’s full, it’s time to quilt them. I usually keep it to just 4..occasionally I will get an extra one, but that’s about it. Once they are quilted, I can start sewing tops again. I hate the quilting part, so I guess this is my way of forcing myself to do the part I hate.‍♀️

  8. Deborah Rhodes

    I just can’t have bunches of ufo’s. Makes me nervous. I do collect quilt patterns and books. But neat on book shelves. I have to be organized Usually only buy what I need. Scrappy makes my head hurt !! I takes all of us in this wonderful quilt world.

  9. Bonnie Thornburg

    Jo you mentioned once that you don’t use a design board. Your block placement always looks perfect! I only have a 4’ x 4’ design board which isn’t big enough for a bed size quilt and always end up with blocks sewn together that would have looked better sewn elsewhere in the quilt. How do you do you decide where to sew your blocks? Love your blog and appreciate all the work you put into it!

  10. Like many others, I , too, have more UFOs than I really want to have. I always think I am getting closer to finishing more and then something takes precedence and I need to do something else. You do have many UFOs, but you still complete many all the time. You have a very wise and workable method and it serves you just fine. Recently I just wasn’t sure what to work on, so started another quilt – but I almost have that ready to finish.

  11. I love fabric – especially scraps. I cringe when I see big chunks thrown away when I sew at our Sr. Center. I will piece and create for as long as I can. I found 30 large hand-pieced 1-1/2” hexie flower blocks heading to the trash at our church – no one wanted them. I will lovingly finish these for the dear soul who worked so hard to make them. Having retired from one of the largest landfill contractors for the US too, reinforced in me not to throw away but to upcycle and create. UFO’s, nah, WIP’s, yes – even if it takes another generation to complete what I have started. Thanks Jo – keep stitching!

  12. PS – I never answered your question at the end? I have 4 machines set up at once (all rescues). One I use for crumbs, one for piecing, another for walking foot quilting, and another for misc. My room is small, maybe 14 x14? I keep my actual pattern blocks labeled in shoe boxes or large zip bags – I grab what calls me that day. Crumb blocks and odd blocks are by size in similar containers until I know what to use them for. I try to use at least one crumb block per Fidget Mat for dementia patients – they love the colors and textures. Rulers and tools are hung on an old piece of door trim mounted along the edge of my wall/ceiling in easy reach. My cutting table folds down to 10” so I cut as much as I can and then fold the ends in. I do keep most of my fabric stored away and only keep my scraps in my room. I would love to hear how others organize and sew in a small space too.

  13. Like Tammie I hang completed and pressed quilt tops and backings in the closet so they’re ready to go when I have time to quilt. Best practice for me too.:)
    I enjoy switching projects while I sew tops. Small plastic boxes help keep me organized.

  14. I build “kits” when I find fabric, be it goodwill, a shop, flea market, wherever. The fabric group & a patern into a xlg., ziplock, into totes. I have 4 totes labled #’s 1 -3, & 1 labeled next “kits”. As i take #next & start those m, all contents of totes moves up. #3 now gets filled with a new selection of “kits”. These totes are not large, they hold about 5/6 “kits”. I recently did a WHOLE “kit” look see, re sort, cull, purge. Re thought, replanned, elimated, sent to best friend fabric, just enjoyed the trip. I have WAY TOO MUCH fabric. That’s Ok with me. I feel in control of my system, use some self discipline (haha), can’t start new untill the present 5/6 are tops. Tops are either sent to quilter or tied, for sale at fair/resonalable prices. I hold a “quilt yard sale in September, weekends. I also donate where needed if possible. I’ve been sewing, quilting since I was 9, soon 78. I read, rug hook, knit, & cook for myself & another family & garden. Never have time to be bored. Have no tv, or computer. Both are too boring. I’m a widow & have a small family, I don’t see often. After house fire now live in mobil home. Just had a “barn”, 19×12, built, l’m in love. STORAGE, YEAH, HURRAH. I praise the Lord daily.

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