The UFO Challenge: How Many Unfinished Quilt Projects Do You Have?

These snails trail blocks were the beginnings of a quilt that I abandoned because the blocks were distorted and of varying sizes.

These snails trail blocks were the beginnings of a quilt that I abandoned because the blocks were distorted and of varying sizes.

A couple of years ago our local quilt guild sponsored a UFO campaign. A UFO is defined as a quilt project begun over one year ago that is not yet completely finished. Those who participated in the campaign admitted to an average of 16 unfinished projects each. One person claimed she did not have any UFOs, however, the following month she admitted to finding one which she promptly completed. She seems not to be the norm.

What is it that causes us to move on to another project before completing the last – over and over again? Do we run into obstacles that we do not know how to resolve? Do we become bored when another project grabs our attention? Are some of our UFOs remnants of a class we took and didn’t like how the piece was turning out? The underlying issue is the same – lack of commitment to the decisions we have made.

Finishing pieces is important. Unfinished quilts take up space in our sewing room and worse yet, they take up space in our head. They can leave us feeling wasteful, unfulfilled, lacking in ability, somehow defective. Part of us says I want to make this beautiful quilt, and another part of us says we are not capable of doing so. No wonder we have difficulty trusting our decisions and resolving issues with all these demons running around upstairs.

There are many steps to making a quilt and each step requires our full attention. When that step is completed, we move on to the next, not second guessing our previous decisions but working with what we have in front of us. Our task is to focus and commit to each step, to each decision, as the quilt evolves in its own unique way.

Finishing a project gives us satisfaction and an opportunity to learn from our experience. Problem solving gives us a sense of accomplishment, a can-do energy. If the project turns out better than we expected, our creative juices are enriched even further giving us renewed energy for the next project.

UFO challenge accepted!

UFO challenge accepted!

Pictured here is the finished result of my own recent UFO – my snail trail blocks. I squared up the blocks, cutting off whatever was necessary to do so. I arranged and sewed the blocks together. I then covered the pieced top with a rainbow print organza. The color wash effect of the organza diluted the imperfect seam lines, drawing my eye away from the imperfections to the overall design of the snails trail pattern. It has yet to be quilted but the problem stopper has been resolved. I learned I need to square up my blocks as I go along to keep them from becoming distorted and to maintain a uniform size. Better yet, I learned that the improvised plan sometimes turns out better than the original.

I challenge you to count up your own UFOs. Be honest. Know that you are not alone. The next step is to choose one, commit to it, taking it one step at a time. You just might be amazed at how wonderful that UFO can be.

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36 Responses to “The UFO Challenge: How Many Unfinished Quilt Projects Do You Have?”
  1. doreen johnson
    doreen johnson

    Why can’t I get to the videos? It tells me to sign up for premium member and I already am. when I log in it tells me my password is wrong. I tried to change my password and never get a confirmation that it has been changed..

    • National Quilters Circle
      National Quilters Circle

      Hi, Doreen. We are sorry to hear you are having trouble accessing your account. Please see your Email for further instructions.

  2. Bettie Sue
    Bettie Sue

    I have at least 26 UFO’s, maybe more. The classes were good but once I learned how, I lost interest.

  3. Rebecca Peavy CT
    Rebecca Peavy CT

    My resolution for 2015 was to finish UFO’s, so far I have completed 4 and counting. It feels great!!!

  4. Kathy Carman
    Kathy Carman

    My guild is in the middle of a UFO challenge right now! I have m y more than I am willing to admit, but my goal this year is to finish all of them that I am still interested in.

  5. Meredith

    I’m just in the process of excavating some ufo’s of my own and would like to get them finished or move on. Not sure if I’m near 16, but reaching 8 – 10 is very likely. Loved the solution for the Snail Trail project.

  6. patt

    I needed this! I have ” a few” UFO’s. Now I will get them out, one at a time and finish them !

  7. Claire quilty
    Claire quilty

    Thanks for the words of wisdom about commitment. My goal is to finish the UFO’s by the end of the year. Then onward to the new.

  8. Jean

    How very true Iwas left a lot! Of ufos after my sister died recently and what great pleasure I get by completing them which leaves me 3 -4 of my own to complete

  9. deea

    I am probably the UFO queen! Being a teacher, I have samples – tops, orphan blocks, quilts that just need binding and labels, kits that I cut – I could go on. . . My LQS issued a challenge this year in February to customer to complete those UFO’s. Anything (quilted) started prior to Feb.2015 to finished by End Aug. 2015 , including label, would be counted. List is held by shop UFO must be brought in, shown to shop EE to list its current state/date presented. Once complete, it is returned to be checked off by shop EE. Best incentive ever for me! I have completed 12 projects ranging from table runner to full bed size quilts from February-May 26!

  10. Heather

    I too have a lot of UFO’s. But recently just finished 2 of them and it has given me the incentive I needed to keep going! It’s so rewarding to see the project in its completed form. Commitment & discipline is the key. Isn’t it the key to almost everything in life?

  11. Betti

    New Year’s Eve I listed all started and purchased projects on index cards and put them in a box. I added any new projects- as I complete them I write the finish date and slide it to the back. I e been very successful.

  12. Delphine Neufeld
    Delphine Neufeld

    All projects are less than 4 months and am actively working on them. Currently 4 under construction and one will be completed this week.

  13. Rosemarie Miller
    Rosemarie Miller

    This article was so timely. You have no idea how I long to finish my projects but run into clarity in the directions. With no one to help without paying more $ I just set them aside hoping that my expertise in understanding will improve with more knowledge as I make smaller projects. So for me it’s not a deliberate delay. It’s a lack of understanding the instructors directions that has me baffled I’m done buying patterns on line with written instructions that are really only for experts. Thank you for listening. 😏

  14. Patricia Colomaio
    Patricia Colomaio

    Recently the owner of my local quilt shop started a PHD (Projects Half Done) challenge. You paid $5 to sign up, brought in your unfinished project to show her, and you had 60 days to finish the project. You then brought your finished project back in and she took a picture of it and posted it on face book. You then did the same thing twice more for a total of three projects. If you completed all three projects you got a $15 gift certificate (the amount you paid) plus a PHD certificate to mount in your sewing room. It was a lot of fun and a great way to get some things finished! I finally finished a king size quilt I started over four years ago and it turned out beautiful! I really felt like I accomplished something. Happy sewing!

  15. Nessa

    I’ve only gotten 5 UFO’s, but I just started quilting in January. I bought a quilting machine and do all aspects of my quilts

  16. Cheryl Helmuth
    Cheryl Helmuth

    Does this count all the tops I’ve yet to quilt? Or just the piecing/ appliqué challenges and construction of the top? I always have issues deciding what to quilt in the top, and because I’m a perfectionist, I’m never satisfied with my work. This is the leading cause of my procrastination in life in general, quilting just magnifies it for me. I’m inspired to make a list of all my projects and start attacking them. There will always be only 24 hours in a day, so I have to stop wishing for more time. Finished is better than perfect–may I remember this!!!

  17. Debbie

    Tonight I am working on finishing a rag quilt to go off to college with my grand daughter, it is not perfect,but cute fabric, turning 20 pattern remade into rag. I have 3 lap size from last year , all quilt as you go because I was sewing on a 4 1/2 throat mechanical Bernina. Also have 1 wall hanging I was teaching myself hand quilting,just needs a label and binding . And because I recently joined Tucson quilt guild I have a small new member challenge due in November. I have decided not to start anything else till I finish them. It is hard new projects, and learning new things is fun. Thanks for the encouragement! You guessed it new quilter only a couple years! Also have a golden coins lap size top to quilt. I will feel wasteful if I don’t finish them.

  18. Helen Betts
    Helen Betts

    I only work on one project at a time. I do, however, have so many ideas that I don’t have time to start, let alone not finish!

  19. Grace

    So many UFO’s! I am ashamed to admit I have at least 20. First, I went to school for an extended period of time, then I moved to another state. In the first 4 months I lost 3 close family members & a life-long friend. I moved again to another state, only to lose my oldest son tragically, just as I was becoming highly inspired by all the beautiful quilts on Pinterest! My goal is that there is such peace in piecing, I spend a lot of time in prayer while quilting. I feel like it is the perfect action to heal and to finish my UFO’s & a way to honor my son’s life. I am planning to donate some to the Quilts of Valor organization in appreciation of all who serve.
    This is a great article & a big help to step into action as I prepare to lay my son to rest at Arlington.
    Thank you for the push I needed.

  20. Shawn

    I decided the best way to complete my UFOs and still start new projects was to be diligent in finishing one UFO before starting a new project. My UFO list is getting smaller and I am less frustrated with too many projects going at the same time!

  21. Penny

    I better get in there and start counting! I just have SO many things running around in my head. I have finished three UFOs in the past week, but I will go and count the others! PROMISE!

  22. Marlene Clausen
    Marlene Clausen

    I used to have quite a few that were in some stage of incomplete. About five years ago I made a rule that I had to finish one UFO before I could start a new project. I am now down to about 4 that need piecing. My BIG pile is tops that need to be quilted. I prefer to hand quilt, but that is not happening and I cannot afford to quilt by check. So, am teaching myself machine quilting. I practice a technique until I’m happy with my ability to do it, then pick a small UFO top and quilt it. I, then, do it on a larger one. Now that pile is also going down. A bonus is my new tops stay OFF the UFO pile because I can now quilt those with one of the patterns I’ve perfected.

  23. Debbie Skinner
    Debbie Skinner

    Currently I have approximately three UFOS but this is only counting the quilts I have started and not finished. I have many projects waiting to be started. Very often I have found that the current projects are put aside in order to complete other projects such as quilts for family and community service projects. Our guild has in the past held contests to inspire us to finish our UFOS. It worked like this: each member completes a form labeling all of her UFOS then each month when we do show-n-tell the members will indicate whether or not her project was a UFO and it gets marked off her list. Then when we have our banquet in June the member who has completed the most UFOs gets a prize. A few years back I did have a quilt that once I sewed the blocks together I didn’t like it-(it was a mystery quilt challenge by our guild). I took it with me to our quilt retreat planning to put the borders on to at least get the top finished. When I had put the second border on a new member commented on how beautiful it was. That comment inspired me to finish it and when it was completed I did like it.

    • Diana A. Ingersoll
      Diana A. Ingersoll

      I liked some of the challenges quilt guilds had for members to finish their UFO’s. I don’t belong to any and have not checked to see how many I do have. I know I have one. I was a Girl Scout leader for my daughter and helped with a sewing badge. Woman told them about quilts made in the old days by hand and how the young girls had to have so many made before they married. (no stores to buy blankets then) While the girls handmade 9 patch blocks by hand I made some also. Still have them, never finished. I’m not a by-hand quilter. Guess I better check my own stash, maybe some of my UFO blocks could make lap quilts for the veterans.

  24. Carol Tackett
    Carol Tackett

    I have UFO’s (ALL) over my quilt room. There are too many to count. There may be in the range of 30. I have to say that is an embarrassing number. Quilting is great until a distraction “squirrel” changes my direction.

  25. Carolyn

    I easily have over around 35 unfinished projects. I love to start new things and get bored easily. My daughter says I have ADHD and I agree. My projects are beginning to haunt me and I actually have quilted a quilt that I finished years ago. I have finished tow tops this year and am trying to get yet another UFO I started 15 years ago put together this week.

  26. Karen Cameron
    Karen Cameron

    This is very timely for me! I have my own UFOs as well as UFOs inherited from my momma & aunt when they died 5 years ago! Your post gave me the nudge I needed to start working through them. Thank you!

  27. Lisa

    My guild had a challenge two years ago. I was able to identify 13 that needed completion and I set about to work on them. I polished off 4. I recently moved into a new house. In the process of moving into my first real sewing room in over 20 years, I discovered at least a dozen more than the 13 UFO’s in my memory. And I’m still unpacking. Resolution: No new projects until two are finished.

  28. Carolyn

    I have 3 unfinished Quilts & I want to try free motion quilting on my home machine i find that is hard because they are big & I have only stitched in the ditch. I rented time on a long arm & and I did free motion & loved it .It was so relaxing. Has any one tried those frames that you can set up on your table and use it as a long arm.

  29. Mary

    II have taken classes to learned new methods which left a lot of unfininished quilts table runners and all sorts of projects left undoneIam glad there are others in continuing to help get cracking and motivate me to finished what I have started Thank you girls,