UFO: Conquer or Bust

For a few years I have been teaching a “class” on UFOs (that’s quiltspeak for UnFinished Objects). The idea originated with the organizers of QuiltNebraska here in my home state.

To my surprise, the class has been a hit. My students love getting a jump-start on a project that had fallen by the wayside. They learn a lot in the process of reviving their project and solving its problems. They are thrilled not to be taking home another UFO.

BlockParty Wmsbg UFO: Conquer or BustI’m excited to be teaching the UFO class at QM’s Block Party in Williamsburg August 2–4. If you’d like to come, this is a personal invitation to join me in the UFO workshop. You’ll have a great time.

blocksUFO1 UFO: Conquer or BustHere’s a UFO I pulled out recently. In the late ’80s, I won some exchange blocks at a guild meeting in Fremont, Nebraska. There were eight blocks and they contained typical fabrics for that period: calicoes, small-scale tone-on-tones and muslin.

blocksUFO2 UFO: Conquer or BustI start playing on my design wall and decide the answer might be to add something.

blocksUFO3 UFO: Conquer or BustI sketch an eagle. He has a folk art feeling but I like him. I take the plunge and fuse an eagle to every block.

blocksUFO4 UFO: Conquer or BustI square up the blocks the best I can but they’re not all the same size. I decide to add a blue border to each one. I have the foresight not to trim them just yet.

blocksUFO5 UFO: Conquer or BustI begin auditioning for setting ideas. Not feeling the red and white strips but then I try some Flying Geese and think they might work.

blocksUFO6 UFO: Conquer or BustI make a bunch more Flying Geese and discover that the tiny pieces (1.5″ squares, 1.5″ x 2.5″ rectangles) are being eaten, pulled down into the needle hole of the throat plate.

blocksUFO71 UFO: Conquer or BustTurns out I was using a throat plate with a very large hole (meant for a wide zigzag, among other things).

blocksUFO8 UFO: Conquer or BustDid you know they make throat plates with smaller holes for occasions such as this? They’re the best. If you don’t have one, it’s a great investment. Below is the throat plate that solved my problem. The needle goes down into the small hole nearest the small rectangle.

blocksUFO10 UFO: Conquer or BustThen because I was feeling pretty optimistic, I spent the better part of a whole weekend making Flying Geese.

blocksUFO111 UFO: Conquer or BustI have an idea to create stars at the intersections but soon realize it won’t work. I settle for cheddar cornerstones and start playing with ideas for the center block.

blocksUFO12 UFO: Conquer or BustHit a few dead ends but keep pressing on. The blocks look naked so I add stars to each one. Now I trim the blocks so they fit with the Flying Geese.

blocksUFO13 UFO: Conquer or BustThe center guy (who is larger than the others) still looks naked. After some thinking, I write the word “Liberty” on some fusible, but realize it must be done in mirror-image or it will be backwards.

blocksUFO145 UFO: Conquer or BustThen—who knew?!—I discover you can write with a ballpoint pen on the adhesive side of the fusible. I write the word normally and when I fuse it, it “reverses” and comes out correctly.

blocksUFO15 UFO: Conquer or BustThis is the kind of thing I’m talking about in the UFO classes. You get to think, try it, ponder, audition, eliminate, ask what if?, try something different…until you start to get it right. It’s not magical or easy or instant but it will come. You can start with something pretty bland:

finalblock111 UFO: Conquer or BustAnd end up with something really fun:

blocksUFO16 UFO: Conquer or BustStill needs borders but now I’m thinking that over!

Even if you can’t join me in Williamsburg next August, I hope you’ll take this as inspiration to dig out a UFO and have some fun with it. I’d love to see your process photos: editor@quiltmaker.com.

And if you can meet me in Williamsburg at the Block Party, even better!!!




About Diane Harris

I'm an editor for Quiltmaker magazine in Golden, Colorado, USA. For six years, I wrote pattern instructions, product reviews and how-to articles. Then I spent four years as QM's Interactive Editor, working to generate much of our online content. Now I'm back to patterns and how-tos, which is a great fit for me. I still love writing about quilt-related topics for Quilty Pleasures, and I always have my finger on the pulse of the quilting world. I teach a variety of quilt classes and give guild programs, too. Reach me by email: editor@quiltmaker.com.
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13 Responses to UFO: Conquer or Bust

  1. toni-anne says:

    That is really helpful and encouraging, thank-you..I needed that so much. It is amazing how you found a whole new lease of life for this quilt. Quilting takes great bunches of patience and can be a good reflection of our character growth.

  2. What a great post…fun to read and very informative…thanks!

  3. Jill M says:

    I have always been such a ‘follow the pattern to the letter’ quilter, but I have recently started branching out a little. Seeing your progress in the pictures is awesome!

  4. Fantastic quilt! Appreciate your sharing your thought process while making something ordinary quite extraordinary! You’ve inspired me to look at my UFO pile with new enthusiasm!

  5. Ruthie says:

    I love what you did with those UFO blocks. I’m sure I have some that I can dig out and work on. Thanks for the inspiration.

  6. I love what you did with the blocks, really wonderful quilt from something old.


  7. LJ says:

    Amazing! Thank you so much for this blog entry. When I first saw your blocks – I thought, “ugly, no wonder she has them in the UFOs!” But then…you worked magic and wahla, beautiful. I’m still amazed!!

  8. Kaye M. says:

    I enjoyed the step by step process of taking those plain blocks and making them something special! I’m curious to see what you do for the outside border.

  9. Donna Amos says:

    This quilt is indeed an inspiration. Your ideas have made it a great quilt. Looks like it was originally designed that way, not UFO’s. Know the UFO class will be great. I would love to go, but have not made my mind up yet if I can do that. A good reminder to all of us about the throat plate. I sometimes forget those type of things.

  10. Barb J says:

    Thanks for the inside look into the creative process. I love the outcome of your UFO, it made a very striking top! Your note about using a straight stitch throat plate is very true. I have also discovered that using a new needle is very important. When a needle is even slightly dull, it can push the fabric down into the throat plate instead of piercing it. It seems that the problem is worse with smaller pieces, but that may just be due to proportions.

  11. Cathy B. says:

    Diane I love what you did with these blocks. So much better than the original blocks. Wish I could be in Williamsburg. I would love to take this class. Thanks for the great challange. Hugs

  12. kaholly says:

    A UFO class. What a great idea!! Good to know about the throat plates! It happens to me once in awhile, too. Love your quilt.

  13. Susan says:

    Impress remake or what ever of those blocks. Would love to know how big this top is… don’t think too long on the borders, basting, quilting and binding as it is just a few months to those patriotic days when this would be wonderful – THIS YEAR.

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