UFOs: List and Analyze

This is Part 1 of an informal series on UFOs (UnFinished Objects). Most of us have them. Some of us are plagued by them. Almost everyone would prefer to have fewer of them.


So where do you start when it’s time to tackle your UFOs? I started by making a list. (The photos are my actual UFOs.)

ufo444 UFOs: List and Analyze

I put every project I could think of on the list. As I found forgotten projects in drawers, bins and baskets (sad but true), I added them to the list. This is an ongoing process and it’s fine if it takes you several weeks or months to get the list mostly complete.


ufo555 UFOs: List and Analyze

A word of caution: Don’t be overwhelmed by the list. It’s just a tool. You have the list—the list doesn’t have you!

Beginning with just one or two UFOs on the list, ask yourself why each became a UFO. Some of the possibilities:

• Not enough time to sew
• Technique: too hard, can’t remember it, didn’t understand it
• No longer have (or never did have) all the supplies
• Didn’t enjoy the project

ufo66 UFOs: List and Analyze

• Lost interest
• Bored with the project
• Dislike how it looks
• Dislike the technique

• Ugly fabrics or colors
• You ran out of fabric

ufo777 UFOs: List and Analyze

• It’s not turning out the way you thought it would
• You dislike the actual quilting—piecing is more fun for you!
• “Quilting is too difficult on my machine.”
• “My machine quilting isn’t good enough.”

ufo888 UFOs: List and Analyze

• You’re stumped by how to quilt it
• You got sidetracked with more interesting new projects
• You hate applying binding
• Some other kind of trouble
You may have other reasons why projects become UFOs. If so, tell us about them in the comments below. During the series we’ll address as many of them as possible.

That’s it for today—hopefully you’ve started thinking about what UFOs you have and why they remain unfinished. In the next part we’ll brainstorm for solutions so get fired up! Prepare to finish!!

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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18 Responses to UFOs: List and Analyze

  1. Kandace says:

    of course like your website but you need to check the spelling on several
    of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling problems and I in finding it very troublesome to inform the truth on
    the other hand I will definitely come again again.

  2. Celeste says:

    One of the things that turn my tops into UFOs is sewing up the backing and making the quilt sandwich. I don’t have to leave home to put the sandwich together but there is lots of rearranging in the sewing room in order to get 2 tables together. And then there is the siren call of a new project after learning a new technique, which leaves the multitude of UFOs hanging once again. The day job really cuts into productivity, too. Today – thanks to Joy – I am going to fill out 2 pledge cards for myself. 1) is to make that list of UFOs and 2) is to choose one UFO & finish it by December 31st!

  3. Joy Darby says:

    I’m a newbee to this site and I live in Australia – obviously regardless of where we live, we all have the same problems when it comes to UNFOs and the cousins ‘Projects half done’!
    I belong to a quilting group called ‘Golden Harvest Quilters’ (We live in a grain growing area)
    One year a new President of the group set up ‘Pledge cards’ on which we detailed at least one quilt that we ‘pledged’ to finish during that year. These were given out at one Christmas party and the said quilt was to be produced FINISHED!! at the next year’s party. It did work, and was a bit of fun.

  4. Judy says:

    Still working and adding to my original list created years ago. Beside each quilt noted what is needed to finish. Most are what to do for borders and how to quilt it. My boiling point is ‘quilt as desired’. If any pattern or magazine says that I do not purchase. It even helps if there is just a close up picture of how a quilt is quilted. I may not use the exact quilting suggested or even anything close to it. I just need a starting point. Recently my favorite step in quilting is the binding. What a sense of acomplishment. It feels so good to cross one off the list and write completed in the margin.

  5. carol l says:

    I am good at getting my items pieced but I have trouble getting them quilted. I don’t know how to pick a design for the project. That is why I have started purchasing patterns that include the quilting design. I dislike the statement”Quilt as Desired”.
    Carol l

  6. Trish M says:

    My main reasons are 1) I enjoy piecing but feel like quilting takes way too long (don’t have very good machine quilting skills and I can’t afford to have someone do it for me) and 2) as I get into the project I don’t like the color choices or pattern. I have put a stop to buying any more fabric or starting any more projects … but I’m still not making progress toward finishing up what I do have started.

  7. E. Engman says:

    For me, UFO’s occur when somehow, I become diverted (“oooh, pretty”…), or have to move the materials aside for some reason (like needing a clear space), or can’t find a necessary part, or something else takes precedence (promised prezzies for grandchildren–which I STILL haven’t finished), or temporary boredom sets in (tired of sewing 40 blocks), or Real Life happens (illness of self or family). Once something is put aside, it’s “out of sight, out of mind”, and, often, the project is buried under something else, or behind something else, or in a box or bag and no longer “visible”. A move will do it, too–still haven’t unpacked boxes from last move and some stuff MAY be in storage??? I also do many other crafts–knitting, crochet, embroidery, and more–and work as well. One can plan to do something, but something else might come up to interrupt the flow. I’m sure I’m more typical than atypical.

  8. Claudia says:

    I’ve been looking for a UFO you adopted out to me last summer. Driving me crazy I can’t find it because it is really calling my name today–the day before my birthday!

    I like that 2 gal. Ziplock trick in the UFO bin, but I have no place to put one because of all the other stuff that is avalanching on the floor. We won’t talk about my work table.

    If you have trouble with getting your layers smooth when you “sandwich up”, use Sulky’s KK2000 basting spray. It is my favorite.

  9. I have to admit that I don’t have too many UFO’s, my problem is I keep collecting fabric for all the personal pojects I want to do but don’t have time for. I’m actually working on one of my UFOs now. I’m trying to make table runners as Christmas gifts. I’m making 8-9, it could be more with all the fabric that I have collected.:)

  10. Linda says:

    AMAZING! I just finished putting together a “king” of Patches & Pinwheels by Bonnie Hunter this week. My quilt group held a Cutting Bee (Fons & Porter idea) in 2007 and I used all the fabrics for this quilt. I did not have to read the fine print of my magazine to see that your blocks above were the alternate color choice on page 33. Keep going on the quilt as it turns out lovely! I am also currently working on a trade with the Rail blocks you have shown. I will post a picture when I complete the quilt. Hmmm the first picture is very interesting – did the pattern come from Quiltmaker? Thank you for your inspiration! I kind of wonder how many UFO projects I have started from Quiltmaker patterns? &:-D

  11. I feel like I’m not a “real” quilter because I don’t have any UFOs. I don’t understand how anyone could start a quilt and set it aside, unfinished, and start another one. For me, I get tunnel-vision and even if it takes me two years of SLOOOOOWWW progress, I can’t bear the idea of doing anything else with my sewing machine until my project is done. My machine will be set up with the right needle, thread, and settings for what I’m doing, and I don’t even want to change the needle and rethread to sew on a button or fix a hem.

    You know what? Reading this post about why others abandon UFOs has made me realize that perhaps UFOs are a GOOD thing that accelerates a quilter’s growth and development. If you abandon a project after making a couple of blocks because you realize you don’t like the fabric choices or something, it frees you up to try something else. If that were me, I’d force myself to complete the thing anyway as a point of pride or something, spending an enormous amount of time and energy on something that I’m probably not going to love. Hmmm… I usually cut all of my fabric first, then start piecing. Maybe I should change my process to just cut enough for four blocks or so, enough to experiment with fabric and value placement until I get that right, and THEN cut up all the fabric? Anyway, I think quilters should give themselves permission to dispose of UFOs that they don’t like or feel guilty about, and think of them as part of the experimental process instead of as failures.

  12. Cathryn H. says:

    My UFO’s do much better if I write a list and tell myself these are the quilts I will finish this year. Then once that list is done, I make another one and do the same thing. This year I put 18 on my list and I have, since January 2012, finished 13 of them. One is sandwiched and ready to quilt, two are ready to sandwich, one is mostly quilted and just needs the borders done, one is quilted waiting for binding and a label. I am hopeful that I will finish my list before December this time. Come the end of December, I will make another list of quilt projects that need my attention. I am breaking the list up into more manageable parts.

  13. MarciaW says:

    UFO reason – the blocks didn’t end up a uniform size and do not know how to best set the irregular blocks (in my case: first UFO has handpieced blocks vary from 4 unfinished to 6.25 unfinished .. and were supposed to be a uniform 4.5 inches – and each has 24 little pieces; in another UFO the blocks were to be 12.5 unfinished and vary from 12 to 13.5 – from a sampler QAL with each block tutorial from a different person)

  14. Pam in KC says:

    Time, Swaps & Quilt-a-longs/BOMs.

    Time — as is in — oh, I can finish that quilt in plenty of time for the gift giving occasion — only to not complete it and another occasion is looming so I move on to the next quilt. I’ve finished 3 quilts this year AHEAD of time, so I am gaining control over this, but I do have a purse & doll quilt for last Christmas and a lap quilt for this past June which aren’t completed. I keep saying I’m going to focus on the lap quilt but I haven’t quite got there. It is still out in plain sight.

    Swaps — I think the last swap I was in was in 2009 — that’s when I realized I wasn’t getting my blocks turned into tops (we won’t discuss quilting). I’ve stopped signing up for them, but I still have at least six sets of blocks to turn into tops.

    Quilt-a-Longs/BOMs – I love the idea — oh, it’s just one block/set a month/week. But the reality is that it’s tough for me to keep up and work on anything else. This year I’m working on my Christmas BOM from 2003 (my oldest WIP/UFO) one or two blocks a month as part of a UFO Challenge. I’ve got two current (as in started this year) that I’m behind on, not to mention another 3 or 4 from several years ago. I simply need to stop joining if I have other stuff on my plate. But that’s easier said than done.

    My complete list of UFOs and Tops to be quilted can be found on my web page — but not my excuses ;-)

  15. Barb J says:

    My sticking points tend to occur in two places, and both are space related. Once I have all my blocks for a particular project done, I need to lay them out somewhere to make sure they are in the right orientation or that they are in a pleasing arrangement. I used to do this on the floor of my daughter’s room while she was in college. Then she moved back home and I moved to the living room floor. Then my son moved back home and set up all his computer, gaming and sound equipment in the living room, since his room is too small for it. So I no longer have any place to lay things out. The second sticking point is finding a place to sandwich a quilt. If it is a baby size, I can usually use the kitchen floor, but anything bigger than that requires a trip to my local church hall. So I have to make sure no one else is using it, find the person who has the key and arrange to meet, gather up my batting and pins, scissors, ironing board, etc. and haul them all over to the church hall. Once there, I have to move tables together and set everything up, sandwich the quilt and then do it all in reverse order. What a hassle! That is why I have more completed quilt tops as UFOs than anything else!

  16. Pokey says:

    I find learning the technique being part of the joy. I approach a new block like a puzzle to be solved, and so that makes the process part of the fun. But then, to commit the new skill to a favorite collection of fabric makes me nervous. That makes the collection “to good to cut into”, which is a crazy mentality….

  17. Aunt Marti says:

    Most of the time, when I buy fabric, it’s for a specific project. I put the fabric and pattern, plus any specialized tools, in a 2 gallon plastic bag. These then go into a giant plastic bin, from which I draw a “UFO” each month. I guess they’re not really “UFOs,” since 95% of them haven’t even been started — but I still consider these many, many projects to be UFOs!

  18. Joanna says:

    I have quilt tops that haven’t been sandwiched and quilted because I find that the hardest part of making a quilt. The backing doesn’t stay tight and I end up with pleats as I quilt. In looking at my finished projects I see that most of them are twin size or smaller because they were easy to control. Once I get the sandwich done I finish the quilt because it’s easy from there, at least for me.

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