False Starts and Lost Causes

Every once in a while I start a quilt that doesn’t go anywhere. It happens for a couple of reasons.

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The most common problem is that I just don’t enjoy making the blocks or units or whatever is involved. I have enough of these False Starts that I could almost build a guild program around the idea.

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I like the title: “False Starts and Lost Causes.” But I have to wonder how many people would come to a guild meeting if this was the topic. Would you be there? I’m just weird enough that I probably would be.

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My most recent False Start

Here is my most recent False Start. It looks better here than it does in person. It’s ugly.

I had seen an amazing collection of antique quilts at a recent Quilt History Day sponsored by Nebraska State Quilt Guild in conjunction with their summer event called QuiltNebraska.

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Antique Hourglass quilt, owned by Linda Pumphrey

This is the piece that led me to believe a bed-size quilt made of scrappy hourglass units would be wonderful. I’d make it Bonnie Hunter-style with lots of uglies and fabric-I-want-to-be-gone-already. But somehow I’m not enjoying the process, and I’m really not enjoying the results so far.

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Another False Start from early in 2013

Here’s another false start from last winter (above). I was developing a class called Scrap Quilts 1.5, in which all the quilts would be made from 1.5″ strips.

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Antique quilt seen on Quilting with the Past

This is the quilt that inspired my False Start (above). I saw it on a blog called Quilting with the Past. I think it’s really an amazing piece. I took mine in a different direction by using “low volume” fabrics—that’s what it’s called now when the fabrics are mostly lights or have mostly light backgrounds.

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Tonya Ricucci’s Lego quilt

But I was miserable during the piecing. It held no interest for me, and while I thought it looked okay, the results were not as smashing as I had hoped. I quit while it was small and called it good. The quilt above is another version, this one by Tonya Ricucci at Lazy Gal Quilting. Again, smashing. Mine, not.


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Another of my own False Starts

These are crazy-patch blocks I made with Jo Morton-type fabric leftovers. Just didn’t trip my trigger.

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I even made some bigger ones to see if that would help. I thought they were even worse.


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Can’t even remember what these were for.

And here’s a whole pile of half-square triangles that were abandoned because of the same problem. My vision just didn’t materialize. It’s been so long now I can’t remember what my vision was.

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Someone else’s Lost Cause

What’s even worse than having my own False Starts is that when the Lost Causes of other quilters show up at guild sales, I can’t leave them behind. In the spring I bought this batch of Halloween blocks for $8 at a guild meeting. I love them! I don’t think these were a False Start, not by any stretch. I’m guessing the quilter just lost interest. So maybe Lost Cause would be a better fit.

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What was I thinking?

I adopted these hexagon flowers, too, from a different quilter in a different guild. It’s like these projects follow me home. There are dozens more hexagon flowers in a plastic bag, too. What was I thinking?

What’s really interesting to me is that even when I know I’m not going any further with something I started, when I know there is no hope and no desire to finish, I have gotten rid of only a few of them. I hang on for dear life. And from what I see at the guilds’ garage sales, other quilters do the same.

*     *     *     *     *

What are your thoughts? Do you have False Starts and Lost Causes? What do you do with them? Have you ever adopted them from someone else? I’d love to know. Please leave a comment.



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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40 Responses to False Starts and Lost Causes

  1. Carol Reese says:

    I think I have Terry Hammons beat on the oldest UFO!. I’m now 67, and I started a Robbing Peter to Pay Paul quilt when I was 18, doing the curved seams by hand. I still have the 14 or so blocks I finished. It was planned to be a king sized quilt, so there’s a lot of fabric left. Life intervened, and my husband and I raised 5 children. Will I ever finish it? Probably not, but I won’t get rid of it. I still love interlocking circles and designs that make one dizzy or look like circles – like Storm at Sea. Maybe one day, I’ll take those few blocks and make a table topper. When I retired 5 years ago, I took a quilting 101 class and learned so very much! I’ve a few UFOs I started in the months before that class, from a couple of specific quilt classes, and I plan to finish them and give them to Project Linus. Our local chapter handles most of the quilt distribution to other charities in this area, so even quilts that are not suitable for small children get sent somewhere where they’ll be loved. One thing I have learned about myself is that I am much more likely to finish a small project for myself or for a gift or a larger quilt planned to be a special gift. So, I make a lot of small projects – table runners, pillow shams, and throws. Give away the UFO’s? Not yet. I’ll finish some for charity, but others will just have to wait. I also tend to get sidetracked by a new project, often something for a gift that needs to be finished in a specific time frame, so I put the works-in-progress aside, and then they turn into UFOs!

  2. Patti says:

    I have posted them to my blog. If more than one person wants one I draw a name. I’ve never had one unclaimed by someone.

    At guild – make sure you stay away from the table where these are displayed! If you don’t see them they won’t come home with you.

  3. Nancy in Utah says:

    You know, I started thinking after reading this post and some of the comments…you know the old saying “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure”??? Well, I’m betting that if you had a trade group set up, we could post our own ‘false starts and lost causes’ and swap around for any that we see that might spark our imaginations. That way, instead of just being tossed in the bottom of the closet, some of them could actually become finished beauties!!! AND I must add here that if I listed a project that I really had no interest in any longer, I would certainly not be hurt, if no one else wanted it either, LOL. Just a thought…of course, it is early in the morning for me and I was very sick with a stomach bug…so if you think it’s a silly idea, just chock it up to delirium from being sick for two days. Big Hugs going out to all our sad little cast offs… :o (

  4. Lisa Terk says:

    I put extra and unused blocks, strips, and unfinished blocks into my scrap bag. I use them later for charity quilts or give them to my quilting buddy. I also give her fabrics I no longer loe. I make many strip and string quilts; making blocks or appliques from the fabric. The ugliest fabrics come to life only used as odds and ends of various sizes, shapes, widths, and lengths. The more varied the better!

  5. Kaye M. says:

    I think this would be a great topic for a guild program, look at all the comments this topic has stimulated! Along with many others, I think you should keep going on the Hour Glass blocks. The second quilt that you showed using the 1.5″ strips that is low contrast could be used for a background with a big splashy applique on it. It could be flowers in a basket, or flying birds, or butterflies. I’m sure you’ll come up with something creative! And yes, I have plenty of lost causes in sacks in drawers and in the closet!

  6. M'Liss Hunter says:

    Oh Diane you struck at the heart. I look at lost causes like a bad book…if I do not like it I do not finish it. However I have learned over the years that sometimes when I come back to a book I put down (or a quilt I could not complete) that my tastes and interests have changed and then the project grabs me again. So I am like you, I have a hard time getting rid of anything and keep it around for just that special moment.

  7. Terry Hammons says:

    Diane, have a white elephant Christmas in August gift exchange. Have your guild members bag or box their lost cause/false start and do the exchange. No nmaes and no hints as to the original plan, just anonymous brown bags. Schedule a show and share for 6 months to see what everyone came up with or tell why it is now their lost cause/false start. No judging just some fun. I love the hexaies you acquired and would be stitching on them already. And as to lost causes, I think I have everyone beat. I started a puff pillow quilt when I was 15 (56 now) and have benn lugging it around every since. It is all cut out in 6 x 8 inch rectangles. The worst part is it is double knit polyester. And I actually hand embroidered flowers on some of the squares. What a hoot!!!! :-)

  8. Nann Hilyard says:

    The Sew Many Swaps YahooGroup had an annual Bag o’ Blocks swap for several years. We participants were assigned a “send to” and “receive from” (so we didn’t exchange one-on-one). We sent a bunch of blocks, perhaps some coordinating fabric for sashing/setting/borders, and perhaps and idea of what we’d like. The recipient would use her judgment for assembling the blocks and creating the quilt top and then send it back to the block-owner. It’s amazing how creative you can get with someone else’s blocks! Here is one example: http://withstringsattached.blogspot.com/2009/07/bobbing-along.html

    BTW, Sharyn Craig’s two books on “setting solutions” are great at helping decide what to do with collections of blocks.

  9. JoMarie says:

    The one plus to false starts is that there is always someone who can benefit
    from it. Wouldn’t it be just great to find someone to finish them and give them
    to the homeless or some other organization in need. I make charity quilts for the Appalachian region and send them with a church that makes yearly trips there.
    Wouldn’t that put joy in your heart. Remember-one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

  10. Marca Fritzemeier says:

    Sometimes my false starts need to marinate for awhile, until I’m in the mood again, or seasons change. Your hourglass blocks look happy and cheery. Maybe they’ll be just the thing in gray winter.

  11. K. Pelletier says:

    I love all your false starts but I do the same thing. I truge through some to finish but I am not enjoying the process. And yes some do end up smaller than originally intended.

  12. Susan says:

    I think it takes a different way of looking at bla blocks to add zip to a quilt. Some people have that talent and others just keep trying to make the quilt in the usual way. I was cleaning out the old sewing room this week and have found far more started projects than I remembered. Half at least are duds….. I don’t go to guild meetings because of the speaker topic, guild meetings are just fun. Can always come away with having learned something. So if you could make over your duds into a presentation were would be lines and lines waiting to attend. LOL

  13. Donna says:

    I love the Hour Glass start also. I like the suggestions of finishing them up, and donating to charity. I am trying to finish up UFO projects, and determine why it was I stalled, mostly the creative vision was not met, or the project was finished enough for me to see it out of my minds eye. I am getting them done and enjoying that process. Thanks for sharing your projects!

  14. Lisa B in AK says:

    I think your “false start from early 2013″ looks like an antique. I can see that some of the fabrics are modern but I think it is the pale color overall that gives it that feel. I think it would be a wonder baby quilt.

    I have a problem with totally scrappy quilts. I think they look cluttered and not appealing unless they are 50 or more years old. For me, I think it has to do with the variety of fabrics we think we can use together today. When I make one of these type of quilts I use it as a utilitarian quilt, under the top bed cover in winter for warmth. I finish the quilt, they are being used, and usually someone says, “oh, I love this” and I get to say, “great, it’s yours!” And I learn something. Something about myself, the process, or the fabrics chosen.

    I’m also learning that only I know what I had originally planned or would of done differently and to keep my mouth shut about it except with my closest quilt friends!

  15. margaret says:

    I love your hourglass “False Start” – give it another whirl, though, before tossing it – look at it differently – with sashing – in strips – in squares – as a runner – on point – it could grow on you more than you know.
    Have fun. Margaret

  16. Lynda Parker says:

    Oh thank goodness I can say I’ve never adopted anyone else’s … Oh, wait. I did. But I think just once. The worst of my own is an Applecore. I really love the block. I always thought the worst part would be cutting them out.
    Silly me.
    I bought a template, tried cutting a few with my tiny rotary cutter. Slick! Great!
    Cut a whole bunch. Really, mountains if lovely fall colors. Discovered I’m really bad at sewing them together. Regardless if method.
    What the heck can I do with a mountain of pretty Applecore bits?
    Send them to you?

  17. Katie Wilson says:

    Diane, I have had many false starts. Some I have finished, eventually. Some more I have given away. The small crazy blocks you pictured above the Jo Mortons you can sash and quilt and have a lap quilt for a nursing home. Our guild makes a lot of charity quilts, and many of my false starts have ended up there. I do hate to throw them away, but I’ve been known to do that, too!

  18. Great post! I may have a few (hundred) lost causes!

  19. LeeAnn says:

    If I don’t like a project or class I’ve taken, I just chalk it up to a learning experience. I agree with what someone said that scrappy quilts take many, many blocks to work. I think if you did, maybe 10x more hour glass blocks, your scrappy quilt would look like the antique one you liked. But……if you are bored doing them, then stop now. Maybe you can go back to it, some snowy day in January! :) I do get bored piecing simple blocks so I like a challenge. Sometimes they turn out, sometimes they don’t. But to me it is the process I like.
    Great topic Diane!

  20. Sandy Diehl says:

    I have many of these and I have finally decided not to apologize or feel guilty about it! If it gives me pleasure thinking about what I may do with it one day, so be it! I was the proud receiver of four large boxes of fantastic fabric, free of charge! Do I really need it? No! Do I have room for it? No! But it brings me pleasure and that’s all that matters. I have instructed my kids that when I die they can set a match to all of it if they want. Or maybe if I have UFO’s they’llnfinish them. I only hoard fabric and I really do use it. It’s my fun and sanity. Love live quilters with UFO’s! :)

  21. Kristen says:

    Interesting you bring up this topic today. I am working on a quilt that I really like, but I am hating piecing. I have walked away twice in the last two days and seriously considered dumping the project…however, I need to post it to my blog tonight and it is too late to start something new. I’m still prodding along and I’m hoping I will REALLY like it once I have it finished. I guess I’m calling it a challenge to complete. I usually will finish projects I’m not fond of and try to find someone else who loves it. I have also saved unloved quilts from others and my dog loves sleeping on them. ;)

  22. Claudia says:

    PS. Don’t you have a cat or dog that would love a new “snoozy spot” that smells just like mom? Or the local animal shelter?

  23. Claudia says:

    Has it occurred to you that the reason those old quilts are in such unbelievably good condition is that someone else didn’t like them (probably the giftee) and put them away in storage forever more? I have some wonderful quilts my grandmother was gifted and never used. Yes, we all make “what was I thinking? starts”. It is part of the learning process. I was out shopping for fabric at last weekend’s shop hop, because the one I started with just two sample blocks looked pretty blah (think oatmeal and raspberry jam–but somebody licked off most of the jam). Maybe it needs a little dose of “scrappy”. Live and learn.

  24. barbara corbitt says:

    i have a wonderful idea that would help you and me and charity. if you would be willing to send me your false starts, i will quilt them and donate to charity. i have quilted for over forty years. all my quilts are hand pieced and hand quilted. so far, i have made over two hundred quilts and donated all of them. my income is less than four hundred dollars monthly for disability so buy fabric {or a sew machine} is not an option. this would be beneficial for you, for me, and charity. if you want, i will donate
    to your charity of choice. mine are the american cancer society, church raffles, and humane society. just let me know either way. i look forward to hearing from you. barbara babscorbitt@gmail.com

  25. Jennifer says:

    Diane, if I knew you personally, I’d think we were channelling each other! As I read through, I could relate to each and every piece of it. Just goes to show that great quilters think alike…at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! :-)

  26. Anne Wiens says:

    Well, I would take one of those green Jo Morton crazy quilt blocks off your hands. I need to do a crazy scrapbook quilt for our guild’s President’s Challenge.

    A lot of my False Starts wind up in our guild’s white elephant auction. Just because I don’t love it doesn’t mean someone else won’t. A couple have actually been finished.

  27. Becky Ball says:

    All of the false starts just need more attention to value. I’m the same way – I think something should look good, but without value or at least some pure colors with toned ones, the project died. In stashbusters – a yahoo group, there is a person who takes unloved projects, finishes them, then donates to various charities. She does a great work, both for those of us who donate unwanted items, and for the hundreds, yes hundreds of recipients of her projects.

  28. Paula says:

    Haha Diane! This is an awesome post! After many years of quilting, I have finally gotten to the point that if I don’t like a project, I stop. Totally. I gather what I have made, any fabric that might be used to finish the project (if I don’t want it) and give it all away. Life is too short and I am too busy to make quilts that I don’t love.

    Not too long ago, I did a major, huge, gigantic purge. I went through every.single.project. and picked the ones that I love and want to finish and pulled together all the pieces, parts and fabrics that I needed to finish those projects. I put them in pretty bags that I can pull out and work on when the mood strikes me. The rest of it – gave it all away. ALL of it. Projects, blocks, tops, starts, experiments – all of it. It was awesome. Like a huge weight was lifted. I no longer felt like I had all of these projects that I “had” to finish. I was left with only projects that I love and will finish someday. It re-energized me and got me all excited again.

    I love your title. It was be an awesome guild presentation. You could even tell people ahead of time so they could bring their “lost causes” too, which could be fun and funny and boy, could everyone relate!

  29. Vivian says:

    The interesting thing about the scrappy false starts you had is that they haven’t gone far enough. Most quilts, in particular scrappy ones, usually don’t look good at first (or sometimes even half way through). You really have to have the patience to take them far enough until they get “scrappy enough” to hold together and gel.

    False starts that don’t “look good to you” are usually about them not fulfilling your original vision of them but that means that maybe it’s not that they are bad but that you need to make a new vision for them! Ask yourself what is working for it then try rearranging the pieces or adding something to them or combining them with another “false start” (or throwing them into a start that is working). Any of those actions may bring new life to the project.

    However, piecing that is not fun — well, there’s no cure for that! Either persevere (in the hopes that all the dull work will unearth a real gem of a finish), put it away until a time when the process might be more inspiring to you or dump it!

  30. Jocelyn says:

    I have only had a couple of false starts. Mostly because working with fabric I don’t love, or making a pattern that is too “congested” just doesn’t appeal to me. The ones that I started and did not love, have been finished and donated. I’d rather give it away then throw it away. Fabric is too expensive to just throw it in the trash. Someone, somewhere will love it.

  31. Diane Harris says:

    I am really enjoying reading other people’s thoughts on this. I hope you’ll keep them coming!

  32. Karen says:

    If I happen to start something that I then do not like I toss it or give it to someone who says they like it and want it. I don’t waste my time trying to like it. I can normally tell within one or two blocks of a pattern if this is going to happen. I rarely find this happening though as I normally do not design my own stuff for that very reason. Most times I find a pattern I like and then change a few things in it to make it mine. Sometimes you might find that just changing color scheme makes something you would like better. I have a small sewing room I don’t have room to keep things that don’t appeal to me. Also what you could do it finish the quilt and give it to a charity or goodwill store – just because you do not like the color scheme or pattern doesn’t mean no one out there will like it.

  33. Gari says:

    When I loose interest in a quilt I finish it anyway. It usually is smaller than originally planned but I see charity quilts in everything and I know someone, somewhere will enjoy it or be comforted by it even if it doesn’t spin my wheel.

  34. Just yesterday, I bagged up 3 old projects that have not spoken to me in years. They are going in my guild’s stash sale this week, and hopefully someone else will fall in love with them and take them home! It took a lot to make that decision though. I’ve had them out, ready to get rid of them several times, but I always put them back thinking I’d find a way to give them new life. The sad fact is, I have so many projects I love and want to make, I finally realized it is time to turn loose of those that don’t trip my trigger anymore!

  35. Gina says:

    I think the easier the pattern, the quicker I lose interest. I have a lot like that.

  36. Sharon says:

    Finish them up and donate them to a group in need. I don’t have un-loved, but tend to make a lot of extra blocks – I donate these to different church or mission groups for charity quilts. There’s always needs – and if I don’t have the time to make a quilt, I can contribute blocks.

  37. Dana says:

    I think we’ve all had them, I usually put them in a zip lock and hide them away. I have had a few ah ha moments when I’ve used them in a completely different design or sewn a few together to make a doll quilt for charity. Mostly they just pile up and wait for inspiration. I’ve never bought someone else’s although that’s probably because I’ve never come across any. :)

  38. Lauren aka Giddy99 says:

    I was wondering about this the other day. I’m new to quilting, so I’ve only accumulated a few orphan blocks (none of which will go together for an orphan block quilt), but I’m dismayed by the thought of throwing them away, too.

  39. Sharon says:

    I’m almost with Val. If I don’t like it – finish and donate. Often, to motivate myself to finish an uninspiring, unloved, ugly project I’ll put something I really want to do on the “next” space; as soon as I’m done I get to work on this fabulous project!

    Also, for the yardage of “what WAS I thinking” – makes great backing for those uglies.

    I read somewhere that folks with little to nothing prefer unattractive blankets because then they don’t worry about someone trying to steal them. I think it was “My Brother’s Keeper” project – they make deliberately ugly sleeping bags. An uninspiring unloved still will keep someone warm.

  40. Mary Val says:

    I don’t keep the ones I don’t intend to finish. It goes to the Goodwill store, the unused fabric goes back into the stash. Once or twice it went into the garbage. Yes, it did, fabric and all. That stuff is outta here. I don’t make it or keep it if I don’t love it, and I don’t waste my time and energy on the ones I no longer love. Pick up some one else’s unfinished unloved project at a sale, no thanks. Too many projects of my own I want to start. Finished tops that need quilting, maybe; old quilts that need restored, maybe. Fabric, maybe. Someone else’s UFO, mmmm, no thanks. If you love it, adopt it. If not, walk away, ladies, lol.

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