Before I sift through my pile of unfinished sewing projects to give you 3 steps to finish your WIPs, indulge me with one quick story. The year was 2007. I was 21. Although I wasn’t overly ambitious in my studies, I did have one special skill – I said yes to almost everything.
I said yes to joining clubs, yes to questionable fashion, yes to even more questionable haircuts, yes to parties and food and cross country road trips. I had endless energy and was discovering hundreds of new things for the first time!
Because of this yes-to-all mentality, during the summer leading into my senior year of college, I stumbled into an internship...at the Pentagon...in Washington, D.C. I know. I am still confused as well. I was a graphic design student with average grades from a school in the middle of America. It’s safe to say that nobody knew why or how I was allowed security clearance into the Pentagon on a daily basis.
During those three months I learned many things, but one of my main takeaways from high-powered government work was that nobody had time to say anyone’s full title. Every department, deputy and person of importance had an acronym.
My boss would get a stream of requests for printouts, presentations and signage from mystery letters that I had to pretend to know.
“Suzy, the PS of the DA of the DOD needs this presentation ASAP.”
“A-OK!” I'd reply with a salute, as I'd bounce off to my corner cubicle to Google everything she had just said.
I never did catch on to what those acronyms meant, but it did give me a deeper understanding of my own quilt community. Just like those powerful chiefs of government, we quilters cannot be bothered to say the full word when an acronym will do.
We’ve got our WIPs, our UFOs, our FQs and HSTs. Where would we be without our LQS, DSM and LAQ professionals? We take our sewing very seriously and have no time to fiddle around saying the full name of what we mean.
That’s why it’s time, GQs, to attack those WIPs with the same single-mindedness and veracity that we attack our acronyms. We’re going to identify the culprit, make a plan and finish the job.
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Step # 1 to Finish Your WIPs: Identify the Culprit
Are your WIPs in neatly sealed bags labeled with clear instructions? Or maybe you have a large basket in the corner of your closet where orphan blocks, unfinished tops and random scraps all get tossed. Whatever the situation, we’re pulling them out and identifying what we’ve got.
If you’re a longtime sewist, there may even be a few surprises at the bottom of the pile! With the sharp decisiveness of a machete hacking through a wild jungle, divvy up your WIPs into four piles:
- Throw it away. Let it go. You hate this project and every time you look at it an involuntary groan escapes your mouth. Set it free...into the trash. And don't feel guilty! Life is too short for your sewing projects to weigh you down.
- Finish it. Do it. You got this. Don’t start another new project until this pile is empty. Place this stack in a prominent spot and let it stare at you until it has disappeared.
- Pay someone to finish it for you. If it’s a quilt top that you don’t want to baste and quilt yourself, hire a LAQ professional. If you have beautiful blocks from a BOM that you simply cannot bring yourself to sew together, connect with your LQS, guild or friend group and ask if you can either exchange services or pay them to finish it for you. Get it off your plate!
- Donate it. This option may be a little trickier because you need to make sure you are giving away your WIP to a person or group who actually wants it. A lot of quilt guilds collect blocks and quilt tops to be finished and then given to charity. Just don’t “donate it” into the cluttered trunk of your friend’s car while whispering, “sucker.”
Pictured above is the Tail Feather quilt. The unfinished blocks featured in this post are created from making this pattern.
Step #2 to Whip Through Those WIPs: Make a Plan
The hardest thing about finishing your WIP is getting back in the groove. So...
- Reread the pattern from beginning to end. Even if it's a simple HST quilt pattern, skim the instructions and illustrations just to make sure you aren't forgetting anything. This is also a good time to make sure you still have all of the cut pieces and supplies.
- Give everything a fresh press with the iron. Fabric always looks better once it's pressed! And you know what? Treat yourself to some sweetly scented starch. You deserve a fresh start.
- Stack your fabric or blocks by your sewing machine. All that's left is to sit and sew! Easy breezy.
Step #3: Finish It
Be the mob boss closer you know you are. Crack your knuckles. Roll your shoulders. Get it done.
Oh, and be sure to give yourself lots of rewards along the way! Need to take a break every 30 minutes for snacks? Do it! While ploughing through old WIPs calories and dirty dishes do not exist. FACT.
What are your WIP secrets? Let us know in the comments! Are you a tidy WIP keeper with lots of labeled baskets and bags? Or do you prefer one huge bin? I have to admit that I hate WIPs. They stress me out! Even though this isn't a popular thing to say, I usually only have about one or two projects going at a time. C'est vrai!
If my WIP pile grows larger than three, I get an eye twitch. (Remember the chief inspector from the Pink Panther movies? Just like that.) My solution is that if a WIP sits unattended for more than a year, I donate it.
Glossary of Terms
- BOM: Block Of the Month
- DSM: Domestic Sewing Machine
- FMQ: Free Motion Quilting
- FQ: Fat Quarter
- GQ: Gentle Quilter (my term of endearment for you)
- HST: Half-Square Triangle
- LAQ: LongArm Quilting
- LQS: Local Quilt Shop
- UFO: UnFinished Object
- WIP: Work In Progress
41 thoughts on “3 Steps to Finish Your WIPs”
Hahaha – GQ – gentle quilter! You’re awesome 🙂 I have quite a few WIP and I like storing them in zip lock bags where I have the extra material needed for the project stored too. That way, when I am ready to get back to it, it has everything in one spot!
Shan, you are a goddess of organization!
I use scrapbook bins. The 12×12 plastic ones that stack. I get bored. Lots of tops finished but not quilted. I don’t have the money to pay anyone to LAQ for me. These tops are gifts so I can’t donate because my gkids will fire me as their Nana.
I’ve been doing and learning zentangles, (YouTube), for muscle memory to quilt on my domestic machine.
I am learning QAYG for some patterns so quilting is done as I go. WIP is an understatement.
Thank you for the printable sheet to organize which will allow me to finish too.
You rock and thanks again for reorganizing me with your awesome ideas.
Love your articles, tips, and advice so much! I’ll be tackling my WIPS again this week as I already have fabric picked out for your Perennial Quilt. (Although, I kinda love Mod Mountains, also. Hmmm) Excited to start my first SQ’s pattern! Thanks so much, Suzy.
The problem, Suzy, is your beautiful choice of fabrics, and great designs. It is hard to finish one project when, boom! you tease us with another!
Gotta admit I have a few in zip lock bags too. best invention ever. However I did read a quiltist blog who said don’t use them cause the fabric can’t breath. piffle I say, some of mine are years old and not only are they breathing, I think they are procreating in there. LUV your newsletter. glad you are feeling a bit better. e
I thought I was the only one who mostly does one project at a time to completion. I always feel like such a slacker for not have WIPs and UFOs. I always have lots of USOs (un Started objects) packed neatly in cases and bags so I don’t accidentally use the fabric for something else.
Sarah, you are not alone!! I , too, do one project to completion. I can “scatterbrain” enough without the added distraction of multiple projects working simultaneously. I, too, keep future USO’s in bags/sets along with the intended pattern so that I don’t confuse what fabrics are truly available vs already committed.
Ummm, I don’t know you, but you are my idol.
I started listing every project I have in mind including WIP in my planner. I set a goal each month for finishing one WIP before I allow myself to start something new. I also log how much yardage I sew through each month and how much yardage comes in. It helps me be more environmentally responsible and determine if I am just collecting all the pretty fabric or consuming it. My goal is to show at the of the year that I have reduced the stash a bit or more, not added to it.😆
That’s a wonderful goal!
Thanks for the great tip, I’m not only a hoarder of fabric but I knit as well. Hence my abundant stash of wool I have collected for those waiting projects. I’m going to keep an inventory of my wool so I know I’m getting through it, not going to plan another project until I’ve finished a few others . It’s good to keep busy though.
Sarah, if you need some WIPS &/or UFOs, just give a holler… I have PLENTY to spare! LOL!
Ahhh thank you. I needed this. I think I can make some progress. I know my main hitch is letting go. That stupid bear paw from 1999 needs to go. How do I still have it 20 years later??? Only 3 blocks completed and I hate that fabric 😳
It’s because I always think “but I spent money!!!!)
Thank you for unburdening us. We have enough guilt weighing us down that we don’t need these inanimate objects inflicting guilt upon us too. I like to think of all the time and money spent planning the project kept me out of trouble, and isn’t that a win?
I’ve thrown away 1 project in my 25 years of sewing. I hung onto it for a good 7 before I decided to do so. I tell myself I don’t regret it, though, I wish I had a photo of it. I’ve got another that I am about to throw away, a twin that I’ve been machine quilting for 2 years now. I pulled it out a few weeks ago to steel some safety pins off of it… Yeeeek, not sure they will ever make it back on.
Your Pentagon days are my favorite.
Instead of throwing it away, is it something you can donate to a quilting group to be finished and donated to charity?
No, this one really wasn’t salvageable. I had run out of fabrics and patched with weird things… It was sun faded and stained. My hand writing was so small and the rows so close together… No one would have wanted to finish it. A quilt only it’s mother could love… And, she didn’t.
I just went thru my stash and found several WIP’s ooooops! Guess what I will be doing the next few weeks – right after Xmas stuff that I am working on now!!! Lol
I don’t normally have more than three things on the go as I get eye twitchitis also!!!🤣🤣🤣
I like to finish a project and then I rightly feel I deserve to buy more fabric to start another! I love the anticipation of deciding which project is next and what fabric I get to choose.
Thank you for your blog, I really enjoy reading it and I love your patterns!
I hope you have more sleepful nights than sleepless. 😴
The twitchies and the jitters! Too many WIPs and I go crazy! And thank you. I’m hoping for more sleep soon…
Thanks for the welcome advice, very practical and what I like about is now you break the WIPS down into manageable bite size chunks. So clever yet so easy. Just follow your brilliant little steps and voila you’re on your way to finishing that WIP/UFO.
My group donates the ones they’ve fallen out of love with to other members of our group who see the WIPS a totally different light.
I like to use my orphan blocks or half finished blocks for our local hospital, for the prem babies Intensive Care Unit.. The quilts are tiny so you finish them in no time.
The bigger, half finished quilts – I’ll save that for another time!
I love your tips and strategies Suzy, keep them coming!
I started doing that. Sent 3 quilts to get longarmed, 2 of which had been sitting in my closet for 2 years!!! I’m so happy I did!! And for those wishing to donate WIPs or blocks, there are often people looking for them on Instagram during the #gettourquiltywishesgranted !
Now I don’t fear starting a quilt that I won’t know how to quilt – I know I’ll just send it to the longarm quilter 🙂
Funny how my guilt disappears when I shut the closet door!
I have one WIP that is my pride and joy, I designed my own emergency vehicle quilt. It is nearly complete except for the backing and quilting. Yes that’s all that was left to do….. My 5 year (at the time) had an absolute passion for all types of fire engines, emgergency helicopters etc. so he had picked all the vehicles he wanted on there. Long story short, he’s now 12 and way too old for it. Arghhhhh. Luckily I have 4 boys so my youngest son will be the lucky recipient, much to my 12 year olds disdain. After reading your article I have pulled the quilt out and I WILL be finishing it this weekend . (More so because I’ve run out of kids to pass it on too) Thanks for you’re inspirational words Suzy 🙂🙂 Next quilt I’m making is you’re Nordic triangle ombré quilt for my daughter. (At least she can’t really grow out of that beautiful creation)
I keep finding them as I go thru my stash, not including the four I am actively working on. Two of these have been worked on sporadically for several years, I plan to finish them by Christmas. Two are baby quilts for friends grandchildren and need to be done ASAP. Thanks for the encouragement.
Sadly, I have to many wip’s to count. A couple years ago I decided that I had to finish 1 wip before I started another project. That worked for a while. But I am happy to report that I have not added to my wip list. I finish each project I start. I won’t start another until my current project is off to my longarm quilter. Time to get back to my “wip’s”.
I dream of having lots of WIPs….. but I can’t!! I live in London – space is at a premium so I have half a cupboard where I keep all my sewing stuff 😱… This means I am organised and restrained (not qualities that come to me naturally). I only have one WIP stored in zip lock bags plus the fabric for my next project is ready and waiting in a Liberty bag at the back of the cupboard (not because I’ve necessarily bought the fabric from Liberty…. just because the purple bag with gold letters makes me disproportionately happy 😊).
I am sooo with you – more than 2 WIP’s and I start to hyperventilate! So comforting to see I’m in good company. I keep any “projects” with all necessary fabric and pattern in clear bags so not to use the parts unintentionally for another project. And I occasionally take a quick scan through them and purge to my LQG – no guilt 🙂 Your post is so timely – today is a WIP git-er-done day. Thanks for the inspiration!
Oh thank goodness, I know of 3 WIPs that have been sitting around for a good 5-6 years. I’m getting rid of 2 of them this weekend. One of them is the ugliest fabric ever (no clue what I was thinking) and the other…well, it’s just boring. The 3rd…I’m still holding out some hope that I work on it, eventually. I think I was waiting for permission to toss and now that I have it…bye-bye uglies!
Another great article, GQ Suzy! I’ve been pounding through WIPs and have 3 ready for either my LAQ-er or my DSM, I haven’t decided which (maybe both!). It’s so much better to have a lovely quilt top (or finished quilt!) than a box of blocks! Your piecing technique has helped me get these done in record time. Thanks for always being a ray of sunshine in my in-box. xo
I have a many projects that are not started …😉
I just need to start ….
I’ve been on a huge WIP kick – I haven’t even started a new quilt since July! My instagram looks like I’m super prolific, but really I’ve just been finishing things starting with the ones that are most done and working backwards (including sending a few tops out to take the pressure off). I’m loving the clean look but getting anxious to start something new. Trying to hold off until the new year!
OMG you are my third daughter! I’m now watching The Return of the Pink Panther in my sewing sanctuary. No cable so DVD’s. I’m up here in Mil-e-wauk-kay “the good land”. See what I mean? Anyway most of my WIP become UFO s because I can’t make a decision on fabric or whatever. I donate a lot!
What a great movie!! I was hoping someone would get that reference 😉
GQ had me stumped. All I could think of was OG and thought, “Is she calling us Gangster Quilters?” 😂😂😂
In any case, our modern guild is launching a WIP/UFO challenge for next year, so your timing is perfect. Thanks for the tips!
I have a cupboard for my quilting fabric, another for dressmaking fabric and storage boxes full of yarn.
In the quilting fabric cupboard are several small storage containers with projects in them. A couple are WIPS, the others are yet to be started. One’s been there for about seven years. I’m not concerned because when I retire, I have a goal to attempt to wear out the Bernina. 😉
Love your blog.
I normally have 2 WIP’s going at the same time. An easier one and a more difficult one. I’ll go back and forth between the two so I don’t get burnout on the more difficult one.
Here’s another acronym for you: QD, or Cutie for short. QD means Quick and Dirty…a project that you dive into just for fun and doesn’t have to be perfectly made. Sometimes I’m in sewing mode but don’t have a plan or a pattern. Just put fabric together for the fun of it. My last QD was a teapot cosy that looks like a teapot. Wish I could post a picture of it here. Just looking at the whimsy of it always makes me smile.
I think that a good idea is to get your quilting friends involved and have a good old fashion quilting bee! It may wind up into may be a sleepover so that the night owls can work late and early birds can get up and go. Of course a lot of good food and beverages would be involved.
Each of you could bring a UFO, make a plan of attack and conquer as many as you can as a group or individually. It’s all about the camaraderie to give that extra push.
Did it with a bunch of my friends when I did Renaissance costuming. It was a lot of fun and very productive.
Who knew! Self isolation in 2020 would make me work on more of my ancient WIPs and also reduce my stash. Then there are the scraps (do they breed in the box?), I’ve been making a wee dent there as well.