You know all of those unfinished projects lurking in your cupboard stressing you out?
I think you should abandon at least half of them.
I believe unfinished projects, “UFO”s (unfinished objects), "WIP"s (works in progress), whatever you call them, are one of the BIGGEST hindrances to creativity for quilters.
Here’s what often happens. We get excited about a new technique or pattern and we dive in. At the beginning, we’re loving it, feeling inspired, and having a ball. However, often we get half way through a project and realize the technique isn’t for us or that we wished we had made it in a slightly different way.
Or you go to a workshop, learn a lot, then come home from it with part of one block finished and the rest of the quilt ahead of you. It then sits in your cabinet for months and months, unfinished. Sound familiar?
Then you feel like you HAVE to finish that project before moving on to the next, which can really stifle your creative flow.
The solution: abandon that project!
I know this runs counter to what we’ve been told about finishing all of our WIPs, but hear me out.
Quilting is not your job. We quilt because we enjoy it, it feeds our souls, it is cathartic, it allows us to be creative and express ourselves.
It is not your job to finish every single project you start. If you try a new technique, and it’s not inspiring you, you are allowed to abandon it!
It’s okay to let go of projects that are no longer lighting you up.
Some projects serve their purpose simply by teaching you something new or by showing you a technique you just don’t enjoy. If so, there is no need to slog through it just to finish a quilt you don’t care about.
Instead, thank the project for what it taught you, and let it go. And I mean literally thanking it out loud-- it feels weird at first, but makes it a lot easier to let go of it, and practicing gratitude is always a beautiful thing.
You can “let it go” either by donating it or dropping it in your Experiment Bin (more on this in a minute) to be used in a different way in the future.
Should it Stay or Should it Go?
Now I am by no means saying that you shouldn’t finish any of your quilt projects. Not at all.
There will absolutely be projects that have their ups and downs in terms of inspiration and excitement, but overall, you are excited about the project, and will feel fulfilled to see it completed.
Abandoning everything you start can leave you feeling scattered and unproductive. You are spending so much time quilting with little to show for it. It’s defeating and deflating.
So how do you know which projects you should continue working on, even when they are in a tedious phase, and which should you abandon?
This is where I’d invite you to check in with your gut. When you pick up the project, do you feel expansive and excited about the possibilities and by what you still have to learn from it? Does is “spark joy” as Marie Kondo would say? If so, by all means, put some time on your schedule and finish that project!
However, if you pick up the project and you get a feeling of contraction in your chest and the thought of finishing it makes you groan-- it’s time to abandon that project. Thank it for what it taught you, and let it go.
Clearing out unfinished projects is SO cathartic and SO good for your creative flow.
We talk about this a lot in Meander (our International online quilt guild where our goal is to grow creatively and explore lots of different quiltmaking styles and techniques), and lots of Meander members who’ve done this-- gone through their WIPs and let go of ones no longer lighting them up, have shared how freeing it feels.
In the same way going through and clearing out your garage or spare closet and taking a carload to Goodwill or elsewhere to donate feels amazing. Your home feels bigger and you feel lighter. The same is true when you clear out physical space in your Studio. All of those excess projects and clutter are taking up a lot of mental bandwidth.
So how can you explore lots of different quilt-making techniques and styles without accumulating a huge stack of unfinished projects and without those periods of creative stagnation?
Let me introduce you to the “Quilt Experiment".
Whenever I try out a new technique, I start with an experiment.
An "experiment" is a small or scaled-down project that you make before investing the time and materials in a full-sized project.
This is like the painter’s sketchbook. Monet didn’t only make large-scale oil painting after large-scale oil painting!
He, like most painters, had a sketchbook. Before he began any of those lengthy projects, he’d first do a bunch of sketches and small paintings to work through ideas, try out a shape or a new layout, and figure out how he wanted to go about his next project.
This is what MOST artists do! They sketch and experiment before diving into a big project. So why do we as quilters so often simply hop from big project to big project, skipping the “sketching/experimenting” phase altogether?
This makes it really hard to explore an idea, color palette, or technique fully. It also creates this start and stop momentum for our creativity, like we’re in a traffic jam.
The “Quilt Experiment” is an alternative to this.
I keep a basket in my studio called an “Experiment Bin.” This is where all my orphan blocks, abandoned projects, and miscellaneous precuts go, as well as fabric I don't really care about.
Then whenever I am going to start on a new "experiment," I dip into my Experiment Bin for that fabric! The adandoned projects can be used and get new life, and I can experiment with fabric that I don’t mind “wasting” in case the experiment doesn’t work out. I wrote all about my Experiment Bin in greater detail, here.
And I reserve those BIG projects that I know will be a big time investment for projects I know I’m super excited about and inspired by.
This is a new way of working for most of us, but I’ve found from personal experience and by hearing from all the Meander members who have put it into practice, that it can allow us as quilters to grow creatively and as technicians so much quicker and so much more joyfully.
So, give yourself permission to abandon projects! Clear out as much space for your creativity as possible. Experiment on a small scale before diving into a big project. And watch your creativity flourish.
Now I’d love to hear from you! What is your biggest takeaway from this article? What do you think about the notion of abandoning projects? Have you felt you had to finish everything you started? Leave a comment below!
If you’d like to join a community of quilters from around the world who are constantly experimenting with and learning new styles and techniques, I think you’d love Meander. Learn more about Meander, here.