Monday Musings: UFO Sightings Part 3--Stitch It or Ditch It?

Sorry, couldn't resist tossing a little gimmicky rhyme in there. 

Okay, some of you have been whining...I mean...commenting about the fact that I made you face up to your UFOs this past week. It's rarely fun to make the list, right? Sometimes we're in for some unpleasant surprises when we really pull all those bins off our shelves or turn the light on in the corner closet. But still--really!--it's a liberating moment. The first step to solving the problem is admitting you have one, right? Tee hee. 

But I kept reassuring y'all--just wait until Monday. Today we make it all better. Or, at least, we start making it more sane.

This week, we're going to look at our UFO lists, I mean really look at them, and make some judgment calls.  This post is a little on the long side because we have to deal with some real baggage here. So, let's just start by saying...

You know, it is permissible not to finish a UFO.

I know, I know--trust me. I've heard it. "But that's a waste of time and fabric!" "But I spent so much on the supplies for that!" "But I just don't feel right if I have a loose end!"

I'm a loose-end kinda gal, myself. I like things to be completed, I like to get to the end of the story. However, there are a couple of things I've had to teach myself the last few years:

1. Is this my story, or someone else's story?

2. What is the story that needs to be finished?

3. Who needs to finish the story?

4. And what about the trash can?

Let's take #1 first: Is this my story, or someone else's story?

I'm talking here about obligation quilt projects. We probably all know what these are: the quilts someone has asked us to make--that someone having no idea whatsoever what it actually takes to make a quilt. They have no concept of the amount of work or expense that goes into them. This does not make them bad or inconsiderate people. It just makes them non-quilters. (We create this atmosphere ourselves, by the way, when we pass off a compliment on a quilt with, "Oh, it's nothing special," or "just something I whipped together." We're better off saying, "yeah, that puppy just about killed me but I persevered!" Don't be afraid of letting people know how much work goes into these things!)

There are also the obligation quilt projects we put on ourselves. We intend to make a baby quilt for our co-worker's son and his wife--we've never met them, but we really like our co-worker, so we want to do something nice for the new grandma. We start the quilt, and now said baby is starting kindergarten and the quilt is still half-done on our shelves. Or we start a quilt for a donation project and lose steam, or for a fundraiser, or for whatever.

One of the last projects I did for someone else on request: It was fun, but boy did it stress me out!

One of the last projects I did for someone else on request: It was fun, but boy did it stress me out!

I have more difficulty with the second category than the first, only for the reason that I rarely agree to make a quilt for anyone at their request anymore. I did it a few times in my earlier years. I enjoyed doing those projects at some level, but I also stressed out about them far more than any other quilts I'd made for my own enjoyment. I felt perpetually guilty about how long it was taking me because of my work/travel schedule; those projects hung over my head like anvils until I could finally get them done. Fortunately in my case, all the recipients seemed to really appreciate their projects (I know one is still hanging in her living room since I see it every time I go over there). I know for a lot of quilters, however, that's not always the case--there are definitely some horror stories out there of what's happened when a quilter has gifted something to someone and it's not received in the way we'd all hope. In any case, I'm currently working under different guidelines--it may make me sound like Bad Quilter Lady, but I no longer offer/agree to make anything for anyone, unless it's contributing a block to a group project; and even then, I take a careful look at my schedule before saying yes. I just have to face reality--I just don't have the time right now.

An example of one of my "mental obligation" UFOs

An example of one of my "mental obligation" UFOs

My difficulty tends to be more when I mentally connect a project with a particular person--they don't know I've done so, they've not asked for it, they have no idea I'm working on anything for them--it's just me in my head, thinking, "Oh, this would be great for so and so." That makes it almost as binding a commitment to me as if I had told them I was making it, or they'd asked me for it. This is the type of story I need to learn to release. If they have no idea it's coming, and if I get to the point where it's just unreasonable for me to feel like I can finish it, what's the harm in letting it go? I just need to get over myself.

So--the question to ask ourselves here is, "is this my story" (in other words, something I really want to do myself), or "is this someone else's story" (in other words, something someone else has asked me to do). If the answer is the first, the corollary question is, "do I still want to be part of this story or am I ready to move on?" If the answer is the second, the corollary question is, "if I didn't finish this, what would be the worst that would happen?" My guess is, if someone has asked you to make a quilt and you go back to them and say, "You know, my schedule/responsibilities are different now than when I agreed to do this, and I just don't think I can finish it," they may be a little disappointed, of course, but they're not going to open a can of whup-*ss on you. In fact, they may completely understand and actually feel a little badly if they knew it was causing you so much angst in the first place and be happy to release you from the obligation.

Yes, most of the quilts in this category you may still choose to finish, and that's absolutely fine. I'm not saying not to! I'm just saying, as in all things, assess the need carefully. 

#2: What is the story that needs to be finished?

Several of my UFOs fall into the category of class projects or homework projects I worked on in my design study group; some are simply things I started on my own. They were projects I undertook to learn something new, to experiment with a concept, or to push my own envelope. They were incomplete because (1) I learned what I wanted to learn, (2) my experiment didn't turn out the way I'd hoped, or (3) my envelope, duly pushed, now sent me in other directions and other projects.

These are not projects I really need to finish. Their "story" was to teach me something, and I learned that something. There's no additional learning to be gained from finishing these projects. I may keep them around as reference, but I don't need to keep them around as UFOs. I can now mentally re-categorize them and move on.

Do you have projects kicking around from that class you took five years ago that you've never finished? Ask yourself: Do you really need to? Do you really want to? Or are you feeling like you should finish it just because we're supposed to finish things?

#3: Who needs to finish this story?

So you have a UFO that needs to be finished--who says you're the one that has to finish it? There are some people who get a big kick out of finishing other people's UFOs. By passing one of your UFOs along, you may well be providing someone else with hours of entertainment. You may be providing someone else with something they can practice their own techniques on: For example, maybe they want a "low commitment" project to practice their free motion quilting skills; if they haven't put all the time into making the quilt top, they're likely to feel more free to mess up the quilting. Or, maybe they want to play around with over-dyeing and surface design techniques and turn it all sorts of interesting colors. 

Of course, that means you need to give up all control about how it's finished. That queen-sized UFO may end up being several totebags and placemats by the end. But at least it's no longer on your list and someone else has had a great time playing with it. 

One of Mom's UFOs I did finish

One of Mom's UFOs I did finish

When my mother passed away, I went through all her UFOs to decide which I was actually going to take on myself; I was pretty careful, but I still ended up with a sizable number. (I did get those all done!) I let her friends go through the rest, and they each took a couple. I then took the remainder into my guild and put them up for grabs--I didn't go home with anything left in my bag.* My guild buddies were pleased to have this new opportunity for fun and games! As for my own UFOs, I'm fortunate that I do have a couple of friends who enjoy completing UFOs, so I recently handed off a couple. I pulled them out of my totebag with an apologetic look and mumbled words of, "If you don't want it, that's fine, I'll figure something else out." Their eyes lit up and they practically grabbed them out of my hands. "Ooh--this'll be fun!" So next time I know to be less apologetic about it.

Look at your UFOs--are there some that you may be willing to release to the wild? Maybe you could even make a game of it: Put each one in a brown paper bag and challenge your guild friends to each take a bag and convert the UFO into something different--if it was originally a wallhanging, turn it into a totebag; if it was originally a totebag, repurpose it into a tea cozy...etc. Set a deadline and let the fun begin!

#4: That Oft-Maligned Trash Can

Some of you just shuddered, I can feel it from my house. There's a rule in the quilt world that it's Terribly Wasteful to Throw Out Fabric. I might as well be thrown in quilt jail for even suggesting such a thing.

All I can say is, there are some projects I've tossed and then danced a happy dance around the trash can. There's something completely liberating about demolishing a UFO. I reserve this for those projects that caused me unwarranted frustration and angst, that I'd be embarrassed to have anyone else be witness to, or that just cause my stomach to twist whenever I look at them. I just have to purge them from my life. 

It's cleansing. Try it.

Assignment for this week

So, this week, I want you to assess each one of your UFOs and honestly--completely and totally honestly--determine if you actually (1) want or (2) need to finish it. If it's a project for someone else, why isn't it done yet? Could you talk to that person about the consequences of not finishing it? If it's a project for you, does it really need to be finished or, at least, does it need to be finished by you? 

I'd actually already gone through my list a couple of months ago and found two projects to give away to others, and trashed a couple of other ones. I still plan on going through the list again to see if there are others I could "off." So I'm with you in this!

See if you can't decrease your list by at least one UFO--maybe more!

*One of Mom's UFOs did come back home to live with me. One of my BFF/BQFs, Lori, finished it and gave it back to me as a gift a couple of years after I'd done the UFO-giveaway. Mom's original UFO was actually round--or hexagonal or whatever. I think she intended to complete it as a table cover. Lori finished it as a wallhanging and gifted it to me; it now hangs over the bed in my guest room. So, see? There is a happy ending for UFOs sent off to live in other people's houses!