Monday Musings--UFO Sightings Complete

Actually, I'm not really sure I have anything more to say on this subject. Well, maybe just a little.

First, to recap: Whenever you find yourself thinking of something as a UFO, first make sure it fits your definition of a UFO. Then make sure it's something you really need to finish. Then list out the exact steps, especially the very next action of what you need to do to make progress on completing it. Finally, motivate yourself however you need to motivate yourself to finish it. Does that summarize the last several weeks of posts well enough?

Now, here's the thing: I've done every step of these posts with the exception of deciding which UFO I'm going to tackle next. You see, I just got the first syllabus for my coursework today and, yep, I'm pretty much not going to have time for much else than reading and writing for the next, well, several years. And I'm okay with that. That's simply where my life is at the moment and I choose to accept it gracefully, knowing that I have other focii right now. Could I do the 10-minutes-a-day thing just to get something done? Probably, but do I want to add one more obligatory task to my list just to achieve some sort of fictional finish-count? Nope. I'll be quilty-creative when I need to be for therapy, and I'll finish the couple of giftie things I've mentally committed myself to, but I'm not going to worry about achieving some sort of quantity goal at all.

So, in my long-standing tradition of giving my readers the advice I most need to hear: My last post on the topic of UFOs will be, cut yourself some slack. 

Who says you need to finish all those UFOs in a given time frame? In general, whether we're talking UFOs or new projects or whatever, just cut yourself slack. I too often hear quilters apologize for little they're getting done quilty-wise. What? Apologizing? They look at super-productive quilters and somehow think we're all supposed to measure up. Yes, I've even been guilty of that myself--more than a few times. But here's what I've also had to remind myself: It's not about quantity. You're getting done what you're able to get done or what you want to get done. If you're not getting more done, who cares? There's no Great Big Tally Board in the Sky that you'll be measured against after you're gone. 

If, however, you're feeling sad that you've not gotten enough of a quilty fix in your life, now THAT you need to listen to. Look at your schedule and see if there's a little sliver of time in there somewhere. Or see if there's some other way to be creative that you can more easily fit into your current realities of life (like me and embroidery--it works better for me right now than quilt projects do, so it's what I'm focusing on). 

I'm sure, at several junctures in the next few years of my new phase of life, I'm going to be feeling sad that I don't have the time to get my quilty on. But I'm not going to feel guilty about a lack of productivity. And I want you to hold me to that statement. If you hear me starting to apologize for not getting quilty stuff done, I give you permission to give me the metaphorical cuff upside the head. Just like I'll do for you. Say it with me: I'm cutting myself some slack. Again, louder: I'm cutting myself some slack. One more time, with gusto: I'm cutting myself some slack!

As a side note, cutting myself slack may well mean I'm posting far fewer blog posts in the foreseeable future--well, after this week, anyway; I've got a couple I need to get out given a big finish I just had this weekend! But I'll still be around and likely still as active as ever on Twitter, so keep talking to me!

Monday Musings: UFO Sightings Part 4--Where to Start?

So you've made your list and checked it twice, right?

I know at least some of you have--I've been hearing the reports! Love getting the feedback. I've also gone through my own list and, although I was prepared for this week's post (I do have a bit of an "in" with the blog writer), I still haven't done a bang-up job of attending to this week's assignment in my own life. So we're all in this one together for sure!

Now that you know what your UFOs are, and now that you know which ones you're actually going to commit to finishing (you did knock one or two, if not more, off the list, right?), now it's time to make a plan for finishing!

Rather than just starting at the top of the list and working your way down, I'd suggest you figure out which one you want to finish next using the following criteria:

1. Look for UFOs with built-in deadlines. For example, were you working on a wedding quilt that got set aside, but now the wedding is only a couple of months (or weeks--yikes!) away? This first sub-category--imminent first-run deadlines--is pretty easy to figure out and calendarize, so go there first. The second sub-category is "deadlines that have already been blown." But a deadline can always be reworked in a meaningful way: For example, is that baby who you were working on that baby quilt for about to have their own baby, so maybe that UFO can be repurposed for the next generation? Or could the unfinished high school graduation quilt now perhaps be a wedding or a housewarming gift? I'm not always an advocate of going with deadline-driven UFOs first (see the following categories) but let's face it--some of us work best to a deadline, so if you're that kind of person, give yourself a deadline or two!

2. Look for "Easy Wins." This is actually my favorite category, but it only goes so far. In this category, you find those UFOs that would take you so little work to finish it's actually pretty ridiculous it's still sitting on that dang shelf. Ahem. Sorry--I just let you in on a personal between-me-and-my-UFOs conversation. In any case, if you don't have any seriously imminent deadlines from category 1, this would always be the first place I'd suggest starting. An Easy Win makes you feel great and gets the buzz going. Once you knock out a fast UFO finish, you're gung-ho for the next one. You may not want to knock out all your Easy Wins in a row, though, as you'll then be left with the ones you have to slog through a little more and you'll just stop dead again. Depending on how many EW's you have, maybe you want to knock out one or two, then a longer one, then an other EW, then a longer one...rewarding yourself, as it were. Pretty soon, however, it's likely you'll run out of Easy Wins and you'll only have longer finishes facing you. Which leads me to the next category...

3. Look for the most interesting. Which UFOs still interest or intrigue you in some way? Is there a UFO you really did enjoy working on, but it was just taking longer than you thought so it got set aside, or it got sidelined by other projects that fall under #1 above and just fell off your radar? We're always more motivated to work on projects that keep our interest, so these UFOs are more likely to get finished, even if they're going to take us a little longer. 

4. Look at what's left: The frustrating projects or those that we've just lost interest in. Once again, I'd say that the first step here is to really be sure you actually have to finish these UFOs (see my last blog post). But if they're still on your list for whatever reason, and they don't fit into any of the other three categories above, you may have to really get creative with your own personal mind-games to get yourself to finish UFOS in this category. 

  • Consider revamping your plans. Maybe just considering a different setting or border treatment or embellishment will bump this UFO into category #3. Or simplifying your design will bump it into #2. Or mentally designating it as a gift for someone on your Christmas list will bump it into #1. Look at that UFO and ask yourself, "What gift can I give myself in terms of this UFO? Is there something I could do differently that would make me gung-ho about finishing it?"
  • Turn it into a friendly competition with a friend. Does your BQF (Best Quilty Friend) have a UFO that's working her very last nerve too? Challenge each other to finish your UFO by a certain date, and have the winner take the loser out to lunch. You both got it done? Pay for each other's meal, or take a third friend out and both treat her! Or run a UFO challenge in your guild as I've done a few different years: To join the challenge, each participant gives one fat quarter as a "registration fee" and a list of 10 UFOs they plan to finish in the year. The fat quarters go into a "kitty." I created a spreadsheet with everyone's name and the list, and then we have quarterly check-ins. Anyone who has finished one or more of their UFOs during that quarter gets their name put in for a drawing and the winner gets to pick one fat quarter from the kitty. At the end of the year, anyone who has finished all of their 10 UFOs gets their name put in a drawing of the grand prize--all the remaining fat quarters in the kitty. (I also had a set of sparkly antennae the winner got to wear through the rest of the meeting.) It's great fun, and every time we've done it just about everyone has finished at least half of their UFO list--several people finished all of them!
  • Reward yourself. Figure out a treat you can give yourself when the UFO is completed--beyond just being able to mark it as done on your list. Get a pedicure or massage, make your significant other take you to dinner and a movie, go for a really long walk in a beautiful park, spend a lazy afternoon with a good novel...I suppose your reward could even be buying more fabric, although most of us are trying to finish up UFOs as part of an overall stash-busting scheme so if that's your reward, on your own head be it.

So, using these categories, your challenge this week is to choose which UFO you're going to work on next. (If you're already working on a UFO, great! Decide which one you're going to tackle after this one.) 

The problem I've been having lately is that I've been bouncing around a bit in terms of which UFOs I want to finish next. I've probably had three or four rotate on and off my design wall as I'm pondering one or the other. I think doing the Annie Unrein bag is scattering my brain in other places. Fortunately, this week and the coming weekend are fairly clear so I have hopes of once again making some progress... to me!

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!

Monday Musings: UFO Sightings Part 2--Make a List and Check it Twice

Last week you came up with your definition of what constitutes a UFO. This week is the reality check. 

How many UFOs do you actually have, given your definition? 


If you haven't gone through your piles of UFOs and made a list of what's in there, might I recommend that you do it now? It's a necessary step towards next week's blog post. :-)

Step 1: Find every single project that fits your personal definition of UFO, and write it down on a piece of paper or a digital note file, or however you keep lists.

Maybe you've already got a list. Take a few minutes to rummage through your sewing room and double-check that list: Did you really capture every UFO or are there a couple hiding underneath piles of fabric or in that bin in your closet that you haven't opened in a year?

(By the way, no fair defining "UFO" as Utterly Finished Object and making a list of all the quilts you've ever finished in your life. That's just cheating. )

Step two: For each UFO, make a list of exactly what steps are required to finish it. To whit: "decide quilting design, mark quilt, make backing, buy batting, sandwich and baste quilt, do quilting, cut binding strips, make label, attach label, attach binding, wash." Or whatever steps you need, and the order (roughly) you would do them in. 

Sometimes a UFO is a UFO because we don't have the knowledge of how to do the next step. Well, learning how to do something is a task--so write it down! Rather than adding a task that says, "Learn how to do a mitered border," write down specifically what you'd need to do in order to learn that technique: i.e., "Search for YouTube videos on mitered borders," or "review notes from class on mitered borders." Every task should be phrased as an achievable, easy-to-understand, simple step to take. (In Getting Things Done terminology, every task should be a "next action." What's the next action you need to take?)

This means you will want to have one piece of paper, or one digital list, for each UFO. Remember this photo (at left) from a previous post that shows one of my LifeTopix checklists for a UFO? I'm actually going to be going in to this particular check list and break it down even further, so instead of one list item that's "backing and batting," I'll have "piece backing." (If I'm sending it out for longarming, I won't need the batting--I just purchase it directly from the longarmer as then they can use their preferred brands.) 

If making a list of all the steps needed on every project is too much for you, just focus on the very next step. What is the very next thing that needs to be done to move that UFO along in the process? What is that one next action? Write that one next action down for every single UFO. 

Why are we doing this? The purpose to this exercise is not to overwhelm yourself, but actually to make it feel less overwhelming. Now, instead of looking at a pile of unfinished projects that are all screaming out in an unfocused way for your attention, you've broken it down instead into a list of discrete tasks. It's ever so much less stressful for me, for example, to focus on deciding on a quilting design for a quilt, than to focus on the fact I still have to finish the whole darn thing.

Additionally, once you get an idea of the individual tasks involved, you may feel more inclined to say, "Hey, I can knock out a couple of tasks on UFOs this weekend," whereas before you may have been less inclined to say, "Hey, I think I'll finish all my UFOs this weekend." If you know what tasks need to be done, you can even more easily juggle tasks on a couple of UFOs at once. Cutting strips for one binding? Why not cut strips for another while you're at it? Looking through books for quilt design ideas? Have two quilts in your mind's eye at the same time while you're doing it. Get the picture? 

Finally, sitting down and spending time with each and every UFO will set you up for next week's blog focus: making some ultimate decisions. But 'nuff said about that for the moment. Right now, just make your lists. Really. It'll feel overwhelming at first, but in the long run, it'll set you up for greater success and peace of mind.

Monday Musings: UFO Sightings, Part 1--Just What Is a UFO?

So it would seem that some of you appreciated the 5 Ss posts that I've done the last few weeks--maybe some of us are feeling the pinch of being a little less organized than we'd like. So I'm thinking I'd like to keep with that theme for a bit, but explore different facets of it. As usual, stuff I talk about on my podcast and blog are things I'm addressing (or feeling the need to address, anyway) in my own life, so I'm talking to myself as much as to anyone else.  

I've mentioned that I had a sudden alien invasion in my sewing room. What to my wondering eyes did appear but something like 17 UFOs. Really? When did that happen? Leave fabric alone for long enough and it gets up to shenanigans, apparently. 

So, based on that, and on comments some of you have made when I've been talking about my UFOs, I'm going to do a few posts on what I've learned about addressing those alien invasions in your own life. 

Week 1: Define for yourself, "UFO" 

We all know what a UFO is, right? "Unfinished Object," or so they say. But what, exactly, is an unfinished object? Turns out there's as many definitions for what warrants the definition "unfinished" as there are quilters not finishing things. I once read an article or a blog awhile back--don't remember specifics anymore--written by someone who defined her UFOs to include quilts she'd even just  thought about doing. In other words, she may not have even bought fabric or designed it on EQ or sketched it in a notebook, but it was in her head as a quilt, therefore the fact she hadn't made it yet rendered that quilt as unfinished.

Technically, I suppose that would be true. But if I were to be held accountable for every quilty thought that passed through my mind, well...I'd just throw in the towel and call it a day right now.  

Some people include PIGS (or Projects in Grocery Sacks, an acronym which really geolocates it's users to those who live in parts of the country who call grocery bags "grocery sacks," as here in Western NY it would be PIGBs, which is virtually unpronounceable); these projects are those for which you have a pattern or design and you've collected all the fabrics for it--it's all sitting neatly in a bag or a bin awaiting your attention. And waiting. And waiting.

A very old photo of my storage for UFOs. I'm pleased to report all of these UFOs did get completed. They're now replaced with a new stack...

A very old photo of my storage for UFOs. I'm pleased to report all of these UFOs did get completed. They're now replaced with a new stack...

Some quilters include WIPS (or Works in Progress); these are projects you're currently working on. They've not yet started collecting dust on the shelf, but are still at least more or less in current rotation. 

For me, I made some judgment calls a few years back and came up with this working definition for myself: A UFO is any project in which I've already made the first cut, and which has dropped off my mental radar for any number of reasons.

In other words, I don't choose to count PIGS.  My rationale for that is that I can always repurpose the fabric if I lose interest, so just because I've thought about doing a particular design and put together a particular collection of fabric for it, doesn't make it a UFO. I haven't actually cut into that fabric yet, so I've never officially "worked on" the project to make it now be something I haven't worked on in awhile.

I also don't count WIPs because, by definition, those are still "in progress." It has to have been languishing on my shelf for some period of time.

I've never strictly defined how long a period of time it needs to have been out of rotation; it generally has more to do with whether it's fallen off my mental radar or not. If I look at something and think, "Oh, yeah, I really need to finish that," it means it's dropped off my radar, even if it was only waiting for me for about three weeks. That makes it a UFO. 

I don't count quilts I've dreamed up. That's just crazy talk. 

So this week, if you want to play along, work on your personal definition of what you actually, personally, consider a UFO, if you haven't already done it at some point in your quilting career. Don't just take someone else's definition for it--use a definition that works for you. You might even want to write it down, maybe hang it over your cutting table or something, live with it for a bit. Does it feel right to you? When you're ready, share your definition here!

Monday Musings: The 5 Ss--Stay the Course

It's the last of our Monday Musings in the 5S series, with thanks to Wegmans for the fodder. This one is sort of a wrap-up "S," to be sure: "Stay the Course." In other words, keep doing everything you've been doing for the last several weeks. 

I remember once hearing someone talking about weight loss efforts--they made the comment that we all mistakenly behave as if we have to cut calories rigorously and exercise the heck out of ourselves until we've reached our weight goals, and then somehow magically we'll be able to resume our old habits again while staying at the same weight. Well, of course, we know it doesn't work that way. To be successful at losing weight, one needs to embrace new habits that will last a life-time.

The same is true with keeping our quilt studio ready for us to run in with a sudden burst of inspiration and be able to actually accomplish something because we don't have to waste 20 minutes clearing off a surface or trying to find our rotary cutter.

It's a habit that needs to be developed, and it will always require a certain amount of effort and intention. Some of us are more naturally inclined towards organization than others (I remember watching my two-year-old son line up his Matchbox cars in neat little rows, although now that he's 24 I'm not convinced his apartment benefits from the same attention). However, even those of us who have a natural bent for it have lazy days, or get busy, or have the one room or set of drawers or closet that seems to capture all the chaos and disorder we've driven from the rest of the house.

Don't look in my bedroom closet right now. 

I know I have problems, like most people, getting into different habits. If something hasn't been in my consciousness for the last several years, it's unlikely to keep naturally appearing in my consciousness just because I want it to, or I know it would be good for me. I have to send myself constant reminders of this new habit I'm trying to develop. Lately, as you may recall, I've been working on upgrading my ability to track the myriad tasks I'm juggling between work and personal life, so that when I add school into the mix in a few months it doesn't all come crashing down like a house of cards. I'm working on developing some new task-tracking habits recommended in David Allen's Getting Things Done, such as doing a weekly review of all my projects, looking over my "waiting for someone" file every couple of days, and filing newsletters and such into a "read and review" file for those times I'm mentally fried but have a few minutes to kill. However, rather than trusting myself to remember I even have a "read and review" file or "waiting on someone" file, I added recurring tasks to my list: "Check Read and Review file," and "Review Waiting on Someone File." Usually I think about how much I've turned into my Mom, but in this instance, I've definitely become my Dad. We used to joke that if he didn't have us written down in his notebook, he'd forget he even had kids. He wrote everything down and checked his notebook several times a day. I've become the same way, although I rely on my digital version of Dad's notebook, my smartphone. If I don't write something down, I can nearly guarantee it won't get done. Once it's in my task list, I know I'll do it--even if I move it around a few times before it finally gets done.

And yes, I even have a recurring task: "Check your task list." Ahem. There's a reason for that one that we needn't get into just now.

My stash when I first set up this shelving system. It doesn't look all that different now 10 years later. In fact, I even still have a lot of those same fabrics!

My stash when I first set up this shelving system. It doesn't look all that different now 10 years later. In fact, I even still have a lot of those same fabrics!

Consequently, in terms of my quilt life, I've worked hard over the years to set myself up for organizational success in my quilt studio. I'm at probably 95% on the "everything has a place"-o-meter. IOW, things have a place where they belong, where it's easy to locate them, use them, and then put them away again to be easily found again next time. That being said, I can only stay at that 95% if I keep paying attention, if I stay the course. 

I still have some work to do on my bookshelves--they tend to get overrun and need their own little purging ceremony about once a year. But that's for another blog post.

This ends our 5S series. Anything in particular that's been useful or meaningful to you? Any new habit you've decided you need to develop? Anything else you'd like me to muse about? I've enjoyed reading your "talk-back"--your own thinking on this topic. In fact, the response to these posts has made me decide I'm going to keep going with Monday Musings for awhile, although not always focused on organization. I haven't really thought that far ahead. The task "plan Monday Musings" doesn't show up on my task list for another couple of days yet. 



Monday Musings: The 5 Ss--Systematize

Have you been following along? Have any of these posts spurred your thinking about the state of your quilting area (or other areas of your life) and what you may want to do differently?

This week, our "S" stands for systematize.

This one is tough for me only because of what I want my quilt life to be. I find myself resisting it a bit. So this post is longer than others as it's something I'm still working through myself.

You see, I keep my work life as highly systematized as possible. I live and breathe by my Outlook calendar, task list, Sharepoint task lists (with other staff), email organizational system, and synchronization with OneNote. My experience has been that the more systematized and organized I can keep everything I know I'll have to take care of, the better able I am to address those things that suddenly appear out of nowhere and demand immediate attention regardless of what else lurks on my task list. 

But as a reaction to that, I really, really want my quilt life to be as free-form as possible. Therapy, you might say. 

Still n' all, I believe it was that free-form approach in high gear these last couple of years that landed me where I am now: with a list of about 17 incomplete projects. If one wants to be free-form and still get stuff done, one probably needs to be more disciplined about it than I've been lately. There are people who aren't particularly bothered by UFOs. I'm someone, on the other hand, who really dislikes loose ends. I like to close my open loops, as David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, puts it. All those UFOs? They're open loops and therefore (again, paraphrased from Allen's book) dragging my mental energy away from being able to start and enjoy new projects. Somewhere, my mind is still working on all those UFOs, because they haven't been completed and knocked off my cognitive list. So, in order for me to feel more mentally free to be creative and experimental, I'm now refocusing on closing those open loops in as systematic a way as possible. I know myself, though--I'll also chafe under restrictions such as "Complete all my UFOs before starting any new projects," or whatever. I get ornery.

So, instead, I'm going to borrow a page from the book of Donna of She does monthly goals based on what she calls her "Short List." She has a handful of categories in which she chooses one project for each category to focus on that month--those categories reflect her goals for her own development as a quilt artist as well as what she wants to accomplish. So, for example, she may have categories such as, "Something Old," "Something New," "Painting," "Handwork," and "Abstract." However, she feels free to change her categories as needed to reflect changing goals; her only "rule" to herself is to keep the number of categories limited, so she's only looking at a small handful of achievable goals rather than a laundry list that she could never hope to accomplish.

For me, having "Something Old" and "Something New" standing side-by-side is very appealing. In other words, I could focus on moving one UFO through the finishing process at the same time as I'm having fun with a new project; the "feel-good" energy of knowing I'm completing a UFO would release me to more happily focus on the new project. My categories may end up also including something like "Craftsy class," "Hand-dyeing," or "Embroidery." I'm still pondering what categories would both help me knock some of these 17 incomplete projects off the list as well as move forward in my goals as a quilt artist, but not over-burdening myself with a list of to-dos I could never possibly get to-done.

In a word, I'm systematizing.

Different people will be successful with different types of systems.

My LifeTopix check-list for a UFO I need to complete; I'm planning to send that one out for quilting to get it off my list faster!

My LifeTopix check-list for a UFO I need to complete; I'm planning to send that one out for quilting to get it off my list faster!

  • Some people do very well with the "10 minutes a day" system--making sure they spend a few minutes every day making progress on projects, even if it's only 10 minutes. That feels doable to them; after all, can't you almost always find 10 minutes in your day? To be clear, that system doesn't seem to work well for me--it starts feeling like another obligation and I don't want my quilt-making to feel obligatory. However, that's me. You may want to try it out to see how it fits you. (Obviously, this is more a method than a system--you can use this method to achieve goals you've systematized in another way.)
  • Some people create check-lists for every project as they're starting it, with each step in the project noted clearly. Extend this into putting target dates for every check list and putting those dates on your task list or calendar, and you've created an extremely organized system. I have done some of this--I have a check list for every project in my LifeTopix app on my smart phone/ipad (see photo at left; my check list could be broken down even future and probably will be once that particular UFO does surface on my current list). I don't, however, have every step keyed to a particular day on my calendar. I may add that to my system when I start setting weekly goals in categories. Obviously, I may not always be able to get something done on the day I say I want to do it as schedules are often fungible, but having one step in front of me at a time would at least keep it on my radar. 
  • Some people do work from the beginning of a project straight through to the end, one project at a time, no variance. This is clearly the best way to make sure you finish projects, for obvious reasons. However, I personally prefer to have projects at different stages, or different types of projects, so I've got something I can work on regardless of how much time I have, or that use different types of mental energy--something I can work on when I'm feeling "in the zone" versus something I can work on when I can't formulate a concrete sentence. It's just unusual for me to have so many projects going at once!
  • Generally, everyone sets goals. You may just not do it consciously or in writing. But every thought of "I really want/need/should get this done," well, that's a goal. It does really, really help to write it down, and to be specific. Rather than, "Get Annie Unrein bag done" (sigh), I have on my list, "Complete step from lesson...X" in the Craftsy class, or "sew zippers on pockets," or whatever the next very concrete action item is. It's far less mentally overwhelming to look at a single action step rather than the whole project.
  • And, for me, posting it on my blog is my system for holding myself accountable. Y'all may not care a whit if I don't get something done that I said I was going to do, but having to publicly admit, "Nope--didn't get it done," makes me really want to get it done instead. More importantly, it just keeps it on my radar. Part of setting goals is figuring out the consequences of not attaining those goals, and how you can hold yourself accountable to your plan.

There are lots of people willing to tell you their system--and several who will even tell you their system will work best for everyone. But the reality is, it all depends on your own personality and what works best for you. Are there areas of your life in which you really feel on top of things? What do you do to stay that way? Take those habits and adapt them to your sewing room.

Do you already have systems in place? Are they working well for you? Do they need tweaking? Do you feel the need to set up some sort of system from scratch? What have you found works well for you, or what hasn't worked well for you, in the past? 



Monday Musings: The 5 Ss--S-3 Set Locations and Visual Cues

How did you do with week two? Personally, I'm pleased to report that I now have bright, shiny, sharp and unbent pins on my magnetic pincushion. Yep, I ponied up for that new pack of pins. As Maureen pointed out in a recent comment on a previous blog post, if I keep this pack of pins for 15 years like the old one, I'm only spending 80 cents a year. I think I can live with that.


S-3 Set Locations and Visual Cues

This week, we're supposed to set locations and visual cues. 

Do you have set locations for things, or do they tend to wander about your sewing room? My biggest issue was my glasses. I don't wear glasses all the time, but the older I get, the more I rely on readers. I have several pairs with the intention of having a pair near anywhere I may need to do anything. The problem is that I tend to wear them to another area and leave them there, with the end result being a pile of 5 pairs of glasses next to one chair and none to be found anywhere else. In my sewing room, it wasn't quite as big a deal because my one pair of actual prescription glasses lives on my office desk--so if I didn't have a pair of readers at my sewing machine or cutting table, I could just walk a few steps and use my "real" glasses. However, then I'd wear them out of the room and the next morning when I started work, well, let's just say I wouldn't be a happy camper.

One day at Target, I noticed a couple of handy-dandy 3M wall storage units. I immediately thought, "Those are great for keeping track of my readers!"

So now one pair lives next to my cutting table. I can honestly say this pair has never wandered out of my sewing room. Other pairs have periodically wandered in to visit for a time, but for the most part, knowing I already have glasses here, I'm less inclined to keep downstairs glasses on my head when going upstairs.


The glasses-holder near my sewing machine also doubles as a place to keep spools of thread when I have to change colors out in mid-project but know I'm going to want to use the one I'm removing again. Another problem solved. 

To be honest, I rarely wear these glasses because I'm usually wearing the other pair from the wall or my desk. But they still come in handy if I decide to grab 10 minutes at my machine on the spur of the moment and don't already have a pair of glasses on.

And then I picked up a third cpntainer to hold my rotary cutters and various other need-to-have-right-at-hand tools at my cutting table. This one sticks to the side of one of the cabinets that makes up my cutting table. Yes, usually my main rotary cutter is just sitting on my cutting mat but if I'm clearing the decks to do something that doesn't involve cutting, my cutter takes a snooze in this container.

I don't like having my rotary cutters, marking pens, and such, in a mug or canister on the surface because those always tip over on me--plus, they become one more thing to have to move out of the way if I'm cutting big pieces of fabric. I really prefer to keep my cutting table surface as clear a possible, although my bluetooth speakers are a must-have for listening to podcasts while I'm sewing. So I do make exceptions. Still, if I can eventually find a 3M shelf the right size to hold those speakers up and out of the way, golden.

I'm pretty good at having set places for things. What about you? Do you have some wanderers that you need to settle down?

For me, visual cues are the answer to "out of sight, out of mind." I know lots of people keep WIPs in grocery bags or boxes or opaque bins. I can't do that. I need to be able to see at a glance what I've got going on. If I stuff something in a bin or a box that I can't see through, it's like it never existed in my life. I suppose, in that regard, I never quite outgrew the infant's perception that if they can't see your face, you've actually disappeared. Poof--it's gone! So for me to remember I've got projects waiting for my attention, they need to be all up in my grill. I've got everything on open shelves and in transparent bins so they catch my eye and remind me they exist.

I also leave myself visual cues when I'm in mid-project. For example, if I finished quilting in the middle of the quilt, I'll leave something unusual (not a tool I was working with at the time, something that would stand out to me) laying on top of the quilt right where I left off--this not only reminds me where I left off, but it reminds me at a glance that hey, I still need to finish quilting that thing! 

Finally, the biggest visual cue I leave myself is my to-do list, or my "next step" list. I talked about this on a recent podcast episode. I've been using a post-it note system for a couple of years now, listing on each post-it one next step for each project I had going on and lining those post-its up on the edge of my cutting table. That way, I could see at a glance what next steps I had to do to move various projects forward, and quickly choose whatever one I was in the mood for or had the time to do. I also had the visual satisfaction of seeing the post-it notes disappear.

Ahem. Yep, there's a lot of post-its languishing on the side of my cutting table these days. I'm slowly taking care of that.

I'm now trying a white board instead, but we'll see if it has that same impact as a visual cue. I'm kind of partial to my post-it system, but see previous comments about trying to lessen the amount of stuff on the surface of my cutting table. 

I feel like I'm already in pretty good shape with S-3, although I'm still trying to find a good home for certain things so I guess I can still use some work on the "set locations" end of things. What about you? What do you feel you do well, and where do you feel you could improve?

Monday Musings: The 5 Ss--S-2 Shine and Inspect

How did you do this past week on S-1, sorting and removing? The day before I posted the S-1 post, I had already given away to some friends a lot of my scrap stash and some blocks from a project I'd decided I wasn't interested in finishing. They were glad to get them, I was glad to be rid of them. FTW. 

Specialty rulers and accompanying books I'm not quite ready to get rid of.

Specialty rulers and accompanying books I'm not quite ready to get rid of.

On the ruler drawer I said I wanted to sort? Well, it turned out to be harder than I thought. You see, the rulers I've hung onto but not used are pretty much all inherited from Mom. That means they either (1) still have that sentimental "this was Mom's" feeling clinging to them or (2) are no longer readily available so I worry that if my quilting tastes shift again, I may someday think, "Why did I ever get rid of X ruler?" I have used a couple of them and wasn't totally sold, but still am not quite ready to off them, either. So I hedged my bets. I moved them out of my sewing room and put them in a box in the basement, with a note to myself in my ruler drawer that I did that. 

I did, however, get rid of this bendy ruler--virtually impossible to actually use.

I did, however, get rid of this bendy ruler--virtually impossible to actually use.

I know--it's really not taking care of the problem long term. But I'm typically really, really good at getting rid of stuff, so I decided to give myself a little grace on this one. (Someday, when I'm gone, my kids will open up that box in the basement and think, "What the...?" It'll only serve them right for when I gave their bedrooms a good cleaning after they went away to college and thought, "What the...?")

Time for week 2!

S-2 Shine and Inspect

When was the last time you had your sewing machine cleaned? How old is that rotary cutter blade? Have your pins developed rust? 

I realized recently that my beloved pins--so beautifully thin and long--were clearly showing their age. After about 15 years of stabbing them into my design wall and forcing them into thick stacks of fabric, many of them had developed an inconvenient curve and most of them felt like they had lost their sharp, pointy tips. This particular pin isn't cheap, but I really do love them.

And I suppose I really ought to stop stabbing them into my design wall which, by the way, is a felt-backed tablecloth hung face-side down against my wall. No foam. I'm stabbing the pins into the wall. Pin abuse. (And I don't plan on ever letting that wall see the light of day until we move. It's likely not pretty.) Plus, I should stop using this same set of pins for all purposes. I have thicker pins that would put up better with bulkier seams or stabilizer. These are just so easy to grab. Time to change my lazy ways, I suppose.

Got one of these micro vacuum attachment sets? I love mine for using on my sewing machine (carefully!) and my computer vents.  Click here  to find it on Amazon.

Got one of these micro vacuum attachment sets? I love mine for using on my sewing machine (carefully!) and my computer vents. Click here to find it on Amazon.

In any case, we all know that our lives are made easier by well-functioning tools. So this week, check out your equipment. How's that sole plate on your iron looking? Do you need a few new packs of sewing machine needles? Could your sewing machine use a good wipe-down or tune-up? How are your scissors doing?

Leave a comment and let us know whether you found anything that needed some shining and inspecting!



Monday Musings: The 5 Ss--Riffing Off Wegmans

2015-02-28 16.58.04.jpg

(Awhile back I was doing Monday Musings. I've decided to reinstitute them, at least for a short series.)

A couple of weeks ago I was doing my usual grocery trip at Wegmans (got one near you?), and noticed this sign hanging next to the employee office near the check-out lines. 

As I read it, I thought, "Hmmm. I could apply that to my quilt studio/sewing room." 

And so, here's my riff on Wegmans' advice for store employees, adapted for us fiber-folk. I'm going to do this in five parts, every Monday, just to keep it--ahem--simple.

S-1 Sort and Remove

You can pretty much guess where I'm going to go with this one, right? 

We may like to think that all those boxes and bins and stacks are the mark of wonderful possibilities. But the reality is, a lot of it may just be getting in the way, keeping us from moving forward in the way we want to move forward.

How much stuff is sitting on the shelves, in the drawers, in the closet, hanging on your wall, that you haven't touched in more than a year? Not only does all this extra stuff tend to get in your way when you're looking for what you need (stealing precious time from your creative endeavors) but it can actually become a burden.

This photo is a few years old. Tellingly, it looks much the same now.

This photo is a few years old. Tellingly, it looks much the same now.

If you've heard my recent episodes, you know I've been struggling a bit with what to do with my stash. Now I'm in a very different place in my quiltmaking than I was six or seven years ago. Yet my stash still largely reflects where I was six years ago, seven years ago, ten years ago.... I've sorted my stash a couple of times and gotten rid of things I wasn't using then, but I hung onto a lot because they're all quite handy fabrics. I kept thinking, "But this could come in handy," or, "but this one's really pretty."

So I kept doing make-work. In other words, I'd find projects to do simply to use up my stash. Those weren't projects I'd have normally done. They may have been somewhat entertaining (although not all of them were), and sometimes I even learned something (although usually I was just going for quick-n-easy). But still, all-in-all, they were a distraction from what I really wanted to be doing. When I realized that I kept putting off my True Love Quiltmaking to try to knock out yet another Stash-User Quiltmaking project, I understood that something was out of whack.

I finally came to the conclusion a couple of months ago that my stash was actually a source of obligation and guilt--not guilt over its size, as it's a reasonable stash. Not guilt over the money--probably half of my current stash was inherited from my mother. Rather, just guilt over all these great fabrics sitting there, not being used. Obligation guilt. I was feeling the burden of needing to use fabric just because it was sitting there--to create projects for myself just to use fabric just because it was sitting there--to not do the projects I wanted to do just to create projects just to use fabric just because it was sitting there....

The lightbulb came on. My stash was actually holding me back. Sure, it was a great stash. I'd actually been very intentional about building a good, usable, stash for those times I wanted to do an impulse project--I could just grab and go pretty easily. But my quiltmaking has changed. Just because something is a "good stash fabric" doesn't mean it's right for my stash. In fact, it might be even better stash fabric for someone else. The only good fabric is fabric that's being used. Everything else is, really, just clutter. No matter how pretty it is.

So I'm giving myself a few more months to use up the fabrics that are still really calling to me, then I'm going to embark on a major clearing out. I'll be sorting and removing. And I'll feel lighter for it.

Rulers. Books. Gadgets. Marking utensils. We all tend to amass collections. If you're using them, even semi-regularly--great! Keep 'em all! But if, instead, you keep seeing a ruler every time you open a drawer and catch yourself thinking, "I really should use that someday," maybe it's just not the right ruler for you. Maybe it reflects things you thought you were interested in a couple of years ago, but you've mentally moved on. Perhaps the ruler would be happier living with another quilter who would love it and use it and make great things with it, than languishing out of loneliness and boredom in your drawer. 

So, this week--my suggestion to you is to practice a little S-1. If you don't want to tackle your whole sewing room, choose one drawer, one shelf, one bin. Sort and remove. (If your sewing collection is just fine, thank you very much, think about the rest of your home or your workplace. Everyone's got a problem drawer somewhere!)

My goal? 

On the left of the two photos below are the rulers I use on a regular basis, although there are even a couple hanging on the ends of that wall that I don't know that I've ever used. (The ones right next to my cutting table are my go-tos just about every time I'm working on something.)

On the right, the drawer of all the specialty rulers I inherited from my Mom a few years back and, for the most part, have never used. It's really time for me to make some decisions. I could use the drawer space.


So, go get your S-1 on.

Leave a comment letting us know what you are going to tackle and how it goes!

Monday Musings

Thoughts to ponder, to make Monday just a little more interesting. (This is a new incarnation of "Slow Quilt Mondays".)

"If you hear a voice within you say, 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced." (Vincent Van Gogh)