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The Organized Quilter

Let me begin by saying this is an aspirational post. I am not an organized quilter or an organized anything, really. But, I need an organized system to accomplish what makes me happy; maybe you can relate.

I am going to assume if you are reading this blog you like to quilt. And, therefore, are probably a creative person — a “creative type.” Generally, we creative types are free spirits, which doesn’t translate well into focus, planning and organization. But, if I give in to the free spirit and let it run my days, those days are ruled by a never ending to-do list and I am constantly feeling overwhelmed and like I’m not living up to my potential. All I accomplish is whatever is demanding my attention at any given moment. It is emotionally draining.

Planning allows me to set my own priorities so I know exactly what I want to focus on and then I can be creative when it comes to my art — quilting. I’m writing this from a point my life where I’ve allowed the free spirit to run things for too long and haven’t committed to thinking about what I want to accomplish and setting my priorities. That’s a calm and thoughtful way of saying “my sh*t’s gotten out of hand.” There … I said it.

Colorful little log cabin quilt
Recent finishes – the little log cabin was a Temecula Quilt Company kit

I have a full-time job and it has nothing to do with quilting. It eats up very big chunks of my days and weeks. I like it and am enriched by the sense of accomplishment I get from working through the many challenges that are part of my work. But, I have to admit that I constantly design quilts in my head when I’m stuck in meetings or traffic during my commute to work. About six months ago I had one of those “aha!” moments. I cannot remember what triggered it but I still vividly remember thinking to myself, “if I could no longer quilt, would I be satisfied with my body of work?” The answer was an emphatic, “no!” There is more I want to do with quilting.

Since early 2019, I’ve made a point to include some regular sewing time into my weeks as much as I am able. Now, at the mid-point of 2019, I am taking it a step further to make an actual plan for what I want to accomplish in the next 90 days: July, August and September. With a plan, I won’t find myself with 30 minutes to sew but no idea what I’m going to work on. It needs to be realistic and specific. In other words, “finish some UFOs” isn’t going to suffice.

I spent some time this past week assessing what projects I have on the go and in my head and I found it interesting to make decisions with specific criteria factored in. For example, I want to finish the Dear Jane quilt I started way back around the year 2000 so I thought that would be a great one to add to my new list. I got it out, reviewed which blocks I’ve finished, which blocks to tackle next, and how many I should realistically attempt in 90 days. But, then couldn’t get excited about which fabrics I want to use and, frankly, I couldn’t figure out how the heck I managed to make those tiny little blocks in the first place. I decided it wasn’t a project for this quarter.

I also came across two projects that were so close to a finish I just had to get them done over the holiday weekend. The first photo below is a stark reminder of how quickly time passes if we don’t pay attention day-to-day. I made the top over a couple of days in January 2015 but put the binding on this weekend. It shouldn’t have been a four-year project.

Quilt with scrappy half square triangles and a wool applique snowman.
Snowman and Scraps, Taryn Faulkner 2015

This next one isn’t technically a finish because it is just a top, but I’m taking credit since it sat around needing just two more corners since last March. I’ve already shown it on Instagram where I talk about how I cannot measure a side triangle correctly no matter how hard I try. Now I’ll need to get creative with the binding since what I intended to use is cut into a bunch of too small triangles. Necessity … mother of invention … you get the picture. It was inspired by an antique quilt I saw online and the stars are pilfered from my stash of hand pieced Lemoyne stars. Don’t you just love poison green?

Okay, now those two are done or at least in the quilting stage so what’s on the docket for the next 90 days?

  • Pink Sprinkles – mentioned in a prior post. I’ve done 90 of 120 blocks so far. I’m finishing those and assembling the top by July 31. The borders, with many half square triangles, will be August’s project and it will be prepped for quilting in September.
  • Blue baskets – this one is still coming together in my head and the baskets are time consuming. I’m going to aim for four baskets per week in July and then I’ll have enough to test some layouts and firm up the master plan. I’ll be making baskets through September. This project is something I want completed for next July 4 weekend.
  • Temecula Quilt Company’s summer sew along – This project has something like 888 half square triangles. If I stop laughing long enough I’ll get busy using Thangles to make some with the fabrics in the basket pictured below. I figured I need to cut two 2.5″ x 10(ish)” strips from 74 different brown and 74 different cream fabrics to get this done. I’ll need a kick in the pants but plan on having 30 of each color cut by July 31. TQC will publish their finished project next month and I’ll either be spurred on to cut and sew faster or will despair and give up completely. Stay tuned for a decision in August.

This is a new system to me. Only time will tell if it’s a winner. I expect I’ll be tweaking things and will probably add a “start new project” category because, well, I will start more anyway. This system is intended to keep that secondary to making progress on those projects already in the works.

Shoofly blocks and pieces in process of sewing together.
Pink Sprinkles in progress, July 2019. Ninety blocks complete
Blue and white fabrics being made into basket blocks.
Blue baskets on the drawing table, July 2019
Fat quarters of brown and cream fabrics.
Browns and creams in their raw state – will they become part of a quilt? July 2019

How do you juggle what you want to do with what you have to do? What system works for you? I’m open to suggestions and always trying new ways to do things. What will you be working on for the next 90 days? The one thing you aren’t allowed to say is “I won’t start any new projects until I finish the ones I’m working on now.” Okay, you can say it because it’s your plan. Me, I have to start new things. It’s just too fun not to.

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  1. I am a medical record auditor and travel a lot – like a week in Chicago, a week in Indy, a week home, etc. It’s crazy. I have to plan my quilts based on my sewing machine being available (it does not travel with me). You are right, it is super easy to get distracted or out of schedule and then projects don’t get done. I have learned to keep 2 piles – those that need the machine and those that don’t. Bindings, cutting fabric, hand x-stitching tags, hand quilting small items make for easy transport and they do get done since I have evenings stuck in a hotel to do them. When I am home, my evenings are full of machine sewing. I guess my thought is that I just keep working on projects. They don’t get done in any order, and some take years to finish, but they are being worked on. Just keep sewing. Remember: have fun with your quilting.

  2. Greetings from Australia. I say keep going with being an organised quilter, cause it works. I now find I “reorganise” my projects about every 2 months and I feel better for it. There are two things ( among lotsof other stuff ) I learned from from Bonnie Hunter – if the fabric is still too ugly you haven’t cut it small enough. But more importantly ( to me at any rate) , is that there is nothing wrong with not liking a project anymore. Your tastes changes, you don’t like the method or the pattern etc. Any number of reasons apply and they are valid – to you. So give them away, make the quilt smaller rather than continuing, donate to your quilt guild for them to make into a charity/gift quilt. Just get it out of your sewing room where it will be finished and loved. But most important , get it our of your head. It’s OK to change your mind. Another thing a friend told me – at her age she can’t make all the quilts she wants to, so she will just pick the best ones! happy sewing

  3. Ahh, a topic I’ve been wrestllng with for years if not from the time I started quilting! You pretty much have everything in place to stay on task. Success will be more about your mindset as you progress in your quilty endeavors. We all are guilty of being more focused on the project end rather than just the completion of the task at hand. So of course when a finish doesn’t come as fast as we hope/want we get frustrated. I’m reminded of something I read in an old Quilter’s Newsletter article: “make a goal a goal and not an obsession.” Like you have already planned, as long as you do a little bit on some project each day (or whenever you have time) you will eventually finish each one in turn if not necessarily in the order expected. Accept whatever it is you are willing to work on at any given moment as that day’s “priority” and know that when a “real deadline” becomes truly urgent, you will probably shift into “work mode” and focus on just that one until completion. Nothing wrong with that at all!

  4. I have one of those units (purchased from Michaels) that holds seven 12 inch plastic boxes. In each one is a project. All the fabrics and pattern are together. So I am never wondering “what should I do?”. When one of the boxes empties, then I can start a new project. I started this system in January, 2019 and basically it works quite well. But I have to admit that once in a while, I cheat. I make a project without having it in a box!!

    Enjoy your blog and projects.

  5. After reading your well thought out and stated posting, I tried to think about how I “organize” …I came up as an “also ran” – good grief, my organizational skills are sorely lacking when viewing your neatness and working plans! The main problem is too many started projects and then getting sidetracked…I am a “moody” quilter…what colors do I feel like today? Maybe whimsical pastels….then again…warm and comforting reproductions….how about a group of sparkling batiks??? About the only thing that brings me back to reality and gets things grouped accordingly is my big annual Fall retreat coming up in late October…Setting goals for those 5 days really helps. What would also make a huge difference would be to win the lottery and add on a bigger sewing space to my all ready overcrowded sewing room…but then I would probably just bring in more chaos….do you think I need an intervention? Great article Taryn and you have really nailed down some strong points…thank you for sharing!

  6. Such an interesting post. I wish you all the very best moving forward with your plans! It’s really difficult to deal with all the projects that we want to make and then find a perfect solution for making things happen. I think I started in the reverse of what you talk about. Definitely more of an organized person who has worked hard to develop creativity. Sometimes I still over-organize to the point of missing taking full advantage of creativity. It’s all a balance isn’t it!

  7. I started a flying geese quilt two summers ago (TQC) and still have not finished it. I call it my “bad luck quilt” cause EVERY time I pull it out to work on it, something REALLY gnarly happens in my life! I’m not a superstitious person,so I’m going to try my hardest to get the darn thing finished this summer! 1800 flying geese! Wish me luck!! BTW, I love your blog!

  8. I’m not really good about making a list with deadlines. It makes me nervous and takes the fun out of the progress. Instead I make a list of what is unfinished and then update it when I complete something. I know it’s silly but this list stays on my refrigerator so I can pat myself on the back every time I read it. Last August I decided I wanted to complete some of my UFOs to the quilting stage so I made a list of them. I listed sixteen different partially completed projects. To date I have completed 8 of them and have given one away because I didn’t have any interest in it any more. I have a separate list for what is completely finished and a mental list of what I want to make in the future (which changes almost daily). This is what works for me. Your question, “Am I satisfied with my body of work?” really made me think. It made me realize I am satisfied with what I’ve finished but I am not satisfied with what might be left unfinished. The pink sparkles quilt blocks are darling – this is going to be a terrific quilt.

  9. I am very good at making a plan, but not so good at following it. Hence I tend to not make too many plans concerning quilting. It is my therapy and I want it to be soothing. If it involves too many deadlines it stresses me out. That said, I also get overwhelmed with too many UFOs piling up, so I am trying to finish up old projects, or get rid of them.
    I really like what you have done with the LeMoyne Stars and the poison green.
    I hope your new system works for you. My system is pretty much an informal attempt to finish a little more than I start and try to keep it fun. That system doesn’t always work, but it is my philosophy. 🙂

  10. I love your writing style – i feel like we’re having a conversation. And you usually make me smile. I love all your projects! Your poison green post from awhile ago inspired me to use green in the border of a small quilt recently. Good luck with the new system!

  11. What a delicious bunch of browns and creams! I have the one on the right, where there are 2 hands holding with words, and worked on piecing one of my Stars In a Time Warp (Barbara Brackman a few years back) last week. Still plugging away at that when I weary of whatever else is in my to-do bag! I have sets of fabrics cut up and kitted for working on them at our monthly get-togethers.

  12. All of your quilts are so pretty! I agree with you that making a plan and following it is a great way to make sure that you keep your priorities focused on the things that are important to you. Also I like that you didn’t make any ultimatums – no new projects, etc. My plan for this year is to just have fun – start whatever I want and finish it when I am done with it, and keep quilts moving along. It is very loosey goosey this year, but all my ultimatums in previous years did not lead to any more finishes and led to less fun.

  13. I am working on the 365 Challenge quilt. I’ve put all the name of the blocks by month in an Excel Spreadsheet. Whenever I finish a block, I get to color the name of that block in the Excel. It’s silly but it is fun and encourage me to keep going because my goal is to get the entire month colored, and then the next month …
    I have another Excel Worksheet with all the WIPs and UFOs that I have along with all the names of the quilts I want to make (yep, that’s a long list). Same story though. When a quilt gets to the next stage (all blocks are made) I get to color it. Then it gets a different color when it becomes a flimsy and so on. Yes, I love Excel and I work with Excel a lot at the office. But to me seeing , really seeing the progress, (and not just seeing the bag of fabric moving around the sewing room) encourages me . I’m sure you will find something that works for you. ;^)

  14. Just recently I started getting organized too. I agree about the need for new projects as well as finishing up incomplete ones. So I made a baby quilt for a new family member and have almost finished up a large block of the month from several years ago. Thanks for your encouragement.

  15. Taryn, I love following your blog and seeing your creations! After reading “The Organized Quilter” I saw the last photo showing all those wonderful browns and creams (many of which I have) a shirting fabric that I am trying to find more of. Counting down from the top of the right side column – the 10th down from the top I think – is a shirting fabric that looks like tiny little keys. Do you have a designer name or company on a selvage edge of that? I am wanting to recreate one of my antique quilts and the original of that fabric is in it but of course I have almost used up my reproduction over the years. If you can help that would be awesome!!

  16. I’m feeling similarly…how can I move forward with all the many ideas in my head, while still doing everything? The answer, of course, is that I can’t. I have been concentrating less on the calendar, and more on conditions for productive work. I have selected to work on fewer projects at a time, to work on creating a less cluttered workspace ( a truckload awaiting rehoming awaits), and, like you, intentionally setting aside work time. I still prefer to keep a rough balance between different activities, such as hand sewing, machine work, fabric cutting, and skill development (trying new things). It is flexible, but I’m making more progress. It should be faster as I she’d the irrelevant stuff, especially.

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