Friday, March 25, 2011

UFOs, and what becomes of them

Let’s be honest: all quilters have UFOs in their closet. How many do you have?

And I don’t mean any of those workshop-relicts that were begun during a workshop, when one is confronted with mastering the intricacies of a new technique within that limited time frame. That combination may indeed be contrary to the development of a well-designed composition. (For myself, when I am going to a workshop where a new technique is taught I don’t necessarily expect to come out with a presentable result. I want to learn the technique and then spend time with it at home figuring out whether it will enter into my work.)
I once donated the result of a workshop – completely sewed up, size approx. 45 by 52 inches – to a project of my quilt-group when we were looking for a new project for an upcoming exhibition of the show. It was cut up into equal-sized pieces and distributed among the member of the group. Each of us had to make something out of the pieces she received. The results were very interesting indeed – and that way that top had found a peaceful end. Certainly one way to deal with relicts.
Another way is to put them into your archive as a sample for and visual reminde of the technique. Upgrading them officially to archive material frees them of the stigma of being a UFO. That will relieve your conscience!
But I am talking about ‚real’ UFOs, the ones of which you still think that they will be finished one day, that you want to finish. If you have any of these, it is interesting to answer for oneself the following questions: 
  • Why did this top not get finished/sewed up? 
  • Or why did this particular finished top not get quilted?

The reasons which appear during such a self-interview may be an indicator for the real status of this UFO. You need to be absolutely honest with yourself, though. But it may be a way of finding out whether this is truly a UFO (i.e. an unfinished object) or rather a NFO (a never-to-be-finished object) with no chances of ever getting finished.

Reasons may include the following:
  • Once I sewed it up I realized I really don’t like the (main) fabric I used.
  • My taste has changed and I don’t like the color combination.
  • The pattern I chose is too complicated/ too boring/ too cute-sy/ doesn’t appeal to me any more.
  • I have had so many other ideas that this one is just so far away from what I want to be doing.
  • I messed up with measurements and now it just doesn't fit together anymore.
  • I don’t have enough time to put in the work it needs, other things are less time-intensive.

I taught a workshop on UFO-completion in November, and for the participants the time factor certainly was an important reason, with a little bit of the others mixed in. But they were determined!
Just before we went away for a week of holidays earlier this month I was facing this problem, too. My husband – understandably – was opposed to my taking a sewing machine along, his argument being that I say sewing is work, and a holiday is supposed to be a period without work. I agreed. But I knew that we would be spending the evenings mostly in the apartment which we had rented because of a sleeping five-year-old, and I did not want to spend every singly one of them reading or knitting socks. And then I remembered a UFO which has been biding time in a cardboard box. A really pretty unfinished UFO, if you look at the degree of completion, but rather progressed UFO if you look at the degree of finished preparation:
UFO in its container
There once was a time when 60-degree triangles were important for me. That was the time when I also made ‚More Light!’.
More Light! 2001
At that time I had the idea that I definitely wanted to have a comfort quilt made from  striped fabrics and 60-degree triangles, in caleidoscope fashion, so to say. (To do something with those striped fabrics that had accumulated and that were proving themselves to be not easily integrated into other quilts.) That also was a time when I commuted to work by train, and as I have always been one to make the most of such times I had started taking a little sewing box on the train, for hand sewing. This quilt was entirely sewn by hand, on the train:
Nightsong of the Fish, 1999
When ‚Nightsong of the Fish’ was finished, I needed another project, and I resolved to start a 60-degree-triangle project. I prepared quite a number of six-packs from my stock of striped fabrics, but not too many actually got sewn up because my work situation changed rather quickly and completely and I was not a commuter any more. And I had so many other ideas that I did not want to spend my time at home sewing by hand. This little box has been waiting patiently since then.
By the way, my technique of hand-sewing was taken from Jinny Beyer’s book „Quiltmaking by Hand“, in which she gives detailed explanations with lots of very informative illustrations and hints. Her description of the technique is so thorough and perfect, that I am not going to retell you what she wrote, just a few illustrations from my own attempts:
Basically you sew with a quiltstitch, using a quilting needle.
Put as many stitches on the needle as possible
- up to 10 if you can.
When the needle was full, pull through the thread and
resume with a backstitch.
So this particular UFO of 60-degree-triangles has gone through a long and dangerous phase of waiting for completion during which its status was rather undefined, because the outer circumstances which had led to its conception had so radically changed. However, a vacation without a sewing machine seemed just the right moment to pull that box out of storage. I have to admit, my quilting style has changed radically since I began this project, and I definitely would not begin something like this today. But it has something to it to spend a few evenings with it every vacation, stitching along. The individual hexagons don’t take too long, either. So who knows, this may actually be a UFO the completion of which can be reported, several vacations later? Let’s wait and see!

And: my current count of UFOs, not including these traingles, is 9 or 10...

1 comment:

  1. I probably own enough unfinished quilt tops to outfit a whole orphanage. I mastered piecing long before I was brave enough or knowledgeable enough to attempt quilting (especially on big pieces) so for years I just folded up the tops and put them in boxes. If I knew a good quilter-for-hire I would probably have her finish everything. Food for thought!!