In the quilting world, they are called UFOs.
Unfinished objects. Any sewer worth their seam ripper has a whole stash of them. Projects they’ve started with a rush of creative energy and abandoned with reluctant guilt and the best of intentions to return.
I have more than half a dozen UFOs stuffed away in the plastic boxes that hold 20 years’ worth of my sewing life. When I unpacked them recently, I was shocked. Six nearly finished projects that I just didn’t have the steam to complete.
A tablerunner I’d started for a friend’s birthday present two birthdays ago. My first attempt at a free-form modern quilt, only my second full-sized quilt top, that had been sitting, neglected but not forgotten, for more than three years. I started that one when my ex-husband and I were newly divorced, and I wasn’t sure how to fill the time when my kids weren’t around.
That’s why I started quilting in the first place: To fill large chunks of time I knew I’d have with a newborn and a toddler who needed me to be at home but didn’t necessarily need me by their side.
Well, that newborn is nearly 10, and I have at least four pillows, the easiest of sewing projects to finish, just sitting there, fabrics face-to-face, waiting for me to find those last 20 minutes to sew around the edge and stuff it with fluff.
My most prized UFO, however, is an unfinished quilt that I did not start. It’s a hand-sewn, queen-sized top made with hexagons cut from fabric that I’m guessing is from the early 1900s. My great-great grandmother made this quilt after immigrated to the U.S. from Sweden in the 1890s, and it had been sitting in a wooden trunk at my grandmother’s house for more than 60 years.
In the years before she died, my grandmother saw me pick up an interest in both ancestry and quilting, and she ceremoniously gave me the quilt top to one day finish.
This is the year I want to finish it.
I’m amazed when I go through this collection of unfulfilled creative ambitions that most of them just need a back and binding.
In my fabric collection, I have enough raw materials to finish them. Yards of solid cotton from Joann’s and old sheets from thrift stores. Bags of smaller scraps cut from old shirts, skirts, dresses and all the boys’ denim, scruffed from years of wear on the playground wear.
I see a coral pink linen from my friend Shimon’s worn-out yoga pants that smell like every yoga studio he ever wore them in.
I see an unfinished postage stamp quilt top from Chasity, a dear friend who let me raid her fabrics before she moved to Michigan five years ago.
I see pieces of purple and pink plaid cotton cut from a nightgown that belonged to my mom. She’s wearing it in my earliest memory, a flashback of her wearing this tent of a dress while holding my baby sister by the sink of our house in Florida.
Working with these memories is one of the reasons I like working on these projects in the first place, but finishing them is never quite as exciting. (Ugh, binding, am I right?)
But having finished quilts is as fun as having written.
I started this blog and finished my first quilt 10 years ago, when I was on maternity leave with Avery. I spent the last three months of the year sewing baby quilts and then a queen-sized quilt while listening to “Dreams From My Father” and taking breaks to feed the baby.
Now that baby is in elementary school, and he hasn’t seen me sew much lately. I packed up my sewing room earlier this year when my tween moved into his own room, but I hadn’t really been using it much anyway. My dad had been sick, so I’d been traveling a lot, but I also had just falling into a procrastination paralysis, that creative block that doesn’t allow me to finish projects that really do mean something to me, but that just don’t fit into my life in the way I wish they did.
I suspect we all have UFOs in our life, even if we don’t sew.
But in the early days of this new year, I’m in the mood to sew some things up. I finally found a new place in the house to set up my sewing machine.
It might look like a garage to you, but to me, it’s my finish-the-quilts room.
It’s a place where I can finally start thawing this frozen fabric stash and giving life to these little pieces of myself that are ready to see the light of day.
After just a few days of dabbling, I remember that working in this space can shine the warm light of the day on a part of me that has been frozen, too.
My plan is to finish all six of these quilt projects this year, plus an apron that isn’t exactly a quilt but has some patchwork elements. I’ll write about each one, that is, if I can thaw this keyboard.