Finishing Stuff is Hard 45

Someone posted in a Facebook group I belong to that they were having a lot of trouble finishing things and asked if anyone else dealt with that. I wrote up a response and someone suggested I make it a blog post, which seemed like a good idea, so here it is, slightly edited for clarity.

Finishing things is something I’ve struggled with for most of my life! Eventually I learned to break it down into buckets of why I wasn’t finishing things and came up with methods for each. Your reasons may be different, but in case any of these are helpful, here are my buckets:

1. I have a hard decision to make and don’t know what the right answer is. This one gets me still, either there’s a design decision, or a piecing decision, or a “do I rip this or just move on” type decision. If it’s an either or, I’ll flip a coin and then judge my reaction to the response and choose accordingly. If it’s harder than that, I’ll bring in some outside advice. And sometimes I will just give myself a deadline to make a choice so I can move on. There will be other quilts, this one doesn’t have to be perfect. (Finished is better than perfect is the mantra I try to remember)


1. Transcendence involved a ton of design work before even starting it. I made a bajillion designs using the colors and narrowed it down to two. Which I waffled between for ages until I finally chose this one because I had enough fabric on hand to make it. Yay, pragmatism!

2. I need to do something hard/new and I’m scared to try it. Generally once I recognize that’s what’s going on, I’ve learned to force my way through it. But before I got better at facing my fears, I’d overcome this one by taking the project to a retreat or a sew day or some other sort of thing where there were other people who could help and motivate me through it.


2. Phoenix was really hard for me to even START because of all those curves and the on-point construction and the colors kinda terrified me. Then there was an issue during the design phase that included an element that would have made it a lot harder to construct and I couldn’t decide what to do. In the end I eliminated that element.

3. I’m bored with it. Sometimes I’ve learned what I’ve needed to learn on a project and I don’t need to continue it. If I’m not learning something, I’ll get bored pretty quickly. I had a lot of starts and stops initially until I realized that FOR ME, following someone else’s patterns was boring (no value judgment here for people following patterns, it just doesn’t work for me!) I also don’t seem to do well with repeated blocks. Once I started doing my own designs I finished WAY more quilts. But sometimes it turns out that I just wanted to see if colors worked well together. Or I wanted to try a piecing technique. Or something else that really doesn’t require finishing an entire quilt. And that’s okay. Make it a mini, or donate it and move on. No need to keep that stuff around.


3. This quilt top was basically experimenting with color placement and how the zig zags would look using this block. Once the top was done I saw how it worked and I was done with the experiment and never felt the need to finish it. I eventually donated it to someone else to turn into a charity quilt.

4. The ugly stage. My quilts all seem to go through an ugly stage and I lose faith that they’re going to turn out OK (this always seems to be during the quilting phase…..) When I hit the “blahs” I just move it into the “work on it 15-30 minutes a day” pile and then work on it before the “fun projects”. It will eventually get done and usually at some point it will stop being ugly and I get excited about it again. Or maybe I put a binding on it and gift it immediately so I never have to see it again. 😉


4. City Lights originally had quilting that was so tragic I cried over it. I picked out the few places that were awful technically, and then added much more dense quilting and it transformed it into a quilt I really love. But it took me a month before I could face it to do so.

It can be frustrating to not finish stuff, but try to figure out why and don’t beat yourself up over it. Your brain is trying to tell you something, and it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you!

So how about you, what stops you from finishing your quilts?


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45 thoughts on “Finishing Stuff is Hard

  • Cathy Berman

    5. I do not like a technique that is new for me and rather than suffer through it, I stop working on the quilt. For me, anything that has to be precise is suffocating. I am getting better at analyzing and realizing early on how much precision is required and though I admire such quilts, I don’t make them.
    6. It’s not an ugly stage, it’s an ugly quilt. Or my taste in fabric or design has changed since beginning it. If just my taste has changed I can donate it to my guild for a charity quilt or yard sale. If it is truly ugly, I have read about taking a rotary cutter to such things and cutting them up with abandon and then reassembling the pieces in a different way. I did this with a small quilt and it was much better, but not worth taking the time to finish, at least not yet.

    Love all your quilts!

    • anne Post author

      Both great points! Knowing the sort of things you enjoy doing and then not wasting time on the things you don’t is great insight. 🙂 Of course I saw you meticulously cut out pieces of paper, so I guess the precision thing is just for quilting, not all art forms. 😉
      I generally don’t like super precise things, but I have been enjoying inset corners. Maybe because right now it’s just the right level of challenging instead of “this is boring AND I have to be precise.”

      Cutting up stuff you don’t like is a good technique, too! I’ve never tried that one. 😀

        • anne Post author

          Oh that’s awesome! I didn’t know that was a technique she used a lot. 🙂 It’s something I need to do more of, I admit. It’s easy to consider what we’ve made so far as “precious” and I know it’s common in every art form. But things are almost always better after it’s been edited. 🙂

  • Whiskers

    I, too, like to design my own quilts. One of the things I’ve learned about projects that “hit a wall” is that I may not have the skills to complete the project the way I envisioned. Case in point: I started a children’s quilt years ago that had squares set between octagons. I just couldn’t get them to lie flat, so it wound up wadded up in the bottom of one container or another. Years later, I was digging through things and found it. After pressing out all the rumples, I realized what I needed to do to accomplish my idea. After that, it went together rather quickly. Now that is has aged a while longer, maybe I can get it quilted and donated????

    It is hard to learn when “it is good enough” and when to pursue perfection. Sometimes “good enough” gets the job done.

    • anne Post author

      Oooh yes, that whole “I have this thing in mind but I don’t know how to get from where I’m at to the thing I have in mind” is a toughie! That’s awesome that you were able to go back and finish your quilt, I hope you have a chance to quilt and donate it soon!

      I’m trying to find where the “good enough” line is these days. And different applications certainly have different “good enough” lines. For instance, I’m working on a quilt for a show and the “good enough” line is a LOT closer to perfect than the “quilt I’ll snuggle under on the couch.” Hahaha (Not that I do much of that here in Florida.)

  • Serena

    I love this post, as of course like everyone, I’ve experienced the challenge of finishing projects. What I LOVE about what you’ve shared is I’ve never thought to stop for a second and reflect on why I’m not finishing a particular project. I’m excited to try this, I think it will help with breaking through the wall and getting it finished!

    • anne Post author

      I really hope it helps! It can be SO frustrating when you want something finished but for whatever reason your brain is working against it happening. Please let me know if you come across any insights, I’d love to hear them. 🙂

  • heulwenprice

    Ha, #3 gets me a lot of the time! I’m also not a pattern follower, I’d rather do my own things, but even then I have to watch that I don’t get clobbered by what I call the “solved problem” fallacy – I get to a point where I can see how the rest of the project will pan out and I… stop. The “problem” is “solved” in my mind and I get distracted by the *next* problem! So if it’s something I really want to finish, I have to push myself on to not only solve that “problem” but actually finish the project too. It helps a lot if there’s a deadline involved!

    • anne Post author

      OMG YES that!! I love problem solving (that’s why I’m in computer science after all) and once I feel like “okay I’ve got this” it can get tragically boring. Of course, the other end of the spectrum gets me, too. With quilting designs I don’t have enough experience/knowledge to be able to figure out WHY I don’t like the way it’s going and I end up getting frustrated and wanting to quit.
      Without deadlines I’d seriously never get anything done.

  • Rebecca @creativeblockquilts

    Sounds like great advice! For me, I find that when one of my projects is “misbehaving,” sometimes it needs to go in “time out” for a while. After we’ve both cooled off a little bit, I can think more clearly and figure out the problem. Often it’s that I’ve made a decision I’m not happy with, or worked myself into some kind of creative corner. So typically I will have to go back one or two steps and take a different route.

    • anne Post author

      That’s a different blog post I want to make: what’s going on with quilts that are misbehaving. 🙂 So often for me I know I’ll need to “unsew” and I HATE doing that. After giving a time out it seems way easier to do the thing I know I need to do. 🙂

    • anne Post author

      Thanks, Yvonne! 😀 I won’t admit how many quilts I’ve cried over, but City Lights was probably the worst because I KNEW it’d be hanging at QuiltCon (since all the QoM automatically get in) and I was so ashamed to have my name associated with it. There’s still one particularly puffy area that I’m really unhappy with and not sure how to deal with, and I might try to do some sort of surgery on it when I get it back from IQF.

  • shecanquilt

    Thank you for sharing, this is helpful and I go through all of these issues. I am going to think about what else, and also why I keep some unfinished projects and don’t just toss them out/ donate them to new homes – what makes me think I will get back to them?

    • anne Post author

      I think there might be some sort of quilty culture pressure to finish things when really sometimes it’s better to just send it on and enjoy the new projects that are better suited to your current artistic journey. I have a few I really need to get rid of still, too. So I’m certainly not immune!

    • anne Post author

      I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with each of these! Hopefully this will help you not suffer through them anymore. 🙂 Thank you for the encouragement!

  • Natasha

    Thank you so much for posting this. It’s so helpful for me. I haven’t really analyzed why I do this same thing before, but I related to so much of what you wrote here. Your quilts are beautiful.

    • anne Post author

      Thank you Natasha! I’m so glad it’s helpful. 🙂 I find myself falling into these traps still, but with practice I’ve gotten better about more quickly recognizing what’s going on. 🙂 And thank you so much for the kind words for my quilts!

  • Beth T.

    Oh, Anne, you nailed it. Each of these factors contributes to my huge pile of unfinished projects. But I still love something about each of them–some spark of what caused me to begin them in the first place, or where I want to end up with them–or I do just need to be brave and try that thing that is daunting to me about the next step. You’re right about getting bored with repetitive blocks, and patterns designed by other people; Mary Lou Weidman expresses this really well in the introduction to her books, also. Your suggestion to work on some of these projects for 15 minutes even when I’m not crazy in love is an excellent one, and I thank you for it.

    • anne Post author

      Being able to identify the spark that caused you to begin them in the first place is fantastic! I totally lose track of that sometimes and it makes it such a slog to get through. The 15 minutes thing is something I use for all sorts of tasks in my life and it’s really incredible how much you can get done with those little stolen moments. I’m going to check out Mary Lou Weidman’s book, thank you for the rec!

  • Lara B.

    My goodness Anne -it’s like you can see right into my own creative process. Thank you for sharing, not just what blocks you run into, but also how you overcome them! I don’t feel like such an odd duck now. 🙂

    • anne Post author

      <3 I'm so glad it was helpful! You are definitely not an odd duck, every artist and designer I've talked to runs into this stuff. It's just a matter of not letting it define you or your work and finding out ways past the challenges.

  • 2bleubirdzsssing4u

    What stops me from finishing is sometimes I don’t like the way a quilt top is looking. Once I asked in an online quilt group what they thought, does it need something like sashing, sashing and cornerstones or what. The majority said sashing. So I took the blocks apart and cut sashing and started sewing it together again. I have a row or two left to sash, then I got distracted by a quilt along I wanted to try. It’s been much harder than I expected, a sampler with loads of hand embroidery. My first thought was I wanted to try to do every block. Now I’ve stopped sewing, because frankly I’m not enjoying the hand embroidery and not completely satisfied with some of my patchwork. I’m thinking to continue, I have to face the fact that I may pick and choose the blocks I want to do from now on & repeat some that I really enjoyed. Having never done a sampler before, now I realize that mystery quilt alongs are just not for me. I want to know what to expect, and won’t do a 6″ sampler block mystery quilt along again. That doesn’t mean I’ll never do a 6″ block again. It just means I will choose the ones I want to do. With a sampler, so many of the blocks spark this idea in my head that I just can’t let go (actually most quilts do), so I get distracted by all the ideas I want to try. Sometimes I just do one block and set that aside for the future. Sometimes I spend a lot of time online researching the idea as to how it could be made. Is there an existing block like I’m thinking, or do I need to design one for myself? I do find lots of good help this way, but it keeps me from sewing and being productive finishing things. I’m about ready to get back on that sampler though and do some patchwork and paper piecing. Maybe I can finish a few hand embroidered blocks in between the others. If they take too long, I get discouraged over it. I don’t want my sewing to be so hard or tedious that I can’t enjoy it, but I still want to learn as many techniques as possible – just maybe not all in the same quilt. 😀

    • anne Post author

      When your quilts don’t match the mental image you had, it can be SO challenging. I actually have an entirely different blog post I want to write about that topic. 🙂
      As for the embroidery, are you not enjoying it because the process is just not fun, or are you not enjoying it because you’re learning something new and learning can be hard? If you don’t enjoy the process, then by all means stop! Time’s a precious resource, and there’s no reason wasting it on something you’re not enjoying. 🙂 If it’s because it’s hard, then it’s a matter of deciding if you want to spend your time learning it or would rather use your time learning/doing something else.
      Whatever you do, please don’t beat yourself up for not finishing/not doing it exactly the way they have it. It sounds like this experience has taught you a LOT and will save you time on the next endeavor. 🙂 (For the record, I had to learn the hard way that I don’t enjoy making samplers either. 🙂 )

      Do you keep a design journal? When I start getting overwhelmed by all the ideas, I find jotting down a few notes and a sketch gives me my brain space back and lets me focus again. Then when I want to work on something new, I flip through all the sketches and see if they still interest me, and I can choose from there.

  • 2bleubirdzsssing4u

    By the way, thanks for posting on this. I’m going to have to bookmark this for future reference. Need all the help I can find to get unstuck. And I’m glad you finished your Phoenix quilt. That is so cool. Maybe someday I’ll consider trying something like that. I have never done the curved seam blocks yet, but did a lot of garment sewing when I was younger, so shouldn’t be too hard.

    • anne Post author

      You’re so welcome! I found curves to seem a lot more intimidating than they are in practice. 🙂 And it’s a lot faster to practice than hand embroidery! lol

    • anne Post author

      Thank you! I hadn’t even considered that, but it’s true. When I look at my work tasks, it’s the same set of stuff slowing me down there, too. Maybe I should apply some of these ideas to that, too!

    • anne Post author

      I totally hear you there. I’m definitely a “problem solver” type and once the problem feels solved, I lose interest. It keeps me pushing the boundaries on skills and techniques, but also means I tend to move on to other things pretty quickly.

  • Whiskers

    Having read all the other comments, shall we form the “Sisterhood of the Unfinished”?

    I must say I second the “boredom” and “deadline” points of view.

    • anne Post author

      Hahaha I think that sisterhood would include at least 90% of all quilters. 🙂 Quilts take such a long time to finish, that’s a lot of time for something new and shinier to come along or some hard problem to show up or one of the other trillion reasons to put something down that you don’t pick up again. 🙂

  • aquilterstable

    I enjoyed your post, Anne. I currently have one project under #1 and one under #3…..It is what it is. Sometimes just a little time away from a project – but not too much – somehow draws me back in to finish it…

    • anne Post author

      That’s great that you’ve found a system that lets you finish projects! You totally hit the nail on the head about the “not too much time away” from it. Once it’s gotten over a certain threshold, my personal style has changed to the point that I have NO interest in ever finishing it. I know people who will push through and gift it or whatnot, but I have so little time for quilting I’ve decided I don’t want to spend my time on things that don’t excite me. 🙂 (And yes that means my WIP pile is big. haha!)

    • anne Post author

      Glad to be of service! Haha There’s another long post I have from a comment I left on instagram, apparently I like to leave long comments. Who knew.
      OK, I knew. Shhh

  • Helen Anne Lemke

    Very well thought out and I see myself in several of them. The one I would add is “Squirrel!” or chasing shiny objects. I’ll be working away well on something and another project comes along and grabs my attention and the next thing I know its been months or years and I still haven’t gotten back to the original project. I want to go back at look at the UFO list to see what other reasons there are.

    • anne Post author

      Oh man, I totally chase shiny objects all the time! Honestly I think deadlines get me to finish things more than anything else. 🙂 Although that’s mostly because I tend to experiment with color and design and not so much piecing or quilting. So by the time the top’s done (or even sooner), I’m already over it and ready for something new. I just finished a piece where I was experimenting with piecing and it kept my interest MUCH longer than anything I’ve done before. 🙂
      I’d love to hear what other reasons you find in your WIP pile!

      • Helen Anne Lemke

        I found some the same as yours “need to make a decision”, “time to move on?” and some that I think are slightly different. Logistics — am I set for machine piecing or quilting. I tend to be set one way or the other so focus on which ever I’m set for. Things can wait a long time waiting for the other setup. As you mentioned in your reply, deadlines are excellent things. I find that I get very focused on meeting a deadline and that really helps move things along. Your post did inspire one of my own. It was good to look at the list

        • anne Post author

          Ohhh the logistics thing is something that totally gets me. Thread color and which foot is on the machine makes a huge difference as to what I’ll work on. Kinda lazy, but with so many things to work on, might as well prioritize by convenience!