Cheryl Arkison adds her voice to our Slow Sewing series! Cheryl is a quilter and a writer, author of the popular Sunday Morning Quilts and A Month of Sundays. She teaches quilting classes, including the online Craftsy class Inset & Appliqué Circles by Machine. (We also just featured an excerpt of her chapter from the Essential Guide to Modern Quilt Making on Appliqué Circles.)

Cheryl fills you in on why it’s actually a good thing to have lots of WIPs (Works in Progress), and she even let us know exactly how many quilts she currently has in the works (lots!). Take a look at some of Cheryl’s finished designs and visit her Dining Room Empire for the latest in her work and play.

What do you think? Do multiple projects in process nag at you, or inspire? Do you enjoy having the options multiple projects provide (hand stitch a binding here, piece together squares there…)? How many things do you have Under Construction?!


Under Construction
I recently stopped referring to my UFOs (Unfinished Objects) and WIPs (Works in Progress) as just that. Rather, all the quilts in my studio– until the last stitches are in the binding– are considered “Under Construction.” Making a distinction made the UFOs feel bad, like they’d been abandoned. And it gave the WIPs a superiority complex.

All jokes aside, I really don’t see a difference between these two things. From the moment a pile of fabric becomes an idea connected to a sketch it is under construction. And that lasts until the last stitches are in the binding and all the threads buried.

There are quilters for whom more than one project on the go is stressful. Some of us hit double digits with quilts under construction and the sweat starts dripping onto the cutting mat. Each of us are different, for sure. I, personally, thrive on having more than one project on the go and here’s why.

You Never Know What Will Happen
With three kids and a predictably busy household I never know what each day brings. Over the years I’ve had to let go of my pre-planning and desire for neatness, the pursuit of which drove me more crazy than accepting a certain amount of chaos. It actually makes me more stressed to plan out the week and then not have it go my way.

In a way, quilting has helped me learn to roll with the punches.

With each moment in the studio I eke out what can be done. Impromptu playdate in the backyard? Let’s cut fabric! Extra long nap for the little guy? Pedal to the metal at the sewing machine. Hubby away and trashy TV? Pressing leaders and enders.

If I was only working on one project at a time I would spend more time waiting than working. Waiting for just the right moment of alertness to cut fabric. Waiting for quiet afternoons to sew. Waiting for the kids to go to bed so I can wash the floor and baste. Waiting for inspiration to hit when I get blocked. So much waiting.

Instead of waiting I can hit the ground running on any project when time and energy allow. Less waiting, more working. Even if the work takes a long time to become a quilt. I can make progress because progress is always happening. It just isn’t always on the same project.

For the Record
It was time to do it and in the interest of full disclosure, I counted up all my quilts under construction.

42!

And I’m totally okay with that. At least four of them will get done in the coming month or two, maybe some more. Some will continue to grow because they are teaching samples. And yes, I may start another one or three.

I’ve also finished a half dozen quilts and wrote another book this year. And quilts have moved from fabric piles to blocks, from blocks to finished tops, from tops to quilting. New piles have been created.

I don’t even think I am a serial starter of projects. (That might be debatable, but I don’t think I am.) No, I am simply willing to embrace the ideas and inspiration as they come. To me, this all represents creative freedom and opportunity.

It’s Just a Number
I’m often told it makes people feel better about their number when I share mine. Okay, I’ll take that hit. But I also think no one should feel guilty about their number. It is what it is, you do what you can.

Own your projects, all of them, from the piles of fabric to the quilts only needing binding. Be proud of them. They represent a moment of making. Or many moments. Ultimately, they represent you and your creativity. They reflect your time and commitment to the craft.

If it does stress you out, here are tips for making it through the pile of quilts under construction:

  • Give it away: Give away all of the blocks, the fabric already cut, the quilt top.
  • Find a long armer and some spare change to get those tops turned into quilts.
  • Learn to machine bind; it’s a huge timesaver and way to avoid hand stitching if you don’t like it.
  • Set goals. Buckle down and commit to finishing projects on a regular basis. Make the commitment public so you feel even more pressure to stick to the commitment.

Creative Challenges
Counting my quilts under construction serves me well. For one, it keeps me honest. But most importantly, the inventory reminds me of projects I have lurking in the closet.

Revisiting the hiding projects also helps me take stock of where I am creatively. Are the projects still, in some way, exciting to me? Just because they once were thrilling, I need to know if they are still. If there is even a hint of excitement then they can stay under construction. If there isn’t, the pile of fabric gets returned to the stash, the work is given away, or I buckle down and finish it so space can be cleared for more creativity.

One frequent criticism of having too many quilts under construction is that it amounts to clutter for the creative mind. I strongly disagree. It isn’t like a messy desk or cutting table literally keeping you from work. It is all opportunity. It is up to you to grab it when the moments are made.

Having projects in different phases also allows me to work through any blocks, slumps or challenges. If one quilt has me stumped or I’m feeling listless I can pull out something that needs to be sewn without too much thought. That allows my mind to wander while my body moves in its familiar rhythm. It works out the kinks.

I am always in forward motion, but not with full on sprints to the finish line though. No, it is about taking a leisurely stroll through interesting streets filled with painted nooks and surprising crannies. By being open to the exploration, my creativity is fueled no matter what I find. And there is always something to find, always a new street to explore.