Conquer your sewing UFOs in 5 steps

Can I get a hand for all the dread your sewing UFOs dredge up for you? I know we all have those secret corners of shame in our sewing spaces where all the unfinished objects live.

Maybe we find those projects years later and forget why it was that we abandoned them. Was there a tricky step where you got derailed? Did you need to buy buttons and forgot?

Whatever the case, I’m declaring war on you, sewing UFOs. We’re taking them head on and the time is now!

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Conquer your sewing UFOs in 5 steps

First, what on earth is a UFO?

UFO= unfinished object.

If you’ve never heard of it before, sewing UFOs are those projects that you abandon somewhere in the process. No aliens here! They could be any kind of sewing project, and you might have stopped working on them for any number of reasons. Some are simple to fix and some are truly not worth your time. Let’s sort the wheat from the chaff, and I’m going to show you 5 easy steps to getting them out of your life.

unfinished dress with a post it note with a reminder to hem it
Time needed to finish a UFO: 15 minutes
Time it takes to GET to that 15 minutes: Who remembers? Long enough to collect Dust of Guilt
Getting it done?: Priceless

Step 1: Take an honest assessment of your sewing UFOs

First, gather up all of your sewing UFOs. You know where they’re hiding. And if you don’t, have a good old treasure hunt finding the little squirrel holes where your forgotten projects live.

It might be brutal, but take it all in, preferably with a healthy deep breath.

  • Ask yourself–do I even still like this?
  • Is it worth my time to finish this project?

If you answered yes to either question, move on to step 2. If you said no, or something stronger, set that project aside. You can decide later if you want to donate it, recycle the fabric, or simply toss it.

flowchart to help you decide how to tackle a sewing ufo (unfinished object)

Step 2: Set a goal for your remaining sewing UFOs.

Grab a piece of paper, a post-it note, whatever you have handy and let’s set some goals for each of your sewing UFOs.

List out:

  • Project: (what on earth is this?)
  • Who is this for?
  • Status: (I’m 0-99% done here.)
  • What’s missing?: (Did I miss a step, royally screw up, or simply run out of thread at a bad time?)
  • Time estimated to finish? (write a real number here, though you can exaggerate if it lights a fire under you. You know how you’re motivated best!)
  • Goal date: (a real calendar day–within the next month)
  • My reward: (How will you celebrate getting this project done?)
sewing project in a pile

Step 3: Organize your chosen sewing UFOs

I don’t about you, but it’s hard for me to enjoy my sewing when my sewing table is covered with projects to be done. A sewing UFO already carries a bit of guilt and dread. Having tons of them on my table as must do items is a major drag.

So before you get to the sewing, let’s do a 3 minute organization of the UFOs you have left.

  • Place each sewing UFO in its own container: Use a box, a plastic bag, one of the clear zipper bags you get when you buy a pillow–anything!
  • In the container, place your project sheet that you filled out in step 2.
  • If there are items you need to buy to finish a project, purchase those things and put them in the bag.
  • Any extra notions or fabric needed for a project go in the bag too.
  • Gather all of the projects and place them in a basket or stack and put them next to your sewing machine.

Need more sewing organization tips? Check out these 41 different tips to keep you sewing efficiently.

Step 4: Devote a day to sewing up your sewing UFOs

sewing ufos in an ordered pile from quickest to finish to most time needed to finish

You have your goals on your project sheets you filled out in step 2. Find a day when you can breeze through all the work that needs to be done for each sewing UFO.

If any or all of your projects are too complicated to get done in a day, organize the stack of projects from step 3 from top to bottom. Top projects are the quickest to get done. Place the more complicated ones towards the bottom. If you know it’s going to take more than 1 day to get through everything, schedule at least 2 projects in each day.

Set aside all distractions. Seriously place your phone in another room! Just sew!

And if finding time to sew is a struggle, check out 15 (update: 16!) ways to make time to sew.

Step 5: Celebrate!

Finally, remember how you would celebrate getting through your sewing UFOs in step 2. The time to do that thing is now! Enjoy the fact that your sewing room and your mental state is a little lighter now. What will you do? Go get a nice coffee, buy a new sewing gadget, or have some fun finding accessories for your freshly finished projects?

Whatever it is, make sure that you’re celebrating in a way that you’re excited about. You’ve made it to the end of the race, and now it’s time to get your prize!

I know one time I had a bag that I designed that sat untouched for a good year and half. I had wanted it to be a bag to fit on the back of my stroller to just hold Mom stuff when we go on walks as a family. In the end, it took me maybe 90 minutes to finish up. There are some things I didn’t account for, and it wasn’t perfect, but dang it, I got it done. I promptly packed up the kids and my husband and I had a good time with them enjoying our mountain views on a long walk.

Keep sewing UFOs from taking over

I know we always have seasons in life that are more challenging than others. Those can definitely be the times that the sewing UFOs start to creep in. But the best way to keep your unfinished projects from taking over is to not have them in the first place.

basket with unfinished sewing projects

I’ve started a rule in my sewing room that I only get 1 UFO. There’s a basket in my room and the UFO goes in there. When I have a day to tackle it, I go after it. And if there’s another project that’s threatening UFO status, the one in the basket must be dealt with first. Is this a little hardcore? Probably. But I know that I have to be that disciplined or I’ll have a pile of Tribbles on my hand before too long.

Just start

I hope you feel encouraged to move past your internal groans and smash your sewing UFO goals. To start, take an honest assessment of your UFOs. Next, define your goals, organize the projects, and take some time to sew them up. Finally, celebrate your victory, and you’ll be amazed at a couple things.

First, you won’t believe how fast you’ll finish this silly project you’ve had on a shelf for weeks, months, years… Second, you will feel so much mentally better after having finished up your project. It’ll be a huge weight off your mind, and it’ll get you ready for what you really want to do–make something creative with that fabric that’s been calling your name!

No shame now, how many UFOs do you have hanging out in your sewing room?

5 thoughts on “Conquer your sewing UFOs in 5 steps”

  1. My ufo situation is not too bad these days, maybe six items. I started keeping a journal a couple of years ago to write about projects I wanted to start, and to write through some of the issues I was having with any given project in process that previously would have caused me to abandon it in favor of a shiny new thing. It really has helped me avoid jumping ship on sewing projects.

    I don’t keep a project sheet like you have, but I do keep my pattern and my inspiration materials in a plastic sleeve that I thumbtack to my bulletin board. usually I have three or four projects in SOME state of completion, from serious “on deck” planning through assembling needed materials and actually In process sewing. .I put a post it on the cover of my plastic sleeve, that lists the next one or two steps needed on that project. I also keep my queue of projects to finish on the bulletin board, one post it per project, and sometimes I shuffle those depending on my mood or needs or what materials I managed to get on hand. When my sew-jo runs low, I scan the bulletin board to see if I can find something to get excited about, or a step I think I can take today. Or I review my journal or write in it to see if I can get excited again. It’s really working for me.

    1. Your system is fantastic Sara! I love the idea of grabbing one of those in-process projects when you’re low on sew-jo. Having any kind of system where you can quickly see how much needs to be done to finish up a project is so valuable on those days that you want to sew but are fresh out of ideas!

  2. I’ve only one UFO project: It’s an embroidery project with sunflowers. Started many years ago, picked it up three years ago, did some leaves and put it back in the bag. Both daughters used the embroidery thread for all kind of projects so need to buy new thread to finish it.

    1. I think running out of the thread is the #1 thing that will stall an embroidery project. I’m 90% through the embroidery for an Alabama Chanin style knit top and trying to eek out the rest with 1 skein! Your sunflowers will be beautiful when you get it done!

  3. Thanks for the reminder! I have all my ufo’s bagged, labeled, steps and things needed to finish listed, but they are all stored in a pretty shopping bag and forgotten. I pulled a few out and have finished one a day now! Sweet feeling is my reward! I appreciate and enjoy reading your blog!

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