Studio Life: Why I Can’t Just Finish All Those UFOs

I’ve been slow getting back into a sewing routine. Our summer was busy, and once it ended there was a lot to catch up on in the house and garden. I participated in two back-to-back craft shows (which are always a lot of work), and between my kids’ two schools, there was only one (!!) full week of school so far… And yet, I did manage to get back into my sewing room. I even started flexing my sewing muscles, by once more, tackling those never-ending piles of unfinished projects (also known as UFOs).

A few days ago a friend asked me why I can’t just finish one thing before moving on to the next. It is, after all, the logical thing to do. It would certainly clear a lot of studio space (as in remove the many piles from the chairs/bed/carpet), giving me more room to breath and move. Not to mention clearing the accumulating guilt…

Logic aside, however, I find that for me, following that advice is utterly impossible. I’ve been thinking about why that is, and–despite my wish to blame it all on sorcery–came to the conclusion that many different factors contribute to the accumulation of those UFO piles:

Distractions

This is probably the main reason, and it comes in many different forms. There are small distractions, like dinner burning on the stove. Or kids barging into my sewing room when I’m in the middle of sewing, wanting something. I usually stop whatever I’m doing, and when I get back to it, hours, days or weeks later, I sometimes move on to something else.

Every now and then I also need to sew things for family members. When school started, for example, my daughter got a new school laptop, and asked me to make a sleeve to keep it in. I gave this a priority, and ended up spending more time on it than I expected (as it took three different tries to get the laptop to fit through the zippered top).

There are also big distractions, like illnesses, trips, or summer vacations. These force me to stop whatever I’m working on for long periods of time. When I get back, I often find it hard to go back to the projects I was in the middle of.

And then there are huge distractions, like hosting house guests. Since I sew in our guest room, hosting means moving all of my sewing materials away. It takes me up to two weeks to move everything out, another week or so to move things back in, and then months to figure out what pile is which and where everything is (I’m still looking for items I can’t find after hosting family this summer…). Forget about finishing projects if you can’t even find them…

Design Concerns

Often, I find gorgeous pieces of textiles that I am really passionate about. Sometimes I’m not sure what to make them into. At other times I don’t have the exact fabrics I need to match them with. These go into separate piles. They wait patiently for weeks or even months, until I find all the other ingredients I need to make them into something spectacular.

I found this unusual piece, for example, over a year ago:

It took me many months to find just the right fabrics to go with it, ones that matched not only in color but also in texture. I completed this tote last week:

Yep, one less pile! (but there are already new ones in its stead…).

New Ideas

The biggest pile of unfinished projects is in my head. I constantly have ideas for new things to make, new quilts to sew, new bags to design and so on. Every now and then I just HAVE to try something completely different. It keeps me challenged and excited about my work.

I find inspiration everywhere, but especially on trips. There is something intense about going somewhere else, being exposed to new environments and new cultures, seeing lots of new things. After traveling I am especially eager to make new things. Like when I returned from Peru and made a troll.

Then there is a constant danger in sorting my fabrics, too. I really didn’t mean to start anything new before I finished those UFOs, but as I was putting things away I came across this amazing tapestry in my stack (so guess what?!):

And there are the scraps. My work results in many, colorful scraps of different sizes and textures, that happen to accumulate in my sewing room before I get to put them away. Often, seeing those scraps together gives me new ideas. Thus, even if I try to finish one thing, I can’t help but start another… Only yesterday I began working on this mini messenger bag, for example:

Seeing the leftover strip alongside other pieces made me think of a new artsy sling (I’ll get to it soon, I promise!):

Even putting those scraps away can be problematic. So far I sorted them into different boxes by approximate size. But a few weeks ago, when one scrap box started overflowing, I spilled them all out, and had the idea to sort them by color:

Which lead to some scrap playing:

Which ended up in this “Fall” mini quilt, that I love dearly:

Procrastination

Finally, there are the less-pleasant tasks. I’m sure you have those in your work, too. Every line of work has undertakings that are fun to do and activities that are … less so. Me, I love designing. Thinking of new items, matching fabrics, experimenting with colors and textures–these are the things that get me all excited. Ironing and sewing zipper pockets … not so much. And so, when I design Renaissance Totes for example, I really enjoy making the outer layer. Sewing the lining, however, with its zipper and many pockets, is a chore. And so there is currently a pile of outer layers of Renaissance Totes waiting for their linings. They’ve been waiting for a while. I’m ashamed to say how long. I will eventually force myself to finish them, but not this week…

When I shared my UFO predicament in a Facebook group I’m in, many creative members seemed to understand. One person quoted a known saying, about how, when you finish all your projects, it’s the end. I guess this, alone, is a great reason to keep going 🙂

 

Cleaning Up a Sewing Room Has Its Dangers…

After writing last week’s post, I decided it was time to sort through my sewing room. I took advantage of it being a long weekend, and hired my teenage daughter to help with this daunting task. I didn’t expect her to be enthusiastic to the point of waking me up at dawn on a Sunday morning. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. My day thus started on the wrong foot. Luckily, a few cups of coffee miraculously brought it back on track…

We began by moving everything from the sewing room’s floor out into the living room. This truly-tedious work took a few hours. It resulted in a huge mess on the living room’s floor. It also exhausted my daughter. So much so, in fact, that she had to take a long break from which she never recovered. Yes, I’m afraid she abandoned me mid-way, leaving me to deal with the rest of the cleanup all on my own…

Once all my treasured were out, I took some of the furniture out as well, and gave the room a good vacuuming. Gone were all the bits of thread and fabric snippets! The carpet suddenly looked so very bright!

Then I sat down for hours of sorting. It felt a bit like doing laundry: sitting amid piles of textiles, and sorting them by kind and size:

When I was done (a day later), I put everything back where it actually belonged: inside a cabinet, on a shelf, or in a bin. I then put the furniture back in, except I changed its placement a little, clearing up space I didn’t realize I could have. All of a sudden the room looked a lot more spacious, and working in it became significantly more pleasant!

I managed to reduce my UFO piles to two. I put them where I can clearly see them, so that they don’t disappear under future clutter:

Those, by the way, don’t include the almost-complete Renaissance Totes of which I wrote last week (these are waiting patiently on the bed).

Tidying up the space, however, had some dangers. It allowed me to see all the bits and pieces I almost forgot I had, and reminded me of things I wanted to make but didn’t get to. In addition, it also opened some brand new possibilities!

It so happened that in one part of the room I found a bag containing a few pieces of Peruvian Weaving that I bought at a Christmas Market in Cusco on my last trip to Peru:

On the other side of the room I came across a pile of beautiful velveteen fabrics I found at FabMo:

It’s not my fault that the colors happened to match…

I found the vivid colors absolutely irresistible. So yes, I admit I let myself get sidetracked this week. Instead of plowing ahead finishing unfinished projects, I started a new series of Peruvian Weaving Totes. I’ll try to finish those next week, so I can get back to the Renaissance Totes now waiting on the bed 🙂

On Creative Clutter and Productivity

I admit that the clutter in my sewing room is a bit out of control. Getting in and out requires acrobatic maneuvering. Various projects in different stages of completion are piled everywhere, sitting next to piles of fabric and boxes of zippers, hardware and buttons. There are only narrow lanes in between, to give me access to my sewing machine, the cutting table and the ironing board–the three essential stations for any sewing activity. Things are so bad, in fact, that I’m actually ashamed to post a picture of the room for you to see.

That was why I made a New Year’s Resolution to finish all the unfinished items before I start any new ones. It’s been incredibly difficult, but I’ve been working hard to meet that goal. I’ve been fighting a flow of new ideas, and resisting strong urges for new experiments. Instead, I’ve been tackling one pile after the other, even when a pile calls for the less-exciting aspects of creating. So far I’ve been making slow-but-steady progress. And that despite the many distractions that life keeps throwing my way, such as mid-winter gardening, sick kids, or a never-ending array of school vacations.

I already finished most half-started messenger bags. I spent a couple of weeks ironing heavy interfacing onto new market totes, even though I strongly dislike that particular task.

When the market totes were done, I spent another workday or two hand-stitching the corners of the outer shells to the lining (another tedious task), so that everything remains stable.

I was happy with the results, however, especially with this one:

And seeing the finished pile gave me much satisfaction!

Once the market totes were done, I moved on to the pile of unfinished Renaissance Totes. These are my most luxurious items, and the ones I like making most. I keep my most lavish-feeling fabrics for them, and line them with the most beautiful silk-blends and brocades I can find. Collecting the right fabrics for each takes months, sometimes. The last time I sewed those was over a year ago, and in the meantime I collected beautiful textiles to construct several new ones. Over the last week I pieced together a few outer shells, and matched some with lining:

I also started sewing the outer shells of some:

Sewing the pocket-rich linings will take a couple of more weeks, along with the final completion.

So, as you can see, definite progress. However, a funny thing keeps happening as I work on all these: the more piles I tackle, the more new piles emerge. I don’t quite know how this happens. It’s a true mystery. Magic, perhaps; or wicked sorcery…

It is possible that my love of fabrics has something to do with it. Last week, for example, my daughter asked me to go to FabMo to get something for her. She didn’t have to ask twice! I went to get this:

And returned with that:

And since my fabric cabinets have been full for a while … Well, needless to say that most of it ended up in piles…

My kids claim I have a fabric addiction. I say I need a palette to work with… They say my studio is a disaster. I agree with the following:

Often, seeing a couple of fabrics randomly lying next to each other gives me new ideas. Seeing my raw materials out in the open opens up an entirely new array of possibilities… In the clutter I find combinations I haven’t thought of. I get ideas for new designs, or even new products. Thus, although I find the mess distracting, it is also inspiring all at the same time.

Yesterday we had a little family conversation, and I ended up getting an earful from my children. They suggested putting a quota on the new fabrics I’m allowed to bring in (!!). The kids argued I should not buy any new fabrics unless I get rid of old ones. They even brought up the idea of imposing a tariff on fabrics!

So maybe it’s time to be a good parent and lead by example. Perhaps I should take time off sewing and tidy the room up instead… As for limiting new acquisitions … well, that might be a wee bit more difficult…

 

A New Year in My Studio: Trying to Finish Partially-sewn Projects

I’m not quite done writing about my trip to Peru, but I thought I’ll take a break from that to tell you a little about what I’ve been up to in my sewing room.

Transitions are always hard for me. It usually takes me a while to get back into a routine after going on a trip. Especially a trip as exciting as the one I took this winter. So after coming home from the Andes in early January, I warmed up my sewing muscles by making a few new toiletry bags. Zip pouches are relatively simple to make, and are a quicker sew than my more complicated bags. They were a great project for getting my creative juices flowing!

This time I decided to experiment with using foamed-filled fabrics for some of the bottoms. I love the result, as the foam gives the bags a nice shape in addition to fun textures!

Since valentine’s Day is approaching, I then went on to make new original fabric heart-cards. These are always fun to create. This year I made them in three different colors: red, blue, and my favorite purple!

Here are the red ones:

The fabrics I used for the cards inspired me to make a wall hanging, too:

When this fun part was over, I was ready to tackle some less-pleasant tasks. Over the past couple of years, you see, I accumulated big piles of partly-finished projects. These are now taking up a lot of space in my small, messy sewing room. They make moving around hard, and concentrating even harder.

I began working on these projects at various times, and didn’t finish them either because guests arrived before I got to it (my sewing room is also our guest room), or because we went on vacation, and I never got back to them upon return. I usually have so many ideas for new things I want to make, that unless I finish something right away, I never do…

But a new year just started, and I thought that this was a good reason to try and finish these partially-finished things. In the past, I started the year by cleaning up my sewing room, but this time I can’t do that unless I move the unfinished piles into the finished-work bins…

I started with a couple of messenger bags and a tote. The bag on the upper left is my very own long-awaited-for summer purse:

I still have a few more messenger bags to finish, as well as market totes and my absolute-favorite Renaissance Totes. There is also an eclipse-inspired art quilt that I started last year, and a twin-size bed quilt for my daughter that has been waiting, sandwiched and ready to quilt, for at least four years (!!!).

I guess I have my work cut out for me for the next few months… It’s hard to keep disciplined, because a million-and-one new ideas are calling. But I will do my best to keep on course. Wish me luck!

 

Excavations, Realizations and Thoughts on Creativity

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might remember that every summer my children and I embark on The Big Cleanup project: a thorough cleanup and reorganization of every single room in the house. Well, we haven’t quite gotten to it this summer, yet (!!). I did, however, briefly step into my sewing room, which, once again, became overwhelmingly messy during those last few weeks of school. I started removing some of the layers, and, as part of my archaeological digs, unearthed a few items which led to a few realizations.

Under a mound of fabrics I found this half-sewn purse. I started making it at the very beginning of my sewing frenzy. It must have been my fifth or sixth handbag, and I abandoned it midway:

The reason I never finished it was that once it reached this stage I realized that I didn’t really like it at all. I couldn’t get myself to finish it, yet was unable to throw it away, either. By this stage, you see, I had already put quite a lot of work and time into it. Tossing it felt wrong.

Now, however, with hindsight brought about by additional months of sewing and many more bags, I could look at it more objectively. I could frankly admit that it is quite unattractive (hideous even!), a design mistake. These days, I probably wouldn’t have even purchased the fabrics of which this purse is made. I would never have started working on it, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have gotten that far along.

Additionally, I discovered a pile of cut-and-ready-to-sew bags. If I remember correctly, I cut them shortly before house guests arrived last year. Since my sewing room is also our guest room, I have to clear out of it whenever overnight visitors come. By the time our guests left, though, I had already moved on to other projects. Time went by, and I never returned to these unfinished purses.

Looking over them I realized that I still liked some (that summer travel bag I was about to sew for myself, for example!). Yet, I no longer liked others.

All of this was a mini revelation. I knew, of course, that creativity is a dynamic, evolving process, and that I, as an artist, constantly change. I just didn’t realize that things evolve that quickly. Yet, those unfinished bags in different stages of making proved that what appealed to me a mere year ago was no longer doing so now.

I often work on small batches of similar pieces. I dedicate three or four weeks to work on a series of six of seven handbags, for example. Or a week to sew several journal covers. Within each batch, every individual item is unique. I always believed that what dictated the one-of-a-kindness of my pieces was the physical limitation of my raw materials: for environmental reasons, I try to use mostly rescued, repurposed and upcycled fabrics. These often come in small pieces, and are not big enough for more than one, or–at most–two items. I actually like working on one-of-a-kind pieces, since their uniqueness requires constant designing and keeps me excited about creating. 

Now, however, I understand that what makes each piece unique is not only the physical limitations of my materials (i.e.–the size and nature of the fabrics I’m working with), but also the nature of passing time and evolving taste. A purse I make today, for example, will, by necessity, be different than a bag I will design a year from now. By next year I will have experienced new adventures and processed life (and art!) in new ways. I will not be the exact same person I am now, therefore the art I will make cannot but be different than the art I make at the moment. Each and every item I create, it seems, is a reflection of a fleeting, specific moment in time and in my life.

*****

You might want to know what I did with the unfinished purses I found. Well, I didn’t want to complete the olive-colored monstrosity shown above. The distance of time meant I no longer felt attached to whatever efforts I invested in it long ago. So I calmly took it apart. I saved the parts I can still use (the button,  for example, is beautiful!). The rest I deposited in a fabric-recycling collection bin. As for the pre-cut bags, I only kept those that I still want to work on. I will finish my travel bag, sooner or later! The other pieces went back into my fabric piles, to be used for future projects.

I realize that although I never finished some of these bags, working on them wasn’t a complete waste of time. I like telling my kids that making mistakes is not only human and normal, but also necessary. We all learn from mistakes. Like all mistakes, these failed handbags probably taught me a few important lessons. For one, they made it more clear to me what I don’t like in addition to what I do. That, I think, is something worth knowing!

A New Year in My Studio: My Renewed Studio Organizing Efforts

I returned from my travels energized and ready to work. So after a few days of unpacking and many loads of laundry, I eagerly walked into my sewing room … only to be overwhelmed by the mess:

Messy studio before reorganizing

As I mentioned a while back, I sew in our guest room, which only a little over a year ago served many family functions. At that time, it was good enough for occasional quilting, but, as I quickly discovered, was completely unsuitable for more intense sewing. In the ensuing months, therefore, I did my best to make the room more sewing-friendly. First, I evicted my daughter’s’ piano. Then I raided IKEA and purchased perfectly-sized cabinets to hold my growing stacks of fabric. I built them and painted them together with my kids, and was very happy with the result. Before long my studio organizing efforts bore fruit: I turned the room into a me-only zone (except for when we had guests), and warned the kids  against treading on anything important. It worked. For a while, anyway.

In my defense I must note that the room is rather small. Or at least–the portion of it that I can actually use. The bed alone takes more than half the space. The rest of the room accommodates my sewing table, cutting table (which is also a guest desk), my sewing/desk chair and the rocking chair, which our guests like using when here. When I set the ironing board up, I hardly have any space to move.

When I look at pictures of other people’s spacious studios, I get somewhat envious. But this little room is all I have, and all I am going to have in the foreseeable future. And I actually like it, really, with its warm, cozy feeling and it’s big windows overlooking the garden. I just have to make it work.

Over the last few months I realized that I don’t only need places to store my raw fabrics and materials, but also places to put the different projects I’m working on. I tend to work on several things simultaneously, and so almost all the time have products in various stages of productions. When I work on journal covers, for example, I work on a few at once. I have some that are cut and ready to sew, others that are partially sewn and ready to iron. I have those that already have interfacing, but which need a button. Others already have buttons but are waiting for loops. And each of these stages requires a little pile of its own. Over time, the piles multiply, my kids add torn things for me to fix, and in no time there is, once again, a ginormous mess.

Alas, there is no space for more cabinets or shelves in this room. In the last couple of weeks, therefore, I chose the next best thing. I ventured to Target, returning with a few clear plastic boxes and some plastic drawers. Normally, I don’t like plastic, but these seemed to be the best solution. I spent many days tidying, sorting, organizing and labeling. As a result, I managed to utilize every tiny space in the room. I put matched-and-waiting-to-be-cut fabrics in plastic boxes under the bed :

Underbed storage bins

Cut fabrics waiting to be sewn I stored under the cutting table:

New undertable plastic drawers to organize fabric

When I was done with my studio organizing all my materials had a permanent home, and the room looked a lot neater. Granted, I will still need the floor for bigger items, but at least I will have a place to put things when necessary. And I am working on some work-related New Year’s Resolutions, to help keep it all under control… For now, I can see the carpet again, and have space to breath. And that alone feels great! A new year, an organized studio!

No Time to Sew: The Big Cleanup

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the end of the school year marks the end of my sewing season. It doesn’t mark the end of work, though. In fact, I find summer to be a great time to catch up on many otherwise-neglected projects.

My creative work process seems to require a mess. Despite my many efforts to rearrange and clean up my studio, I just can’t seem to keep my work space tidy. It takes hours (days!) to put everything away. However, when I start new projects, items just naturally find their way out all over again… Different-colored thread spools start accumulating near my machine. Fabrics in different stages of cutting and sewing sort themselves into different piles on the bed or carpet, each waiting for the next stage. Metal hardware boxes lie open, waiting to be incorporated into bags. And on it goes. Here, for example, is a recent photo of my sewing table:

The truth is, that in order to feel at peace, I actually need my surroundings to be reasonably tidy. By “my surroundings” I mean my house, an almost impossible goal with three kids as roommates.

Hence, a few years ago we started a new summer-vacation tradition: “The Big Cleanup.” The Big Cleanup is just what it sounds like. It’s a thorough cleaning/organizing/rearranging of every single room in the house.

This is how it works: after the last day of school the kids and I give ourselves a couple of days to unwind and relax. We make no plans and set no rules. Everyone has time to do whatever they want to do, be it stay in pajamas all day, read on the sofa uninterrupted, or disappear behind a screen.

Then we start working. We work every day for about two weeks. Every couple of hours we take breaks for snacks, meals and the occasional rest. We set reasonable daily goals, and bribe ourselves with fun things to do in the afternoons (if we finish everything on time). The actual work is long and tedious. We get cranky, we have difficulty parting with some things. We fight, we grumble. But when the day’s work is done everyone feels great (or at least I do). The room we just worked on looks nice. The drawers and cabinets are all clean and tidy. We feel like we really earned that relaxed stroll downtown, or that tasty ice cream, or the coffee-house visit with its drinks and cakes:

And when the Big Cleanup is all over we celebrate by doing something fun together. This makes us forget the ordeal we endured over the last couple of weeks.

Finally organized! Installing and Stocking My Fabric Cabinets

It took a while, but I am happy to report that I finally finished my new fabric cabinets!

After building, staining, and letting them dry, we finally moved them into my sewing room. We set them up in the alcove, where the piano used to be, and they fit perfectly! Since I put them together stair-like, they don’t feel bulky, and don’t suffocate the narrow entrance. Their light color matches the other furniture in the room, and helps keep the space airy and bright-feeling.

I spent a couple of days loading them up with all my sewing materials. My different-sized pieces of fabric all fit in nicely, as if the cabinets were custom-made just for them:

I couldn’t be happier!! Thank you, IKEA! Finally, a well-organized studio 🙂

Now, Knowing myself, I’m sure the room won’t stay tidy for long–when I sew, I need too many things all at once. Furthermore, there is hardly any space in my sewing room to put partially-sewn projects. As a result, there is no better place than the carpet to lay out my work-in-progress. But at least now I will not have to move everything out of the room (which is also our guest room) once guests visit again. One hour of tidying up should do it.