July 2022

Covering Quilts

UFO, PHDS, and WIPS, oh my! Finding and finishing your unfinished projects

by Sandra Starley


What is in your work room?

If you are like most quilters, you have lots of partial projects, leftovers or orphan blocks lurking in your sewing room. Does it seem like you have started a college with all the PHDs you have stashed away? You may not know all the quilting lingo, but you likely have many of these items. First, let us define some terms: UFOs = unfinished objects, PIGs = projects in grocery sacks, WIPS = works in progress, PHDs = projects half done. You have probably noticed a connection with all these terms: projects started and then discarded. Why not start a search-and-rescue mission to find and finish those orphaned items or give them a new home?

Time to round-up the orphans and finish those projects!

First step – do an inventory of all those bags, baskets, and bins and see what treasures are hiding away. You will most likely be surprised at how many projects are almost done. Decide what needs to be completed on each; for example, make two more blocks, sew finished blocks together, quilt, sew on binding, etc. It is exciting to have projects you can now easily finish by doing a task or two.

UFO quilt

Home of the Brave

“Home of the Brave,” created with UFO blocks from several different classes. 42” x 42.” Sandra Starley, 2002 (Pattern available).
Image courtesy of the author

Second step – figure out which projects you WANT to complete and how you want to finish them. You may have started a quilt in a workshop and made a few blocks, but they no longer appeal to you. Perhaps you learned a skill or technique from that class, and you can now pass the blocks on to someone who will use them to make a fabulous quilt. Or maybe you don’t want to make the full quilt, but those four blocks would be perfect for creating an awesome project bag for another quilt.

Third step – find new homes for the projects that don’t spark joy. Unfinished projects have a tendency to weigh you down and make you feel guilty. Keep the items that make you smile and find new purposes or lives for the others. Guilds often have fundraising yard sales or collect orphan blocks for charity quilts and would love your blocks or tops.

Start playing!

Remember quilting is supposed to be joyful. You can gather up those partial blocks and have fun creating a scrappy back for a top that is also waiting to be finished.


Challenge yourself to learn some new skills that have you stuck on a particular UFO. Why leave a quilt half done because you are missing the perfect fabric? Find a creative solution even if it is outside your comfort zone. Or trade tasks with a quilting friend. If binding is a dreaded chore for you, while your buddy loves it, work on her piecing while she binds your quilt. You’ll both get those PIGS done and out of the grocery sacks. Look at old projects with new eyes. Envision those orphan blocks as mini quilts, mug rugs, pillows. Now they can be quick gifts instead of projects half done. Applique a block to patch your jeans or adorn a jacket and you now have a fashion statement instead of UFO!

Strength in numbers

Challenge your guild or quilting group to work on creative finishes to those neglected projects. Work together to motivate progress and keep one another sewing. You can organize a UFO challenge and have prizes for those who complete their projects. You will be amazed at how much you can accomplish working with friends. SEW ON!


Sandra Starley is nationally certified quilt appraiser, quilt historian, and avid antique quilt collector. She travels throughout the U.S. presenting talks on antique quilt history, fabric dating classes and trunk shows as well as quilting classes. Learn more at utahquiltappraiser.blogspot.com. Send your comments and quilt questions to SandraStarley@outlook.com