Mapping the Route to WIP List Success

January 17, 2023

Mapping the Route to WIP List Success

I’m Kaitlyn of Fritsch in Stitches and I’m a recovering WIP collector.  I am happy to share Mapping the Route to WIP List Success with you today. One of the reasons I started quilting was that it turns out that if you like buying fabric, you need something to do with it. Otherwise people start staging interventions.  In the beginning I ended up with a big stash of fabric that I bought because it brought me joy and a bunch of patterns to go with it, but not a lot of finished quilts! Over the past few years I’ve focused on finishing projects and refining my stash, which has lightened the mental load and allowed me to focus on joy in my creative habit.

Kaitlyn of Fritsch in Stitches

Mapping the Route to WIP List Success

I know that countless quilters start out with big dreams of crushing their WIP Pile in a given year, only to fall short. It’s a cliche in the quilting community for a reason!  I also know that by taking some time at the beginning of the year, you can cross projects off that list and feel successful whether you have full days to dedicate to the goal, or only a few hours here and there. I’m so confident that anyone can have success with the right preparation, and I’ve put together a FREE six-week WIP Camp email series.  It is full of all the tips, tricks, and resources that will help you make this year your year.

Three Simple Steps To Finishing WIPs

I’ve talked to so many quilters about how they tackle WIPs, keep their stash in check, and find success with quilting goals throughout the year. It can all be distilled down into three basic steps:

  • Know your habits and set clear, achievable goals
  • Make it manageable by keeping things organized
  • Have a plan that works for you

In physics, The Principle of Least Action, tells us that the path an object takes between two points will always be the path of least resistance. Human behavior is no different.  By taking a small amount of time now to figure out your strengths and roadblocks and make a plan, you don’t have to figure out what you’re doing each day to make your goals happen.  Your plan will tell you what the next step is on the path. If you keep coming back to that plan, the consistent small steps will get you to your destination.

Where to Start: Look at Where You’re Coming From

Especially at this time of year, we tend to get caught up in the “New Year, New Me” mindset.

“I’ll finish all my WIPs by December” you say aspirationally, pushing aside the little voice that cries out something about having 25 projects on your list and needing to keep your full-time job.

“My list is so short, I can definitely do it,” ignoring that you’ve been afraid to consider updating your list since lockdown.

The secret to successfully tackling that mountain of “To Be Finished” projects is in setting goals that are achievable. To do that you need to have a clear picture of your habits.  It may not be the flashy advice you’re looking for, but it’s the truth: your success is directly tied to your habits.  In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear shares a whole process of creating a “Habit Scorecard”. Then how to use this as a tool to make changes that positively affect the outcome you want.  It’s the same thing here. Looking at your habits and the way they help or hinder your efforts to finish outstanding projects will help you make changes to supercharge your productivity.  It’s necessary that you focus on clarity over aspiration here. What will serve you best is to be honest with yourself about the time and energy you have available and what fills you up. 

fabrics (projects) with coffee and notebook

Your Quilting Habits

Sit down with a cup of your favorite beverage and take a few minutes to think about what your quilting habits looked like last year.  You can jot your thoughts down on a sticky note, do some in-depth journaling, or grab the worksheets included in Week One of WIP Camp. The most important part is to be thoughtful about what you actually finished and your feelings about your projects.  Some things to think about:

  • What is a WIP to you?  Is it a fabric pull with a matched pattern, or are you only counting projects that you’ve actually started cutting?
  • How many projects did you complete last year?  How many did you add to your list?
  • Do you gravitate towards a certain size or type of project?
  • Which projects are you most proud of?  Which ones make you feel joy? Are there projects that you set aside because you no longer liked them or felt they weren’t worth the challenge?
  • What are your quilting habits?  How much time and energy do you have to dedicate to your projects? Do you tend to stop/stall on a project at a specific step in the process?

Make it Manageable: Organize The WIPs You Have

Once you’ve taken a few minutes to evaluate your habits, it’s time to move on to what might be the scariest part. That is sorting through your WIPs/UFOs.  There are 3 main things you want to focus on here:

How many WIPs do you really have, and what stage are they in?

Figure out what that number is, no matter how scary it might feel.  Take some time to separate out each project. Figure out what stage you’re at and what you still need to do.  I find it helpful to make some notes on a label that I put on the outside of my project bin, so I can see at a glance what needs to be done.  There’s a lot of options here. For example, a quick note that you slip in the bag or box or a journal with the notes for each project.  I’ll be sharing some printable options in WIP Camp in the coming weeks too.

plastic containers with projects

Make It Manageable COnt.

What projects bring you joy, and which ones are bringing you down?

It’s bound to happen. You start a project that you love, and by the time you’ve made the first few blocks, you’re not feeling it anymore so you stick it in a box on a shelf where you can ignore it.  I’ll let you in on a secret. In most cases, you don’t actually have to finish projects you don’t like. Sure, if you’ve been commissioned to make a quilt, you’ll need to persevere. However, for most quilters this is a hobby, and as far as I’m concerned, a hobby should prioritize joy!  If it’s not making you happy, find a quilting friend or guild who will pick up the baton and carry it across the finish line for you.  If that doesn’t work, you can repurpose the cut pieces into a different project or donate the fabric through a local Buy Nothing group or to a school art program.  Make space for exciting, new projects by giving those less-than loved ones a new home!

What supplies do you need to finish the projects that you are going to see through to the end?

Have a look at what you’ve kept and figure out if you need anything to see the project through to the end.  I’ve found that the number one way that projects continue to be “In Progress” after I’ve picked them up again is finding that I don’t have all the supplies I need to get them done! Figuring it out ahead of time means that I can buy things in bigger packages (looking at you, zippers) and can keep an eye out for sales on the items I need.

Map Your Path to Success: Small Steps and Reasonable Expectations

Now take your (hopefully shorter) list, and write it down.  There’s a lot of options for WIP Trackers out there. You can grab a basic one for free from my website here. Once everything is written down, look back on the insights from your journaling and set your goal.  You need to decide here what’s most important for you to feel successful.  Will you be as happy with 3 finished projects and 10 WIPs that you’ve made progress on? Or would you be happy with 6 entirely complete projects?  Once you have that number nailed down, you’re going to make a plan with approximately 5 smaller goals that will get you there.  Brendan Burchard calls this charting your five major moves. Each major move is a project or bucket of activities that can be broken down into tasks and deadlines that can be scheduled.  The smaller goals give you the dopamine hits along the way to keep you moving forward and the stretch goal gives you a challenge to strive for.

Need an Example?

 This year my WIP list has 10 items on it to begin. Based on the way I work, I know I will try to finish one WIP for each new project I start. My goal is to make sure that when I transfer my WIPs to next year’s list, there are no more than 5 of these original projects left on the list. Last year I finished 8 quilts, but my son started school in the fall. So more than half were finished in the back half of the year when I had more alone time.  I also know that I have historically made more tops in the start of the year. I love binding when it starts to get cold, so I have planned to pump out quilt tops in the first part of the year. Then I will send them out for longarm quilting over the warmer months so they are ready for binding in the fall.

A few tips to think about when you’re building your plan:

  • If your goal is finishing WIPs, include them in your plans. But, you don’t need to make them the entirety of your sewing for the year (unless you want to!).  Some people will commit to finishing one WIP for every new project they take on.  Others will set a timer and do 30 minutes of work on a WIP before they move onto another, newer project.  Keeping what you’re working on fresh will make finishing those projects that are hanging over your head feel more manageable and keep you focused on the end goal.
  • You’re going to have periods when other parts of your life take priority or you need a break. Build this into your plan so you don’t feel guilty for resting.  This is called “Clean Rest” and it’s vital for continuing to be energized in your projects. (You can learn more about clean rest from Sam Laura Brown’s The Perfectionism Project Podcast).
  • A good plan includes interim deadlines to keep you on track.  Set actual dates that you want to have each step of your plan completed by. Then set a reminder in your phone or write it down in your planner.  It’s easier to get back on track when you’re 1 project behind at the end of a month than it is to be 6 projects behind on December 1st!
  • Success is easier with friends.  Whether it’s joining a quilt-along or WIP challenge like WIP Camp, or just finding a friend or family member to be accountable to- sharing the journey with others is a proven way to make the work feel easier.

Then all that’s left is to EXECUTE

Refer to your plan regularly and make sure you’re on track to meet those interim deadlines.  Again, it’s not a flashy or romantic notion, but research shows that consistency trumps intensity when it comes to achieving a big goal.  Remember that your success is directly tied to your habits. The one habit you really need is consistent effort.  Consistent effort is easier when you have a plan.

By working through these steps right now and developing a plan for the coming year, you’ve mapped the path of least resistance to finishing the year with more finishes and a feeling of achievement.

I’d love to have you join me for 6 weeks of positive, WIP-smashing energy in my FREE WIP Camp.  Sign up here and you’ll get all the information I’ve shared so far delivered immediately.

Free WIP Camp

I’m looking forward to seeing what you create!


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