In Part 1 of Time-Saving for Quilters, we talked about the importance of preventive maintenance for all quilting tools, machines and other equipment. In Part 2, we looked at physical space and that storage hog, the stash. Part 3 was about making sense out of the chaos. In Part 4, we talked about making the workspace more functionally efficient by keeping it tidy. In Part 5, we get down to business!
Lesson 5: Intention and Focus
To use studio time most efficiently, it is essential to know what you intend to do before you get there! Wandering into your private space/time for quilting without a clue in your mind as to what you intend to achieve is, if not a thoughtless waste of time, at least not a directed and intentionally good use of it. And probably most of us hardly ever do that!
We most likely have some idea of our direction before we enter that place of creativity. We have seen something online, at a guild meeting, or in a magazine or book that caught our eye and we hope to explore that idea further. Perhaps we have a bit of new fabric to enjoy dreaming about, or maybe we are already busy with a project that is well along its way to completion.
Dreaming and thinking time is every bit as important as planning time and doing time. Each of these activities is part of the whole creative process of making patchwork quilts, whether as fine art or as soft furnishings, and no part of the process should be shortchanged.
While you dream and think about your next quilt project, think ahead about the planning and doing parts of the process.
If you have only fifteen minutes in your studio, make every minute count. For example, in fifteen minutes, you might measure a piece of fabric to make certain it is enough for a project you have in mind. You might check your supply of notions to see whether you have any red ribbon to finish off a work in progress. You might spend that time sorting and arranging threads by color so it is easier in future to find what you want.
Spending fifteen minutes actively engaged in any of these or similar constructive studio activities is time well spent, not time wasted.
Then, it is one thing to find yourself with fifteen minutes of unexpected free time and quite something else to plan ahead to include those fifteen minutes into your schedule. Schedule if possible, of course, but be prepared to use unexpected free time wisely.
How? By thinking ahead!
Every time you leave your studio, your private creative space, think about what you intend to accomplish next time you enter that space. Carry with you, either mentally or by writing it down, an agenda of activities that need doing.
For example, as I write this article, I am working on a wall hanging quilt already titled “Heart of Africa.” I remember exactly what I did the last time I worked on the piece, and I know exactly what I need to do next. I also need to drop back to Part 2 of this series, and spend some time cleaning out and reorganizing my fabric stash.
The next phase of work on the quilt needs about three hours to accomplish. I could easily spend a full day sorting out my fabric stash, but if I work on it shelf by shelf, drawer by drawer, I can accomplish much in smaller chunks of time. Whether I find or schedule time in my studio, and regardless of whether I have fifteen minutes or five hours, I already know what to do when I get there.
Think about when you might next be able to spend time in your studio. If you do not keep a calendar, give it a try. Keeping a calendar and setting up reminders may prove more useful and productive than you expect!
If you keep a calendar, add studio time to it. Set reminders to alert you when it is time for you to be in your studio, and resist the temptation to ignore those reminders.
We all tend to rank studio time lower than many other activities, especially those that are family and household business as well as outside jobs. Your creative time is important, too, and if scheduling studio time helps accomplish creative goals, then do it.
Plan ahead for shopping, too. From one brief work session, you may learn you need some yellow fabric. Plan ahead to buy that fabric when you shop for household furnishings or groceries, or when you pop out for a haircut or other trip that takes you out of the house. Doing so means you neither delay work on a project nor have to make an unplanned shopping trip–a real time waster!
If a project calls for special materials, tools and supplies, plan ahead to source those things in advance of the time you intend to spend in your studio. There is nothing more frustrating than having to stop work while you shop for materials or have equipment repaired. We already discussed keeping machines and tools in good shape, well serviced and prepared for hard work.
Forgetting to buy materials simply because you neglected to write down a shopping list is equally inexcusable in terms of efficient use of time. Keep a written shopping list, on notepad, tablet or phone, handy at all times. Write down whatever you need to buy, and then forget about it until you shop again. Buy only what you need and get out of the shop as quickly as possible. “Free” shopping time is a luxury for another time, not a purposeful quick purchase of only what you need now, and it can prove expensive in money as well as wasted time!
The common theme of all this discussion is to do all dreaming, thinking, planning and shopping in advance of the time you intend to do the cutting, piecing, quilting, finishing and embellishment of a quilt. When you enter your studio to take action, the space should be fully stocked and equipped. Likewise, your mind should be clear about what you intend to do and how you intend to do it!
Know, before you get to your studio, what it is you plan to do there. Have a specific project or task in mind, and go to your studio to complete, or at least move forward with, that activity.
Know how much time you have to spend in the studio for your next session there. Is it thirty minutes, or three hours? Know in advance how much time you have, and set realistic goals of accomplishment for each time period.
Goal setting need not be a complicated process. It may be as simple as saying to yourself “I want to put the binding on the current project quilt today” or “I want to spend an hour reading my new magazine and looking for a gift idea for my cousin’s wedding.”
If you do not accomplish as much as you had hoped during one session, simply pick up where you left off, with a modified perception of how much you should accomplish, in the next session. In this way, the work always moves forward.
Consider carefully, before you get to your studio, how you intend to accomplish that task. Is there more than one way to do the job? Is the method you have chosen the best choice? What difficulties might you encounter as you do the job in that manner? You can answer questions like these as you take laundry from the washer and put it in the dryer, while cooking a meal or while standing in line at a check-out counter at the local supermarket.
Once you commit to performing a particular task in a certain way, do not deviate from that decision unless it is truly necessary. Backtracking is a huge waste of time.
Your time is better spent thinking through all potential obstacles before you arrive in your studio than to begin working in one way, then decide that is not the best way, then choose another way and perhaps have that method fail as well.
Make up your mind early about what is the best way to do the job, and then do it that way! If you make a mistake, you know it and you learn from the experience.
One at a time
It is far easier to begin a new project than it is to complete an earlier one. Why is that? Because, for many of us, the dreaming, thinking and planning parts of the process are more fun than the cutting, sewing and finishing tasks. Everyone loves to dream. Books and magazines are lovely to see, and imagination is king!
There is a cure for this potential problem, though. Dream, think and plan as you will. Then, schedule the work for some time in the distant future, say, six months to a year from now. Or, simply know that when the project you work on today is completed, you can choose from amongst several new ones you already evaluated.
Postponing projects until you truly have time for them works on your behalf in several ways:
- It gives you new projects to anticipate even as it encourages you to finish the current project so you can get to the next one. Your interest level remains high, and there is some pressure to get on with the work at hand and finish it. This is healthy discipline; use it well!
- It helps refine your interests. Projects that look so good today might not be so appealing in six months or a year. Those that are truly wonderful are the ones to launch and complete when time permits. The others naturally fall by the wayside.
- It gives you time to source materials and supplies. Be careful about this, though. Do not immediately rush out to shop for fabrics you may not use because you changed your mind about the project. Wait to shop until your current project is near completion and you know for certain which is the next project you intend to make.
If possible, never begin work on a second project until you finish your current work-in-progress. Instead, work on one project at a time from conception through completion. This keeps all materials and tools needed for that job close at hand, keeps you mentally focused, and reduces the number of UFOs.
Many at a time
If you are a prolific quilter, you may increase the number of works-in-progress to three, but no more! You should never work on more than three quilt projects at a time. That is plenty of work for any quilter! If you truly want to save time, reduce that number to one and stick with it.
For example, an art quilter might have three projects in the works, only because some design challenge arises that needs mental time for resolution. While dyeing for or piecing a second project, the artist’s mind is on the design problem of the first one that is at a later stage of development.
Leave such work in progress on a design wall, where you see it every time you walk past. The mind percolates information and perceptions change subtly with time. When the time is right to return to the work, you will know better what needs to be done next. That knowledge prompts you to re-engage quickly with the work and move forward with it.
If you follow this pattern, you may also define the projects by task. For example, you might work out the mathematics of one project by measuring, calculating and figuring fabric requirements and a cutting layout. A second project may be at the piecing stage and a third one ready for handwork, perhaps awaiting completion of a binding or attachment of a label.
Even so, it is easy to see how a quilter’s priorities can become muddled, work gets set aside, efficiency falls dues to confusion and the stack of UFOs grows exponentially!
In truth, you can work on only one project at a time, so why clutter your studio, your mind and your efficiency jumping from one to another project?
Pick a project, assemble everything you need to complete it, then set to the task, keeping 100% focused on that project until it is finished. When the first project is done, be ready to begin immediately on the second project. Keep clear-headed and stay focused on the work at hand!
Are you the kind of quilter who has several projects in process at once? Are there projects that stalled for one reason or another? If so, how does that make you feel? Do you have a sense of stress about finishing any of those projects, or perhaps only need to clear some storage space in your house?
If you have UFOs at the moment, choose one and move forward with it. Make a decision either to complete the project or to dispose of it. For the decision to complete the project, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the work salvageable?
- What will it take to finish the project?
- Do you have, or can you get, everything you need to finish the job?
- Will you love the quilt when it’s done?
Perhaps the UFO is an old project, something you would never initiate today. If finishing this project is a matter of duty or obligation, if you are not excited about completing the quilt, or if you have no other good reason to do the work, seek and find an alternative solution.
Either give the work to your local guild or quilt shop and let them be creative about finishing the work for charitable uses, or dispose of it in some other constructive way. If the project is not a love of your heart, it does no good to force yourself to complete the quilt. You finish something you neither like nor care about, and what good is that? You will give it away in either case!
If the project is worth saving, the first step to completion is to discover what factor caused this project to stall and become a UFO. Perhaps it’s a shortage of a particular fabric, or maybe you lack the technical skill to complete the work. It may be that a design issue is unresolved, or perhaps you lack a special foot for your sewing machine.
Figure out why you stopped work on this project, and then tackle that problem, not the project itself, head-on. Once you resolve the problem, the reason why the work stalled, you can return to the project and move forward with ease and confidence. For more about how to resolve and complete a UFO, see Quilt Chop and Liquid Gold.
Finishing UFOs is like unblocking a stalled production line in a factory. It eases the forward movement of the work stream by opening physical space in your studio and mental space in your mind. It lifts the burden of obligation that can depress your efficiency. It lightens the load, both of mental pressure and the amount of work to accomplish, so that you can move forward to embrace new activities without feeling guilty about the ones you left behind!
Working with all these ideas in mind, make more time for quilting by using the time you have more efficiently and effectively:
- Think ahead: use free mental time to dream and think about what you want to accomplish.
- Plan ahead: keep equipment and tools ready and do all necessary shopping before you begin a new project.
- Stay focused: work on one to three quilt projects at any given time, but give each one your total concentration for the tasks at hand.
- Finish those UFOs: one at a time, complete or discard every UFO in your studio to make a clear space, a clear time and a clear mind ready for work on current projects.
Time-Saving for Quilters is an 8-lesson series of blog posts, reprinted here with permission, similar to the kind of instruction students receive at QuiltEd Online in all of our online art quilt classes. Read the entire series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 and the remaining posts to follow in sequence in coming weeks. Subscribe to QuiltEd Online News to receive notifications of these and other useful quilt blog posts!