What Makes You Stall (and what to do differently)


For many of us, there is a pattern.  A pattern of projects started and never finished.  A pattern of aspirations and good intentions, followed by the frustration of never quite arriving. 

Or maybe, never really getting started.

If this is not you, if you enjoy your process, if you thrive on many works in progress (however many!), if you're already in your groove, don't let anything I say here mess with that.  Kudos to you for finding your path!  Enjoy!

But, if you resonate with the experience of stalling, petering out, losing momentum, then this post is for you. 

Why do we stall out and what we can do about it?  


I'm going to say this first, even though it's the most controversial.  You have to make yourself a priority.  

Look, I agree that life is not about "me, me, me".  It is a blessing to be a blessing.  However, you can't simultaneously give all your time and energy to your family or your job or whatever, while also magically enjoying some creative leisure.  If creativity and making are going to be part of your life, they have to go on the list.  That's right, YOU have to go on the list. 

Is your sewing hobby the least important thing in your life?  Ok, then it probably won't happen.  Let's be real.  There's a lot to do and when push comes to shove the last thing on the list doesn't get done.  

For many people making is part of self-care.  It's part of sustaining wellbeing.  Out of that wellbeing you are your best self, able to give and serve and just plain live to a fuller measure.  If that's how it is for you, please, please, please put making on your list of priorities.  Give it the attention it deserves.  Imagine saying "no" to a few things in your life, in order to make room for yourself to breathe.

Hand quilting.jpg

Slow down and breathe.


Some of us are more likely to stall on big projects than on small projects.  Why?  I think for me it's about perspective.  I tend to focus on the finish as a maker, because a finished, me-made item makes my heart sing.  If the finish is so far off, so hard to see, I can't use that carrot to pull myself along.  I feel lost, like I'll never arrive. 

As this is one of my stall outs, I'll lean on a reader, who took the time to share her beautiful perspective with all of us:

No matter the size, I make quilts because I love making quilts. I love the process — all the processes, from planning to choosing fabrics, from cutting to making blocks. Therefore, making a big quilt is not daunting, because it simply offers me MORE of what I love.

I liken it to reading an excellent book that happens to be many hundreds of pages. People might say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to read that book because it’s too long.’ But if you love to read, a long book is a GOOD thing: more of what you love. Same with quilts.

Break it down into processes (chapters), and enjoy each one individually, even as you link one to another to another. And voila, a story...a quilt...emerges.
— Catherine Toth

I do enjoy a good, long novel, so perhaps I can bring the same presence of mind to enjoy my longer quilting journeys.

photo by  Pixabay.com

photo by Pixabay.com


Maybe you're more of a project butterfly?  Do you have trouble maintaining focus on one project?  Are you always chasing a new idea? Inspiration is wonderful, but when you look back at a wake of unfinished projects, it's likely your satisfaction drains away.

For most of us, new and shiny turns our head, but doesn't fill the soul.  With social media, there is always something lovely to see, some new wonder admire, an invitation to join.  This gift can also blur our instincts.  We forget what projects really matter to us, what our hearts truly want to make. 

Clock square.jpg

Step one is to look less and make more.  Decide how much time in each day you'd like to take in inspiration.  15 minutes?  30 minutes?  An hour?  Don't forget to count all those quick bits on your phone! 

When you have the chance, choose to make instead of look.  What you're already making is so much more likely to bring you joy than seeing what everyone else is doing today.

Lastly, keep a list of next projects.  This is your priority list.  It helps you remember and be intentional.  When you are inspired to add something new, find it a slot in your list of next projects.  What do you have to move down in order to make room for new?  

Creative Block

I know I stall out sometimes because I simply don't like what's happening.  It's not coming together.  It doesn't feel right.  What should I do next?

I let this project marinate when I hit a creative block.  I ended up somewhere different and better.

I let this project marinate when I hit a creative block.  I ended up somewhere different and better.

This one is simple - ask for help.  With social media creative friends are just a few clicks away.  People love to chime in when you ask for feedback on fabric choices or design layouts.  You don't have to wait until the next guild meeting! 

Don't know where to start?  Instagram is rife with quilters.  Use the hashtag #quiltersofinstagram to find and build some relationships.

OR... Just let it peacefully marinate.  A creative block can be good reason to "stall" in my book.  Letting it sit for a few weeks, a month or more might allow you the space to return with fresh ideas.  If returning soon is your intent, maybe don't put it all the way away.  Out of sight is out of mind...


Do you quit because you loose interest with the project?  Here are some tips for staying engaged. 

  • Choose fabrics as you go.  If fabric selection is one of your favorite parts, don't enjoy it all at once.  Try selecting your fabric library for a project, but saving specific fabric choices for the process.  
  • Don't mass produce.  Choosing all the fabrics, cutting all the fabrics, sewing all the flying geese, etc. - that's the factory approach.  It's efficient, but can be less-than-engaging.  If boredom is your enemy, complete one block at a time.  Each block is its own reward.
  • Choose projects with more flexibility.  Traditional quilt blocks can feel repetitive.  Have you tried improv piecing or improv settings for traditional blocks?  My Rosie quilt is an example of traditional blocks arranged improvisationally to keep me creatively engaged.
  • Change your plan.  If you're bored, do something different... with what you've already started.  Add more colors, alternate blocks, try on point settings or improv settings.  There's a world to discover!
I use lots of scraps, so that I don’t seem to do the same block twice. I think it’s about keeping the creative juices at work. If the quilt is too predictable, I lose interest.
— Jill Day

Wishing you ever more joy in your making!


This post is part of a series:  the Big Bed Quilt-Along.  We're sewing along February - April 2018, but you can use the resources anytime to help you make a large quilt.  Use hashtag #BigBedQAL to share your progress!