Facing the WIP Dragons

Do you find yourself avoiding your quilts in progress? Do they make you feel uneasy? Ashamed? Silly that you even started? Read on to discover my little trick for facing your WIP Dragons.

WIP tubs

"There be dragons..."

I remember the day I learned about dragons in fairy tales and what they represented. I felt like a whole new way of understanding my life (and a plethora of Disney movies!) opened up to me. 

Dragons feature a lot in ancient stories. St. George is a good example. He happened upon a village one day that was being terrorised by a dragon. The village had been offering him sheep to keep him from running riot, and when they ran out of sheep, they started feeding him children! When George arrived, it was the King's daughter's turn to be offered, and George stepped in, offering to kill the dragon and save the girl. When George faced the dragon, ready to fight, he noticed smooth skin, unprotected by scales, aimed his spear there, and slayed the dragon. In some of the stories, St. George makes a bargain with the town beforehand, agreeing to kill the dragon is they become Christian. In others, he wins the daughter as his prize. Both of these endings are pretty distasteful to our modern ears, and so we tend to discount fairy tales (and many of the Disney movies they inspire) as simple, outdated, and misogynistic. 

But, fairy tales and legends didn't develop out of stories that actually happened, representing a snapshot of backwards ancient values where the women were weak and need rescuing from towers, or from when they were currency or bargaining tools. And, the dragons weren't there just for the men to show off their muscles and win the girl. 

WIP ladder

The heroes in these stories represent you and me. We're going about our daily lives, when suddenly an opportunity presents itself. That opportunity in ancient times was usually represented by a virgin or gold. They stood for possibility, fertility, new growth, wealth. But, just like in The Hobbit, the opportunity is only available to you if you can face the dragon. There's a big, stinkin' challenge in the way of your opportunity, and you have to be willing to fight it first if you're going to get your prize.

Jodi quilting

Facing My Own Dragons

When I learned this meaning behind many ancient stories, I started to apply it wherever I could. I looked for areas in my life where I was 'losing sheep' quicker than I could produce them; where I had the opportunity to face it and end the chaos before it started 'eating children'. One such opportunity I found was in our morning school routine. I spent an hour each morning wrangling the kids to get ready, looking for socks, reminding them to stay focussed, deciding what I could rustle up for lunches. It was my least favourite part of my life, and I turned up to work afterwards exhausted. 

One day, I remembered the dragon and realised I could face it. I stopped what I was doing one evening after the kids went to bed and looked at the problem until I had a solution. The next morning, I showed the kids a star chart. I told them that if they got themselves ready without a fuss before 8:30 (the time we had to leave), including making their own lunch, they got a star. If they were ready by 8, they got 2 stars. When they got 10 stars, they earned a dollar. FROM THAT DAY, I never had to nag, look for socks or make a school lunch again. I sat for a while, drank my coffee, got myself ready for work, and then we all got in the car 5 minutes early and went to work and school. Gold!

Willoughby quilt in progress

WIP Dragons

So what the heck does this have to do with quilting, you ask? Good question! 

Over the years, I've been applying the same principle to my quilt WIPs (works in progress). I've learned that the longer I tend to leave something, the more dragon-like it becomes in my mind. I start to actively avoid it. I start to think the job to finish it is too big, too much of a hassle, requires too much headspace or discomfort. And so now, instead, I try to face it

In facing it, I don't necessarily have to do anything, and I definitely don't have to finish it next. I just need to pull out the WIP box (I keep all my WIPs in separate tubs or archive boxes), and take stock.

Maybe I make a list of how many blocks I have done, and how many I have left. Maybe I see that the next job is to choose a joining shape fabric, and so I spend 30 minutes auditioning options. Maybe there's something in there I don't like, and it's time to make a decision about whether I unpick and replace it, push ahead, or offer to give it away to someone else who might enjoy it. Usually I find that I was on such a roll until I almost finished the quilt top and realised I hadn't made enough edge blocks, or I'd left them till last. Once I make those edges, the quilt shrinks from its dragon-status and becomes beautiful and easy again.

hexie harvest with pink joining triangles

Facing the Dragon of Disappointment

Decisions on what to do next are my most common kryptonite. I was happily enjoying stitching away without thinking, and then I come to a point that needs a decision, but the decision isn't easy or obvious, so I put it away for later. 

One excellent case in point is my Hexie Harvest Quilt. This quilt was a bit of a dragon for me the whole way through last year. I bought the Firefly fabric at the beginning of the year to make the Hexie Harvest quilt along with my club members, but once it arrived I had my doubts. It was a bit bright and monochromatic for my taste. I didn't know how it would work as a sampler quilt, and I thought it probably suited a more regular patchwork design better. But, instead of facing my discomfort and deciding whether to change course, I pushed ahead. 

Sometimes I get stuck in the idea that as a quilt designer, I should make lots of different versions of a quilt, even if I don't love them, to appeal to a wide variety of tastes. I've mostly dropped the idea, but this time it weighed in. I started making blocks each month to keep up with the group. And I put my lack of motivation down to the fact that I'd already made the quilt a few times, and I was a bit bored of it. I ignored my discomfort about the colour palette, trusting that if I chose the right background fabric and laid it all out well, it would end well.

firefly Hexie Harvest quilt

I decided on this pink background fabric because I wondered if what it needed was to embrace the colour. Skip white for the background, and go with something that would keep it loud and happy. Black? Teal? I didn't really have the right shade of either so I went with pink. I cut all the triangles I needed, basted them, and then gave the project to my mum who sews for me a few hours a week. When it came back, I laid it out and my heart sank. I really, really didn't like it.

And so, this WIP has sat in its box, in my WIP cupboard, snarling at me anytime I came near it. But, now I've given myself enough time to accept the challenge, forgive myself for my mistakes, and return to it clear headed. Today when I opened the box, I knew what I had to do. I needed to unpick the pink (unpink!) and replace it with white.

firefly hexie harvest quilt

Permission to Make Quilts You Love

I feel good about this choice! I feel stronger, more clear headed. Like something weighing me down has been dealt with. And, I've learned from my experience. I'll try not to make quilts I'm uncertain about, and only dive into the ones I CAN'T NOT make. This means being willing to start something to try it out, and then being willing to let it go and not finish it if I don't like it. Also, I'll just baste a few triangles and test it first next time, before going all in!

Let me remind you here, I am ALL FOR having multiple quilts on the go at once, especially EPP quilts. I think the variety gives you the chance to joyfully stitch through different seasons and moods, head-spaces and circumstances. And, I'm glad that I put my Hexie Harvest WIP down for a while. I wasn't in the right frame of mind to face that dragon in the moment. I needed to let go of my disappointment about wasted time and wasted fabric, and focus back on my permission to make quilts I love. Life's too short and full of dragons to make quilts you don't enjoy.

Do you feel ready to face your WIP Dragons?

I would love you to show you the WIP tools I've made and take you through the process of going through your WIPs, making some decisions, and tidying up for easy progress. Check them out below!


  • Robin

    Jodi, I have never been a blog reader, but yours always seem to help me thru tough spots. Thank you so much for your blog post!

  • Elaine Schmidt

    I loved your email about St. George and the dragon, and I want to thank you for the way you’ve reached out and touched my heart at a time when my quilting life really needed it (and so did I!) I read it to my daughter, who’s working through a tough year of trying to find work, and she loved it too.
    Thank you!

  • Helen
    Another lovely chat with you about a very topical subject,most helpful , love what you’re dragon is going to turn into,it will be stunning .I am putting in place your wip management system, I have used a similar system for awhile but yours is more organised❤️ many thanks Jody.

  • Helen

    Thankyou Jodi for your tips tips I have been using a similar idea for awhile but yours is much better and I will be adopting it instead,I have the forms bound by office works into book form this is my permanent record of my quilts and a good reference to look back on. Many Thanks Helen

  • Christine Drewe

    Thank you so much for your blog posts, they give me a lot to think about and I love your point of view.

Leave a comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.