Chaos and Order - Walking the WIP Tightrope

After a big event, I always fall into a bit of a black pit. Last month, I arrived home from an amazing two weeks in the States, and now that the jet lag is clearing, the clouds have descended! The other side of this trip was always going to be a bit of a 'promised land' for me. My mind was full of good ideas for what I would have time for after I returned, and now that I'm here, I'm blank! I can't remember why any of them excited me. I can't pick just one and enjoy it with certainty and abandon.

WIP tubs

The Post-Event Slump

It reminds me a little of being a teenager and coming home from a school camp. For a week you're being entertained, experiencing new things, you're fed and the dishes are done for you and you come home to your annoying siblings and parents wanting you to do your homework and chores. It's hard re-entering normal life again! 

I also experience it after a product launch. For weeks, I have a very clear goal, which provides such clarity to my days. I love having something to look forward to, something to work towards. And then, once it's over - crash!

Perhaps you've felt it after a big exciting move, or retiring from work, or the kids leaving home, or finishing a quilt, or even having a baby. The big exciting thing you were working towards and looking forward to is here and reality sets in. You've lost having something to look forward to.

Chaos vs Order

In ancient times, this rollercoaster was expressed through myths and legends as the struggle between chaos and order, a completely normal part of human experience and nature and even organisations. Chaos can show up as emptiness, a lack of structure, or it can be more literal messiness or violence. It can be an empty lawn just waiting for a garden, or it can be a housing crash. It can be starting a new job, and it can be a marriage ending. It's where opportunity and inspiration come from, but throw in too much of it, and it's a dark place. 

Order, on the other hand, is structure, routine, certainty. Create it in the right measure, and it provides peace and trust and the ingredients required for financial prosperity. The right amount might be a helpful routine or meal plan, a steady job, a faithful partner. Too much and people can't express new ideas, create change or be free. Too much is Nazi Germany. 

quilt tips on my WIP ladder
close up of WIP tubs

Finding a New Spark

Before QuiltCon, I had a great balance of chaos and order. I had a clear vision which formed my days. I didn't spend too much time wondering what the right thing to do was. I had a goal, I had a list, and I also had upcoming adventure and possibility.

Now that I'm back, the goal and the list have dissolved, and I find myself on the other side of the coin. I have my old demanding routine back. Meals to cook, kids to get to school. And, in my creative life, I am at sea. Rudderless. Uninspired. Anxious. And, in my experience, whenever there's too much chaos or the structure is too boring, when there's no goal to work towards, or no project that's captured my attention, direction and spark don't come just by thinking really hard (which is a pity, because that's what I've spent the last week doing!). I need to rebuild it by DOING.

I find times like this are perfect for going through my quilty works in progress (WIPs). I have so many new ideas and so many quilts on the go that it's too hard to narrow down on any one. But, if I just spend a little season finishing off quilts that are so close to the finish line, I usually find that this act of tidying up, clearing out the space they hold in my head, leads to a clearer sense of direction for the next season. 

WIP tubs
WIP tubs

Striking a Balance

So today I went through my WIPs and made a list. I have a mix of projects that range from new ideas just tried out with a block, to quilt tops just waiting for ironing. My plan over the next several weeks is to finish as many as I can that don't need a new pattern. I'm not committing to any launch schedules just yet. But, I will let myself play if the whim hits. The point is to develop a bit of a plan for the year, by clearing out the last remnants of quilts from last year (or the year before!). 

I have 17 such quilts in my WIP collection. Fifteen are photographed in the WIP layout at the top of the post, and two extras are on the ladder. Two of these WIPs are one pattern, Wintergreen, that needs a pattern and kit update, so I'm not sure if I'll get to those. I'm just laying them out in case they create any spark. 

WIPs on quilt ladder

Beware of Too Much Order

At times like this, it's tempting to create a little too much structure. To make a rule like "nothing new until I've finished all these" or "pick a quilt and don't put it down until it's done." It's appealing in a season of chaos to fight back with even more order. But, I've discovered that when I do this, I just feel more trapped and eventually, less inspired. My goal here is just to create movement, and then eventually, direction. I'm following the adage, "You can only steer a moving ship." 

In the past I have used helpful rules like "Finish 2, Start 1" which are great if you've started to feel overwhelmed by your WIP count, and want to reward your finishes with a new quilt on your 'To Make' list. And, I've thought about setting aside one day a week to baste and finish a quilt. Perhaps, I will still use that last one. Right now, though, I feel reluctant to commit to any rules. My motivation is so wary, I don't want to force it. I just want to tidy up to create the right environment for it to flourish. 

Meadowsweet WIP
Willoughby WIP

The Next Right Thing

As I look over my WIPs, I do see a pattern. I usually stop at the end of a roll - I stitch and stitch and stitch, and then I get to the point where I need to make a decision - usually what backing or background fabric to use - and then I put it away and find something else with easy progress. So for many of these WIPs, I may not finish them, but I'll try to do the next right thing. Make the fabric decision, iron the quilt top, baste the next round of shapes, unpick that joining shape I don't like so I can choose one I do. If that leads to a finished quilt, that's great! Often getting across that big hurdle makes all the other steps flow together easily. But if it doesn't, that's ok too. There's enough cooking meals and getting kids ready for school in my life without me turning my quilting life into one long chore list! 

As I make my way through my WIPs, I'm going to blog about my process, the things that hold me back from finishing, the quilts that get my attention, and collect them here. I hope they inspire you to rediscover old quilts and the joy you found in them, as well as start new quilts without guilt or fear that they'll never be finished. Quilt WIPs are such a great way to learn what captures our attention, what holds us back, how we enjoy to make, and what parts are worth skipping over. They should never be a source of shame. 

Want to read through what I've already shared about my WIP process?

I've written a few blog posts already about my WIP process and compiled them. Click the button below to read more!


  • Tales of Cloth

    Hi Deborah,

    That quilt is called Nutmeg! The pattern can be found in the Hexie Handbook, and the paper pieces and acrylic templates are in the shop!

  • Annie Rose

    One thing that has been working for me to get out of a slump is to alternate between a big project and a small project. There is something motivating about doing a quick, simple piece. It gives you a sense of accomplishment, so you can tackle that next bigger project. I also have scrappy projects that require no deep thinking. I keep these for when I hit a road block on a project. One is a strip quilt on telephone book paper foundations, and the newest one is making Duckworth strip blocks (relaxed log cabins requiring no measurement of strips).As I quickly crank out blocks, I calm down and relax. After a day or two of these, I’ve usually figured out a solution to my bigger stumbling block or I’m ready to finish up a big project. This process works for me. My UFOs/WIPs container has shrunk from 18 projects to a remaining 6 in the past two years.

  • Rachel Hauser

    Hi Jodi! I just finished catching up on this post and your QuiltCon debrief. You may be feeling a little rudderless in your post-event slump, but your writing is soaring. I am loving these blog posts! I absolutely know what you mean about the post-event slump. Your insight to stop over-thinking and start moving, without making fixed rules seems spot on to me. That would help me too! You can only steer a moving ship – genius!

    The other day I had the thought of sewing a simple squares quilt with “anything goes” scraps. What?!?! I probably need something like that to just clear my head.

  • Deborah Fields

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about WIPs! I have quite a collection of them myself. I tend to try to take myself in too many directions and then wonder why I can’t get everything done that I want to do! In my instance, I fail to admit that I am not a “spring chicken” and don’t have the same energy level I had in years past!
    I am really enjoying putting fabrics together for the ICS large quilt. I have only completed one block (my Swan block) but have all the parts ready to sew 6 blocks together so whenever a space in time appears I can stitch. Thank you for stressing there is no deadline!!
    I really like the quilt you just showed that has a large hexie in the middle, then triangles, then diamonds turned sideways. I love the way the block forms a square when it joins with another block!! Does it have a name? Will you be making the pattern available??

  • Janet Deschamps

    Jodi- thank you for being so open and vulnerable about your quilting journey. It’s nice to know it’s not just a smooth ride from point A to point B! I get in those funks sometimes too. I’ve found that sometimes I just need to tidy up my sewing room, to see some clear counter space. I’ve just finished some design and pattern writing and quilt making for our quilt shop and then prepping for a class I’m teaching. I’m looking forward to getting back to some sewing for me! And working on finishing up my Hexie Harvest and starting my Ice Cream Soda. Trying to live in the day I have and remember that projects will be worked on in due time! Thank you for sharing your processing with us all!

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