Tips for Defeating Project Overload

| Comments
Share on FacebookPin on PinterestTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneBuffer this page

I should know better than to leave soft sweater knits laying on my cutting table for more than two minutes with a cat around.

My last post on fabric stashes and their effect on creativity was something that I thought about a lot this last week. There were so many good comments on that post, and it was really nice to know that I’m not alone. One comment in particular, from Julie, got me thinking of sharing a few thoughts and tips of my own that help me to get through times that feel creatively challenging. If you have some of your own, please add them in the comments! I always love hearing how someone else works towards a more productive and happy sewing/knitting/crafting life.

The way that you choose to do this is up to you. I made a list on my computer that broke my projects down into six categories. Yes, these are my actual category names:

  • In-process items to finish: These are those half-done WIP’s that you lost steam on along the way. As you find and list them, think about your feelings towards each project. Is is unfinished because you decided you hated it? Then throw it away! If you won’t like the finished garment, there’s no reason to waste your precious crafting time to finish it, no matter how much time you’ve already poured into it.
  • Items I have the fabric and pattern for: Once I finish up items from the first list, I can move on to anything under this category, because I have everything I need to start and finish them. It can be a good idea to bundle the notions, pattern and yardage all together so they’re easy to grab and get started on.
  • Items that I have the materials and idea for, but no pattern: That fabric yardage or yarn that you bought because a brilliant idea popped into your head when you saw it? That goes here. I like to write down the yardage I have, and also the idea, so no matter if I end up buying the pattern or making it, I don’t have to question how much I have. Going back to measure the yardage slows you down! As you buy patterns, you can move fabric from this list up to the next category.
  • Items I have the pattern for, but no fabric:Β Let’s say you want to make a few more shirts from your lovely Renfrew patternΒ or a couple of tank tops. Whenever you have the itch to buy fabric, look for fabrics that you can use with patterns you’ve already tried and love, so that it doesn’t sit there, unused. By relying on already tried-and-true patterns, you’ll be more likely to dive in and finish your project, since you know you’ll like how it turns out. As you buy fabric, you can bundle it up with the pattern and move it on up the list!
  • Mending: We all (at least I hope it’s not just me) have a project that made its way back into a sewing basket because either a seam popped, a button came loose, or a sleeve needs shortened. Oftentimes my mending pile grows because I’d rather work on something else than a simple mending job, but getting it out of my room is important to keeping my space clear and my project options open. Bonus? Most mending takes 15 minutes and you feel accomplished when a pile leaves your sewing room!
  • Things I’d like to make: Sometimes an idea gets in your brain and you can’t stop thinking about it. Instead of rushing out and buying the supplies and adding to your plate, write them down as a “some day I’ll make this” option. You may choose to draw these instead of writing them down, to better process your idea.

As you go thru your projects, patterns and fabrics, think about how you like to spend your sewing time. Do you really want to sew with that suit jacket material that you’ve had for 2 years, or are you holding on to it because it was such a good deal? Let it go! Get rid of it and make room for something that inspires you. Have you kept a certain pattern for 5 years and never found the time to make it? Chances are you don’t even like the pattern anymore. Give it away and make room for something better!

On my “in-process items to finish list” was the burgundy knit Jul hat from my last post. I finished it and it felt sooo good to cross off of my list!


Under “items I have the fabric and pattern for” was my Lola Sweater dress. I also finished that, and it is so comfortable. I want to make more! I like it so much that I’m teaching a class on making this dress with a serger at Modern Domestic.


Lola-detailI promise that I was ready to go and use the fabric that I had showed you in my last post. If you can’t remember what it was, it’s the sweater knit that Duncan decided to take a nap on at the top of this post (he’s lucky he’s so cute). It’s a nice heavy weight that’s napped on the back. It feels amazing, and I was excited to make a Lola out of it.

The fabric didn’t have much stretch to it though, so I knew I’d have to buy the ribbing that the pattern calls for, instead of making bands out of self-fabric. I went in to Rose City Textiles and searched and searched, but there was nothing that would match it. Everything was either too white or too yellow. It was really hard for me to not come home with some more sweater knits. I love them so much, and RCT always has the best selection to choose from. I carefully considered my list though, and walked away. There will always be more fabric to love!

Overall, I’m pretty happy with how the List of Things I Can Make Right This Very Second is helping me to choose projects. Yes, I brought home one new pattern, but that’s only because I already have the fabric to go with it. Now I have moved that fabric and idea from the “Items that I have the materials and idea for, but no pattern” category to the “Items I have the fabric and pattern for” list.

I will conquer my fabric stash! What are you doing to work your way through your projects?


  • These are such great tips– it’s really helpful to think about projects in different categories. One thing that helps me is to reorganize my to-do list seasonally. I find I lose steam when I’m sewing things at the tail end of a season because I know I won’t really be able to wear them, so I bump them from the list and move on, which helps my productivity.

    • Thanks! Yes, the categories have helped me a lot. I used to make one giant long list, and that was really overwhelming. I could never remember what I had supplies for and what I still needed to get. I do like the idea of also organizing it seasonally. Maybe I’ll set a date on my calendar to revise my list every 3 months so that I also don’t experience the same “why bother right now” project fatigue. Thanks, Ginger!

  • Hmm maybe I should add categories to my list! I’ve had the idea of collecting everything I need for the projects I can make, but my problem is where to put them while they are waiting, so I don’t forget them or lose something.
    And that dress just looks so cozy, I could do with one of those πŸ™‚

    • Do it! That way when the baby gives you 15 minutes of time, you can grab something and go with it instead of searching for all of your pieces.

      I know one seamstress who puts everything for a particular project in a plastic bag, which she hangs on a hanger. That way it’s not stuffed in a bin where it can get lost, and it’s easy for her to flip thru her closet of projects and take the one she wants to work on.

      And the dress IS cozy! Maybe TOO cozy… it feels like I’m wearing pajamas and I want to nap all day!

      • Ah that’s a very good idea, if only I had a bigger closet! πŸ˜€

  • jpavey84

    Thanks for the great advice. I favorited this post so I can come back and reference it. I love the knitted hat. Are you on Ravelry? I am Tanknit on Ravelry. -Julie

    • You’re very welcome! I know I always appreciate this information from other people, so I thought it was time to share. I hope it helps you to make your way thru your projects. And yes, I am on Ravelry. I’ll go add you!

  • French Toast Tasha

    I like to draw out my ideas. Even though I have had to accept that I will always have more ideas than I can make (sigh), I’m trying to accept that as a good thing. If I sketch out a design, it gives me a release of creative energy, and a way to remember what I was thinking of in case I decide later that it IS something I need. Maybe more importantly, it gives the idea enough validation that I can let it go, and free up space in my head!

    • I love to draw my ideas out too. Especially if I get unique piecing in my mind, I have to draw it out before I lose it. It does clear up space for more ideas, I agree. How do you draw yours out? I make technical sketches, because that’s what I’m used to since I was a technical designer for a show apparel company. I like to make very specific drawings so I know how I intended for the piece to be constructed.

      • French Toast Tasha

        I get the feeling that your drawings are a lot more technical than mine! Although I can accurately draw parts of a sewing machine (I illustrated a sewing e-book) and even on a good day the human hand (I do my own illustrations for my knitting classes), my garment-idea sketches tend to pretty simple, and often messy. A lot of times I’ll sketch something I see someone wearing, or a design that pops into my head, and it has to be pretty quick, since I’m usually doing something else at the time. But as long as I get down what it was that I liked about it, enough to trigger my memory when I look at my notes, it’s ok by me!

        • My drawings are very specific. I like to list details of my ideas with the sketches too, so that I know exactly how long a seam is or how wide a hem is. I’m probably too particular! Messy can be better though, I think, because it doesn’t put an idea down in concrete. It’s up to “future you” to re-interpret the idea.

          • French Toast Tasha

            Well, I think if you had such a concrete idea, it would be worth recording all of it! Mine are just a sketch, sometimes two if I the back view isn’t obvious or I want to make note of a specific detail. But I do try to capture the core of what I wanted it to be.

            In either case, don’t you think writing notes are a real form of time-travel? I think about that a lot when I go back and read my notes, that the past-me is communicating into the present . . . which is pretty cool.

          • I agree that looking over your notes can really take you back. Sometimes I find old drawings and wonder why in the world I ever though a certain garment would look good on me! It’s interesting to see the past thought process for sure.

  • Sandra

    Thanks Amy, I’m going to try it. It may just what I need to get more sewing done. I really enjoyed reading the other comments too. Great ideas.

    • Yes, do! It is really helping a lot and I am getting much more done. I hope it works for you!

  • LSV

    I love this!! I rediscovered sewing a couple of months ago, and find myself needing a plan – I have been very productive, but I need a comprehensive way to look at what I want to do next! Excel, here I come πŸ™‚

  • Awesome tips Amy. I’m pretty good with not taking on more than 2 sewing projects at a time. My mind can’t handle it and before adding another to my plate, I complete or throw away my current project.

    Great Lola dress and I love it paired with the beanie πŸ˜‰ You look ready for winter!

    • You are much better at me with your project load then! I get too excited about new ideas and buy everything to make whatever I have my heart set on at the moment, and then change my mind about working on it the next week. I hope to be able to be as on-top of my projects as you are!

      And thanks! The Lola dress is so so comfortable, and I’m going to knit at least 2 more of these hats. It’s a really great pattern. Do you knit?

      • No, I don’t knit. I attended a basic knitting class once at work and was absolutely horrible!

  • Jen

    Dude, I am copying your categories and making my lists RIGHT NOW! I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed lately with everything I need to get done, I feel like making these lists will really help to get things squared away, at least in the project zone!

    Love the hat and dress together, sooooo cozy!

    • GOOD! πŸ™‚ I hope it helps you to feel like you’re back on track. I made lists, upon lists, upon lists before I finally decided to make very specified columns. It’s helped me a lot, and I hope it works for you!

      And thank you! This outfit is so comfortable! Now I’m considering making a Scout dress in a sweater knit, which would be amazing.

  • Pingback: Remembering / Amy Alan / Really Handmade()