how to re-start a tough project

Or, how I picked up a Very Complicated Coat Project that I started 1 1/2 years ago that was sitting, unfinished and unloved, in a dusty corner and haunting me every time I thought about starting a new project.

Working on the Gaia coat, by Small Bobbins

As part of the New Year stock-taking and reflecting on the previous year, I see a lot of sewists commenting on their renewed dedication to get through their pile of WIP’s and UFO’s (works in progress, and un-finished objects). It’s like we all want to start fresh. How can we move on and thrive if our sewing corners are full of piles of cut-out fabric, rather than complete garments that we can make use of?

(Of course, not everybody has a huge pile of languishing and/or abandoned sewing projects, there are some freaks out there who always finish a project before embarking on a new one. I salut those people for their focus!)

During Me Made May last year, I tried to get through a decent portion of my WIP’s after realizing that I was positively drowning in them. And now? Only one remains!

BUT! It’s the biggest and most intimidating WIP of them all. The Gaia coat from Named Clothing. By itself, it’s not a terribly complicated coat. But I had very grand plans of doing all the tailoring, adding interlining, using Very Precious Fabrics, etc etc etc. I cut out the pieces in October 2017 and then… totally lost my nerve.

I’m happy to admit that I am (slowly) making progress on it now. I felt like I reached an ultimatum moment with myself, plus my Cascade coat is ready to die and I really want a new everyday coat; “Are you going to finish this? If not, figure out a way to get rid of it and move on!

In light of this, I put together a little list of advice to hopefully help motivate others who might be feeling overwhelmed about getting back into an unfinished project that’s intimidating them.

  • Do not just jump back into it

Anybody with a bit of sewing experience has figured out that one of the biggest secrets to success with a sewing project is adequate preparation. As much as I wanted to just pick up my coat project and do something to get that lovely positive rush of productivity, I knew I needed to step back and assess what Past Kirstin had actually done.

  • Dig out every note and every pattern piece

When picking up a project after a long time, you’re coming from a place of disadvantage; it’s not fresh in your mind and you may have no idea what you meant by certain things, “why is this cut that way,” “did I already do this step,” “did I skip the interfacing here on purpose?” You need to first fight your way back to understanding where you were when you left off, and THEN you can start the project. It’s more work, unfortunately! Digging up any notes, no matter how sparse, taking out the paper pattern pieces, reading through the instructions again, can all do wonders with helping you to get in the mindset you were in when you started the project.

making pattern alterations, by Small Bobbins

  • Bonus: Pat yourself on the back if you took good notes in the first place!

I kept notes on the original pattern pieces, I diligently labeled each altered pattern piece, I have a notebook with several pages of notes on how I intended to construct the pattern, and I have a project card in Trello with even more notes. Maybe a little overboard, but way to go, Past Kirstin!

  • Look up pattern reviews and anybody who has made the pattern.

After a year or so, it’s likely that other people have gotten around to finishing the pattern (before you, but don’t let that get you down!). There might be a lot of new, valuable information on blogs, pattern review sites, Instagram, etc., that wasn’t around when you first started working on it yourself. Who knows, there might even be updated pattern instructions or a new sewalong. Do your research!

  • Don’t rush!

I’m giving myself a lot of leeway with deadlines for this coat. Sure, I want a new coat (really badly, ugh), but I don’t want to overwhelm myself. I survived 1 1/2 years without this coat, no need to drive myself mad trying to check this project off my list. I’ve been dedicating myself to at least one small step every day, and it’s enough to keep me on good terms with the whole thing.

  • Do your best to enjoy it,  and even try to make it fun again!

As I was working on this blog post, I decided to stage some nice flatlays of my coat, and re-write/re-illustrate my To Do list with nicer handwriting. And, you know what? It served as a good motivator! I was excited to work on it all over again.

  • Or, know when to let it go.

I have to admit, I’m overly annoyed by all the Marie Kondo hype, but I do think the saying should be applied here. Why did you keep this project around for so long, and why didn’t you finish it? If it doesn’t spark joy, find some way to let it go. No need to force yourself to work on something that makes you miserable, especially when most of us have such limited free time for sewing anyway!

Okay guys, I hope some of this was useful if you’ve found yourself struggling to complete a daunting sewing project. Just remember: YOU CAN DO IT! Sewing is our freaking superpower, and you are the boss, not that stack of wool! (ahem, that last part might be more for me than anybody else reading this.)