Good habit of the month: One project at a time


When I start a project, I almost always finish it. That’s never really been a problem for me.

So you would think that multi-tasking and working on several sewing projects at once would be no big deal, in that case. They all get done eventually, and I’m usually in no rush.

My problem is subtly different, though. It’s the projects I don’t start.

Let me give you an example. Say I’m working on a new pair of pants for myself. I realize I need more thread and run to the store to grab some.

While I’m there, I notice a sample cut of gorgeous silk in my favorite shade of terra cotta pink. There’s only one piece, and I imagine making it into that flowy skirt I’ve been daydreaming about. So I pick it up. On the way to the register, I also see they have a really cool new zigzag jersey print which would make great undies, so I grab just a little of that.

A few days later, I finish my pants, and guess what? Something else has caught my eye and I forgot about those spur-of-the-moment sewing plans I came up with in the fabric store. Thus, the ever-growing stash.

Don’t get me wrong, I love when fabric inspires me like this! But I don’t love that feeling that I can never accomplish all of my ideas.

This is a recurring theme in my life: more ideas than time to work on them.

So for this month, my good habit will be buying supplies for one project at a time. When I finish that, I’ll move on to the next. I’m sure I’ll have to abandon a few ideas along the way, but so what? I can’t get to them all anyway.

Tell me, are you pretty good about finishing everything you dream up? Or are you more like me?

Sarai Mitnick   —   Founder

Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.

Comments 65

Theresa (Miss Charlotte)

I am like you in the sense that I see all of these new ideas, but perhaps I have a bit more will power. No, that’s not it…I know I have not a single ounce of will power. I guess my secret weapon is….wait for it….an empty pocket book. Yes, that’s it! I’m utterly and completely broke most days, so that little spool of thread is about all I can muster. But, oh! The ideas! Yes, I have that same problem. Good luck! Cheers!


This is a cool habit to work on, I don’t think it’ll work for me though because I don’t have a fabric store close to me so it’ll be silly for me to drive all the way to buy fabric for one project each time. I also like to have extra fabric at home so that if I’m inspired to make something I can go to my closet and start the minute I want to!
I wish I had a close fabric store, it would make my sewing life a lot easier!

anne w

Nope, tht’s me too! I go into the store for zips and thread & come out having spent £50 on fabric I want but do not need. Ah well, I guess I’m supporting the local economy. :D


Well, I do think it’s important to support our local shops! And of course, often times you can save money if you buy things on sale and whatnot, so I don’t think this approach will always be practical.

But sometimes I get into a pattern of buying way more than I’m making, and that can actually be demotivating, oddly enough.


I agree that buying more fabric before you even get started on a planned project can be demotivating! I look at the large stash of fabrics I own and think – at the rate I sew- that it’ll take a long time to get through it all. I’m impressed that you finished the Clover pants; knowing me, I would’ve forgotten about the pants and started sewing something with one of the newer pieces of fabric or something random from my stash. Need. To. Focus!

elizabeth rehmer

I am with you–sometimes i have so many projects on deck I spin my wheels and feel overwhelmed and end up doing more shuffling things about than sewing. I think I am going to heed your advice and not purchase items for more projects until i complete more of the “on-deck” items!!


Yup I go to the fabric store just to see and for some reason I am always attracted to the remenants section! I cannot leave the store with at least a yd of something! Usually enough for a Sorbetto! And yes the fabric stash keeps on Growinggggggg LOL


I am exactly like you. I try to go to the fabric store with blinders on, and end up peeking at other things that aren’t on my list, and before I know it I have five new projects lined up for myself that I really don’t have time for. I will grab fabric out of the remnants bin (75% off!) with no real plan for them other than, “hmmm, this would be good for _________”. Then it comes home and goes in a stack of ever-growing fabric that I will never do anything with. What a waste! Like you said, it is important to say “so what!” and not push myself to buy it just because it is there and on sale and “could” be a good project someday.

Great post!

annette tirette

I always have way more projects on my mind than I could ever accomplish, but find that waiting on it for a bit can actually be a good thing. I often buy fabric with something in mind, but later come up with an even better idea for it. The same with ideas in my head or notebook: sometimes they seem like a really good plan at the time, but after a while they just quietly disappear into the background, in favor of better plans.


Hoo, this is such a problem for me! I’m usually sewing for a show as well as personal sewing, so 2 projects at least at a time. I try to make sure one is straightforward and the other is a challenge, so the straightforward project is like taking a break and I use the time sewing that to think about my work on the other project.
This also means about 2-3 trips to the fabric store every week. VERY easy to get distracted. I used to figure as long as I had a pattern for the project I was buying I was OK. Eventually it would get made. Fabric with no pattern or project in mind always sits forever in my stash. However, I have so many of these that my goal this year is NO new fabrics or patterns unless I get rid of something else to make room. To help me, I catalogued my fabrics and wrote which pattern I intended them for. Hopefully I have some success!


I have way more ideas then time. My biggest downfall is what I call craft ADD. I start and get half way through more project then I care to admit. I do finish them at some point, but it’s usually months (and often up to a year) later then I planned.

I like to think, that my scatter-brain approch lends itself to high quality creations. Since I start and stop a lot, the work I put into somethign is usually fresh and really good. If I push to finish something, I tend to get sloppy at the end for the sake of finishing. (old college fashion design habits die hard)

Shawn Schumacher

Ugh I have so many to do projects on my WIP shelf! All things I want to do but the pile of projects always seems to get bigger. Yesterday I had a finish! And a start , score is even!


No matter how carefully I try to plan a season of sewing, I always get distracted by new patterns/fabric/ideas. It’s like sewing schizophrenia. I’m fairly certain that I will never sew half the projects currently on my list. Sometimes I think I should be more disciplined. But then, since sewing is a hobby for me, why shouldn’t I just sew what I want when I want?


Yes, that’s the other pull, huh? You don’t feel like being disciplined about it, because it’s supposed to be your fun time!

I think once it starts to feel a bit overwhelming with all the ideas that don’t get done, that’s when it starts to make sense to be a little more conscious… for me, anyway.


This is one of the few good habits you’ve discussed that I’m actually good at! I plan out about two or three projects in advance, decide what kind of fabric I want and then go to the fabric store. I like all my fabric to be contained in one plastic tub, no huge stashes for me.
What really helps for me is to have a file where I write down ideas and inspiration. Based on that I plan a project that I can be really excited about and I know I’ll love. Planning is the key!


This is a good habit for me this month as I tend to get easily distracted as well. This year I am trying to stay on course one project at a time and only shopping from my stash, except notions. But now before I enter the fabric store I have to have a list in hand with EXACTLY what I need. No straying from the list. I am trying the same thing at the grocery store – those unneeded cookies or fabric will not enter my house. This month at least ;)


I’m quite like you! I have tons of ideas, but what with school and the other things that end up distracting me I can’t finish them all. Add to that my rather short sewing attention span, and you can imagine all the unfinished projects lying around… But I’ve been trying to fix it.

I bring a little notebook exactly for those ideas that pop up during shopping or whenever. They might come in handy at some point, and I can always look for a similar fabric later on :D (And it helps me stay not-broke, haha)


I’m totally like you! In fact, I’ve come to realize, that maybe I enjoy the process of acquiring the fabric as much as using it. I’m trying to be better at “shopping my stash”. BTW, I just bought your book and I love it.

Joy Nevels

I have the same problem – but in reverse. We recently “cleaned house” and found lots of fabrics from projects past. I have been finishing projects from cloth that I have recently purchased but the stash is still stash (it’s not growing but I’m not using it). My New Years resolution is to use the stash for what it was originally intended for but for some reason I get much more excited about the new stuff I bought.

Cari Homemaker

You’ve just described my habits exactly. I keep telling myself that there will be other nice fabrics and plenty of ideas to come down the road, but the stash growing is definitely outpacing my sewing speed.


Well, as far as I’m concerned, being broke and a slow seamstress (due to a full time job in a city quite far away from home) successfully prevents me from buying the whole shop when I go to the fabric store…but it doesn’t prevent me from thinking, “Oooh, this 25€/m Liberty cotton would make a lovely Sencha blouse”!


I tend to do the same thing. However, I have a dry erase board by my sewing table that has my project list. As soon as I get home I add them to my list so that I do not forget about them. Do they always get made, no, but it has increased the number of them that do get made substantially and decreased the random fabrics in my stash.

Joy Nevels

I have dry erase boards – I have a calendar that I use but your idea Melissa makes more sense to me, that should help me keep track of the different projects that I have going on.


Definitely a bad habit I need to work on! I’m great at coming up with ideas for new projects and then great at buying the supplies for several projects at a time. By the time I’ve finished the first project, I’m already obsessing about another brand new project idea so off I go again to the store! Thanks for highlighting this one and showing me the error of my ways :-) Will definitely work on this!


I don’t think I’ll ever get it down to one project at a time, but I have a huge backlog of things half-done, or planned but not started. If I’ve bought the pattern and the fabric, I tend to think of that as an unfinished project even if I haven’t done any cutting or sewing on it yet. I think I’m gradually getting better at finishing – but it’s easier to finish something recently started than to go back to some ancient idea and get it done, so clearing the backlog is hard.


I think I am in the same boat. I do generally finish the projects I start and I don’t have a large stash since I have only been sewing a few years, but I have started to notice things accumulating that I really, really wanted to make and then got distracted. I too am focusing more on these projects this year and less on the new. It is going to have to be a “need” or a very “huge want” to be a purchase, and even then like you I am going to try to at least finish what is already cut out and on the sewing table.


I’m like many of the commenters and suffer from severe craft ADD! I recently started a 2013 sewing projects list in Evernote to keep track of the ideas I have. I also keep an image and pattern details for every pattern I own in Evernote (whether downloaded from the internet or a tissue pattern in an envelope), so I can easily browse my pattern library when I want to make something instead of running out to find a new one. And I’m trying to get better about shopping my stash too. I have a small binder of fabric swatches and try to keep my unused fabric tidy and organized so I don’t forget about any of it. My sewing area is tiny, and I’m running out of space!


I am not sure of what Evernote is but I believe which is the sewing version of Raverly has some of the same capabilities. I have been intending to use my account to track all this information!


Jessica, thanks so much for the tip! I had not heard of before.


Exactly what I experience!
But I’m sort of going cold turkey since I’m no longer allowed to buy any fabric/yarn/lingerie elastic/any sort of weird sewing supply of which I think I really really really need it when I don’t…
ince I moved homes and discovered I do not have 1 box of projects I want to do, but 3 boxes I decided I needed to finish all of these before I was allowed to buy more stuff. ‘Cause those 3 boxes indeed are overwhelming!

Linda Kennedy

You’ve just described my shameful little secret!!! I end up having so many ideas/patterns/projects/stash fabrics and yarns that my head hurts. It’s one of my new year resolutions I’ve blogged about. One thing that helps me is that I now keep an ideas book. I’ve got a big spiral bound notebook with a pretty design on the cover of course and in it I write down any projects or ideas I have. I draw out ideas as well in it. If I’m out and about and an idea suddenly explodes into my brain I just note it down on my phone and transcribe it later. Having something like this sort of takes the pressure off the feeling I have to make everything in the world.

Now I’m trying to marry up what’s in my stash with my ideas book :-)

Linda xx


Sarai, you encapsulated in your piece my exact problem too. Distractability. But combined with energy and commitment means we accomplish so much too.



Oh this is so exactly my problem too! I get so stressed by the thought of all those great ideas I’ll never have time or inclination to actually act on, knowing they’ll just stay in my head forever. I probably need to start a notebook to put them in or something, anything to get them ‘out’ where I can park them until I’m ready to move from one thing to the next. But yes, just buying supplies for one thing at a time is a very good habit to cultivate too! Hope it helps…

Truly Myrtle

oh I am sooooo like that! It’s a grand plan though – now if only I could stick to using the mountains of fabric I already have… then I could happily go out and buy more, for one project at time :)


Ooooo… I’m not sure I could manage this. I mean. I suffer the same level of ADD while shopping for yarn and fabric. I have a moderate stash. BUT, I’m also really good at working from my stash as I replenish and add to it. (rationalization…)


I have this problem as well…thus the 15 cubbies of an Expedit bookcase that are filled with fabric…plus more in another cabinet. And you are exactly right – all of that fabric sitting there detracts from your motivation! It’s like a mountain that feels like it will never all get sewn.

Because of it, I’ve set a strict budget for my crafting (mostly sewing and knitting) and have vowed to sew more yards than I buy this year. I’m simply not allowed to buy fabric unless I use some of what I already have. Perhaps I should’ve been a bit more strict with myself and gone for negative yardage intake instead!


Jess, I love your idea of negative yardage for the year. I might actually make that a goal of mine for 2013!


I so wish this was a problem but the scant number of fabric stores in a 70 mile radius from my home sell so little half decent dress fabric that its a problem even finding something to make the project I do intend doing, let alone fabric for imagined projects!! I do have heaps of patterns though in the hope that one day I will find fabric to make one of them.


My 5 year old daughter told me the other day,” Mommy, why don’t you just finish one dress before you start the next?” Out of the mouths of babes. I am trying to finish items I started long time ago and have sewn 3 dresses since Dec. ! I did buy a t-shirt and fabric for my 8yr. old and made a quick twirl dress. My goal is to teach my girls to finish but mom has to change herself ….


I see projects on the internet, blogs, magazines, tv shows…you name it, and I get excited and then begin ying all the things it will take to make the project. One of my neices told me she thinks I like the hunt more than I like the sewing. Before Christmas I made the decision that 2013 is the year I actually enjoy the sewing. Your article is very timely, and I’m so glad that I am not the only person who does this. I love getting your emails every day – thanks for being so generous with your time and talent.


Actually, I’ve thought about this a LOT in 2012, not so much from a fabric buying point of view (probably since I too don’t have a good store close by), but just trying to come to terms with the fact that I won’t ever have enough time to make everything I’d like to. Because the list of what I would like to make is pretty much infinite!

I have been giving myself a set amount of time to sew every day, and I’m finding that it also helps me figure out how long things actually take, so I have a better idea of what I can realistically get done in a certain amount of time, and then I (hopefully) don’t set myself up for disappointment by trying to sew more in one season than I ever could.

My goal is, since I can’t sew everything (sigh, still hard to swallow!) I will prioritize, so whatever I need most is what I make next. I’ll try to balance using fabric from my stash with getting new, depending on if I have what I need to make the next project.

Rae @motherhood handmade

Yes. Though I ‘m usually a two-project girl- one that require more attention, like sewing a top or a quilt, and one that I can do while sitting with my husband watching tv- I was cleaning the craft closet and found many too many works in progress. LOVE this habit (and good to hear I’m not alone! )


I’m doing something similar and am trying to plan my fabric purchases out. The thing is, most of the time if I don’t buy my fabric right when I see it, it gets purchased out from under me. (Shakes fist at Garment District.) I think I more often regret not buying fabric than I do buying fabric—I’m apparently very good at restraint.


I’ve just recently started only going to the fabric store for notions that I don’t have in my stash, in an effort to reduce impulse buying. The cruel fact is that it takes me much less time to park, hunt for fabric, stand in line to get it cut, pay and drive home than it does for me to churn out a project. You’d think the wait in the cutting line alone would dissuade me as in “I have x projects languishing in the wip box! Do I *really have time* for this?” but I still add to the fabric and pattern stash. Then sale coupons seduce me and I’m back to where I started. A large stash!

This year my res-sew-loution is to keep to two projects at a time. For every new project do a wip project. Only buy fabric if I have a pattern already in the stash. And. gulp. maybe just maybe only buy fabric if I have a pattern that has been tested. For now, I have been okay with going only for notions and I have to work on avoiding sales. To really *think* about these res-sew-lutions before I get things cut/purchased.

If this can cross over to the home life, then I will ease into no more new things to clutter the house. IKEA and Container Store are making a bundle off the penchant to own and hoard. Instead of my countless storage boxes, I should do the above. And really clean and purge the closet. For every item sewn, one can go to the donation pile.

Easier said than done but great that we are hashing this out! :)


soo much like me! i get stuck in the planning phase and freak out during the cutting phase– usually thinking oh gosh, what if i didn’t spend enough time at the drawing board?


I often have too many ideas at once and don’t get to them. And, more often than not, sewing for myself is interrupted by a sewing need for one of the kids: pajamas and clothing in general for my 3 year-old son in particular, since he has no hand-me-downs (all other kids and cousins are girls), or sewing for my 12 year-old daughter who is spouting at a weed-like pace and has the height for women’s clothing but not the body and isn’t interested at all in fashion. Occasionally I am inspired by fabric in the store or by something I find online, but usually I’m trying to play catch-up to all my back-logged sewing for myself.

To help me stick with what I have I try to avoid going to the fabric store unless I need thread or buttons, and I’ve tried to organize my projects into bundles with all the things I need (fabric, pattern, zipper, buttons) together so that I can avoid the need to go out in the middle of a project. It sort of helps, since it keeps me out of the local JoAnn’s but it doesn’t keep me from browsing online….

The other reason I don’t finish projects is that I get frustrated/depressed at the fit. Like I’ve been trying to get the fit right on the Jasmine ( I need an FBA) but 2 muslins later it doesn’t seem to be working out well for me. I had to put it aside, which kills me, since I really want to make it. Maybe I’ll take it up again later in the year.

Victoria Callas

Oh, you’ve totally described my behavior! The only thing that stops me from covering all my flat in not planned fabric purchases is… my purse. I’m pretty sure that if I got fabric for free, I’d be real fabric hoarder (the kind that can’t step into her flat anymore, as it’s fully filled), haha.

It’s silly but I always make an excuse to buy unplanned yardages telling myself that the fabric store is a bit too far to visit often (my favorite one is 2 hours of drive from my home) and their working hours are crazy (not working on weekends- seriously?…).


I’m a binge sewer, so I actually do think that I am more productive if I accumulate all the materials so that when the mood strikes, everything is ready to go. Last June I needed matching zippers and it took me until October to get around to buying them. So I try to have a stash of pre-washed fabric and lining, I buy matching thread whenever it goes on sale, and I keep an assortment of invisible zippers around, bought in bulk from But I do prefer to cut and sew just one project at a time.

HOWEVER, my stash is ridiculous. Last year I bought 40 pieces and used 25 pieces, and that’s a big improvement over the previous two years.


I have the same problem of you… but not only do I buy more fabric than I need with ideas to use it but I also hoard patterns. I have so many patterns I haven’t even touched! In fact, in April I bought swiss dot to make a Violet but I haven’t even gotten to it because I’ve made some dresses and a Negroni for my boyfriend. Being a student and all, I sew whenever I can but I’m trying to sew at least 15 minutes a day because I can sacrifice that much time!


I have a similar problem. I often start buying materials for patterns I’ve only drafted about halfway or haven’t drafted at all! So I get it in my head that I’m going to do all these great projects and then when I go to do them I realize I need to tweak some things. It’s kind of anxiety-provoking too because I’ll be in the store trying to think abstractly about some to-be-realized projects and debating how much I need, when I could just get what I had planned to come for!


I have the exact same problem. My unfinished projects remain unfinished really for as long as it takes for me to stop being lazy, but they eventually get finished. But in the meantime I decide to shop the Garment District and find a nice fabric for stupid cheap and I just cannot not buy it…

But I’ve learned to cope with it by just buying fabric that I can make in-season garments with. So in the winter, I only allowed myself to buy wool and thick/heavy fabrics. I’ve been able to slowly bust my stash this way.


I do the exact same thing, with the addition of putting off working with the fabrics I like the best for fear of messing up the project (although less of that as I realize that I’m finally getting the hang of this construction and fitting bussiness). This year I’m trying to make a point of using up some of my stash, even the stuff I worry about ruining. Maybe as second run-throughs of patterns though, haha.


Nope, that’s me too. I run in for one small thing and come out with about four or five other fabrics and they just keep multiplying. The fabric is starting to overtake my room leaving me nowhere to sew. Funny thing that!!


It took me a lot of determination and exercise to stop multitasking. My rule of thumb: Don’t start a new project (meaning stop buying additional 10 metres of fabric, patterns or beautiful button etc) before you finish one! I stopped when I realized that my stash is bigger than I can sew in many years. But also, that the fabric I purchased in the past does not always correspond to my current taste. You know what happened when I stopped this bad habit? My bank account feels healthier and I feel richer:)


That’s a great point about losing interest in old fabrics. I think the problem for me is that the sales marketing makes me think “I’ll never get it again for this price!” and I get suckered into buying things to get the “deal.” I have to remind myself that deals come around constantly.


I think you’ve just described a bunch of us! For me anyway, that’s exactly how my stash got started too. I do finish projects, but never have a chance to do the others I intended. I’m the same way with my jewelry making too. If I don’t bag each project, I’ll forget what my intention was for that piece of fabric or gem.
I think I may have to have a sale, then start with a clean slate. LOL
Love your website!
Happy sewing!


Oh man, that is me exactly. So many great ideas, but never enough time to even start them!


I think more sewists suffer from this affliction than not. For my part, this line from the Bright Eyes song Road to Joy is always popping into my head: ‘My mind races with all my longings/ But can’t keep up with what I got’
Relevant to all of my consumerist fantasies but to sewing ones most of all!


I really need to try this as well! Although working in a fabric shop makes it rather difficult, when new fabrics arrive in I feel the need to buy a metre or two just in case it sells out. So my plan is to try and only buy fabric when I know how I’m going to use it. I suppose we’ll just need to wait and see how we get on! Good luck, I know I’ll need it :)


I do tend to work through my projects in something vaguely similar to the order in which I acquire them, it’s just that my time for creating is at least half what I think it is and projects take at least twice as long as I think. Perhaps a healthy dose of realism would keep the stash more under control!


This is a great idea. It also goes along with some of the things I’ve been doing of late, anyhow. Last summer, when my stash looked like it was in danger of taking over even more storage space (specifically, some of my husband’s storage space), my husband strongly suggested a policy of only getting new fabric after I used up some fabric from my stash. As he pointed out, have some gorgeous fabric in my stash – why not use it? So I’ve done a bunch of stash projects in the past six months, and basically bought only what I need to complete the project (thread, zippers, linings, etc). I haven’t been so disciplined on the new fabric “in” projects though.


Oh my God, are you watching me? Often, I will drop into my favorite fabric store between home visits and meetings (I’m a social worker) as a form of ‘relaxation therapy’ and to connect with my creative, positive side (not all my meeting are positive ones…). That’s when I get caught up in accidental stash building. When I see a beautuful fabric that inspires me, I change my focus to the project. Unfortunately, I often forget my original idea/plan for a fabric. So I think I will work on your goal to do one project at a time too. And once its home, and ready to cut, I’ll collect the pattern and all the notions together so its all in one spot. Thanks for your great idea.


I have had a huge stash problem, due in part to the same as OP, but also because I keep getting people giving me fabric for free! It’s just too hard to turn down. Recently, however, I came up with a brilliant plan/idea/activity to pare down on my stash. I go through my entire collection of fabric once every two months and look at EVERYTHING. If I still feel like I need it and have a plan in mind for it that I am still excited about, it stays. If I don’t know what I wanted to do with it or am losing steam, it goes aside to my “reconsider” pile. If I don’t want it or don’t have a plan for it or no longer feel passionate about it, it goes in my giveaway box. Then, I host a fabric party! I call it a fabric swap, but that is a bit of a misnomer. Fabric, notions, accessories, and other supplies are brought by my friends, and we all sit around and go through what we brought and offer it up to whoever wants it. That way, my friends get fabric they want and feel passionate about, and I get to clear my stash! At the end, I put aside true giveaway stuff, and keep on hand really nice things or things I am so-so about for the next party. The true giveaway stuff goes up on Freecycle, and often goes to a new sewer. It purges my stash, and FEELS like shopping, even though its totally free. Everyone wins!! ^_^


This is exactly the resolution I have decided to make. I have a backlog of wonderful projects to work on and I seem to buy new fabric and patterns impulsively. I have resolved to only to buy fabric when I am ready to work on that project!

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