Ugly Duckling Phase {Discussion}

Ugly Duckling Phase

It has been a while since I hosted a discussion topic, and several have been percolating in my brain. Over the course of the past few weeks, I recognized that I was repeatedly finding myself stuck on several projects. Basically, there comes a point in the creative process when the item in question is in an Ugly Duckling Phase. When I am baking, it is that moment right before the dough mixes together and congeals and flour is flying (I make a mess in the kitchen). When I am paper piecing, it is when my craft room is exploded with bits of fabric and paper ev.ery.where.

Quick side note: this phrase comes directly from my husband. He has years of experience making things, and he truly developed a sense of the Ugly Duckling Phase when he was doing sheet metal work to rebuild a 1943 GPW (original army jeep).


On Tuesday night, I had the opportunity to talk about this topic a bit on the weekly #HonestCraftRoomies Periscope blog hop that Kitty @Night Quilter has cultivated (it is a fun weekly video chat hop across craft rooms that I recommend you consider checking out). The topic for Tuesday night was our Quilting Strengths and Weaknesses. I have found that a weakness for me is when a project hits the Ugly Duckling Phase. It is really easy to panic a bit, get frustrated, and set a project aside. Recently, I had a few projects with deadlines the forced me to face the Ugly Duckling Phase head on.

And you know what? I learned a lot about myself, my resiliency, and how with a change in perspective and support, a large challenge can be overcome. I talked a bit about one of those challenges on Tuesday with my Crosshatch Quilting tips, and I talked a bit more about another one with my Tips for Squaring a Quilt.

For me, when faced with a challenge, like the tucks in the quilt top I developed while crosshatch quilting, I find it best to get away from it for a while. I take a break and take a walk (getting out in nature helps me see perspective on topics all the time), or go to the gym, or have a cup of tea. And when I cannot come up with a solution on my own, I call in the big guns of reinforcement: I talk with my husband.

I used to feel ashamed when I needed to pull out my seam ripper. This past week, I have come to appreciate the beauty of the seam ripper in the creative process. What an amazing tool that can help me undo something. It is rare in life we get a “redo” like we do in software, and with that small mental adjustment, I think I can celebrate my seam ripper instead of fear its necessity.

Can you recognize times when you have had to work through an Ugly Duckling Phase and come out on the other side renewed and more excited about the end result? What helps you work through the difficult moments in a project that require a leap of faith and determination to see it through?

22 thoughts on “Ugly Duckling Phase {Discussion}

  1. Cindy says:

    Putting things aside when just not working has been a savoir in more ways than one. And sometimes just letting it sit while doing something different has brought a new focus or resolution to the problem. I just replaced my stitch ripper it has been seeing way too much work lately.

  2. Paige says:

    The Clover seam ripper is my favorite quilting tool and I’m not afraid to use it! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject.

  3. There are definitely times when I have been wondering if a piece is going to come together and work, or if I am even going to like it, especially since I tend to quilt by the seat of my pants quite a bit. Putting something aside that’s not looking right at the moment and taking a little break can help me to tell if it was just a momentary doubt or it REALLY needs to be changed. That said, if I decide I’m not pleased with something I know I have to make a change, even if it means ripping out a whole lotta stitches, and I can even often manage to be cheerful about it, because I don’t HAVE to change it, I’m changing it because I want to.. But okay, sometimes I also tell myself, “Just finish it – it’s not as though it’s of vital importance.” It’s easy to lose perspective when creating and get so wrapped up in perfection that the fun is gone, and then no matter what the piece isn’t going to be what I want it to be, which is joyful and joy-filled.

  4. Jayne Willis says:

    Oh yes, I know this phase! When I do improv, it happens a lot. I’ve learned to walk a way for a while (or days), but I’ve also learned that you never know how it will turn out…so I keep going. 9 out of 10 times it turns out great. Color combinations can throw me off and make me wonder WTH was I thinking. In the end, I go with my gut. We have tools for a reason. Seam rippers, where would we be without them?! There’s no shame in using one!

  5. I know this stage well.

    I like an element of surprise when I’m creating a quilt. If I know exactly what a quilt will look like before I’m done I get bored and can’t find the motivation to finish. So even when drafting a pattern on the computer, I often deliberately leave some parts unresolved. A little room for improv and serendipity if you will.

    I love that scary tension in the middle of a quilting project when it might not work out. (Is that crazy?) A quilty mystery, if you will. Its exciting and inspires me to keep sewing and find out how it all will end. Like a book that you just can’t put down. And a great finish is oh so much sweeter for the uncertainty and struggle.

  6. Yvonne, First off, I think this is a great subject. I have read the other comments and it seems as if we all face the Ugly Duckling almost with every project we set out to do. With having the brain injury in the memory section, I face issues everyday in every project. Like you, there was a time when I was embarrassed that I had to use that tool, but over time I accepted that it was a great tool. A few years (I think) after getting stressed and frustrated that I was using my seam ripper far more often than stitching, at times even crying because between mistakes and memory issues it really seemed like I could not complete any project without terrible errors. My husband took me somewhere in the woods and we really discussed issues. Through his love, support and help I made the decision that from that day on I was only going to continue creating if I gave up trying to be perfect and just have fun! I still face the Ugly Duckling episode, especially while I am quilting a quilt on my home sewing machine. It can be quite horrifying when you are searching the internet and see millions of these absolute drop dead gorgeous quilts that also have drop dead and slap me twice free motion quilting. So, while I am quilting and facing the UD, I walk away for awhile and sit and talk with hubby and within a short time, I am ready to just be me with my quilting and again not worry a lick about puckers and if my lines are straight. Thanks for sharing and will be checking back later to see what more people have written.

    1. SonJa says:

      Brenda, I hope you return to see this comment! I too have a fabulous husband that helps me “see the light” when things are dark. It is so refreshing to,read other women, You included jet Girl, that lean on their husbands…and best of all, have the faith that they will in fact support us.

  7. Renee says:

    I think what helps me the most is getting feedback from other people, but especially from Matt. He is honest, and doesn’t just say “oh I like it”–instead giving feedback on why or why not. I call him my consultant, and often the best changes to a project are ones that he suggested or that I talked through with him and integrated his feedback. I do also like getting feedback from IG, because it is relatively fast and there is usually a good range of opinions. Sometimes more than anything it is the stepping back, considering other people’s point of views that solidify my own feelings–and then I do whatever it is I think needs to be done regardless of the community’s views. My worst Ugly Duckling project was Crystal City–it was in that phase 90% of time, and really hard to push through.

  8. gcot says:

    I love your name for that “what was I thinking!?!” time in the creative process. “Ugly Duckling phase” is perfect! I too hate tearing out somethng I have stitched, but as I cultivate an appreciation for my seam ripper (and bannish the fear and dread of it) I find it sets me free to try new and different things. If they don’t work I can always rip them out and do something different. I am a lot like Laura who commented that she gets bored with a project before it is finished if it is too predictable. Giving myself permission to try an improvisation even on a non-improvisational project adds spice and enjoyment to my quilting.

    I am enjoying your blog and the lively discussion it generates. Thanks!

  9. Lisa says:

    I’m taking a break from sewing here…and yes I’m using my seam ripper. I thought it was just part of the process, using a seam ripper. I have a bit of the perfectionist in me and it can stop me from even starting things, or I can chastise myself in hindsight. I’ve learned over time that sometimes I just have to accept that something is good enough. This may be because I’m doing the best I can with my current skill level, or because it doesn’t really matter to the recipient. It doesn’t mean I don’t strive to get better.
    I often get to a point with projects where I get to the point where I feel I can’t go on. Sometimes this is at the quilting stage…probably because me piecing skills have progressed at a quicker rate than my quilting skills…..I wonder why that is…possibly because I don’t quilt enough.
    Sometimes though it’s in the piecing where I don’t like something and taking a break and getting others opinions can help. I like the phrase ugly duckling stage.

  10. Lisa says:

    p.s. you look great in the jeep!

  11. Great video of the jeep! Looks like a lot of work, but the end result was so worth it. As for the Ugly Duckling phase…I go through that a lot. It usually happens for me when I start free motion quilting. Even though my fmq skills have come a long, long way, my quilting still doesn’t match the perfect, professional-level vision I have in my head. Two things help me keep going – knowing that the perfect, professional-level quilting will only come after zillions of hours of quilting, and knowing that when I’m not almost nose to the stitches and I can see the whole quilt, it will be okay.

  12. SonJa says:

    Yvonne, as you can see, we all encounter this. I would dare say in almost every project. And my solution is to set it aside and revisit at a later time. Sometimes it is a few hours, sometimes, it might take years. Like Judy at QP, I quilt by the seat of my pants and mistakes happen! That life. No shame in mistakes. How would we learn anything without them? It’s truly inspiring to,read so many comments from women that turn towards the man in their life for advice or sometimes, just a friendly ear. That is part of the relationship! It somehow just does not seem very common these days. John is my rock and I do not think I would still be sewing were it not for his true enthusiasm for my love of it and his support.m and like others, I CAN count on his honesty. If it looks bad to him, he will tell me. Living on a farm in the quiet country, there is never a lack,of non-sewing projects. I do find stepping away, concentrating on another task at hand and delving into nature is my best friend in the fight against the ugly duckling. After being outside, doing whatever I distracted myself with, nothing created by God seems truly ugly anyway.

  13. My husband talked me out if the trees last weekend while I was trying straight quilting. It wasn’t straight, It was ALL WRONG! He told me to keep going, and the ugly duckling phase passed.

  14. Denise says:

    it is rare that I get really stuck on a quilt project, but most projects have a more tense period when I wonder why this is so complicated. The technique I need to work on is binding- I haven’t applied the perfect binding yet! In all aspects of my life I try to deal with what’s in front of me right now. By living in the moment and not fretting over past mistakes or worrying about the future ones and ignoring the background noise around the house, I don’t make as many oops seams, the puckers seem to fall away and I am happy being where I am. Focus creates peace in my world.

  15. Rochelle says:

    Well, the ugly duckling phase for me always makes me panic. And I tend to want instant gratification in quilting. So when UDP hits and I panic, my first instinct is to hurry and finish so I can get it over with. Of course, I end up disappointed with myself if I follow that path. So I have learned to walk away and leave it on the design board. I look at the problem for as along as I need to, usually a day or so. Then I start playing around (seam ripper is usually included in this step) and figure out another way to move the project forward to success. Given all of that, not every project is as wonderful as I’d like. I try to find some learning point for me. What did I do that worked; what didn’t work; how would I change things if I started over. Sometimes, quilting is work….but it is work I enjoy for the most part. And it is my therapy.

  16. I can completely relate to the ugly duckling phase, especially on my compass quilters string block quilt. I’d discovered that a scrappy string block was just too many fabrics, colors, and busy for me and really brought me out of my comfort zone. When I get to that phase, the particular project usually stays on my design wall. I’ve never really put one away to finish later. Yes, I’ll work on other projects but whatever gets put on my design wall, stays on my design wall. That way I don’t end up with a UFO that I’ll never finish. Finally, either inspiration will strike and I can move forward or (more likely) I need my design wall for another project so I force myself to push through it and finish it. It’s a weird strategy and one that I didn’t even realize I did until this discussion, but it works for me. By the way, was that Puppy I saw inspecting the Jeep in it’s final phase of completion? Resident quilt inspector AND Jeep reconstruction-ist. He has quite the feline resume. 🙂

  17. Ruthann says:

    I remember one late night design wall session where I THOUGHT I was close to a lay out but when I got up the next morning had a ‘WHAT WERE YOU THINKING’ moment. Good thing I went to bed and then took a second look. Generally that’s my go to way of handling the Ugly Duckling stage. Turn off the lights, leave the room and come back to it the next day or several hours later. This is especially true if I am free motion quilting. Since I usually sew at night after dinner, many mornings before leaving for work I can be found in my sewing room staring at my previously night’s work to see if the flaws were ‘still there’. It’s amazing how often they seem to disappear. As far as advice is concerned, my youngest daughter (29 years old) is a good resource. She has good design instincts. My husband……no so much! 🙂

  18. Jasmine says:

    So interesting! I really believe that perfect isn’t flawless, perfect is finished. So my desire for a finish usually keeps me going. Sometimes I do need a little break. But I do sometimes decide something isn’t worth finishing (twice that I can remember).

  19. carolegoldquilts says:

    At first, I generally dislike my quilting choices, but as I add more stitches things tend to improve. (Though, sometimes I rip out and re-do if I think there is no hope of rescue!) After a pile of self doubt and second guessing, finessing and pushing on, I usually end up loving what I’ve done!!! It’s a crazy thing, but that seems to be my pattern. I’m learning to recognize that awkward “ugly duckling” stage, and it’s always uncomfortable – but I know I can work through most anything, one way or another. (I like that reference, btw! There is always hope that an ugly duckling can become a beautiful swan!)

  20. Heather says:

    I’ve noticed I get into the ugly duckling phase more on projects I haven’t really thought / planned out well. Then when things aren’t going as well as I’d like, I get frustrated. Sometimes, though, a project just isn’t coming together. Taking a break helps, however, I think you have to allow yourself to just walk away. Maybe trade projects with someone else. Some things I’ve pushed through I just feel ‘meh’ about the finished product.

  21. sally says:

    Yes, Ugly Duckling stages are quite common round here! Putting it aside and sleeping on it or going outside for a walk or some gardening are definitely my preferred ways of dealing with it. Although there can be a tendency, when it’s a project which has no deadline or particular ‘need’ to be finished, to leave it sitting there too long. But I think that’s often more the result of either not being quite sure how best to proceed or being scared of the best way to proceed rather than true Ugly Duckling scenario!

I really appreciate the time and thought you take to comment, and I look forward to conversing with you. :)