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Please don't remind me that I'm poor; I'm having too much fun pretending I'm simply "living green" like everyone else these days.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Custom quilt tracking chart

These are pictures of my custom quilt tracking chart and project drawer towers. I’ve been asked to describe how they work so here goes. I hope you find it helpful too!

I had to find a way for me to visually see at a glance the deadline of a custom quilt and what work was left to be done. I often have several custom quilts being constructed at the same time. I am not just a professional machine quilter. I am also a professional custom quilt topper. I make memory quilts from clothing as well as finish tops inherited by someone. I like to make quilts for my family, my favorite charities, and entering contests.

I had realized I was missing completion dates because I had forgotten a deadline while concentrating on the machine quilting for toppers. I was feeling very overwhelmed by so much work. I didn’t have a balance between being a topper and being a machine quilter. Not to mention that I was constantly turning down invitations by the local quilt shops to teach. I love to teach but I just couldn’t find the time. I needed to be more organized in order to find more time.

As I thought and looked at possible solutions for achieving balance I wondered…hmm… just how many custom quilts did I have going anyway? I pulled them all out and listed them on a sheet of paper. So now… how would I keep up with all these custom quilts after I had them listed? Ah ha! Project numbers! I did have them listed by number so why not store them by number? I pulled out some of my topper waiting drawers from under the quilting machine table and stacked them. I numbered the drawers 1 to 21 to correspond with the list I had made. Each drawer would get one custom quilt project. I needed more drawers but that was all the space I had in the corner for now.

My next thought was…. Hmm… what work was left to be done on each custom quilt? This got me to thinking… just what are the steps to completing a custom quilt? Well there is choosing a pattern, cutting the pieces, piecing the top, quilting it, and binding it. But wait, there is more for clothing quilts. There is washing the clothing, stabilizing stretchy fabrics, and determining what size can be made from the clothing brought to me.

So my next step was to figure out just what steps I went through to complete each type custom quilt. So my tracking chart was born. I had it all down on paper. This is when I realized I needed it all in a chart form that I could see at a glance across the room. Putting it on paper in a folder or a notebook just wouldn’t do for me.

I pulled out my dry erase board that is normally used for teaching and some black tape. I made a column for each of the steps I had come up with on constructing a custom top. All the step from getting the name of the person or contest all the way to scheduling it to be put onto the quilting machine and the final stage of taking photos.

Then I made horizontal lines to correspond to the drawers I had created. The lines on the chart got numbered to match the project numbers on the drawers. I could only fit 19 lines on the wall chart but I have 21 drawers. The last two drawers got reassigned as storage for saving strings cut from squaring backings and for crumbs waiting to be made into charity quilt blocks.

I have temporary names taped above the columns while I test out the tracking chart. I may have to add more columns or delete some. Only by using the chart will I know if it works the way it is. When it has been tested for awhile I can make it permanent.

So how does it work? Well as I accept a custom quilt job or decide to make a top for a charity or even one for myself it is listed on the chart and assigned a storage drawer. This is its project number.

I decided I really shouldn’t have more than 19 tops working at any one time. This will give me the time I need for actually having a LIFE. When I decide to take a day for only washing and stabilizing I can look at the chart to see which quilts still need this done. OR if I want to only sew at the DSM all day then that is the tops I work on.

I put an X in the column as each step is completed. When the custom quilt is finished it is erased from the board and another one written in its place. When I’m asked to make a custom quilt I can see at a glance how long the customer can expect to wait for it to be finished. If the chart is full the customer can be told it may take awhile.

Here are the columns and their meaning:

WAITING – if I am waiting for the customer to bring me something or if I need to buy stabilizer or any reason I can’t go to the next step on this top I know it by the X in this column.

NAME – This is who will be getting this quilt. It might be a grandchild, a charity, a customer, a contest or something else.

DUE DATE – the day this quilt must be completed and ready to be picked up or mailed. When I put this day on the chart I also schedule the top onto my machine quilting waiting list. I schedule it for a day earlier than the completion date to allow me time to bind it and take photos.

PATTERN # - I have also made myself a sort of quilt catalog. In it I have pictures of quilt designs that look great made from clothing. I numbered the pages so if a customer picks one of these patterns the page number is also the pattern number. If a customer brings me their own pattern or if I design something new; the actual pattern is stored in the project drawer instead of using a pattern number.

SIZE – In this column I either list a general size or an actual size.

PROJECT # - This matches the drawer tower number where it is stored.

WASH FABRICS – All clothing brought to me are washed before I work with them. When dropped off; the clothing is immediately put into sealed plastic bins and washed as soon as possible. I had a person once bring me clothing with creepy crawlies in them. It cost me a pretty penny to hire an exterminator. I vowed that would never happen again.

CLOTHING CUT APART – This can sometimes take a full day to do if there are a lot of clothes. I don’t bother frog stitching the seams. I just cut them out with scissors.

STABELIZE – When working with clothing sometimes the fabric is stretchy or thin. I stabilize the ones that need it before actually starting to cut the pieces.

MAKE MAP – I call the way blocks are put together the map. I include things like pressing directions and the order pieces are sewn together. I also list the number of pieces that must be cut to construct the right number of blocks.

CUT PIECES – Once the map is made and I’m sure of how many pieces to cut of what size; I will spend a whole day just cutting pieces for several tops.

PIECE BLOCKS – No quilt is ever made without piecing the blocks. DUH! Well obviously this column does let me know that is the next stage on this project. If there is no X in the column then that is what is next to do.

SQUARE BLOCKS – I rarely have to square blocks; but, working with clothing they sometimes get out of whack. I like to check all the blocks for size before sewing them into a top. I don’t want to go through all that work to find something is not right. I avoid frog stitching whenever possible.

CONSTRUCT TOP – If I have mapped, cut pieces, sewn, and squared correctly the top goes together really fast. Chain piecing is fantastic!

BORDERS – I included this step because sometimes the border will be a pieced border. Or I may complete the top but wait until I can put borders on several tops at the same time.

MARK FOR QUILTING – If I am doing a custom design from a stencil I like to mark the top while sitting at my table. If I use wash out marking pens it can be done a few days before putting it on the quilting machine. Hmm.... I just realized I should add a column for soaking out the marking and for squaring the quilt on the chart.

QUILT – When I put a custom quilt on my chart I also schedule it on my machine quilting waiting list. I could move it to the tops waiting area and remove it from the list at this point. I’m still debating with myself on this. I do have two other steps to complete though and may need to keep it on the chart until they are done.

BINDING – This is almost the last step to completing a custom quilt. It also gets a label.

PHOTOS – The last step for completing a custom quilt. I take photos and print them. I record the information in my portfolio. Sometimes I post pictures in webshots or maybe put a picture into the blog now that I have one.

Now that I’ve described my project tracking chart I think I will go work on the next step of my 2007 reorganizing. Organizing can be so much fun!!


Sweet P said...

You have a great system for organizing your projects. I think it's a system any quilter could use. I may have to think about adapting it for my project list which I currently keep in Excel.

Anita Estes said...

I hope this goes through right. I've tried several times to answer comments with trial and error. I posted about the chart hoping others could adapt it to their own UFO's. It has already helped me stay on top of my scheduling. Yea!

Lisa said...

I LOVE this system idea! I also have a heck of a time getting things done before deadline - everything's in the computer, but not the nuts and bolts steps of things. I can see how this would clarify what needs to be done. Thanks for posting it!