Tackling the Big Project

Tackling_the_Big_Project_blog_hopI’m so pleased to be participating in this blog hop organized by Diane Gilleland and Lisa Clarke! It’s all about organizing and planning big creative projects.

It’s so easy to focus on short-term deadlines. It seems so logical to focus your work on whatever is due next, right?

For me that’s a big WRONG.

Focusing on the short term deadlines means that those big projects that I’m really excited about get pushed back, and pushed back, and pushed back. Or – even worse – they get done in a rush.

I do not do good work when I’m in a rush.

I’ve learned that I work best when I do a little work, then sit back and let it rest a bit, then look at it with fresh eyes. In order to do that I need to plan for that time.

Really, really plan for it.

With a calendar.


A plan for a Shiny Happy October.

I don’t use anything fancy. I print out a month per page and then I do all my planning with a good, old-fashioned pencil. Everything is subject to change and it’s easy for me to erase and rewrite. I plan 3-6 months in advance and keep them all on a clipboard that I drag around with me wherever I’m working.

You can click on the image to make it bigger if you actually want to see what’s coming up next month. πŸ™‚ I have almost all my blog posts for the month planned – just a few days open for whatever comes up. For the purposes of this post, the Sunday blocks are where the action’s really at. That’s where I plan my favorite part of my job – my sewing.

Every one of my projects goes through four basic stages. I plan for three of them.



How I feel during the dreaming phase.

That happens at any time. It’s coming up with the idea and jotting it down in my sketchbook.

Sometimes there’s research involved (just how big are a mouse’s ears in relation to its head?) and sometimes an idea comes fully formed.

I don’t usually plan for this – but I document my ideas as best I can so they’re waiting for me when I’m ready to make them real.



This is when I make all my prototypes. I set aside a week for this phase of any project and that usually works just fine. Some projects come together on the very first try. Some of them go through a lot of iterations before I’m happy with them. (You can read more about my process here.)

I like to make a prototype and then let it sit a bit before I critique it – at least overnight – so I can look at it with fresh eyes in the morning. Sometimes those fresh eyes tell me that what I thought was a mistake is actually kind of charming – I just need to tweak it a bit. Sometimes they tell me that something I thought was charming is actually pretty ugly. πŸ™‚ But I find that budgeting in the time to let it rest and come back to it is critical.

Making the Finished Item

Caterpillar Phil from Shiny Happy WorldBy this time I’ve worked out all the kinks and it’s just making the item up one more time in pretty fabric that will photograph well.

This is when I do the step-by-step photography for the pattern.

For most projects I set aside a full week for this too – that gives me a cushion in case my prototyping runs over. πŸ™‚


This encompasses so much! It’s editing the photos, writing the pattern, proofreading the pattern (several times), writing the shop listing and blog post, etc. I set aside a whole week for this too.

Mapping It Out


So – let’s go back to that calendar. In any given week I’m working on prototyping one project, making the final version and photographing the step-by-steps for a different project, and writing the pattern for a third project.

The dreaming happens all the time. πŸ™‚

I don’t blog on the weekends, so I use the Sunday blocks on the calendar to remind me of the big picture – what I’m supposed to be working on that week. That way I don’t get into the trap of working blog post to blog post.

Next week I’m prototyping a monster doll for The Dress Up Bunch, making a final version of the Gulp monster and writing the pattern for the Puppy Quilt.

What About a REALLY Big Project?

Like writing a book? Well, that’s really just a bunch of smaller projects! I might break it down a chapter at a time, or a project at a time, but at its heart it’s just a bunch of smaller projects that I plan for and fit into my calendar in just the same way.

Happy sewing!

Applique Wendi (with fabulous hat)


  1. This is a great peek into your workflow! Thanks for sharing. I love the pencils & paper approach. I do love using gadgets for lists and calendars but I find a piece of paper on my desk actually works better for me rather than a list hidden digitally somewhere on my computer.

    Also I like how you discuss working on tasks concurrently. I find running a small creative business is all about doing many things at once. No matter how much I might want to clear the desk and focus on one task for days on end I just can’t afford to.

    • wendigratz SAYS...

      Thanks Liz! I’ve been working towards a paper-free office for a long time – and I do love to go digital for long term planning (project ideas, blog ideas, etc.) but I can’t seem to let go of pencil and paper for this kind of planning. It just works really well!

  2. I love that you plan in time for “fresh eyes.” I had an art teacher way back in the day who used to call this “letting it get cold.” And I find this time invaluable, too – in the throes of making, there are always things I don’t see clearly.

    It’s really cool to see how much work you put into each of your adorable designs, and how you organize that so you’re always producing. Thanks so much for sharing your process with us!

    • wendigratz SAYS...

      Oooh – I love the expression “letting it get cold.” That fits it so perfectly!

  3. I love your calendar idea. I recently implemented something similar myself, and I really *tried* to do it on paper – I thought for sure I would find that easier – but in the end, Google Calendar won out. I have categories similar to your designing, making, mapping, etc. (mine are plan, make, write, and share) and I created four color-coded calendars within a single Google account. Now I can tell at a glance what type of work I have to do for the day, and on which project. It’s been so helpful! And it’s easy to move things around, too (which is actually bad news, when it comes to things I’m avoiding, LOL!)

    Anyway, I think it’s great how we seem to have the exact same approach, yet one is executed digitally and one in an analog way. It’s interesting πŸ™‚

    • wendigratz SAYS...

      Now you’ve inspired me to try it digitally again. πŸ™‚ I use Google calendar for all of our home planning – we each have our own calendar with our own color code. That works really well for us and I’m really mystified about why I can’t seem to do my work planning the same way. It’s weird!

  4. betz SAYS...

    Thanks for sharing your planning process! I use a paper calendar the same way…and I use the Sunday block for the “weeks goals”

    • wendigratz SAYS...

      Great minds think alike. πŸ™‚

  5. I so envy your level of organization, amazing! I am currently working on whatever is “due” next and I agree, it is not ideal! It’s left me feeling stressed and is leaving no time for the big projects I want to work on!