How many unfinished projects do knitters (or crocheters or other fiber artists) typically have and what do they do with them? Does it matter whether you have fewer or more? To answer that question, “Yes,” conjures judgment, which I think we should avoid and I write more about that below. I have not counted my UFOs but there are many. In response to the second question, “does it matter?” a lawyer answers, “It depends,” and a psychotherapist adds, “On the person.”
My good friends Pam and Lisa (@lpinceloup) joined Mission KnitPossible and each has a photo journey they kindly agreed to share. Lisa dealt with an unfinished (because she is not happy with the resulting sweater) project by unraveling the yarn to be knit into something new. Pam opened the bin(s and baskets and bags) of doom and faced the music. She took stock of her unfinished projects, counted them, and announced proudly that she has 35! I was wowed when I read the number but also did not even blink because Pam is a talented and prolific knitter who knits (and finishes) enough to have even more than 35 UFOs.
Lisa knit this sweater and explained she was not happy with the outcome because the armholes were too large and the bodice too snug. The design is appealing with interesting color detail and eyelets, but those sizing issues would leave me unhappy with the garment as well, so I understand Lisa’s decision to scrap it and start again.
Here are the very lovely results of unraveling. If she would like, Lisa could re-knit the same design and adjust the armhole size and width of the bodice. That would require modifying the pattern (and perhaps some seamstress know-how) but certainly could be done. I think, however, that Lisa plans to knit something new. I will be curious to see what she chooses for the new project.
Pam’s UFO Collection
Pam’s collection of UFOs lives in a few different places in her home — some of the projects are next to her TV chair, some under her desk, and some in her knitting room. We begin with her knitting room and pause in homage to the stash. I can only imagine the yarn fumes. And I (really, really) want to see what’s in that cabinet.
Here is the cozy chair, as Pam calls it, and the view of works in progress from the chair.
Pam shared that there are five unfinished sweaters and several unfinished shawls in this area by her TV chair.
It is not uncommon for knitters to start new projects before finishing projects in progress and to then become engaged with the new project and abandon the first one. We sometimes call this “startitis” or “casting on syndrome.” Unless a decision is made to unravel the unfinished project, it usually languishes in a bag, basket, or other container until the knitter takes it up again in a few weeks, months, or even years and either decides to abandon it entirely or finally finish it (like the colorwork sweater I started for myself in 1987 and am now finishing for my teenage daughter). Sometimes, the knitter never gets back to the project and even leaves it behind when she or he dies. I’ve heard many stories of knitters asked by a friend to finish a project that a mother or other relative left behind unfinished when she or he passed away. Those stories are usually quite poignant.
The more unusual knitter will knit on only one project at a time and will not start another project until the current project is finished. And there are countless variations of knitters in between, such as those who limit themselves to a certain number of ongoing projects at any given time and must complete at least one project before starting another so that they stay at the magic number; or those who who allow themselves to have any number of unfinished projects of a certain type (socks, for instance) but draw the line with other projects, such as garments.
Knitters’ attitudes toward having more than just a few UFOs vary just as much as their collections of UFOs and rules regarding the same. But the most common view, in my experience, involves a certain irreverence or cheekiness — an acknowledgment that, yes, this is a ridiculous or outrageous number of UFOs, coupled with an assertion, however, that this is “just what we do” or it’s a right of passage for the seasoned knitter (wink wink). Or there is the ironic, “She only has 20 UFOs? Darling, she’s just getting started. I won’t be impressed until she’s at least reached 35.”
I sense in this type of response a defensiveness against anticipated judgment — in other words, against the view that starting and not finishing these projects is somehow not acceptable, is inappropriately indulgent, or indicates an unattractive lack of discipline. This same issue arises around the amount of yarn knitters purchase or collect. Knitters have responded with slogans like, “Liberate the Stash,” which I think really means liberate the knitter from the judgment around how much yarn she has accumulated or is choosing to accumulate.
Some knitters reject the judgment entirely. I heard one knitting podcaster say recently that she has no problem with unfinished projects or works in progress or how many she has at any one time. She and other seemingly irreverent knitters claim a right, if you will, to have as many WIPs (works in progress) or UFOs as they desire. I second that and add: what you have is what you have; it’s your business. The only appropriate questions are ones for the knitter to ask herself or himself, probably in private or in an intimate conversation with an understanding friend: How is that working for me? Is it destructive, problematic, or unmanageable in any way?
- Are you hurting yourself financially — living beyond your means, going into debt — by purchasing yarn for too many new projects? One probably should not buy yarn with the money meant for feeding the children or paying the rent, and the credit card payment shouldn’t be allowed to get so high there is no cash available for buying yarn!
- Is your living space or mental space becoming overly full of unfinished projects for your comfort level? Perhaps you are somewhat (or more) of a minimalist who likes a clear visual field or uncluttered space and closets and the knitting projects are filling up the space more than you would like. In my case, many UFOs had been hanging around too long. I was tired of seeing them every time I went through my yarn storage. I wanted knitting closure! These were projects I started out of love for the designs or ideas and I wanted the satisfaction of completion.
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might want to make life easier for yourself or make yourself more comfortable by making some changes. Jump into finishing where, I promise, the joy of completion is not much different from the joy of casting on! Starting a project is delightful but wearing something you knit is thrilling!
If you answered no to the questions above but words are bouncing around in your head like “Even so, I shouldn’t have so many unfinished projects,” “It’s inappropriate for me to start something new with all these UFOS,” “If people see this they will think so poorly of me because I’m obviously so undisciplined,” or “I can’t let my spouse, significant other, boyfriend, or girlfriend see this — what will they think of me,” tell the voice(s) speaking (or shouting) those words to take a time out.
“Should’s” should not dictate your knitting life, especially if knitting is a hobby! A knitter’s life is his or her own and a knitter should be liberated from the should’s and expectations of others. If a knitter finds pleasure starting one thing after another and finishing a project here and there and is not over-spending or feeling overwhelmed, that knitter’s way of life is, again, his or her business and perfectly acceptable.
I am arguing here for neutrality and for the individual knitter to have the freedom to find the path that is right for that knitter, exclusive of other views and practices. I understand that the views and attitudes of a spouse could conflict with the knitter’s chosen path but that is a topic for another day or perhaps for a relationship or marriage counseling blog. Here at theknitterwriter.com, the motto is, indeed, “Liberate the knitter,” whether, for you, that involves beginning, finishing, or curating a collection of yarn you adore.