Why Knitters and Crocheters Are Plagued by UFOs (Unfinished Objects)

unfinished tanktop

Unfinished seam on knitted tank. Started 7 years ago. Finished 7 months ago.

If you’re like most crafters, you have at least one UnFinished Object (UFO) lurking in your home. I’ll confess that I have a large stash. A few “creations in waiting” among my UFOs  include half knitted sweaters,  maternity sewing projects (my youngest is 9 years old), crocheted bags lacking  linings, and many base chains in want of their first stitches. Of course, this is not a complete list, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Why does this happen? What causes a knitter or crocheter to begin one new project after another… and another… before finishing the first one? Can we eliminate the obstacles which stand in the way of finishing what we’ve started? Well, yes and no. Let’s explore 3 factors which can lead to START-itis and a few strategies for getting across the finish line.

1. Needing to build new skills

There may be a specific technique or skill required for this project that you haven’t mastered yet. This isn’t a problem. Actually, it’s an opportunity to grow. When I look for new projects, I usually select items which have at least one technique I’ve never done before.  If you’ve hit a stumbling block caused by a gap in your skills, stop and determine what the project is trying to teach you. Do you need to learn buttonholes, invisible seaming, three needle bind off, etc? Find a book, video or friend to help you learn the new technique. Take some time to practice your new skill, then tackle that UFO again. Believe me, it isn’t going ANYWHERE.

unfinished bag

Unfinished tote bag. Started 4 years ago.

2. Missing the right tools 

Sometimes the problem is not having the correct tool at hand for the job. If a project is taking longer than it should or creating a great deal of frustration, look around to something that could make the task easier. For example, I used to sew full garments only to get stuck at the hem. I hated hemming by hand, but my machine hems never came out right. Later I discovered a variety of sewing machine feet specifically designed for hems. Having the right tool for the job means you can finish any project faster (and with fewer curse words.)

Here are few examples tool substitutions that could help you finish your UFOs sooner:

  • Knitting with a splitty yarn – use blunt tip needles
  • Knitting with a slippery yarn – use bamboo needles
  • Knitting/crocheting with “grabby” yarn – use slick, nickel plated needles/hooks
  • Having trouble with cables – try a different style of cable needle (or no cable needle at all)
  • Tiny crochet hook causing pain – select a hook with an ergonomic handle

3. A stitch in time…

Perhaps you’re stalled because the project is dragging on too long, and you’ve lost interest. Take heart! There are a few ways to increase your productivity before growing bored. First, save time by doubling  up. With a little planning, some items can be knitted two at a time. Toe-Up 2-at-a-Time Socks is a great book to help you knit two socks at once, and the basic concepts can be applied to gloves, and sleeves.  (Unfortunately, this solution won’t work for crocheters, but the next two will.) Second, save time by working all in one. Knit or crochet the body of  garments in the round or in one piece either top down or bottom up. Finally, save time by joining as you go. If you are making a piece composed of separate motifs like this granny square cardigan I crocheted for my daughter a few years back, don’t make my mistake. Find a way to connect the motifs as you go along instead of seaming them together at the end.

On the other hand, crafting something by hand is meant to take time. If a pair of socks or a fair isle sweater takes a year or more to finish, so be it. If you wanted a pair of sock in an instant, you’d be buying them at a big box store instead of knitting. Be patient and give yourself time to do craft something truly beautiful.

Unfinished Sweater back

Unfinished Beachcomber Tunic. Started 9 years ago.

Managing your UFO stash

Periodically go through your stash of UFOs and separate them into 3 piles – reclaim, toss, and finish. Reclaimed  projects are those which you deem unable to complete, but the materials can be salvaged for future crafts. Tossed projects can’t be redeemed at all and should be thrown out. And be ruthless! After all, tossing makes room for more crafty goodness. Projects in the finish pile may require skill building, specialized tools and/or extra time to complete. Determine what they need, then make a plan. Select the ones which are closest to completion and put them with your current works in progress.

When to let go

Sometimes it’s difficult to admit that a project is going nowhere. You may feel guilty about throwing it out after investing so much time and energy into it.  Iyanla Vanzant says people come into our lives “for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.” I believe the same applies to craft projects. Maybe this just isn’t a “lifetime” sweater, and  it’s OK to let it go. You haven’t wasted your time on this project because there will be something of value you can take away from it. Did you practice short rows? Did you learn foundation stitches? Maybe you discovered a profound dislike of color-work? Whatever the lesson, that knowledge will inform future projects.

I have a nearly complete UFO in my stash that I know I will never finish. The Beachcomber Tunic  by Jennifer Appleby was my inspiration for several years. Because of this sweater I learned 3-needle bind offs, a new crochet stitch pattern, and how to do yarn substitutions. In addition, I was inspired to go beyond the pattern to shape the bust with short rows. But ultimately I also came to the realization that sweaters which are plain on the top and fancy on the bottom simply do not flatter my pear shaped figure. Am I upset about all the time and energy I put into this never-to-be-finished garment? Not at all. The project was the impetus for a great deal of growth on my part. I’ve become a person who can knit and crochet anything with confidence, and I’m very grateful for that knowledge.

So don’t let your UFOs get you down. Whether you choose to reclaim, toss, or finish your languishing projects, you have surely gained something special.