Five Reasons Projects Become UFOs

I'm starting to wonder about myself. I have started three projects overall for this here little blog, and none of them are done yet.

What. Is. My. Problem?

Let's recap, shall we? (Yes, we shall.) First, there was the Bolero, from Feminine Knits. (The first blog post about it is here.) That one came sooooo close to being done: I had knit all the pieces, and blocked them…only to discover that I had knit two left sleeves. That's where things came to a screeching halt. The pieces are sitting in a sad little stack on my worktable in the studio. (The pieces are the black pile in the photo. Poor things.)

Second, there was the darling Star Light, Star Bright baby blanket. (First post is here.) I have finished the main section, with only the border to go. I actually started the border…and stopped after working only a few repeats. The whole thing was stuffed into a plastic bin on a shelf in my TV room until I pulled it out for the photo (white blob at left).

Third, there is your friend and mine, the Farmer's Market Cardigan. (First post is here.) I swear I have been knitting on this thing steadily the past month, wanting to have it done by this weekend. (It's the reddish whatsit under the tree, all folded up pretty-like.) All I have left to do is knit the left pocket edging/collar, hem one sleeve, and sew things up. Big whoop, right? So why isn't it done yet? What's up?

I sat down this morning with all three projects spread out on a table, hoping to break this streak of personal UFO sightings. If I can figure out why I stopped working on each project, maybe I can save these projects (and perhaps a few more?) from the UFO pile. Here's what I came up with:

In my experience, a UFO becomes a UFO usually due to one of five things: boredom, difficulty, time, yarn, or gauge/fit.

1.  Bored, much? I can honestly say no, I'm not bored with any of these 3 projects. I think the designs are beautiful, and I still love how each one is going so far. I think the finished objects will rock…if I can Just. Get. Them. DONE.

2.  Gauge/fit: The blanket is spot-on with gauge, and fit isn't an issue, so that one's OK. The bolero's gauge is also accurate, and the pieces have been measured and blocked carefully to my own measurements. I've now tried on the cardigan, and it's smashing. So this isn't the problem for any of the three.

3.  Yarn: I'm very careful with yarn selection, especially for big projects like these. I know I'm going to be knitting with the yarn over many hours, so I want to make sure I absolutely love it. The baby blanket is Dale Baby Ull, a washable and soft yarn that is perfect for the drape and feel I want in a baby item. The bolero is Elsebeth Lavold's Hempathy, a wonderful blend of hemp, cotton, and modal that couldn't be more beautiful for this cute little sweater. And Dream in Color Smooshy, the yarn I'm using for the cardigan, is one of my new favourites. So: Not the yarn.

4.  Time: Wellllll…I've certainly had time to work on other projects. In the same time period, I've finished two shawls, a pair of socks, several skeins of handspun yarn, and a couple of small weaving projects. (A girl's got to keep her hands busy, after all.)

That leaves us with…

5.  Difficulty. This category can cover a lot of ground: Either the stitch is frustrating, or the written pattern is hard to understand, or the knitting requires a lot of concentration…Oh, wait. That's it. That's IT. In each case, the place where I got stuck requires time spent in focused concentration in order to rescue it from UFO Land:

– In the bolero, I managed to cleverly knit two left sleeves…so clearly I misread the pattern somehow. (Ya think?) The fix? I need to sit down and carefully compare my row-by-row notes with the book to see where I went wrong.

– In the blanket, I stopped after a few repeats of the border. The border is only nineteen stitches–one repeat–wide. That's not much. However, it means that every nineteen stitches, there's a new pattern repeat to work. Everyone's brain is different; mine prefers stitch patterns that repeat a few times across a row so I can memorize each repeat and get into a rhythm. The fix? I could find a border worked in rounds, rather than one worked in a narrow strip.  This means I have to hunt down a suitable lace border pattern somewhere and adapt it for the blanket.

– As for the cardigan, I am stuck at the collar, which uses ribbing, cables, short-rows, and increases. I have finished the edging and collar for the right side; but the left side, which is a mirror image, is making me crazy. I've knit it three times and had to rip it back each time. The fix? I need to sit down and write out the row-by-row instructions instead of trying to keep track of all the complicated shapings in my head.

Time and energy to focus and concentrate. I can't be the only one who lacks these two essential ingredients for successful knitting. What do you do when your knitting needs the best of you, and the rest of life has gotten there first? Comments, anyone? And are there other reasons an object ends up in your UFO pile?

I found a quote that I think I might have to paint on my studio wall: To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong. (Joseph Chilton Pearce) After all: The new border pattern I choose for the blanket might look stupid. I might end up with a bolero with three left sleeves. The finished collar edging on the cardigan might look wonky rather than polished. But isn't the point to get past the fear of all those things and just keep going? To live the creative life, to find an even deeper joy in my craft, I must learn to never give up; to never stop trying to do better, to work past mistakes, to listen to my inner self and find a way through.

So I'm not going to let these projects stay UFOs. I'll somehow find the guts and the focus to finish these three things: a darling baby blanket, a cute bolero, and a stylish cardigan. Wish me luck!

May you find the courage to live the creative life. (At least for ten minutes or so. I know. It's a tall order.)

– Sandi


Sandi Wiseheart is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. You can find her blogging here on Knitting Daily every Thursday. Want more? Visit Sandi's personal blog, wiseheart knits. Or, if you're on Twitter, follow her tweets: alpacasandi.



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29 thoughts on “Five Reasons Projects Become UFOs

  1. I recently knit a really adorable baby sweater. It’s top-down, knit all in one piece. This thing was completely done – I’m talking off the needles, ends woven in. When I laid it out to admire my handiwork, I discovered that the two halves of the cardigan were different widths. After much confused cursing, I realized that I had mis-read the instructions when I held stitches for the sleeves, and they wound up in the wrong places. I was SO mad at myself. I threw it in a bag and haven’t looked at it since, and bought a baby gift for my cousin. Sandi, your post is helping me get over my rage. Maybe I’ll even get up the strength to rip it back to the sleeve openings and finish it up. Someday.

  2. Thanks for your UFO post. I was working on the beautiful Helleborus Yoke sweater and ran into problem #2. The sweater is much too large, and, after putting it in time out twice and ripping out the collar, I have accepted that I’m not going to finish it. I need to rip out the whole thing and either reknit it (paying more attention to gauge) or find another pattern I love. In the meantime, I’m knitting a nice entrelac scarf to take the edge off!

  3. I have many, many (many!) UFOs – somewhere between 30-50? I think it’s because usually I just get bored, or I grow to hate some aspect of the project (the yarn is doing something I didn’t think it would do, or the st-ptrn is a total PITA). But one of the reasons you didn’t mention that afflicts me occasionally is that I JUST DON’T WANT IT TO END. ;~)

  4. Glad you’re back Sandi!

    I have a strict rule that I am not ‘allowed’ to start a new project until I finish the one I am on now. This means that sometimes I finish a project teeth grinding in annoyance that I am not knitting the next greatest thing that has caught my eye. But if I didn’t impose this rule on myself, I am sure that I’d have a long trail of UFOs strung behind me.

    I’d also state that for me a barrier is when the pattern gets too simple. In fact your Farmer’s Market Cardi sounds like it’s just hit the fun part with the collar. All the stockinette at the hem could doom it for me, so I try to plan my knitting in such a way as to leave the more interesting bits for last.

  5. Well, I hesitate to admit this in a knitting environment, but I started working with yarn using crochet, and when I get to a frustration level with knitting, I go back to one of my old standby favorite crochet patterns and work on that for a while!

    Sandi, you are always an inspiration to your readers. When things go well and you detail them step-by-step, but also, and perhaps especially, when things go wrong. Novices like me sometimes think experts like you never get it wrong. I’m still at the stage where I have to take every pattern to my knitting coach – the owner of our local yarn store – and ask her to help me interpret the directions before I even consider working on a new pattern. And then I still have difficulties if I forget what she told me … Seeing that you have the courage to come clean with us, your readers, keeps me plugging away at my much-more-basic patterns in hopes that someday I, too, will tackle a cardigan!

  6. I’m working on a second sock with a stitch pattern I made up. I was so worried about reversing the pattern that it was 15 rows before I noticed that I was continuing the pattern across the bottom of the foot!
    Thanks to all your encouragement abour fearless knitting, I ripped back to the start of the foot, and got all the stitches back on the needle correctly. Before I would have ripped back to the slip knot and started over, but I’m a Fearless Knitter now (thanks to you), so I carried on.

    Thank you for sharing your successes and “learning experiences” with us all.

  7. Thank you for sharing that even the Knitting Greats have issues. While I don’t have UFOs, I do have some nasty frogging projects. Very similar concept. The thing that makes me get on with things, is this : I just sit, and grit my teeth, and do it. And then, it’s done.

    It sounds easy but the hardest thing, as you know, is to sit down and do the thing that needs to be done!

    I comfort myself that in reality, it doesn’t matter if a project doesn’t get done. It’s all about keeping the love alive. And if a nasty UFO in the corner isn’t doing it for you, then may it remain a UFO!

  8. Love this blog, which I’ve just discovered! JThank you, Sandi!!

    Here’s what I do: I keep a simpler project going at all times, so when I get “stuck” in the more complicated one, I can lay it aside and work on the simpler one. That way, I can still knit with the feeling of accomplishing something, while my brain re-tools to solve the more complicated problem, or my body rests enough to jump back in.

    Also, I rarely knit from the words of a pattern. Before starting anything, I spend 2 or 3 evenings studying the written pattern, understanding where the repeats are and where variations come in, and writing out a shorthand version for myself. If I’m ever tempted to skip this step, I find myself in a jam later and regret it. This has paid off over and over. I’m just finishing a complicated child’s sweater in 3 colors with cable and intarsia sections in it, and this preparation has served me well. Happy knitting!

  9. RE: Difficulty. Here is my 3 Stage Mantra.
    1)When I realize that something “Dreadful”
    has occurred in my knitting I first put it away – for about 3 days.
    2) NEVER solve problems At NIght.
    3) I approach my fixing task in the morning, when no one is around to distract, or interrupt and I can go into my supper concentration mode.
    This system works well for me, I hope it helps you too!

  10. I believe I have over twenty (I was too embarassed to go past 19) ufo’s. I believe it is a slight case of of KADD – knitting attention deficit disorder. It is a combination of assembling pieces and releazing I didn’t do a good job of seaming, or it is too small/big, or it just doesn’t look good. My son made me promise at Jan 1 of this year, I can only buy yarn if I finish 3 projects. (He also said if I died he would be a rich kid from selling all the yarn on ebay!) I also realize I need time…. a luxury in my life right now. It seems something else always requires attention because I haven’t finished a project yet this year!

  11. I am just about done the Farmer”s Market Cardigan, won’t mention the plethora of UFO’s sitting downstairs or in the back room :), I just need to sew the left sleeve on then I get to knit the piece that attracted me to the design in the first place; the Collar! I have some crocheted socks that I am going to have to rip out the ankles, not sure how it happened but they ended on different rows and the ankles are really loose. I may go down a hook size for the heel part.


  12. I have three (3!) sweater UFO’s to finish and I not buy more yarn until until I’ve used up what I have in planned projects (there us a stash for smaller project). Progress on one was interrupted with the need for more yarn, which I was able to get, but I never picked up the project again, since I have to be sure and find the exact place I ended and match my gauge, etc.. Another needs a seed stitch border to finish a neck edge; knowing it will need to be done and redone (there is no pattern) it doesn’t get tackled. Another will not fit and needs to be frogged and I dislike doing that and dealing with curly yarn and starting over. Months have passed with NO knitting because these projects need work and real concentration and I cannot give them that at night, I must wait for a morning through an afternoon without interference and that hasn’t arrived… These UFO’s take all the fun out of knitting.

  13. Hi Sandi. I love the quote. Here’s my short story. Recently, during a particularly difficult time in my life, I took up sock knitting again. While socks aren’t difficult, my life is right now, and that means concentrating is neccessary. I was almost paralyzed (knitting-wise) at the thought of turning a heel! That’s when I came up with my new mantra:
    ” I am not sculpting marble here. I can rip it out if I mess it up!”
    It hasn’t kept me from freezing up sometimes, but it has gotten me past it!

  14. Actually, besides wanting to know what PITA stands for and SheriL@4 I would like to know the definition of UFO – I guessed Un Finished O? Object? Operation?

    I also both knit and crochet – and have a few things on the go and then interrupt with others. At the moment, a shaker rug made of knitted squares, crochet bracelet made of granny squares, and just started a sweater for my husband that is using a chunky yarn for the main and can’t wait to get past the rib!

    But my unfinished collection includes a crochet medallion bedspread that unfortunately I have lost the pattern and have not the patience to interpret what I have already done, a punched rug – both began as a teenager that I would love to complete. A crocheted elephant – mmm and a baby dress – made the jacket, booties and bonnet, but when I had boy after boy after boy, and then a grandson, somehow never got the incentive to finish the dress. (Very lacy). That is a few of my UFOs that I will admit to!

  15. Good question. I might say that for me all the five reasons have worked with a certain project at least once. My personal “favourite” is the yarn/boredom: I usually part form the yarn I like and try to find a suitable project for it (so I have loads of stashed yarn around pleading to be turned into something). The problems begin when it’s hard to evaluate whether the yarn will suffice for the project I finally choose. And sometimes it, of course, won’t. And so I start looking for something different and finally just get bored with the yarn (if the top I’m currently dong wil not work – I strongly suspect that the yarn will end up a bin. Honestly).

  16. For me, it’s usually when I hit a problem that needs to be thought about.

    Most of my knitting is done in the evening, in front of the TV, and is meant to be relaxation. That doesn’t mean I don’t tackle advanced or complex projects, but if I need to focus on something that isn’t working out right, I don’t have the energy for that in the evening. And I don’t have time during the day to do it. So it has to wait for a holiday or something like that.

    Having said that, I recently knitted a straightforward sweater with set-in sleeves. I sewed it together and the sleeve seems looked awful. I undid it, reknitted the sleeve caps and tried again. It still looked awful. I then decided I needed to change them to raglan sleeves, which I did mostly just by knitting and seeing how it turned out. It worked! I’m not usually this tenacious with my ‘difficult’ projects but I’m trying to be better.

    My pet hate at the moment is an intarsia cardigan I’ve been working on for the last 18 months. It not the easiest project in that the pattern chart just gives a complete repeat of the pattern and you have to decide how to place it for each of the pieces you knit. Not to mention I slow down to approximately a quarter of the speed of my normal knitting when doing colourwork. I’ve managed the back and can see it will look good when finished, but have ripped back the first front about four times because I can’t keep track of the chart and try to work out the shaping at the same time. Not an insurmountable problem – I just have to write some of it out for myself. The problem is, I am just bored with the project because it is taking too long.

  17. “PITA” = Pain In The Ankle (or something like that 🙂 )

    My UFO’s always make me feel guilty, and it’s encouraging to read that someone who has an audience of loyal readers to report to on a weekly basis still struggles with getting her projects done in a timely manner. It’s annoying that an inanimate object of my own making has the ability to make me feel guilty!

    The tactics that I try are:
    1. Keep the UFO visible, so it’s top-of-mind and always available should the mood strike to pick it up again. Also I get sick of seeing it sitting there looking a mess.
    2. Keep at least three projects going at all times: One that is mindless (usually = lots of stockinette), one that is portable (for the car, sometimes this is the same one as the mindless one), and one more challenging (for quieter times at home when I am feeling motivated).
    3. When I can, set deadlines that are (somewhat) inflexible such as holiday gifts, or something to wear on a vacation.
    4. Avoid projects with too much seaming as this is one area that frequently trips me up.
    5. If it’s just not happening, rip it out.

  18. PS that photo sort of looks like you threw your UFO’s out the window! I know I have been tempted to do that.

    Maybe to get yourself going again, pick the project that is closest to completion and focus exclusively on that one until it’s finished. Then you can cross that off your list.

  19. Make sure you keep notes whenever you set a project aside for any reason – needle size, yarn, and the pattern. If you can’t find any of those, you have to make it up and that adds to the difficulty.

    If you have to make it up, remember your experience with making similar items – you’ll have a fair idea of how to finish up a sweater, or a blanket, or nearly anything. I lost the pattern for my daughter’s butterfly sweater, so I had to improvise, and it worked out anyway. 🙂

    Remember your life line for lace, book an appointment for yourself to put in time repairing any mistakes (or get someone else to frog back so you can continue), and promise yourself something nice in return for pushing past the difficult roadblock. If nothing else, make time to have tea with a knitting friend and bring your potential UFO along, and you can get some good encouragement. 🙂

  20. As a quilter AND a knitter, I find that sometimes I have too many ‘works in progress’ (I don’t care for the term UFO). To help battle this, I have some self-imposed rules. One is that every New Year, I choose one of my WIP’s and finish it. This has to be done before I can start anything new. This past year, I chose a quilt project and a knitting project that I had to finish. It sure helps to see something finished! We are only in April, and I have started a new summer weight sweater, but have told myself that I have to quilt the project from last year’s quilt retreat before the next one in September. That way, I’ll be ready for the knitting retreat in October!

  21. Interesting post that got me thinking about why my own projects turn into UFOs!

    My longest standing UFO is a skirt that I became allergic to while working on it. After a couple of months of eye drops and no contact lenses, and now several years later, I don’t like the style! My goal is to see how I can salvage it (felted purse?), and now I avoid mohair.

    My main UFO problem is miscalculated math. I was able to prevent a sweater from becoming a UFO (lots of stockingette, and miscalculated sleeves) because I decided I wanted to wear it on a vacation. I’ve got a pair of toe-up socks that have been sitting for months because halfway done, I realized that my gauge was off, and they’re too short for my feet. I keep thinking I should recalculate the pattern so I can finish them–the yarn is too sticky to rip out. Maybe in time for next winter?

  22. I so agree with the five reasons you’ve given, Sandi. And am so unhappy right now with one of my UFO’s that is actually a USO! I have a pattern for a cute cowl/hood/hat that a friend designed. She asked me to test drive the pattern, sent me the wool and needle, and I just can NOT get the thing started after the cast-on. I have ripped three times now because I discover (between 5 and 15 rows up) that I have twisted the cast-on stitches at joining. I am recovering from surgery, ‘housebound’, and was looking forward to this time to get a LOT of knitting done! This has me so upset that I haven’t touched other projects either!
    The other UFO is actually a FO, but it doesn’t fit. I made a lovely T out of bamboo tape last year, and it is just too big. Since it is knit from the outside sides and top IN, to a small center seam, it is not something I can rip PART of. sigh It will all have to come out, or I will need to figure out some way to treat it as fabric, and hem, add side seams and sleeve hems, etc, to get it to fit. Or give it away to a more voluptuous friend.

  23. I find really when I am totally honest with myself that mostly the reason I have UFO’s because I am no longer in love with some aspect of the project and I just can’t stay committed! Normally, I am an extremely loyal and committed person but I can abandon a beautiful project just like that. Then I tend to feel guilty if it’s left too long without finishing. It sounds like I could benefit from therapy, but knitter’s you all know what my therapy is!!! Seriously, the best way I find to get back to the project with thrill and enthusiasm is to try to recover some of the original passion about it. It can be done, and most of the time I find that it is worthwhile.

  24. ouch! I know the feeling but I can give you encouragement on 2 of your stalled projects. I made the star baby blanket for my 1st grandson who was born in 2002. I loved doing the border b/c it was as portable as socks! I was spending a lot of time in dr’s offices with my dad, and it was a perfect in-the-purse project. And the blanket is beautiful when done! I finished my FMC (too late for a gold in the Knitting Olympics) but I let go of thinking the borders had to be exact matches. They’re stretched a little, and they’re not exactly next to each other. Only I know the discrepancies! When I wear it I get many compliments-well worth the effort.

  25. Yup, it’s definitely the difficulty factor for me. When I go wrong on a lace pattern for the umpteenth time, it sits in a drawer for awhile. But I do find that having a really talented knitting group helps me find my mistakes so I can fix them earlier. Thanks for this blog, Sandi. Just found it today & am enjoying your writing, again. Missed it since you left Knitting Daily.

  26. Oh, Sandi! I’m behind on the blog, but sometimes things happen just when you needed them and reading this post today was absolutely what I needed right now!!! I’ve been in a terrible knitting funk for many of these reasons on many projects. I also guilt myself on the too many unfinished projects, no matter why front, which makes everything worse. This just helped me so much! At some point in the weekend, my Jali Cardigan will be spending some special quiet time alone so I can RIP a few rows out and make it better. Thanks again!!!