Work In Progress? Or UFO?

We have arrived at the place in my knitting where it's all about steadfastness. Despite endless rows of sameness on the back of the Bolero, I must be unwavering in my vision of cuteness and Just Keep Going.

This is the point where I sometimes abandon my projects–the long stretches of stockinette, the endless sleeves, the Back Without Boundaries. There is a reason I have accumulated a shameless pile of UFO's…

Well, actually, there are a couple of reasons an object moves from On The Needles to UnFinished Object. One is boredom, no doubt about it. But another reason, equally as common, is what I call The Needy Needles, a project so complex that it requires every synapse I own to be focused on it, every stitch along the way. There's a pair of socks in the UFO pile that falls into The Needy Needles category–four charts, every row different, no memorization possible… They are lovely socks, I adore the pattern…but I adore it In Theory. I adore it From Afar. Up close and personal, it wants too much of me. Despite whatever fantasies might abound, I do not have long uninterrupted stretches of time where I sit in the world's most perfect knitting chair, with the perfect amount of light, with classical music playing in the background, a cat playing serenely at my feet with a felted mousie, and all the quiet in the world to concentrate on four charts for one sock.

In reality, the chair hurts my back if I sit too long, the light is never enough, the cat is gnawing on my spare dpn, and the noises around me distract me so that I forget to move the chart markers in my knitting at the end of rounds.

However, something about this year is different for me, and I'm looking at that pile of UFOs with a different eye. Maybe it's the fact that I've reached Year Six of my marriage, a milestone that was never reached in what I now refer to as "my practice marriage" way back when. I'm wanting to build a Real Life now, to set down roots in a way I've never been able to previously, due to a life of constant moving around, a life lived half out of boxes from childhood onwards.

This year I want to unpack ALL the boxes, and sift through things, keeping what deserves keeping and giving away or tossing the rest. That bad chair that hurts my back? Why keep it? And if I need more light, I can find another lamp instead of, well…instead of cursing the darkness.

But it takes courage to unpack some of the boxes, the ones with old wedding invitations in them (invites from the practice marriage, I mean really–those have gotta GO), or outdated home decor items. It's hard to accept that some things are just Over and need to be put to rest…and perhaps harder still to work out how to keep something without simply packing it away again. Can I find a place for it in my new life? Does it need updating, or repainting, or simply a new button to make it wearable?

Just Socks And suddenly, I am no longer talking about just boxes of old things…suddenly I am talking about my UFO pile as well. If I approach that UFO pile the same way I am approaching the rest of my life–with an eye towards building something permanent, with the steadfast courage required to put down roots–then what will happen? Will I have the wisdom to give away or unravel those project that no longer fit my life and my body? Even more: Will I have the guts to finish projects I really want to keep?

Perhaps if I can learn to persevere through endless rows of Same in my knitting, then I will learn something valuable about the skills required to build the life I long for in my life away from the needles, a life of rootedness, of family, of community.

Or perhaps the imagery of "life away from the needles" is just an illusion for a knitter? Perhaps our needles are our lives in miniature, where we work out, in small stitches, the same struggles and puzzles and triumphs that are going on in the larger fabric of our lives…

Today, I have no answers for you, no pithy sayings, no clever tips. Today, there are only questions, questions about how to live a life where things last longer than a few dozen rows, where good things are seen through to fullness, where dreams can be lived out instead of cast aside.

I'm on Row 41 of 64 of the back. I can do this. I can knit on, until the knitting's done.

Knit with joy…

– Sandi

P.S. Let me know what you think! You can email me at or you can leave a comment.

Other Things You May Like to Check Out:


Blogs, Sandi's Needles

27 thoughts on “Work In Progress? Or UFO?

  1. Thank you for a beautiful and thought-provoking post. I’ve been going through the same things lately – what I own, what I’ve experienced, what different things and memories mean to me, where I want to go from here. Some things I’ve let go, some things I’ve rediscovered and decided to keep. Whichever way you go, it’s better than indecision and just letting it all weigh down on you.

    I think I’ll go dig out my UFO shawl and knit a few rows. That beauty definitely deserves my commitment. The wrong-sized, wrong-shaped cardigan, however… I think I’ll call it my practice cardi and hope I can reknit the yarns into something that I’ll love six y. ; )

  2. Grr, I accidentally added my comment before I was finished writing! Silly touchpad mouse. I meant to say that I hope I can turn my “practice cardigan” into something I can love for six years or more. : )

    Happy knitting!

  3. Thank you for such a personal story Sandi. I feel enriched by having read it.

    My knitting time is spent sitting close to my husband while he watches TV. I’m not working on the computer or at my business, chores are done, my feet are propped up, husband content…really a nice time each evening.

    I admit, though, that I have never had a UFO. My voracious knitting habit keeps me working furiously on one item until completion, and sometimes I realize I did not savor as many of the stitches as i could have…just so focused on the outcome. The only places I seem drawn to savor are in the planning, and then the finishing steps. Anticipation and wanting to select yarn and stitches and size and adjust pattern, it’s mentally stimulating to figure out, I am envisioning something so amazingly perfect that just might transform my figure into someone else’s. And when the pieces are all knit, I realize there’s such a little bit left to finish, that I might never work that yarn, color or pattern again. So I carefully graft, sew, weave and fondle.

    Then let my husband lie and tell me I look fabulous in what I just made (though I still don’t have that someone else’s figure).

  4. Great post Sandi. I too have a pile of UFO. Some are,like you said, Needy Needles, others are just out of season (why knit a lace tank when the leaves are falling all around), and still others are awaiting construction. It is all too easy to these off. Then there’s the blackberry aran knit that the carpet beetles found so tasty (right in front on the cabled rib– ARGH)…. There just never seems to be enough time to sit down and commit to working on these poor lonely things. Or is it just that I love the starting more than the ending?

  5. Endless rows of SAME are the perfect companion for a good movie in the DVD player because they don’t require all your attention — a couple of good movies you never made it to the theatre to see (or even some old favourites) and you’re through the boring stuff and back to the interesting parts of the project!

  6. Thank you for a most thought-provoking post!

    I think you’ve nailed the reasons so many projects end up as UFOs. I personally don’t have problems with the long stretches of stockinette, etc. These are my hockey knitting, and I try to find projects that I can knit while my eyes are on the tv.

    But I do have a Needy Needles project that has been in my UFOs, and at times, on my needles for ten years. Yes, 10 years. It has only 3 charts of traveling stitches and lace with numerous increases and decreases, but there were mistakes in the main panel which is a tree. None of the charts are synchronized, so a row count is always necessary if you can’t ‘read’ your knitting to know where you are in the chart. I can read my knitting for the most part, and I learned to read this sweater and its charts when I last worked on it. That was a couple of years ago! Once I’d mastered the reading, I started wondering why I was knitting this sweater, since I was 25 lbs lighter and it was an oversized sweater! But I put it back into the UFOs out of habit. I think it’s time for me to consider making the front part into a cushion cover and using the rest of the wool to make something else.

    Thanks Sandi for reminding me about starting over and cutting one’s losses!

  7. When I get to the endless stockinette I think of the little fish in the Nemo movie. “Just keep swimming ” and I just keep knitting. I know I’ll get to end if I just keep knitting. But I am ALWAYS anxious to start a new project to see how the beautiful yarn will knit up. There are always socks with gorgeous colors. These are Dr. office projects., and traveling projects.

  8. A really interesting and perceptive post, Sandi. I think it’s true that the way we
    knit reflects in so many ways who we are and what we want and what we need to learn.
    I find that knitting a number of projects together and going from one to the other
    really does help with boredom. Also, interspersing very small, fun projects
    in between larger ones is a way I keep things lively.
    Thank you for sharing your experiences so honestly.

  9. Thank you for your post Sandi.

    You are teetoring on the precipice of contentment. It’s that point in your life where you realize that it’s time to dump the excess baggage you’ve been dragging around and make room for the new adventures ahead. The baggage has been holding you back and weighing you down. It’s time to shed it. (pun intended) Now you are free to grasp the new joys in your life with both hands. If you’ve been waiting to exhale. Gurrrrrl, exhale!

    I have been there and have done that and all the better for it. Toss out what you don’t need and have been tripping over and finish the projects that carry over to your new life and attitude. Frog the projects that no longer work for the “new” you and use the yarn for something wonderful and new.

    I found knitting to be a journey within oneself. With each project you learn more and grown more. Every completed project is a visible testimony of how far you have come. The only limitations, are the ones we place on ourselves.

    Go ahead and finish those few dozen or so rows. You worked so hard to get this far, don’t stop now! ;oD

  10. Hi Sandi – I am the knitter who said hello to Nicholas on Thursday morning (I have a class in the room he teaches in right after) and wanted to welcome you to Toronto!


  11. Sandi,

    Thanks so much for all your posts! Your thoughts and questions are good ones. This past year has been a similar year for me and I’ve no answers either but each week try to tackle one more item that way even if it is a very small thing and find myself feeling better and more grounded – it is one less item waiting for a decision.

    Best wishes in finishing your Bolero and tackling your other items. Keep the posts coming – I look forward to your blog every week.

  12. This totally describes where some of my projects really ‘push my buttons’. It is either the sweater that has endless stockinette stitching that my daughter wants. And that is where I can keep going because she asks for so little so I want to finish it for her and keep going through the stockinette stitching. Sometimes it means watching endless videos but it usually gets done and then I get to enjoy her pleasure. She wears it and wears it and that makes the ‘endlessness’ of it worthwhile. The other is the sock with four charts (yes, I had one, too) that she asked for and actually spent her allowance for the yarn. I picked it up a bit here and there and kept copious notes. Again it paid off as she was delighted, I accomplished the job and was proud of the finished product. You will find a way to get through the ones that truly matter! Thank you for putting into words how I feel sometimes.
    Susan in ID

  13. Sandi, you have written a true thing. This is how life goes, and if we will recognize it and be engaged and involved, we will grow. That is the blessing of knitting or other creative work – we grow and evolve and become.
    G0 unpack those boxes, dump the UFO’s, and live in the moment. You go, girl!


  14. questions are good. they are really answers in another shape. speaking of other shapes, it is so therapeutic to rip out a ufo and renew it into something that is fresh. thanks so much for your thoughtful article. I love the weekly visits, and never know what to expect. Enjoy Toronto!!

  15. Sandi, you are such a gifted writer! Thank you for your blogs – you always make me think and smile. In all of your spare time ;-), perhaps you should consider writing a book – maybe a collection of some of your posts. I for one would buy it!!

    Wishing you many happy more years in your for-real marriage!

  16. I’ve got to add a comment about Bolero. I made it this summer–actually made it at least twice. I think there are errors in the pattern in that the fronts didn’t seem to match, but I fixed that by working the second as a mirror image of the first, but when all was said and done, it was enormous, even though the swatch guage had suggested that I was working the correct size. Oh well, I passed it along to a larger friend. May she wear it in good health!

  17. Thanks Sandi for your very insightful post. I also am at a point where I want to downsize some of my stored away “stuff”. I think of it as pruning. When I cut out the extraneous stuff there is room to grow in the directions I want to go. In the last couple of years, I have had several occasions where relatives or friends have died and have had to have family members go through their stuff. I decided that I didn’t want others to have to decide what I wanted done with mine, so I have started to make the choices that you outlined in your post. I am usually pretty good about finishing things I start and don’t mind at all the long stretches of stockinette as I do that kind of knitting while watching tv or waiting at the airport, etc. I don’t even mind starting out on the second sock or sleeve. My way of dealing with these is to start the second one immediately I finish the first so that I don’t have time to think about it. Having said all that, I do have some UFOs that I need to make decisions about, also finished pieces that didn’t work out quite right, such as a couple of sweaters that I got very ambitious with and they look beautiful but are unwearable. I am just going to consider them as art objects and use them as wall hangings. Thank you for your great written pieces, keep up the good work.

  18. Sweet!

    I have a cotton intarsia cardigan that is about half finished, that I adore in the abstract. Reality is that it’s a pain in the arse, which is why there is only one on ravelry, and that was the designer’s model. Who wants cotton in the winter in Boston? It can wait until March, marinating until I can stomach facing it again.

    I didn’t even know you were blogging here. Glad to find you through Knitting Daily!

  19. My #1 biggest reason for having WIPs in the first place is: it took too long to make.

    I had about 30 projects on needles that I’d begun 20+ years ago. Deep in my heart I foolishly believed that one day I would return to finish all those half-done beauties.

    As I got older, and newer things appealed to me, I knew that I’d never go back to them because the person I was then is not who I am now. So I trashed all of my old projects. Yep, I put them all out on garbage pick up day so I wouldn’t have a choice. I feel free!

    So while the Baltic Sea Stole I’m working on is as boring as all get out (32 rows, 13 sets, and then some), it’s more ‘me’ than all that old stuff. And it will get finished because that’s who I am now.

  20. Sandi 🙂

    Reading along, I empathize with so many of the points you have made. Every couple of sentences (and sometimes even just a couple of words) , my mind goes to comparable situations in my life, and I think about them for a bit, and imagine myself dealing with my UFOs and WIPs in entirely new ways.

    I love the way you write. You draw me in to not only your world, but you lead me deeper into my own life.

    Thank you Sandi!

  21. Keeping track of things in a chart pattern drove me nuts until I utilized one of those old plastic L shaped picture frames that you just slide the picture in “or the pattern chart” and it stands there next to my chair on the end table. With the a couple of the largest rubber bands I can find placed over the line and under the line I am working on..And I advance them down the pattern as I go..with a sticky note that has an arrow > on it pointed to where I am in case of phone or something.

    I keep the pattern flat in a large zip lock as I am working so I can write on the plastic as I go. and everyone goes into my medium size rubbermaid box that slides under the end table.

    I also have far too many needles because of a long standing habit of knitting all the parts at the same time. I will load up 2 sleeves, the back, the front, and work them 10 rows each so everyone is the same gauge.

    I do the same with socks. That way when I am done, I am done!!

    The thrift shop is a great place for old knit mags…supplies, and ugly sweaters that can be unraveled for good yarn, the expensive yarn used in some sweaters is found to make 2 or 3 pairs of socks in this manner. lovely old wool sweaters make nice socks!!

    Blessed are the knitters ; for they shall keep us in stitches….

  22. I hope it’s not too late to add a comment, Sandi. I just read this post, though, and it fits with something I was thinking a couple of hours ago. I’m making a felted rug for my Mother, and I’ve reached the point where it’s just not as much fun as it was. But I realized that I really want her to have the finished project, so…I have not put it in the “I’ll finish it later” pile. Thanks for your post, and if I might paraphrase you, “I’ll crochet on until the crocheting is done.” Thanks.