I’ve been asked, more than once, to write a guide for how to stick with projects and finish them. So this is that guide. But let me just say a few things right quick
- I don’t consider myself to be the most dedicated finisher. I have lots going at any given time and all of my WIPs are, by definition, unfinished.
- Finishing stuff is not my first priority
- On average (I went back a ways and figured this out) I finish something about once every two weeks. Its usually a small or medium something.
But I do finish things more often than most of the other stitchers I know. And many of those stitchers are painfully aware of their unfinished projects and have asked me for help on this issue. So, if you’re ready for a guide from someone who doesn’t much care about finishing on how to finish, here it is.
Step 1: Accept that not everything you start will be finished
I don’t know how many projects you have started and not (yet) finished but I do know this: you won’t finish all of them. Nobody does. Charles Dickens left behind an unfinished book, Mozart left behind at least 3 unfinished compositions, and Leonardo Da Vinci left behind so many unfinished sketches and paintings that we aren’t sure we’ve found them all yet.
Nobody finishes everything that they start. You won’t either and that is perfectly okay.
Step 2: Prioritize
Having accepted that not everything will get done, pick a reasonable number of works in progress (WIP’s) and make those the official “things you are working on”. If you knit and crochet and spin and weave, I think its perfectly reasonable to have one of each type going. Or, if your regular day takes you out and about, you should have a stay-at-home project and a on-the-go-project.
Don’t force yourself to work on one project and one project only until it is all the way done. That works for some people but if it worked for you, you’d be doing that and wouldn’t need this guide. So pick a few projects and move them into the top priority spot.
The others? Get them out of sight. Put them in project bags and hide them under your bed. Out of sight, out of mind. Those bagged up projects don’t count anymore and you don’t have to worry about them.
Step 3: Forgive yourself
Your family/roommates might care about your habit of starting and not finishing if every table in the house has yarn project on it. Just bag up most of them (see Step 2), hide them under your bed, and they won’t care anymore. The person you promised that shawl might be wondering when their shawl will get done. Just tell them its coming along. Then buy them a gift card to wherever to tide them over. (You might toss in a little fib about how what you’re making is challenging and difficult and how you’ve had to restart a few times but the creative process is worth the pain and when they get the shawl they will know its quite special.)
Mostly, no one cares about this issue but you. The only person feeling let down by an unfinished sock is you. The anxiety and pressure and dread you feel, its all coming from you.
Take a few deep breaths and… be freaking grateful that this is your biggest problem! Stop taking it all so seriously. There are much bigger problems, much bigger personality flaws, that you could have. You don’t have a gambling addiction (I hope). You don’t leave your kid alone at night to go out clubbing (I hope). So you are the owner of 18 WIPs. So what?
Stop beating yourself up because you don’t deserve it. Forgive yourself for being less than perfect.
Step 4: If you hate it, get rid of it
Go back and look at the projects you prioritized to the front of the line. Why haven’t you been working on them and be honest.
- Do you secretly hate that yarn?
- Does that plastic crochet hook feel all wrong and make you long for something in wood?
- Is the pattern full of problems and missing information and if you look at that chart one more time you might scream?
If you are working with materials that you hate, you’re not going to ever finish. Just stop. If you’ve been telling yourself that you have to use up this splitty, scratchy yarn before you’re allowed to buy anything new then OMG stop. Making someone keep at an activity that they don’t like is called aversion therapy. It will make you give up knit and crochet forever.
Chances are that any yarn you hate with the power of a thousand suns was cheap. It probably cost $2 to $3 a skein and that is the price of a cup of coffee. Would you force yourself to choke down a foul tasting cup of coffee? Probably not. You’d probably throw it away. So stop choking on that nasty yarn. Just bag it up and put in under your bed. (I’m sure there is still some room under there.) Work on something else.
Step 5: Treat this like its your passion
If all you are doing is making projects then you’re not engaging with your mind and spirit. If knitting and crocheting is just a thing you do to stay busy then you’ll lose interest. That is only natural. But if you recognize that knitting and crocheting and playing with yarn is an act of creation, it will hold you and keep you.
Be proud of what you do and don’t apologize for it. Knit in public. Wear your crochet. When someone asks what you’ve been up to, talk about your projects. If you’ve mastered a new cable, share that with a friend. Take pictures of your project as it grows. Treat your work like its important to you.
And immerse yourself in the culture of textile arts. Pick up a magazine at the bookstore and leaf through it. Find a website or blog that you like (cough, cough) and visit often. Join a group, even if its an on-line group and check out what everyone else is doing. You’re a crafter and maker of things. You need to stay inspired.
Feed the soul, that’s what I’m saying. Let yourself have the full experience of your hobby and you’ll stay motivated and interested. It may seem counter-intuitive but part of being a finisher of projects is to take a break from the actual stitching and just think and talk about stitching.
Step 6: Schedule some time to play with the yarn
No really. You can do that. Find a time of day, or in the week and say, “that is my crochet time”. Maybe its your lunch break and you’re going to stick in your earbuds, listen to music, and knit. Stand firm on that. Anyone who bugs you gets jabbed with a needle.
Let’s say you’ve joined a gym. (Oh wow do I hate gyms). You’ve decided that you want to get in shape. (Getting in shape is so over-rated.) If you don’t dedicate some regular time to go, you won’t get much out of your membership. (Gym membership fees is money you could be spending on yarn.) Well stitching is like that. If you don’t set aside time, it won’t happen.
Step 7: Try not to start new projects
Ahh. Okay. Now we get to the hard stuff. Let’s say you’ve prioritized a few projects to the front of the line, and you’ve made sure all of those projects are ones that you actually enjoy making. Good. But you still feel the lure of a new cast-on.
Here is how I cope with that:
- Is it a small project? One that I could reasonably finish in a week or less? Then it doesn’t count and I give myself permission to cast-on. A new project gets most of my stitching time (because I’m excited about it) and if that burst of enthusiasm carries me right from cast-on to finish off then it doesn’t count in the grand scheme of things.
- Will doing a gauge swatch tide me over? Swatching is an important part of success and we should really all do it. Most of us don’t. But if you can use the swatch stage as a way to scratch that itch for a new cast-on while checking gauge and/or practicing the pattern then its a win-win. Try swatching.
- If I start something big, something that will take more than a week, then I bag up a WIP and stick it under my bed. Replacing projects in the top priority category is okay. Adding to them is not.
- When I break that rule, I go do Step 3.
Step 8: Take the time to appreciate what you have done
This, more than anything, keeps me going on a project. I stop and check out my WIP all the time. I pet it. I cuddle it. I try it on. I’ll pause every row/round and stretch it out to take a look.
Its part of taking joy and pride in the creation, in the process, in the making. How can anyone be halfway through the making of a hat and not know if it fits? What do you mean you haven’t tried it on? Why not?
You don’t have to get to the end of a project before you can enjoy it. Enjoy it every day, every row, and every stitch. Enjoy the feel of it in your hands. Watch the colors work up. Build the shape and pattern inch by inch.
Actually if you don’t do anything else from this guide, do this. If you enjoy your work enough then you won’t care if you ever finish or not. You probably will start finishing things but it won’t be your priority anymore…
… which is where I usually find myself in all of this. I mix in some self-discipline, some forgiveness, and plenty of appreciation for the creative process and I don’t much care about finishing things. I just concentrate on enjoying making things with yarn. The finish off’s are simply a side effect of that.