The Business of Unfinished Objects

Confession: I am not a monogamous knitter. Not even close. At one count, I had 42 projects in varying levels of completion on needles. (It’s okay. You can judge me.) Some of them have been in progress for years. (Like these cutie fruits right here.) And you know what? I want to finish them. Kind of. But I also have a (not-so) secret fantasy, too–having a completely blank slate. Organizing and culling and #rippingforjoy and finishing the projects I *really* want so I can pursue the (my) ultimate knitting goal: working on one project at a time.

I want one project on my needles at a time–maybe two, or even three at the very most–so that I’m getting as much as i possibly can out of my knitting time and energy. After observing thousands of knitters over the past decade, I’ve seen it all. The Project Knitters, the Process Knitters, the Pre-Process Knitters (an extra special bunch right there,) the Retired Knitters, the Working Knitters, the Knitting Mamas….and every combination in between. While I won’t make generalizations about all knitters, I can say what is unequivocally true for me: knitting all the things all the time does not make me a better knitter, nor does it mean I’m more creative. It means I’m lazy and that I lack discipline; basically, I’m a magpie. And honestly, it took me YEARS to realize this about myself. I have learned, after sixteen years of knitting almost constantly, that when I actually sit down and dedicate myself fully to one or two projects from cast on through bind off, I reap greater knitwear rewards. Exponentially greater.

Of course, this is not to say that knitting is meant for production purposes only. It isn’t. I realize there are two rather divided camps here. There are the knitters (the Process Knitters) who will fiercely defend all knitting for knitting’s sake, that would say that everything I’ve ever knit–or the creation that comes from today’s needles–is a nod to the past. That each stitch is literally and figuratively building on top of the last and the lessons I’ve learned–and those wonky stitches and novelty yarn scarves [there were really just two] and ill-fitting sweaters–have made me the knitter I am today. And to that I say, absolutely. Amen. Of course I couldn’t possibly understand the magnitude of the well-executed gauge swatch if I didn’t have a failed sweater that came before it, right?

But. But but but. I have been knitting for sixteen years and the part of me that knits for an end result–the one that proudly resides in the Product Knitter camp–has relatively little knitwear (of her own) to show for it. I do have a shop full of lovely samples I’ve knit and patterns I’ve written and that certainly isn’t nothing. But I have an embarrassing (disproportionate?) mountain of unfinished projects lurking in the deep recesses of every closet (and drawer and glovebox and unused shop shower stall and…) And I really hardly have anything I wear. I didn’t even have a new winter hat this year–I wore a retired shop sample, one that Cindy knit back in 2011.

The reason for all my WIPs isn’t the fact that I don’t have time to knit–I do. It’s just not like it used to be. With two babies, I don’t have a fraction of the me time I’m used to. Of course. I don’t knit for four hours every night and two hours every morning, with glorious weekend-long marathons in front of Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals. (What? Doesn’t everyone do that?) It’s much more cobbled together these days; a row while I’m waiting for my coffee to brew, a few stitches while I’m behind the counter while a customer shops. Sometimes, like this morning, I knit for an hour before everyone in the house woke up and the night before last, I probably got 2 1/2 hours in while watching Season 5 of House of Cards. (SO GOOD.) So every day, even if it’s only 20 stitches, I’m knitting.

The reason for all my WIPs is the fact that I’ve allowed myself to get swept away by every yarn and project that comes in the door. (Or shows up on our IG feed.) To cast on with reckless abandon the moment something lovely catches my eye, when vendors send samples of their new spring yarn, when I impulsively cast on a back-to-school sweater for my daughter when she decides that dark pink is her new signature color. (That actually did work out in my favor; I knit a sweater in a weekend.) When you’re in the business of knitting–legitimately accountable to your customers to report back on the merits and pitfalls of every yarn and pattern in the industry–you’re allowed to give yourself a little grace in the casting on department. But 42 unfinished projects? Come on. Not only is it total gluttony, it’s gotten to the place where it’s reeeeeeeally stressing me out. It’s not nearly as exciting to cast on something new when you’ve just done it two days ago; it’s so much more rewarding –luxurious, even–when you’ve really, really held out on something, something you’ve been dreaming about for months, versus reaching for a new pair of needles when the slightest whiff of wool comes your way. I’ve discovered when I choose projects on a whim (rather than consciously queuing knitwear that fills a specific need in my life,) they just don’t hold my interest for very long. I get caught up in a vicious cycle which goes a little something like: I get super excited about something (pattern or yarn,) cast on immediately, knit on it for an evening or three, lose steam/get bored/get stuck on a technique/new yarn comes in, repeat et al.

The hall closet in our house has just one thing in it–my stash. It’s a jumble of books and fiber and mounds of half-finished projects and needles and a bit of fabric and embroidery floss and oh yeah. Yarn. I’m craving order and clarity…and a plan. Summer seems like the best place to start, getting organized before Wool Season approaches in late August. I’m fleshing out a bit of a roadmap, both in terms of what I’m going to finish up and most importantly, what’s to come. And I’m also thinking I might share some before and after pics (!) of my stash, its organization and the reasons why. Check back often, as lately I’m feeling the need to expand my knitterly thoughts on a scale that’s a little deeper than Instagram–and reviving this blog seems like the perfect place to do it.

How about you? What does your WIP pile look like? Does it bother you to have lots of projects on the needles? Do you consider yourself a Process Knitter or a Project Knitter? Please feel free to comment here or catch us on Instagram–I’m always interested in the knitter’s thought process!

*P.S. Next month marks 10 years since I started my first blog, and I was really into posting there for quite awhile. I’ve left it up–I will most likely initiate a migration from Typepad (there) to WordPress (here) sometime soon–but thought you might enjoy perusing the archives. Find it HERE.

Share this post