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Finish what you start, so the maxim goes. It’s easy enough to follow the principle with those projects that fly off the needles. Others require more commitment, like a slog through acres of garter stitch or the sort of colorwork which can only be knit with a clear head and good light.

Sonya is wearing: Gold Rush Shawl by Amy Christoffers in Rowanspun DK; 100 Acts of Sewing Dress no. 2; Pants no. 2; and socks in Trailing Clouds Nimbus Self Striping Sock.

Then there’s the unfortunate variety: the discard. It’s most often found stuffed deep in some basket. No matter what the craft, if there’s fiber associated with it, there’s usually a basket involved. Sometimes those are just for display and there’s a large plastic container tucked away in some closet.

Wainwright by Bristol Ivy in Jill Draper Makes Stuff Empire; Dress no. 1; and Pants no. 1.

There are many reasons to abandon a project. Maybe you end up disliking the color or feel of the yarn. Maybe the instructions are literally in another language or the charts make your eyes ache. Then there’s the most basic one of them all, just plain losing interest. All too often because some shiny new yarn winks in the most tempting way from a computer screen or shop shelf.

February Lady Sweater by Pamela Wynne in Beaverslide Drygoods 2-ply Merino; Earth & Sky Shawl by Stephen West in The Fibre Co. Road to China Light; Dress no. 2; and Pants no. 1.
 Repeat this cycle enough times, and the WIPs surely turn into UFOs. The likelihood of binding off everything that’s cast on becomes nearly impossible after accumulating an alphabet’s worth of these acronyms.
Tea Leaves Cardigan by Melissa LaBarre in A Verb for Keeping Warm Toasted; handwoven scarf by Kiki Hall in handspun Spunky Eclectic; Dress no. 2; pants (own pattern); and socks in Zitron Trekking XXL.

In the year of knitting, January is seen as the amnesty month. In an ideal world, all the projects would be sorted, blocked and finished. But most of us lead busy lives, and those expectations need adjusting. What we crave is the ability to wipe the slate clean and what we likely end up with: good intentions, some re-shuffling, and continued project hibernation.

I have many more ideas than time. I also have this habit of starting hobbies and accumulating supplies. I only have two projects on my needles at the moment, because a cranky elbow has stopped me from knitting as much as I would like. The sewing on the other hand is a completely different story. There are two quilts and untold numbers of half-finished garments.

When faced with these items, there might be an inner voice with reminders of virtuous behaviors, those shoulds versus the wants. Like resisting starting something new or not buying more. This can bring about a sense of guilt, which leads to regret, and before you know it you’re on a continuous slippery spiral down to shame. Just like that, your creative outlet has soured.
Bubblestar by Misa Erder in Greenwood Hill Farm 2-Ply Worsted; Diagonapples by Anna Maltz  in Appletons Old English Crewel Wool; jacket (own pattern); and jumpsuit (own pattern).
Please. Don’t. Let. It. There is no judgment from on high. No wooly purgatory. It’s practically guaranteed nobody will go cold or lose extremities without whatever it is you are knitting.

You have permission to finish, frog, find a surrogate or repurpose that albatross of a project. Or projects. Sit yourself down to finally weave in those five hundred ends while half-watching a murder mystery. Crochet together those half-finished sweater parts, your dog will love the new blanket. Unravel that scarf and make pompoms with the kids. The first responsibility should be pleasing ourselves. After all, this is meant to be something we enjoy.

About The Author

Sonya Philip is an artist, designer, teacher, and the author of The Act of Sewing. She has made it her mission to convince people to make their own clothes, by teaching classes and selling patterns. When not covered in bits of thread, she can be found knitting another shawl or cardigan. Sonya lives in San Francisco with her family and their scruffy terrier duo, Willie and Hazel.


  • Such a help to know that I’m not the only one with unfinished projects and a growing stash of the shiny and new (yarn). Not only did you read my mind you know my heart. Thank you.

    • You are NOT alone Diane!!

  • Clearly you have been hiding in my bedroom reading my journal and eyeing THE basket with that very expensive yarn and unfinished shawl. To hell with it. Pom poms it is.

    • You’ve rumbled me Melinda, I’ll need to find another hiding place now!

  • Thank,you for your insightful, “spot on” article. It’s time to unearth the UFOs that are hiding in baskets, totes and closets and take a look at them with fresh eyes and forgiveness. Seeking the possibility and creativity in either completing them, reusing the yarn for something else, or giving the yarn or project to a knitting buddy so they can have some fun.

    • There’s just never enough time and too many pretty things to knit. I love the way your talk about possibility and creativity, SO much better than guilt or shame. And let’s hear it for knitting buddies!

  • Thank you, Sonya. I’m going to join a half finished throw and jacket, both in beautiful Kaffee Fasset designs and make a big pillow cover. That will take care of two ufo’s. I love all your sewing creations.

    • Oh Tina, I’m so glad! I love Kaffe Fasset’s colors and it’s wonderful that all your work will be out in the open for you to enjoy <3

  • Yes since being a knitter I’ve learned that in knitting vernacular a UFO is not an alien – in any sense. This morning’s blog comes on the heels of casting on a long lusted after project – whilst still slogging through the miles and miles to go of my Summer Fairy. Oh why did I choose to do the duster length?

    • A duster length?! That does sound like a phenomenal amount of knitting. It’s only natural to have a few “palette cleanser” projects in between inches.

  • Excellent point. If onoy it was string enough to negate a thiusands years cuktuee embued with guilt. 🙂

    • If only!! I think it would circle the globe SEVERAL times.

  • Thank you for this beautiful reminder that our making is about joy and sharing beauty with people around us. Also, love love love all the outfits and colourful walls, they really make me happy!

    • Thank you, so glad you enjoyed reading this month’s column!

  • I have thoroughly enjoyed your all your columns; they are always thoughtful and thought provoking and a reminder to be gentle with ourselves. Thank you Sonya

    • You’re so welcome Amy, thank you. Glad you enjoyed reading!

  • This is a fraught topic for me. My mother used to berate me about my sewing UFOs when I was a teenager. I would feel so bad. But they would be projects that didn’t work out for some reason, size, style, fabric, whatever. A learning experience. My mother didn’t understand this. To her Depression Era mind, it was wasteful. To top it off, she was the most amazing knitter whose garments always came together perfectly and fit the wearer. No UFOs. Grrr. I now have moved to knitting as my main craft, and I have UFOs in knitting. I still consider these learning experiences, and I wish my mother were here to share it with me.

    • And I used to buy the fabric at Woolworth’s and WT Grant for 29 cents a yard!

      • t’s a funny thing, the whole learning process. You’re completely spot on about learning experiences, I know I have to make the mistakes (sometimes several times) in order to suss out the way to avoid repeating them. And can I add TWENTY NINE cents a yard?! Oh my, talk about inflation considering if you get fabric at six dollars a yard, that’s what is now considered a deal.

  • You inspire me! I love your sense of Color and shape and, especially, your playfulness.

    • Thank you Cynthia, you’re so sweet!

  • BRAVA!!!

    • Thank you!!

  • Totally agree. I am by choice a monogamous knitter/sewist because for me, momentum is all. As I age I make wiser choices and have fewer “fails”, but there must be some or my creative energy would stagnate.

    • Liz, you are spot on about making wiser choices. I find I know what I want to wear, so I’m much less susceptible to whatever he popular pattern is at the moment.

  • Oh, it’s always a good day when there’s a Sonya post!

    • You’re a sweetheart Lauren!

  • Thank you for this lovely post! It was very well-timed for me–I’ve been agonizing about whether to frog a half-finished sweater out of some very luxurious yarn and start something different. What’s been stopping me is that “should”–I bought the pattern for it, I spent hours knitting the whole back and part of the front. I have such limited knitting time, I “should” just finish it rather than throwing all that time away. I “should” finish what I started. But also have that little voice in my head saying I’m not going to like how this sweater looks when it’s done. The yarn was a significant investment for me, so the whole thing has this added pressure on it. Your post reminds me that I have permission to do whatever’s going to please me. Thank you!

    (And, btw, thank you for sharing your beautiful sense of personal style. I don’t yet know how to sew, but I find your posts so inspiring!)

    • To continue to knit or not, that is the question. It’s quite a conundrum, you don’t want to think you’ve wasted all that time, but you also want a practical object at the end, a sweater you will not only wear and maybe even love. You totally have the permission and YES please yourself!

  • What

  • What a fun, light-hearted approach! I sometimes find myself feeling stressed about my UFO’s. This year my goal is to finish one per month. l made a list and am wading through!

    • That sounds like an excellent goal and a way to remove the UFO Stress. I’m a big fan of list-making!

  • Brilliant and I want a jumpsuit.

    • I’ll be working on a tutorial!

  • Yes! A couple years ago, I had to clear out some of my yarn stash and UFOs, as it had reached a point of inducing guilt. I was able to give some lovely yarns to a friend who was a newly-minted crocheter. She was thrilled and therefore, I was too. A new happy home for nice stuff that sitting sadly in my closet… win-win!

    • That definitely sounds like a win all around. And you know, crochet takes up more yarn!

  • Oh but the worst thing is when you persevere with a NAP( nearly abandoned project ) that you know is not quite right, not anymore anyway, but you persevere and spend hours and days finishing it and it’s not right and you never wear use or love it but you wasted so much time on it…if a WNIP is just not happening, time to frog it and move on I reckon. Of course it helps if you can see knitting as an enjoyable process not necessarily tied to outcome…especially if the abandoned project is a tedious fairisle number.

    • More acronyms I did not know! Thank you for educating me. Though I totally know and have knit my fair share of NAPs only to frog or give them away. And frogging fairisle is NO FUN.

    • I’ve got a knitted vest like that, which only needed ends woven in before it could be donated to the Hospice thrift shop. Ready to go now!

  • enjoyed this article immensely….Thank You Sonya!

    • So glad to hear Karen, thank you!

  • SO well put. I love the photos. You make great points. One of the reasons I knit so many socks is that I lose interest in the BIG projects. Socks let meuse fun yarns and they are something i wear with no scratchy problems. Thank fully my feel love wool

    • Socks are the ultimate in portable project and when I used to teach a basic sock class, I would tell my students that they were so popular for exactly the reasons you wrote!

  • I have a hard time reading your articles the first time through, since I always want to quickly scroll down to see your photos – typical of the attitude that sees me with 7 (or more) projects currently on my needles! But I love the way you mix colours and patterns. It inspires me to be more adventurous. And maybe to start sewing again.

    • Thank you Pamela, so glad you enjoy my posts! And I am a total magpie, always distracted by pretty shiny things.

  • This was just what I needed! While I’m on a “finish a WIP a month” goal, I also have a category called “Fix/Remake/Let Go,” which often results in recovered yarn (fabric has often been compromised by cutting but it qualifies as well). I really look forward to your columns! Thanks!

    • That sounds like an excellent way to categorize WIPs and I think getting through one a month is very manageable goal.

  • Thank you for this reminder! “The first responsibility should be pleasing ourselves. After all, this is meant to be something we enjoy.” <–Mantra!

    • You’re so welcome Heather <3

    • Thank you Sonya, I love your columns and this one really hit the mark for me. Sadly I’ve been “bequeathed” the WIPS, WNIPS and some fairly awful UFOs from a couple of dear friends lately and my stash was already completely out of control! Your words have helped me to see that I’m not letting down their memories if I get rid of anything I can’t repurpose or donate to, say, the Linus Project. Wow, the sense of relief! We need to live every day as if it’s our last more often, and doing things that make us happy, not stressed out.
      Like many others on here I relish your photos and brilliant style so thank you for brightening me up on a very cold day here in the English Lake District where the only colour just now is grey with snowy bits….

      • I’m so glad Dawn! It is no fun at all to feel like you’re letting people down. More happiness with our making and less stress is the way to go. Sending some warm California sunshine your way!


    • You are very welcome Cynthia!!

  • Such an inspirational lady. I love her clothes.

    • Thank you so much!

  • On a sort of unrelated note, that lovely yellow jacket caught my eye, as I’ve been trying to replace the 1940s thrift-shop swing coat (mustard-tan wool with a lush golden satin lining and two slant pockets) I bought when it was young (probably 1970?) and wore until it was literally in pieces. I wish I had kept it to try to make a pattern from it, but my sewing skills are minimal and at the time I really didn’t appreciate how impossible it might be to replace it with another 1940s item. Because in my world of wardrobe, apparently time pretty much stands still.
    Long way to say: love your jacket!

    • Oh those well-loved pieces of clothing. I do love a good vintage coat, the swingier the better! There’s a sewing pattern company called Decades of Style, sadly they don’t have any coats from the 40s, but it might be fun to look at the different eras.

  • Thank you. I needed to hear that!❤️

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it Debbie!

  • I loved this piece. I th No you wrote it just for me. Thank you.

    • You’re so welcome Suzana!

  • Sonya, I love your style! I have been knitting shawls for the past two years after a long hiatus. I was thinking I would lose weight before I knit a sweater since all the patterns show a tiny person wearing the samples. But you have given me courage to try to knit one to fit me the way I am now and stop waiting around! It is time to embrace where I am in life, early 60’s, and run with it! Thank you for giving me the inspiration to do it. Time to look harder in that closet and hit the sewing machine too.

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