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Project Frustration: When is Enough Enough?

Every crafter has experienced the unpleasant moment when they have been working on a project that they may have been super excited to start but then found that it just isn't turning out the way that they hoped. Maybe the fiber isn't quite right for it. Maybe the pattern just doesn't make sense the way they're reading it. Maybe the project just doesn't look the way that they envisioned it would. Maybe they decided that they really hate the color or the sizing or process.

So, at what point do you finally say "ENOUGH!", scrap the project, and move on? When is it okay to go from UFO (unfinished fiber object) to calling it quits for good and walking away? When is it time to give up?

I get it; allowing UFOs to pile up in our bags, closets, craft rooms, etc. is easier and more forgiving than deciding that a project has met its end before you actually finish it. That way, we can tell ourselves that we'll come back to it. That we haven't given up on it. That maybe after we practice a particular technique more or when we're in a better frame of mind or some other circumstance changes, that we'll feel more motivated and be able to fly through the project until the end. And, the thought of deciding that a project just can't be completed feels like a small failure of sorts. That we are not living up to what we had promised ourselves we'd do. It's much easier to just stick the project that isn't working in the bottom of a bag, at the back of the closet, and tell ourselves that we'll get to it. Eventually.

But, I wonder, could it be more harmful to us to delay the inevitable? To continually put off something by telling ourselves we'll get back to it when, perhaps deep down, we know that we won't because for whatever reason we've fallen out of love with the project?

Let's unpack further:

How often do we decide to not start a new project--perhaps one we're truly excited about--because we have x-number of unfinished projects to complete first?

How many times have we told ourselves, "No, I won't get that really pretty yarn for a hat because I have this ugly yarn I don't like sitting there for that sweater I never finished" but then we don't work on the sweater or anything else because we really hate the ugly yarn, so really, we aren't doing anything at all?

How unnecessarily guilty do we feel every time we have to move said UFO out of the way or every time we want to take a minute to indulge in a craft we enjoy but remember that we have that lurking unfinished project just sitting there?

Is that healthy or productive? I don't believe that it is.

I've been crocheting, doing needlework, painting, sketching, and quilting for nearly 40 years at this point and knitting for more than 15. In that time, I've completed a lot of projects, put off a lot of projects, come back to a lot of projects, and scrapped a lot of projects. I've also had a full and successful career that I left along with several jobs after that weren't right for me. In my experience, while the angst and anxiety surrounding the calling-it-quits decision making process can cause everything from anxiety rashes and sleepless nights to eye twitches and extreme frustration, once the decision has been made, once the decision has been made, those feelings and irritating side effects have always dissipated. Taking a project that isn't working for me anymore and pulling out my needles and stitch markers, maybe frogging the entire thing to use the yarn for something else or simply bundling it away to use as stuffing for a pillow or amigurumi feels good--almost as good as it felt when I marked January 17, 2017 on my calendar years in advance of when I announced my resignation from the university. It's freeing, and it's okay.

Making the choice that a project just isn't right for you anymore isn't a bad thing at all.

Let me give you an example: Years ago I made a Fox and the Grapes shawl (pattern by Lily Go and available on Ravelry). I had the perfect yarn for it--this gorgeous deep purple indie dyed skein that I had picked up at a fiber festival. The yarn had hints of that almost cranberry shine you see on concord grapes with little bits of blue green and yellow that reminded me of the grape vines we see here. The pattern was fun. I loved every moment of making it, until I was near the moment of binding off and realized that the shawl I had pictured was way smaller than I wanted.

I considered buying more yarn and just adding more pattern repeats, but, of course, that colorway was no longer available, and while I could have just ripped back and striped with a complimentary tonal or used a tonal for the border, I just wasn't feeling it anymore.

That project languished, on the needles, in one of my yarn drawers for years. And every time I would need to go stash diving, I would spot it and feel like rubbish because here I was, happily working on all these other things when I probably should have been deciding what to do with that shawl. The yarn was, after all, too pretty to not be something. The pattern was too interesting to not be finished. But, there it sat, in that drawer, year after year, while I worked on other things and then felt terrible every time I remembered that I hadn't done anything with that shawl.

The same goes for the Lestrange Cloak that I started with some gorgeous fingering weight wool/mohair ages ago. It was a lacy cardigan that, at the time, was a challenge to my knitting skills as I hadn't done a lot of lace knitting when I started it. I had most of the body finished when I read a tip about completing sleeves first because so many of us get stuck on sleeve island. I started the first sleeve, leaving the rest of the cardigan on scrap yarn, and suddenly, I hated the project. I had absolutely no motivation to finish. The yarn was pretty, but the contrary part of me didn't want to work with mohair anymore. The pattern was gorgeous and it had been working up beautifully, but it was a slog to knit even one round. I complained to myself that the print in that issue of Interweave Knits was too small for my near-sighted eyes even though I could have easily made a copy and just enlarged the chart. I whined about how I didn't like the mohair blend even though I've made plenty of projects with mohair that I really love. That project sat in my bag and made it all the way back to Erie with me five years ago where it sat in the closet for three and a half years until finally, I had it.

And, let's not even get started on the Goswold of Graveney Street St. George Gargoyle. Poor Goswold was started just as I was transitioning from poor quality yarn to better quality yarn. I had already made several of Georgina Manvell's patterns before I started Goswold, but when I discovered the real difference between quality yarn and rough plastic yarn, I just couldn't bring myself to grit my teeth and finish Goswold. The start of his body got stuck in a plastic storage container, and I didn't set eyes on him again until I decided to organize my stash during the 2020 covid shut down.

I agonized over those projects in ways that were really unproductive. I would get an idea to start on something, and there was always that niggling thought that I really ought to be working on either the shawl or the cloak or poor, poor Goswold. And I disappointed myself because I just couldn't bring myself to work on them. This went on for way too long, and I should have used what I learned when I quit the university (and every time I walked away from an unhealthy relationship) and applied it to these UFOs--there's no shame in saying "I'm not finishing this." Deciding "this isn't working, and it needs to be out of my life and out of my space" is okay. In Goswold's case, that meant what I had started on his body was repurposed as stuffing because I know I'll never want to work with that yarn, again. Both the cloak and the shawl were frogged, leaving me with yarn that I can use for something else at some other point in my life.

And doing that made me feel much better.

I can't tell you when you'll reach that point when you've finally had enough of a project and you have to move on. A few months ago, Casapinka urged everyone to pull out their UFOs and WIPs and make a decision--finish it, frog it, or "eff" it, and I find that to be really great advice because while the process leading up to making the decision can be anxiety-producing, you'll feel much better once you make the decision because then you can start to make progress, again.

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