Q for You: When do you give up on a WIP?

Q for You: When do you give up on a WIP?

This is that time of year where I’m off behind the scenes shooting beautiful photos of upcoming goods — starting with a new waxed canvas Field Bag color tomorrow! — and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in every set of lookbook photos there’s inevitably at least one with a luscious pile of grey wool and a certain sleeve in progress. It makes me laugh how many shoots this WIP has gone on, and I almost don’t ever want to finish it because it’s so great for this purpose! But in reality, it’s the Sawkill Farm sleeves and skeins from a sweater I started three years ago. There are older projects in the aforementioned pile of WIPs and yarn that needs to be sorted, but I consider them abandoned and awaiting frogging, whereas this one stays in its designated Porter Bin on my WIP shelf. One of these days, I’m going to figure out exactly what shape of sweater body these two sleeves want to be attached to, at which point I’ll resume knitting; meanwhile I’m perfectly content for it to hang out.

So that’s my Q for You today: How do you know the difference between and old WIP and an abandoned project? (Knitting and/or sewing.) Is there a time limit or some other criteria? And what’s the oldest WIP in your house?

(With special thanks for Kate Gagnon Osborn and Jen Beeman for sparking this Q.)

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PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: Do you wind yarn as needed, or all at once?

57 thoughts on “Q for You: When do you give up on a WIP?

  1. It depends on the reasons a WIP has been put aside. Some projects are victims of changes in life, such as a complex project started when there’s headspace and time to enjoy the complexity; but then life changes may require energy/time to be spent elsewhere, which forces it to be put aside. That sort of WIP might best be shelved to another time. Who cares how long that takes? If it’s put aside because it’s not pleasing, then I say frog it and move on. The time that’s already been spent is a “sunk cost”, and cannot be made into a good investment by sinking more time into it. Why not frog it and make something you like? The essential question is whether the time required to finish it would be better invested in some other project. Don’t be afraid to move on! Same goes for sewing. Or investing.

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  2. Such a good question. I think when you no longer excited to wear it, is a good place to give up. I have a lace cowl I’ve been working on for years. It’s lace so I can’t just knit and watch tv at the same time. But I still like the picture of the model wearing it. One sweater will be ripped. When you say “Why did I ever want that?” Is it for me.

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  3. What happens to me is usually something this: A half-finished project for winter use gets shoved aside for a more timely fall or summer gift that has a deadline. Then, sometimes I got back to the winter project and finish, but sometimes, the castaway project seems dull and dark — suddenly I notice that the yarn sheds, or that it took me 6 months to finish the back, and there’s so much more slog left — and I can’t bear to pick it up. After about a year or so of hating it, I abandon it :)

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  4. Many reasons for giving up on a WIP – dawning realization that the yarn and the project don’t match, the “I will never wear it and neither will anyone I know” syndrome, has anyone else ever experienced starting the sleeve and found that actually knitting a yarn that looked gorgeous in the LYS makes your index finger raw and almost bloody? Also, I have an autoimmune disorder that occasionally goes wonky and makes my weight change mid-sweater, and if I had a body-con cashmere silk blend on the needles, with a shower stitch insert, well, it might cause me to go a little nuts….. But personally, the biggest thing is something that isn’t on my profile picture, and that is my favorite part about getting older and going gray, I replaced my gray hair with jewel tones! I have adored every single bit of it, but it has required the biggest change and reorganization of my wardrobe EVER! No more reds, no more browns or earth tones! Talk about having to think before you purchase…

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  5. Most of my WIPs are shawls and I’ve frogged most of them. The WIP that troubles me the most is a long tunic with seed stitch triangles that’s about 2/3 finished. The problem is that I really don’t much like the color on me. It was special ordered for me by my local yarn shop and we both thought I was ordering a sort of burgundy. I accepted it because I didn’t want her to be stuck with six skeins of Tosh yarn. I’m determined to finish it because that color is sort of popular this year and I could really use that type of sweater…but it’s a hard go.

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    • Is there anyone in your life who it would look good on that you might give it to? I say if so, and if you enjoy the actual knitting, might as well finish it and make a gift of it. But if it’s not enjoyable *and* it won’t work for you, frog away!

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  6. My oldest WIP is a cotton double bed counterpane I started in 1998. It’s tied up with a lot of life changes – first squares done while sitting by my sister’s deathbed, another bunch done while recovering from surgery on a badly broken leg. It’s about 3/4 finished, and I do plan on finishing someday, which I guess means I don’t have a time limit for WIPs. On the other hand, I just frogged a sweater I started this spring, realizing that although I loved the pattern it was not a pattern I’d ever wear (thanks for helping me think about that!). I consider a project abandoned mostly based on my gut reaction when it pops into my head or into my line of sight – it’s either a pleasant sense of connection or an ‘ugh, that thing’.

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  7. I know from experience that once I stop actively knitting knitting on a project, I am never going to finish it; therefore I don’t tend to keep partially made objects for very long. For example, I am currently making an autumn sweater from some wine-coloured DK wool. I started using this wool in the spring to knit a cardigan with a lace panel at the hem. I put that aside and when I picked it up a few weeks later I didn’t have to think, I just frogged it. Funnily enough, I thought the problem was that I didn’t like the wool, but actually I am happy with it in this new project.

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  8. Since becoming more thoughtful about my wardrobe and my purchasing in general I am much quicker to halt work on a languishing project and reclaim the yarn for something else. I am also more thoughtful about what I cast on in general, which is a relief!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. There is usually a reason, if unacknowledged, why I give up on a project. It’s because there is something about it I don’t really like – the yarn, the color, something about the pattern, the yarn and pattern combination – and no longer want to wear the finished object. Recently I’ve made myself frog a couple of sweaters that were mostly completed because I had gotten to the meh point and quit. It can be especially tough to admit being out of love when the yarn was purchased for the project rather than being pulled from stash.

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  10. It is an absolute mystery to me why I can feel so strongly about a project one day and totally ambivalent about it shortly after. It’s quite annoying actually. There is always the enticement of new things. Knowing this, I now try to spend more time thinking it over before I start a new project. If the desire persists beyond the infatuation, then I can go for it. This helps me avoid abandoning WIPs, although it still happens sometimes.

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  11. This is such a timely post. Working on a cardigan last night and realized i am not going to have enough yarn to complete the last sleeve. I am growing weary of this project because the thoughts of ripping out the button band (for the third time because it was too tight the first time) to shorten the length length of the cardigan in order to utilize the yarn for the sleeve makes me want to give up on the whole project, put it on waste yarn, throw it in the box in the closet with the other WIP’s and move onto the new yarn that’s calling my name. I think i am kidding myself if I actually think that if it goes onto the waste yarn that i will finish it, in the future. Oh, the little lies we tell ourselves.

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  12. Oldest WIP: a mitered square throw that’s currently about 1/4th finished. I love the yarns – a hodge-podge of handspun samples, sock yarns, and oddments with a few beads thrown in for interest – bordered and lace-banded with a delightful plum-colored wool/silk blend. It’s been slowly in progress for about two years and will be finished ‘eventually’. It lives in the great room in a favorite basket, and is picked up and worked on about once per month at this stage. No hurry on this one. :)

    Other than that, just spinning in progress – no ‘abandoned’ WIPs in storage.

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  13. When I realize a project’s been hanging out too long, I do the “check in” with myself, noticing my reactions. In the case of a gorgeous, rather large fingering shawl (first large one), I’d struggled so much to keep the count of the pattern and I was two thirds done. Why wasn’t I finishing it? Oh… the colors were so not “me” (what had I been thinking two years ago?) but they were such great colors. I frogged it with great relief and made hats to sell. And those are the other signs for me: I start feeling guilty when I look at the project (that’s NOT why I knit!) and when I frog it there’s a huge sense of relief. The ones I’m dragging out because I love knitting them so much – they just make me smile when I look at the pile of loveliness. Ultimately, WIP’s hanging out too long are a “loose end” and I have a drive to tie up loose ends.

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  14. I recently finished one of my older WIPs (started in 2014). It’s a sweater that I almost abandoned to frogging multiple times- due to mistakes made in the knitting which required extensive ripping back, due to fingering weight yarn which takes so much TIME to knit- but in the end, I knew I would wear it, and love it, if I could just finish. Lo and behold, it’s now one of my all-time favorite sweaters! It’s even more perfect than I’d hoped it would be. So I’m glad I stuck with it. In the end it proves what I kind of knew already: If there’s any chance I won’t love the FO, my gut will let me know when it’s really time to frog! Otherwise WIPs can sit and hang out as long as necessary.

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  15. Tedious, boring rows. Sometimes the yarn, but often the “thrill” is gone. My oldest is long gone-a 1973 sweater with peach yarn but size 5 needles. It was my mental block to try smaller needles ever again. I knit Tecumseh with size 5’s and it was done in under two weeks. Yay-I faced my fear and the fear disappeared.

    But I do really, really try to knit one item at a time. I mean I don’t have 6 hands so if I stop one that is a sure way to lose focus.

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  16. Oddly, it took a few years for me to be as careful with my knitting choices as I am with my sewing choices. Mom was my sewing teacher, and stressed being really sure about the fabric you choose, realistic about pattern modifications, etc.

    Knitting, though, I went crazy those first two or three years. KNIT ALL THE THINGS! Now, I maybe even over-think whether or not I’ll actually wear that pullover or that color. Do I really want to deal with mohair? Am I really going to buy another sweaters’ worth of yarn when there’s plenty in my stash that’s already designated for something I know I really want to wear?

    The oldest WIP in my home is actually a quilt–for Mom. It’s comprised of soooo many pieces and is hand-pieced, which will be followed by hand quilting, and ya’ darn right I’m taking my time with it. I’ve been working on it off and on for about five years (but I really do need to finish it sooner rather than later).

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  17. A couple of years ago I pulled out a sweater WIP from 1985, finished it, didn’t like the fit, frogged and knit a sweater that fit better than anything I had ever knitted before – but the dusty rose no longer appealed to me. I wore it to pick up food at the co-op one day and another member gushed all over about it. It became hers instantly.

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  18. I abandon WIPs left and right, but I don’t usually pull the plug (er, needles) until I have another use lined up for the yarn. My oldest WIP is 12 years and it’s a sweater that I know I will never finish. I considered donating the half knit thing to a thrift shop for someone else to dissect (cause I could barely be bothered!) but recently I decided to try the yarn in a weaving project so plan on frogging soon!

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  19. It starts with the simple loss of joy. Actually, it really starts with a shot of bourbon. I can relate to all of the comments above.
    PS. I love that grey wool. Are you coming to Rhinebeck this year?

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  20. Any time that I have spare time to knit but chose not to is a sign that the project is wrong, thus it gets frogged and I find a more appropriate project for the yarn. I know that if I’m not excited to get up early just to knit a few rows or staying up later than I should than something is seriously not right.

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  21. I agree with whoever commented that it’s over for a project when you need it’s needles, adding that if you really don’t mind leaving something abandoned in a bag with live stitches, sister, that project is done!

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  22. In 1984, my mother-in-law and I chose some black alpaca/mohair for a long patterned vest for her. It was a bear to knit because it was so fuzzy that it was hard to see the pattern and if I made a mistake, it was very difficult to fix it. I ploughed on and was close to finishing, with only the 2nd front to go. My father-in-law had just become governor of the state they lived in and my mother-in-law was having to do public appearances so she had her ‘colors’ done. She was told not to wear black! So I put the WIP aside as there wasn’t really anyone else it was suitable for. Then in about 2012, nearly 30 years later, I showed it to a friend, who loved it and it was her size. So I finally finished it and gave it to her! And you can’t even see a line where it sat on the needle for 30 years. And there are no moth holes!

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  23. Some WIP are sitting there because I’ve advanced as a knitter and I no longer
    like the pattern or the yarn … not a problem at all for me to frog or donate.
    But, I have a nearly finished coat. I took the needle off (simply because I needed it at the
    time) and now I don’t know what size needle I was working with – I didn’t write it down!
    I want to finish the coat.
    Solution?

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  24. I have a totally “mod” hip black wool cardigan from the early 1960s that my mother put aside because she could not figure out the collar. When I was a teenager (90s), I did a sort of makeshift collar to finish it off and I’ve been wearing it off and on ever since. (It looks very ragamuffin now, but I still love it.) So, I do not give up on WIPs easily! I have a deep stash, and I’m ok with it.

    Tomorrow I am giving a friend some gorgeous wool fabric that my mom bought for me over 25 years ago…it did not suit that project as it was too lightweight. ( I needed a wool quilt’s backing, I got the right wool fabric instead and still use that quilt!) My friend is hoping to turn it into a dress for me and I can’t wait. I knew it was just waiting for the right project!

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  25. I used to have a lot of WIPs, some languishing for months and years, but at some point I learned to be completely ruthless: if I’m not totally happy with a project I abandon it immediately. So at this point my oldest WIP is two months old. I had a goal this year to work on every WIP every day and though I haven’t completely kept it up, when I did it was a great way to really make myself decide straight away how I felt about a project.

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  26. I frog very few things before they’re finished. Instead, I tend to block them, weave in all the ends mercilessly and then rip them back after wearing them 3 times and realizing I don’t like them, mainly cuz I’m freakish about fit. But I’ve learned recently to be a bit more circumspect. A few things I’ve not been able to bring myself to rip back are now in regular circulation and I love them. (I changed, they changed, who can say why?) Also, the longer I knit, the more I know to stay away from certain things, because I’ve tried them and they didn’t work for me. So I’m more experienced at steering clear of the projects that I’ll want to rip out eventually (anything with yarn heavier than worsted weight). But it happens. And then I try to stay sanguine and remember that it only hurts for 10 minutes and that, if I wait till the ends are woven, I’m going to really regret not having just got it done with. What I don’t do is keep WIPs.

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  27. This is such a good question for any maker. Letting go of projects is something I’m just beginning to learn how to do. For me (now), if there’s something I’ve been working on for a long time–the season has come and gone at least once–and I only work on it begrudgingly then it’s time to let go. As a born packrat I want to keep everything “just in case” but the weight of my possessions have become very tangible and very much a burden (still, I don’t think I own as much as the average American). I have a lot of guilt (generally) but it has been so liberating to abandon some long held projects (including a cardigan that was almost done). This feeling lets me know I’m on the right track and I will get better at recognizing when I should stop investing my time in something.

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  28. Oh this is a good question bc for the first time in my life I have multiple WIP. Up until a year ago I was a monogamous knitter, one project at a time and I don’t keep a stash of yarn. I buy the amount of yarn I need then use it pretty much immediately. But right now I have too many WIP.

    I have a log cabin coat that I started during the knit along earlier this year. I like the shape of it but I’ve grown less fond of the colors (black oatmeal burgundy navy and olive green). There’s also so many of them where I think I’m a monochromatic gal. I’m about half way done on the body, maybe a third considering I have to go back to do neckbands and a hem.

    I started a tank top with two Shibui yarns held together. I thought the fabric was too thick for a tank top so I thought I could hack it into a Cline sweater but now I’m out of yarn. My gauge is also smaller than the pattern calls for so I really have to sit down and do some math if I’m gonna commit to it. I have one body piece done and just the decreases to do on the other.

    Then I have my most long standing WIP. I lost my Bedford that I wore all the time. I loved the fit, the yarn, the color, everything. It was also the first sweater I knit so it was also sentimental to me. I wanted to make a new one but I changed the yarn and it’s kind of rougher/farmier and weighs A LOT and the color is a purpley brown that I don’t know if I’ll be able to wear. I keep telling myself that it will soften up after blocking but I don’t think I need a sweater THIS WARM or that it will feel good close to skin. The bad news is that I only have the neckband left!!! I have come close to frogging it but I just can’t think of what else I would use the yarn for so I’m gonna finish it and see if it works. I can always frog later but I think every time I put it on I will think “I should have never changed the yarn”

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  29. When I finally listen to the inner voice which says, “ugly, don’t like, won’t work, won’t wear, not pleasant to knit, etc. ” Sometimes this takes years, sometimes a few hours into the knitting.

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  30. I’ve never abandoned WIPs until now, that arthritis at the base of my left thumb makes every project I’ve cast on impossible. I’ve frogged 3 projects since mid-August. Might be time for surgery…

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  31. Thank you for the timeliness of this post. It made me really think of my WIPs (and yarn purchased but never started, but that’s another story). My main problems seem to be materials and/or technique. My oldest WIP is a cross-stitch kit where I ran out of floss in the middle of the last motif. It still is stuck in the corner. I need to get more floss, and finish it. My oldest knitting WIP _was_ a very partial scarf that I had put aside because the wool was just too uncomfortable to work with. I pulled it off the needles last night and gave it (and the balls of yarn) to a friend for use in naalbinding, where the coarseness of the wool might be handy. I have a hat on the needles that still needs only a few more stitches to finish. I think I’m sort-of afraid to finally finish it, since I had a lot of problems. It’s my first (and only so far) circular knitting project. But, the oldest WIPs in the house are two of my late mother-in-laws projects in the basement. I need to gently ask DH if he’d like me to either finish or frog them.

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  32. Something I’ve been thinking about recently as well, since I just went through some stored WIPs. The thing is that I tend to have a lot of WIPs going at any given time, like at the moment I have seven after frogging two last week. And I do actually finish them, even the ones that have sat in deep storage for a year or more. Knitting is something that’s theraputic for me, so rather than stressing me out, having lots of WIPs means that I can pick up and work on something that’s right for how I’m feeling at any given moment. So just because something’s been hanging around for a while doesn’t necessarily mean it should be ripped out. But I do have to be very honest with myself if I haven’t picked something up in a while. The black and gold shawl I just ripped had languished for two years because I love the colors and the concept, but the idea just hasn’t come together yet and the delicate yarns weren’t happy about the prolonged smooshing in their project bag. I had to remind myself that even if I use the yarn for something else, the idea is still there when I’m ready.

    I have two I’m on the fence about at the moment. One three color wool cardigan that I really love the colors and the pattern for. I’m about halfway through, but even though the guage is dead on, the yarn I used is a heavier weight than the recommended one and so the fabric is incredibly dense. I’m concerned it won’t fit like it’s supposed to even though all the measurements are right. Also, the super dense gauge makes it kind of hard on my hands, so even though I’m excited about the idea of the final project, I wasn’t enjoying working on it as much as I normally would. Which probably answers the question of whether I should frog it, even though I still really like all the elements. The other project is an absolutely beautiful brioche lace shawl that I’m also about halfway done with. Again, I love the pattern and the colors, plus I bought the yarn in Paris and began the shawl on a really special trip in Italy so there are a lot of memories wrapped up in it for me. The thing is that I made a couple of small mistakes a couple inches back that have thrown off the brioche patterning. I’m not someone who gets too obsessive about mistakes, but I’m at a point where the mistakes might be ruining the whole motif as I go on. Normally I’d just throw a lifeline in and re-knit, but one of the yarns is a lace mohair, which is just the worst to rip back. I’m not even sure if it will frog without some serious damage. So that one’s staying frozen with indecision until I either figure out a trick for frogging mohair or a clever way to rework the pattern so I can keep knitting without it looking totally weird. But my gut tells me not to discard it, eventually I’ll be in the right headspace to solve the problem and finish it.

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  33. I have only one old wip, a vest. It’s all knit. It needs a zipper. I have a zipper for it. I have no motivation to sew it in. A friend suggested I knit on a button band instead. I have the yarn. I have buttons that would look nice. I have no motivation to do this. It has been a few years now. This might never get done. But other than this, I have no old wips. A few years ago I went through and frogged all that should be frogged and finished the rest. It feels really good to not have them hanging over my head. Except this one vest…

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  34. I grew up with a quilting mother in NZ, and rather than WIPs we talked about UFOs – unfinished objects (I’m not sure whether that’s a quilting term or an NZ term, but I don’t see it much these days!) In any case, I’ve maintained a sort of mental distinction between the two – if I’ve worked on something in the last 6 months, it’s a WIP and has some hope of being finished. If it’s been abandoned longer than 6 months? It’s a UFO. Often the reason is just that it takes the wrong sort of attention, rather than any like or dislike of the object, though that sometimes is a prompt. (For instance, a quilt my sister and I started as pre-teens, and decided for some unfathomable reason to hand-quilt – I’d love to finish it, but usually all my handstitching time goes to garments – but I pulled it out earlier this year, so it counts as a WIP.)

    I recently instated a rule that I have to finish either one mending project or one WIP between every new project, so here’s hoping the pile dwindles!

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  35. A lot of factors come into play. I have ripped out WIPs where I have gained more experience and can now see that it isn’t a good project for me any more. Or the pattern used to interest me, but I’ve found more interesting/useful ones now. Some WIPs will never get ripped out. That shawl I started in a class years ago but will look amazing when it’s done. That Fair Isle sweater that is too small for my daughter now, but is 80% done and might as well go to someone someday.

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