No, really. I do.
If you’re new to the embroidery / quilting / needlecrafting world, you might think I’m a little off my nut here. But if you’ve been in the game for a while and you’ve had contact with other people in the hand crafting and needle arts world, then you’re probably familiar with the term UFO, and you know what I mean by it.
A UFO – strangely enough – is an UnFinished Object.
This particular moniker has always irritated me a little bit. Why do we call it a UFO?
Firstly, unfinished is one word. So, if anything, it should be a UO. But I realize that sounds equally silly.
Secondly, who calls their embroidery work an object, anyway? I generally call it an embroidery project. If I don’t finish it, it’s an Unfinished Project.
And I’ve had plenty of UPs in my life!
(Some people, incidentally, call them WIPs – Works In Progress – but this name only makes sense if you are really keeping it in progress. If it’s well and truly finished and you know you’re never going back to it, face reality and consider it an UP.)
Today, I want to chat a bit about UPs. It’s a subject that preys on my mind, because I hear so many people mentioning their unfinished embroidery projects, their guilt associated with them, and their inability to go forward because of them.
I think we need to come to grips with what an unfinished project is, why we have them, and what we can do about them.
The Conclusion First
I’ll offer my conclusion first, so you know where I’m going. I’m arguing (in the proper sense of the term) in support of the UP – of the UFO – of the Unfinished Project.
I believe that it is normal and it is OK to have unfinished projects. And I mean truly unfinished projects that you will never, ever go back to and finish.
Why do We Embroider?
First, let’s discuss why we embroider.
Embroidery and other forms of needlework, for most people, are leisure activities.
Most of us embroider because it supplies us with a certain level of pleasure. Embroidery may be a hobby or pastime, or it may be our living, but we do it because we enjoy it.
Unfinished Embroidery Projects & Why We Have Them
Why we end up with unfinished projects will differ from person to person, based on life circumstances, temperament and personality, and many other factors unique only to the individual.
But in a nutshell, I’d say these are the primary reasons stitchers end up with Unfinished Projects:
1. Disruptions in Life
3. Change of Interests
4. Change in Tastes
5. Lessons Learned
Or a combination of the above.
Disruptions in Life
Disruptions in Life is an obvious reason why a needlework project may never get finished. And disruptions can very easily lead to some of the other reasons on the list.
You know how it is: your life takes a turn – you end up in some kind of circumstance where you can’t devote time and energy to a needlework project. Time goes by, and when you can return to the project, you find that your interests have changed, or the project bores you, or your tastes (in style, colors, whatever) have shifted.
Boredom doesn’t need too much qualification. You started a project that you were initially enthusiastic about, and it turned out to be a boring project. That happens.
Change of Interests
It is pretty much normal for people to develop new interests as they grow and as they learn more.
Imagine a crafty person discovering, for the first time, the needle arts. Imagine that this discovery was in the form of plastic canvas. Having not grown up around needlework, she didn’t know anything about it, but, being intrigued by a kit at a big box craft store, she bought it, and she made the thing. She loved it! It was so much fun to make that little plastic canvas doohickey!
So she goes to the big box store and buys three more kits. And halfway through the second kit, she has an epiphany. You see, she loves all things NYC, and the Empire State Building is an object of utter fascination and obsession with her. She wants to stitch and build the Empire State Building in plastic canvas!
So she ditches Kit 2, and starts out on a quest to discover how she can go about doing this.
Her quest leads her to a local needlework shop that she had never noticed before – and it’s just three blocks away from her home! (Danger lurks there, but we won’t tell her that.)
She enters. She sees painted canvases hanging everywhere, bright and colorful, fantastically artistic. And she sees the walls and the racks full of all kinds of luxurious threads and colors and wonderful fibery skeins. Oh, what marvels to behold!
She strikes up a chat with the shopkeeper. And the shopkeeper shows her a beautifully painted needlepoint canvas featuring the Empire State Building. And suddenly, the plastic canvas architectural dream has fizzled, and the new needlepoint addict is born.
That’s a normal shift of interest.
Change in Tastes
Life got in the way (see #1) as soon as you graduated from high school in 1987, so you set aside that counted cross stitch sampler you were working on.
It’s 2014 and you really want to take up stitching, but you’ve got that counted cross stitch project you started in 1987 hanging over your head.
You riffle through your storage boxes and find it. You take it out.
Suddenly, all those high school memories from the 80’s start flooding in. Your hair suddenly feels remarkably big. And your Hightops and your earrings, remarkably heavy. Your barrettes have ribbons and things dangling from them, your eyeshadow just turned bright blue and pink, and oh, that headband!
And…and… is that Air Supply trying to break through your subconsciousness? Nooooooooooooo…..!
The only reasonable thing to do is stuff that project back in its box.
Yes, I’m exaggerating. But tastes do change. And if life gets in the way and you can’t get back to a project for years, it isn’t unlikely that your tastes will have changed by the time you can.
Oh my goodness! So-n-So is going to be in the US teaching at various EGA groups this year. I really want to take a class with her. I really want to learn that particular technique.
But gosh, I don’t really like the project she’s teaching.
Still, it’s the technique I want to learn. And I know I’ll benefit from her class.
So I take the class.
I learned the technique. I learned a ton in the class and really enjoyed it. I got everything I wanted out of the class – in short, it was worth it.
But wow, I really don’t like the design and project that we used in the class. It just isn’t my style. I’m not going to finish it.
Why Must We Finish It?
You can argue that it is a waste of materials and a waste of time not to finish a project that you started.
But the fact is, you already spent the money, and the money is gone. You put time into it already, and that time is gone.
Finishing the project at this point – if it is truly something that no longer gives you pleasure and that inhibits you from moving on, improving, and growing – is not going to bring back your money or your time already spent.
If the project is not going to afford you the pleasure that leisure projects and hobbies are supposed to afford you, why waste any more of your time on it?
If you are bored with it and it’s torture to continue it, why waste your time on it?
If you are no longer interested in the type of needlework, why waste your time on it?
If you hate the colors, if the style is totally out of fashion for your current tastes, if the idea of displaying the finished piece in your home makes you cringe, why waste your time on it?
If you have learned what you wanted to learn – if you have gotten out of the project what you wanted to get out of the project – and you don’t care to finish the project, why waste your time on it?
But Don’t Waste It!
But this doesn’t mean you waste the project! Don’t pitch it. Don’t shove it in a box to store indefinitely.
If you know you are never going to do it, and yet it is hanging over your head and inhibiting you from moving on, then move it on, instead.
You’d be surprised how many people out there are interested in your half-stitched project!
Package up all the supplies and instructions neatly in a clear plastic bag (preferably the original packaging), with the cover or finished picture facing outwards, write a note and insert it in the project bag that says “partially completed,” and take the project to a local charity shop, op shop, thrift store. Or take it to a local guild to see if any stitchers you know are keen to work it. Or, if it’s a particularly well-known designer or was a particularly expensive project, put it on eBay and sell it. Just make sure folks know it’s partially completed.
This way, you ensure the materials don’t go to waste, you remove the cloud hanging over your head, and you keep your storage space for your needlework and hobbies free of stagnated projects.
The Balanced, Realistic Approach
I’m not advocating a wasteful approach to hobbies. I believe that hobbies are a great way to learn perseverance, to develop and hone skills, to learn to see things through to the finish. The finish is where the real satisfaction and the real pleasure comes, after all.
But I am advocating a balanced approach, because sometimes, there are projects that you just won’t finish. Might as well face it and move on!
Reasonably assess the unfinished project that’s hanging over your head to see if you actually do care enough about it to finish it.
If it’s not affording you pleasure, if it’s holding you back from growing your interests in another direction, and if, deep down, you know you will never finish it (and you have no desire to), then face the fact, and move on. Package it up and hand it off somehow.
If there’s a chance that your interest will renew – if you want your interest in it to renew – then consider it a Work in Progress, bag it up, and put it away for a while. Move on to other projects. But don’t feel guilty about it! Don’t let it hold you back from doing something else.
Some day, if you really want to work it, your interest will rekindle. Every several months – maybe twice a year – take it out and look at it carefully. If it doesn’t spark your interest, but you still like it, package it back up and put it away. Eventually, it’ll either spark your interest, or you will look at it and know that it’s over. At that point, pass it on.
Your Take on Unfinished Projects
What’s your approach to unfinished projects? Do you have any thoughts, insights, or advice to share? Feel free to join in the discussion below!