November 21, 2015

Unfinished Projects

Dish towels in progress on the loom

     I had a conversation with a friend recently about unfinished projects. She currently has fourteen that are half-done and was starting a new one as we spoke. We both agreed that, as an artist, it's sometimes difficult to see a project through from beginning to end.  So today I decided to blog about my current jobs that are on the needles and looms and look at what helps me get the job done.

A partially worked sweater

     As you can see, I do have a few things going. There aren't as many as usual since I like to clear off my desk in the fall when I’m indoors more and the holidays are looming on the horizon. I did a bit of self-examination to figure out what keeps me motivated to finish a project.

Cards that need finishing

     Like everyone, I can grow bored with something I’m making. For example, the partially worked sweater pictured is a perfect example. While I was figuring out how the unusual pattern came together I was motivated to keep knitting to master the architecture of the sweater. Now that I’m past that part, the monotonous portion of knitting the body has set in. There’s the problem. The sweater is taking forever so I avoid picking it up and making any progress. Since I’m not working on it, it is taking forever. This leads to a self-defeating situation and the end result is that the sweater is not getting done. Here is where discipline has to intervene. First, I go back in my mind to the beginning of the project and I ask myself: what was it about making this sweater that got me started?  In this case I had envisioned a nice snugly house sweater that I could wrap around myself while writing in the long winter months. I would still like to have that sweater. That thought can help me get back in the groove. I also make sure the project is close to my chair, where I can see it waiting in my knitting bag and am reminded that it needs my attention. I know that if I just get started, pick up the needles and start a row, the next thing I know I will be knitting along. Experience has taught me that I have to take that first step or the sweater won’t get done at all. It's kind of like exercise that way, but much less strenuous. 

The beginnings of some spun wool

     But, what about that project that I really don’t want to finish… ever? It happens to every artist. If I can’t inspire myself or find I really am loathing a project then it’s time to reevaluate. Now and again I do start something I really don’t want to finish. I try to be honest with myself over the reason I feel that way. Sometimes the piece is not becoming what I envisioned. Maybe I thought it would look great but in fact it's just ugly or a hot mess. It might be that I lack the skills the pattern required, and try as I might, I’m not getting it. I have to admit I might have gone fickle and turned my eye onto some new exciting project that hasn’t failed me yet and I’d prefer to go there. Maybe it’s just boring. Sometimes the skills I wanted to learn on the project are conquered now so I’m ready for a new challenge. These can be honest answers but they can also be just plain excuses.
      Now this is the time I have to be brutally blunt with myself. Life is short and of course I don’t want to waste my precious hours working on a project without passion. That's understandable if it isn't just an excuse. I'm allowed. I go for the standoff moment. I take out my unfinished project and take a good hard look at it. If I decide not to finish it then I refuse to do it by lying to myself or to just let it die away. If I just want to quit I admit that to myself. I make no excuses. Do it or do not. Then I try to cut my losses. If there is yarn involved I unravel the whole thing. Maybe I didn’t complete the project but neither did I leave it just abandoned in the closet somewhere. That forsakes the supplies and sets up the guilt. I hate that guilt! If I were to do that too many times I’d have this closet full of unfinished, abandoned or failed projects and I’d feel guilty every time I started something new. Those darned unfinished projects would weasel their way into my mind and haunt me and spoil everything new. I’d rather own it. I take apart the project, white out the canvas, sort out the tools and put them away. I dust off my hands and move on. I let the guilt dissipate and accept that I didn’t finish. That’s all right. But hiding it away is not owning it. Moving on is not punishing myself but letting something linger like a failure is.
      I have learned a powerful lesson by doing that. Many times just imagining unfurling a project or clearly calling it quits is enough to make me think about the time and money I already have invested and I realize that I still want to complete the project and then I usually do finish it. If I follow the simple rule that either way the project must be finished or officially terminated then I take that lesson and move on. I don’t have as many projects sitting around on my shoulders or in my closest waiting to be completed.
     Now I’m going to pick up my needles and get a few more inches on that big sweater.

The sweater finished!


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