Tackle Those Knitting UFOs: What to Do with Unfinished Knitting

Got knitting UFOs (UnFinished Objects) tucked away in your home? Here’s how to bring unfinished projects to light and clear them out

What to do with unfinished knitting

They’re in closets, tucked into bags and boxes, stuffed behind sofas and under beds, maybe even thrown into attics. What are they? They’re UFOs! Not unidentifying flying objects, but rather UnFinished Objects.

UFOs aren’t simply knitting projects in progress. They’re knitting projects that would be in progress if we were actually working on them.

But sadly, we’re not. We’ve abandoned them. Not always intentionally; sometimes we just set them aside and don’t get around to picking them back up.

Why not? Sometimes that depends on why we set them aside in the first place.

Did we set them aside because we were getting frustrated and needed a break? That’s a prime candidate for a UFO, especially if the thought of picking the project back up fills you with dread.

Were we getting bored and felt the need to re-energize our knitting lives by casting on for a different project? There’s another prime candidate for a UFO.

A third candidate for UFOdom: you started a project for a person who no longer needs it.

This is especially true of baby clothing! If you attempt, for instance, a baby sweater that takes longer than you expected and, well into it, the baby in question has become a toddler, you’re pretty likely to abandon the project altogether!

Other times you might set projects aside simply for more urgent projects.

Needing to knit gifts is a frequent reason why I set aside many projects. If I’m making things for my daughters, for new babies, for friends getting married, or for family members for Christmas, I’m very likely to set aside a current project.

I try to come back to them, but that doesn’t always happen!

UFOs and Feelings

I’ve noticed in the knitting community that one of two feelings meet the concept of the UFO: amusement and shame.

Sometimes both meet the concept simultaneously! One minute we’re laughing about the projects we’ve hidden away and pretend don’t exist. Then the next, we’re silently berating ourselves, mumbling “what is wrong with you?”

It’s that emotion of shame that I’d like to address today.

Please, don’t let a UFO make you feel bad about yourself. Life happens! The existence of UFOs in your life is not proof of a moral failing. They’re just projects you haven’t finished.

So please try not to berate yourself if you’ve got a bunch of UFOs.

UFOs can, of course, be a problem if they’re taking up too much space, holding up too many of your needles, or claiming too much of your yarn.

In that case, what to do with unfinished knitting? There’s only one way to deal with the UFO problem. Tackle them!

What to Do with Unfinished Knitting: Tackling Your UFOs

Obviously, there are only two ways to tackle a UFO: unravel it or finish it.

Here’s what to do with unfinished knitting. One of the hardest parts of this process is deciding when to unravel and when to finish! There are certain instances when unraveling is the obvious choice.

1) You’ve lost the pattern. Sure, go ahead and try to find the pattern if you really want to. But if you’ve done some digging and can’t find it, don’t be a hero. Unravel the UFO and let go!

2) You hate the pattern and/or the yarn. With sufficient time away from the project, you probably know how you feel about it.

Does the pattern give you a headache? Make you want to throw the project across the room? Or does the yarn hurt your hands or make you feel nauseated because the colors make your head spin? Again, don’t try to be a hero.

Knitting should make you feel good, not awful. If the project doesn’t bring you joy, release that yarn into the wild. If you like the pattern but not the yarn, donate or sell it. Like the yarn but not the pattern? You can keep the yarn and find a better pattern.

Do you know the pattern and you like it? Have you remembered how much you enjoy the yarn? Then you might want to keep the project.

Even if the intended recipient was born 4 years ago or graduated 3 years ago! You could always sell or donate the project when you’ve finished it. Or you could even wait for the next baby to be born, or the next wedding/graduation among your friends or family.

But what if your UFO pile is enormous? What if it threatens to spill into multiple rooms of your home? Obviously you’ll want to knit those projects, but you can’t very well knit them all at once… what to do?

If you’re the kind of person who finds great satisfaction in crossing or checking items off a list, make a list! If not, just dive in and know that you’re bound to get to the bottom eventually.

Sharing Time, or Nicole Confesses: What to Do with HER Unfinished Knitting

Now I’ll make a confession. The primary reason I wrote this post is to track my own UFOs that I would wanted to finish. When you’re not actively working on any urgent project, it’s a great time to tackle your own UFOs.

When I first wrote this, I was probably one of the lucky ones. I had just 3 UFOs. Here they are!

Project number one: Lion Brand’s Modern Miters Afghan

what to do with unfinished knitting

This was such a fun project. It was a great way to use up all the yarn given to me over the past several years. Ever since folks found out that I enjoy knitting and, especially, knitting for charity, I was inundated with donations.

I began this afghan when my older daughter was about a year away from going to Europe with her marching band. (That was back in 2015!) Knowing it would be an expensive trip, I thought of raffling it off to help pay for it.

The problem was two-fold:

Number one, I had no idea just how long it would take me to knit this afghan (especially given all the interruptions to knitting it I would face over the next year).

Number two, once you get past the 2nd or 3rd row of rectangles, this beautiful project ceases to be portable, meaning I could only work on it at home.

If I ever knit this project again, I’ll knit the rectangles separately as opposed to joining them as I go. That will help prevent this problem!

I finally finished the afghan after about a year and a half. I wound up giving it to her. She loved it for several years, after which she preferred fleece blankets and gave it to her younger sister!

Project number two: the Modified Linen Stitch Pullover

what to do with unfinished knitting
Sweater progress (plus pattern book)

I can’t even remember how long ago I started this project. It may have been while I was still living in Ohio, which was back in 2011!

I started it because at the time, my husband told me he would like a sweater for Christmas. He knew I wouldn’t be able to finish it by Christmas, but he said that he would consider my starting the sweater to be his gift.

(The following link is an affiliate link. If you make a purchase after clicking, I may make a commission. Thanks!)

what to do with unfinished knitting
close-up of linen stitch pattern

You see a copy of The Knitter’s Handy Book of Sweater Patterns in the photo above because I took the pattern from that book. I actually combined two patterns, a cardigan and a raglan pullover, because my husband wanted a pullover that zipped at the top.

By the way, I highly recommend this book, particularly if you’re not experienced at sweater knitting. The directions and illustrations are extraordinarily clear.

While we were in a Joann store one day, my husband pointed to a different sweater pattern book and said he liked the photo on the front. He said he liked the texture of the sweater on the front cover. I cracked open the book and found the stitch pattern, called modified linen stitch.

So after swatching to make sure I would achieve the same gauge as I would with stockinette stitch from the Knitter’s Handy Book, I inserted the different stitch pattern.

I’m not sure why I abandoned it for a few years. I suspect it’s because sweater knitting is such a big project, I may have become overwhelmed.

Eric's sweater - from unfinished knitting to finished knitting!

Around that time, I probably fell in love with projects like hats and fingerless mitts and felt suffocated by the commitment of sweater knitting. (Kind of like the “sweater curse” in reverse!)

I decided to finish the Modern Miters Afghan before the pullover because I was so much closer to finishing the former project.

But I did finally finish the pullover last year! Here’s my husband wearing it – he loved it and even wore it during our Christmas Eve church services.

Project number three: Granny Square Afghan

what to do with unfinished knitting

It feels weird calling this an afghan when it’s just a pile of granny squares. But there you go.

I mentioned a few years ago in this article that I was about to embark upon learning to crochet granny squares.

As it turned out, the Knitty.com articles linked within that article taught me very well. So well, in fact, that for a while it had me totally hooked! And every time I pick up a crochet hook and work up a few squares, I become hooked all over again.

(Yes, these puns are intentional. Thank you.)

Unfortunately, that pile of granny squares you see above are nowhere near enough for an afghan, which is what I’d like to use them for.

Currently the project is in hibernation because I’m focusing on other charity projects. But I will almost surely return to them at some point and rediscover the joy of hooking granny squares.

I hope you’re no longer asking “what to do with unfinished knitting?” And if you’d like some motivation to finish yours, feel free to share in the comments!

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29 Comments

  1. I have two pairs of slippers to sew up, another almost finished, then they will be need to be sewn up. I have one shawl, and a scrap yarn blanket that will be an ongoing ufo.

  2. My two n half year old granddaughter took the needle out of a fingerling shawl project for her mom. Plus more injuries to the project. It was a surprise as she had learned earlier on no to to touch Bubka’s knitting and she didn’t, until THEN. I can’t look at it now. Fortunately I have another granddaughter and not knitting her crib blanket and socks in between.

    1. Oh my gosh!! I can’t blame you, I don’t think I could look at it either for quite some time. I’m so sorry! It’s a good thing those little ones are adorable, lol.

  3. My guess is that you have enough granny squares to make a super scarf! Or lapghan? Or a small baby blanket to put over a baby in a car seat? Or amazing cuff tops for boot toppers or cuffs for hats? Sometimes we need plans B C or D.

  4. I’ll be attempting to finish that summer sweater (cotton pullover) for which the sleeves never fit. I worked them FOUR times, I even contacted the pattern writer, but they didn’t want to comply. I’ll be picking up stitches around the armhole and working it in the round.

  5. Baby boom coming, and you know it is and will appear around Christmas. Finish those projects and donate to these baby groups. We will know who practiced the social distance or not. Ha! Baby booms always come after a snow storm or power outage. So you know when you are home all day and all night, after eating and watching all that television, what else is there to do? Make babies.

    1. Thought of this too! Guess I better finish all the baby projects I have found in my “stash” of knitting projects

  6. I am working on a cowl to go with a sweater that I need to weave the ends in on and it’s done. I have a pair of socks to finish, a pair in which I need to rip out the cuff and redo, a pair of Christmas stockings for a family member (newly married), and after that I forget. Right this minute – I am making myself finish at least two of these before I start another pair of socks . . .and I always have hats/mittens going for a local charity (my Thursday charity knitting day stuff). So there’s that. I used to belong to a group that met on the first Saturday of every month for “Suck It Up Saturday”; we all brought a UFO or a PhD to work on for several hours in a local coffee shop . . .no SIUS tomorrow, alas. Coffeeshops are closed, physical distancing is a concern . . .I miss it a lot!

    1. Awww! I’d miss it too. I love the idea of “Suck It Up Saturday.” Maybe you guys can figure out how to do a virtual meetup via Zoom or Google Hangouts!

  7. Hi There, Love the Nuggets! My current project has been “set aside” for about a month and that is too long. It is the Fiora Shawl from Crafty. It is for my sister who kept liking it over any other shawl she saw. I finally used colored pencils to underline the repeats in the rows and wonder of wonders they began working. So why did I set it down? Probably because it requires so much attention. Now I am way behind in my list. I owe a blanket to a wedded couple, a scarf to a new graduate and a “fix” of a crocheted bedspread that a friend’s mother did not finish before she died. The friend would like only the pieces her mother made. Guess I had better get back in the groove now that I recognize what got me out of it. Thank you for the jump start.

  8. And I thought I was the only yarn addict. It’s not that I don’t finish, it’s that I don’t start.

  9. I had a whole bunch of ufo’s not, so starting at the beginning this year i made it my point to work away those projects. my most difficult one i geuse was a afghan where i wanted to sew a block with the tree of gondor from lotr in the middle. The afghan itself was reasonbly easy to do but the gondor tree block was highly intersia and when i started i simply had not enough experience to finish it. did finish it at the end of january our something. i am now finishin a baymax for charity purposes,

    1. The afghan sounds fantastic, Barbara! Maybe you could try doing some simpler intarsia and work up your confidence so you can finish it? Just a thought. Your Baymax for charity sounds great — I love the movie Big Hero 6!

        1. Whoops, somehow I missed in your original comment that you’d finished the afghan, lol. Well done! I’m very tempted by Baymax, my girls love that movie, though I’ve certainly made them a bunch of knitted plushies!

  10. Confession time: I currently have 2 UFO’s.
    I completed the body of EZ’s Pie R Squared shawl but got stymied by the applied edging and set it down. No way am I ripping this baby out! I’ll have to face my demons and figure it out.
    My second UFO is a lap afghan that I thought I’d donate to charity. I love the color of the yarn and the pattern, but the large needles hurt my hands after a couple rows (I usually work in sock yarn). I guess I can try to work on it while watching TV like Nicole says. TBH maybe my hands won’t hurt if I get distracted by the show instead of barreling through the rows. Thank you, Nicole, for your great post. I look forward to your emails.

    1. Good luck Chris! Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it. Your perseverance is inspiring!

      I wonder about the needles — is it possible the large needles hurt your hands because they’re too heavy? Do you use straight needles or circulars? Circulars might not hurt your hands as much. Just a thought. 🙂

  11. I have a granny square blanket lurking somewhere… I only have two things buzzing about in the UFO category right now, a pair of slippers and a wrap. I tend to finish one project before I start another. Limited space, lol

  12. long time knitter, crocheter, can’t bear to throw anything away or to give up, there is a WALL of large plastic boxes filled with old projects and yarn in my tiny bedroom and very small apartment! Disabled for fifteen years, have lots of time, if little money, and now nearly housebound. Luckily last year found Linus Project, which gives donated blankets to babies and kids, some adults too, wonderful folks! Finished and sent 43 last year, working towards 50+ for this year, mostly new yarns on several basic patterns I love, but trying to finish an old project every third or fourth blanket! With the attention span of a six-year-old I always have at least three “going” at any time, and it’s been fun! Currently up to 28 blankets for this year, wish me luck!!

    1. Wow, Abbey, you’re a charity knitting/crocheting dynamo! I’d wish you luck, but I don’t think you need it! Thanks for sharing.