Sweaters are for closers - 5 reasons you're stuck on 'whole sweater island'

"Finishing up the body of this sweater was easy, but I got lost in sleeve island for a very long time, then seam sewing island, then collar pickup island—good thing it wasn’t planned for a specific date!"


I read this in Elizabeth's (you can see her on Instagram, here) project notes on Ravelry and burst out laughing. What a relatable experience! As I'm writing this, I have several projects on the needles in bags around the house, and I've been putting some serious thought into why that happens and what to do about it.


Why are you getting stuck?


1. Um, you don’t actually like your project

Maybe the fit is a little wacky, the color isn’t what you imagined, or it just isn’t turning out the way you thought it would. Free yourself from this sweater! Frog it and re-skein it and wait for inspiration, or donate the whole mess to a preschool, but give yourself the gift of not having a basket of ‘shoulds’ crowding your workspace.


2. It’s tedious

This sweater will be spectacular when it’s finished, but you have approximately seventybillion more stockinette stitches to go, and you’re bored. Get a podcast, a playlist, or an audiobook. Personally, I love Christy Harrison’s podcast Food Psych. More audio recommendations are down in the Go Further.


Cucumber green child's sweater in progress, double pointed needles still shaping the sleeves. Pinch dishes hold stitch markers and a colorful project bag sits nearby.
Small circumference circular knitting? Easy, but tedious.

3. It’s complicated

This sweater requires all your attention, and it’s not the kind of thing you can simply pick up and work on for a few rows at a time. Get strategic about when you’ll knit which parts of your project. Straightaways when the kids are awake, picking up and shaping after bedtime. For more tips to keep tricky knits moving, check out my blog post, Yes to cables.


4. Castonitis strikes

Knitting monogamy isn’t a moral imperative, but juggling multiple projects can mean that a more complicated sweater gets pushed to the bottom of the basket. The longer it stays down there, the less likely you are to remember where you left off. To combat this while still giving yourself a much-needed finished-object-win, continue to work just a few rows each day. Once you’re feeling fresh and ready to make serious sweater progress, you won’t have that long ramp-up period getting your brain back into the pattern.



5.You’re in over your head

You desperately want this sweater, but you’re working the pattern and you don’t like the way your stitches are coming off the needle. Or, maybe you keep getting overwhelmed trying to track shaping while working your first cable pattern, and it’s too much at once. You’re sick of ripping back and totally frustrated. Find a project or work a swatch that uses the same techniques to get comfortable before moving on with your sweater. I talk more about skills progression here.


Plan a knit you won't maroon

Better than retrieving a sweater from time-out is a sweater that never lands in time-out in the first place. Can you plan a project that’s you’re guaranteed to finish?


1. Choose a construction method that plays to your strengths

If you like checking things off a list, knit a seamed sweater. More motivated by seeing your project look increasingly like a sweater? Go for top-down in the round.


2. Make your cast-ons seasonally targeted

I’m particularly guilty of casting on linen tees at the end of August and immediately getting swept off track by all the exciting fall designs. Plan a reasonable amount of time to finish your project in time to wear it immediately (and ideally for the whole season!).


3. Be nice to future you!

Whenever you put down your knitting, make a note of where you left off, even if you plan to work on it again in a few hours. These don’t have to be long notes, but they should be crystal clear. Physically printing the pattern, if possible, makes this much easier.


Similarly, write down what size needles you’re using for each part of your project. I think we’ve all been guilty of borrowing needles from projects in deep hibernation… and then being totally puzzled when we try to get back into it.


4. Build in some breaks

If you’re non-monogamous or know you get bored, plan in breaks! Think ahead about where it would be easy to take a break for a quick project, and then break down what you need to do to get there. Planning these breaks will keep you motivated to keep going, will honor the way your brain works and will leave you refreshed for the rest of your project.


A half knit sweater, in soft gray, with deep textures from cables and knit-purl patterns.
Bulky Quarry in tight gauge is stunning, but I need frequent breaks for my wrists.

Go Further:

I like to listen to Spotify’s Lo-fi Beats playlist when I’m focusing, which you can catch here.


Top books of 2021 so far:

My favorite audiobook genre for knitting is non-fiction, and I’ve recently been on a pop-sci molecular biology bender. I really loved both She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity, by Carl Zimmer, and The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life David Quammen.


If you have any amazing tips to stay motivated, send me an email or drop them in the comments!



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