Encounters with UFOs

9th July 2021

Not everyone can say they have encountered a UFO. In fact, if you were to tell someone you have a collection of UFO’s that might well be the last time you ever see them.  

But not us stitchers. Our idea of what a UFO is, is very different to the average person.

For us, whenever we hear the term UFO, we think immediately of all those unfinished objects that languish in our cupboards, drawers and on our shelves.

Except for an admirable few, most of us have at least one UFO sitting somewhere at home. Probably the majority of us have more than one. In fact, to ensure that none of you feel too bad, there is at least one person here in the office who is well into triple figures when it comes to UFOs, and that number increases if you want to count sewing, knitting and crochet projects as well!

For most of us, we prefer not to count them as there seems to be something of a stigma around UFOs. But we would like to declare a moratorium. It’s time for all of us to stop feeling ashamed and accept that there are projects which just haven’t been finished… yet!

UFOs or Un Finished Objects are also known as WIPs (Works In Progress) or our personal favourite; PhD’s (Projects Half Done) and there are as many reasons we have them as there are projects. Reasons might include: losing interest in the project and putting it aside; reaching a really difficult part and giving up; discovering the reason you were stitching a project for someone no longer exists; or even just something else came along and that project was put down with all the intentions to pick it back up again.

This just scratches the surface of the reasons a UFO might appear. But every reason is valid and most of the time, the project is put aside with the promise that it will get picked up again. And sometimes it is only weeks or months later. Other times it takes years.

There are plenty of stories of people going through the effects of a deceased loved one and discovering a drawer full of unfinished projects. Or browsing through a thrift shop or second-hand store and discovering a forlorn UFO packaged up, waiting and hoping that someone might come along and buy it to complete.

Redwork Chatelaine by Margaret Light from A Fine Tradition

Not to mention those moments when you look in a cupboard you haven’t opened for years, only to discover a UFO you had put there a decade ago for safekeeping! It turns out that unfinished objects are as much a part of stitching as are needles and threads.

None of us start a project intending to leave it part way, but life gets in the way, things change and it can just happen.

So here are a few tips and ideas to consider when you either put a project down, or discover one put down a while ago:

1 – Keep all the materials with the project.

Always keep all the materials with the project. This includes threads. It is so tempting to borrow a thread from a kitted, started project, fully intending to put it back. But we don’t always fulfill that intention. There is nothing more off-putting that picking up a UFO and discovering that half of the materials and threads are missing. If you want to make sure you get it finished at some stage in the future, make sure you’ve got everything you need to do it.

2 – Keep a copy of the pattern with the project.

Magazines can get lost or borrowed. Charts can get tatty or old. Or worse, if it happens to be someone else who picks up that UFO, imagine how disappointed they will be if they want to get it finished but the instructions are nowhere to be found and can no longer be sourced? Even if you think you’re only going to put it aside for a week, marry the project with its instructions.

3 – Keep a list of all your UFOs somewhere.

Honestly, don’t feel bad about how many you’ve got. Nobody is judging you or keeping score, so you really don’t have to hide them. At least if you’ve got them written down, you won’t lose track of them. When inspiration strikes, you’ll know what you’ve started, where it is and how far you’ve got on it. 

4 – Remember, needlework projects never go off.

They don’t need feeding so it’s OK if they sit in a cupboard for several months, or several years, or however long you want. They will always be there for you to pick up where you left off.

5 – It’s OK to let it Rest In Peace.

There comes a time in the life of every UFO when you have to accept that you’re never going to finish it. Your grandchild is now in their 20s and isn’t going to appreciate the teddy bear blanket quite so much. Your daughter is never going to get married and that’s OK. And what made you ever think that that colour was going to look good in your house?! It is time for those UFOs to move on. Whether it is to your local guild, charity shop, a friend or a care home or church group, there will be someone who will fall in love with your partially finished work and get enormous joy out of finishing it off. See it as a collaborative project.

In the end, the most important thing to remember is that there is no rule book with this craft.

You aren’t going to get kicked out of the needlework community if you don’t finish a project.

And you don’t lose points for having multiple UFOs. We do this because we love it. Some projects we adore, others we don’t. Ultimately, life is too short to stitch something we are not enjoying. It might be time to move on.

What is your oldest UFO? How many have you got? (Are you brave enough to admit it? But you’ll have to do well to beat some of us!) Have you given UFOs away? Or have you finished someone else’s UFO? We’d love to hear your UFO encounters – needlework style of course! Because we all know that they’re out there…

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