Knit All The Things: How to Win at Multiple Projects

I have a favorite project: it’s called “The New One.”

From the acquisition of new yarn, to the winding of hanks into beautiful little cakes, to tracking down the correct needles (and potentially stealing them from a lingering project… more on that later), and the final thrill of casting on, a new project has all the makings of a fiber-fueled adrenaline rush. I’m stopping short of calling it a potential blockbuster movie plot, but let’s be honest – it’s every bit as exciting when you’re in the throes of it.

But then we get a few inches in to a project and we start drowning in miles of stockinette, or pull our hair out over a tedious stitch pattern that requires constant attention and an unreasonable amount of counting, and we hit the wall. It’s the wall of “this project is never going to end.” Or the wall of “this is getting tedious,” and “are we there yet?” It happens. It’s part of the process. If you’re a process knitter, maybe the wall is nothing more than the high five and cup of Gatorade that someone hands you at mile marker 3 during a marathon, but for many of us, the wall can be a project’s death knell. A deal breaker.

Don’t despair: It IS possible to be a successful multi-project knitter. With a little strategy, you can stop giving yourself guilt trips and start turning lingering projects into FO’s.

  1. Give yourself permission to have multiple projects. This sounds like a no-brainer, but I’ve met a good number of knitters who feel guilty if they have more than one project on their needles. Hobby guilt is overrated. Don’t succumb to it.
  2. Use project strategy. You need one project that is small enough to fit into your bag for on-the-go knitting, one for mindless social knitting (this is where those endless stockinette projects live), one to challenge you that you can work on during uninterrupted hours of focus, one long term project (like an afghan) that needs just a few rows a day (for the rest of your life – ha!), and maybe a pair of socks and a gift knit. You know better than I do what you need, but be sure you have at least TWO portable projects that work well for social knitting because – one way or another – you’ll end up needing them. And if you have just one, you’ll accidentally finish it or graduate out of the mindless phase and then find yourself without a project you can grab and go. More on this later…
  3. Rotate. The trick to making progress on all your projects is that you actually DO have to work on them all at some point. If you have a purse project, keep it there. Only work on it when you’re out and about. If you have a mindless project, save it for knit night or knitting during meetings (when you can). The idea is to give each project its own space in your routine, so that when your day changes, your project changes with it. I find myself getting excited about a meeting because I know it means I get to work on my “meeting” project, and I won’t let myself work on it at other times unless I’m under a deadline.
  4. Keep deadlines in mind. There’s nothing more tedious than knitting to a deadline (ask me how I know), but if you do have to knit to a deadline, let the other projects linger for a bit while you power through the one that HAS to be finished. Here’s the one kicker: Don’t start anything new until you get back to your regular rotation.
  5. About that: Pick a number. Decide how many types of projects fit into your usual routine – four? five? – and try to stick to about that number of active pieces in your rotation. As WIPs are finished, replace them with a similar type of project (i.e. if you just finished up your deep concentration knitting, replace it with another project that requires focus). Being a multi-project knitter seems like it might be a bit disorganized, but I assure you – those of us who do it well usually have a pretty good system in place to make it work. Otherwise, it’s far too easy to become a serial-starter and never finish anything. No bueno.
  6. Keep an eye on projects that graduate from their original zone. Sometimes a mindless knit isn’t mindless anymore once you reach a certain point in the pattern. When this happens, rotate it into the space with a similar project and cast on a new mindless project to take its place. The trick is to always have something to knit – or at least, to always have something to knit for the times when you want to be knitting.
  7. If you have to steal needles… Maintaining multiple projects sometimes means snatching needles from a lingering WIP. If you do, heed this warning: write yourself a note with the needle size, length, and which brand or needle type it is from your stash and pin it to the project or slip it into the project bag. For example: Size 7, 32″ Stiletto. You think you’ll remember these things, but trust me – you probably won’t. If you ALWAYS use the same needle type and never vary from the needle the pattern recommends, then maybe you can skip this step. But for most of us, just do your future self a favor and write it down.

Whatever happens, figure out a plan that makes you feel good. Remember:

Hobby guilt is overrated. Don’t succumb to it.

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