In January of 2013, I made a Knitting New Year’s Resolution:  to spend the year knitting only for myself.  (Resolution broken!)   However, I was talking about this resolution with some crafting friends including the Manitoba Craft Council Administrative Coordinator, Anastasia Chipelski.  Anastasia mentioned her Knitting New Year’s Resolution was to finish her unfinished projects.  This discussion got me thinking about the link between most makers: the unfinished.
This subject came up for me over and over throughout 2013, and I began asking textile artists I knew about their unfinished projects.  As I did, it spurred many laughs and more discussion.  I decided I would like to show off these pieces hidden in studios and closets,  and I applied to put up a small exhibit on the subject of unfinished projects on the Manitoba Craft Council’s Gallery Wall.  The exhibition title?  What else – Unfinished.photo-58
As I write about the thoughts that lead me to put this exhibition together, I will reference each of the six artists and the work/stories they submitted for this show.
The discussions began with me thinking that I would find some answers to the question of why textiles artists have so many unfinished projects.  Is this something that can be resolved?  What is the worth of this unfinished work?
I will start with the first question this brought up: “Why there are so many unfinished projects?”  There was no one, simple reason that people gave me.  Answers ranged from projects being too difficult, to boredom, and many places in between.  The consistency was that these projects were always set aside.  The only anomally in this was Shosana Funk and Terry Corrigan’s Untitled piece in Unfinished.  They discuss their struggle to start projects, but having begun, their projects are always completed.  This gives a different perspective on the motivation it takes to make.
After all the discussions I had on the subject, I decided to give up trying to understand why so many projects are left imcomplete and instead began enjoying the idea of this shared connection.  Those connections can be found in making a resolution to complete projects, finding ways to trick ourselves into not going back as Jenny Bisch did with winding the yarn of Victorian Shawl through a tea cup handle in her piece, and laughing at what has caused us to stop working on projects (see the Chocolate Sweater, a work in progress stalled out due to the spilling of hot chocolate on the piece. )  My conclusion was that the “why” no longer mattered – more important was the shared experience which could become a bond linking artists and makers to each other.
On to the next question, “Is this something that can be resolved?”  I love Anastasia’s initiative to finish all of her projects.  It inspired me to start looking through my own unfinished projects.  In doing so, I realized there were some projects that didn’t seem worth finishing, so chose to unravel them to re-use the yarn instead.  Others I left aside to be completed at a later date.   I can now say that I finished a blanket I had been working on for three years.
As I looked at the works by the five other artists in the Unfinished show, I began to see that maybe some works do not need to be finished, that they are perfect in their incompletion.  But the work should be shared.  I would like to specifically reference Amanda Harding’s Sweater, a sweater that was knit with multiple colours of yarn to create a flower pattern.  It is so detailed and so much work was put into it.  If it had been finished, I wouldn’t have been able to inspect the back side with all the hanging bits of yarn and truly appreciate the work that had gone into its making.  In many cases, people can understand that hand made textile work is a long process, but Amanda’s project allows the viewer to see it is much more than all the knitting that makes the piece, it is also the weaving in of the all of the loose ends and the piecing together of panels.  The unfinished work shows this off, allowing for non-textile makers to have a greater understanding of the work in craft.
This perfection in the imperfection is what Melanie Wesley references in so much of her work.  In the description of F**k It, a dress with frayed edges, Melanie says, “The raw edges were charming me with their thready texture, and I began wondering why I needed to “finish” this dress at all…maybe it was finished.”  Melanie wears the dress frequently, not letting the rules of the perfect finished textile stop her from seeing the value of the work invested.
The worth or monetary value of anything is so subjective and thus difficult for any artist or craftsperson to get their mind around.  However it’s the value in the making and sharing of skills that I am more interested in.   I always think of my grandmother in relation to knitting, and this exhibition made me think of my grandma’s last unfinished project.  It was an afghan that my cousin Jerra took home after my grandmother passed away.  As we were the only two knitters of our cousins at the time, we discussed what to do with it.  Jerra being the better knitter, in my opinion, took the afghan and set out to find the pattern and finish it, which she did.   It was in the nursery of her twins when they were born – exactly where it should have been.  The worth of this is enormous.
Although this is a very specific and personal example, I thought more about the types of projects that are left forever for one reason or another.  Amanda Harding showed me an incomplete embroidery project she bought at a second hand shop with the intention of finishing it.  It sits in her living room, still unfinished, adding to the decor and speaking to the value she see in all textiles. (Just for reference, Amanda is a Textile Conservator for Parks Canada, and sits on the board of the Manitoba Crafts Museum and Library, so is clearly someone that understands the history and worth of textile work!)
But if these works left unfinished by others have value, why don’t we value the work we have sitting at home?  Why not show it off?  In many cases, the work ahead is daunting, as in the case of Susana Meza’s La noche borra del espacio (Night erases us from space) where she has written out a poem on a pillow case, but has yet to begin the embroidery. When we share these unfinished projects with others, we have the opportunity to see re-newed personal value in them, find the support we need to finish them, or see them as perfect exactly as they are.
This exhibition has created much discussion amongst artists and makers, spurring more questions, thoughts and excitement for me.  In true Unfinished fashion, this may not be the end of my exploration of this subject, but who knows?