By Thomas A. Parmalee

If you’re a funeral director, you talk to a lot of families and hear a lot of stories … and no doubt, you’ve heard about some unfinished projects that were being undertaken by the deceased.

It’s usually up the survivors to finish them, and in the case of completing that kitchen redo or repainting a room, the process is usually straightforward and not so loaded with emotion.

But some tasks carry with them more meaning.

For instance, what if your loved one was working on a book that had consumed them for months or years before their death … if you’re not a writer or an expert in whatever your loved one was writing about, that’s a tall order – and you may end up feeling like you’ve let them down by having it sit unfinished.

Another example that may have even more meaning is an unfinished knitting, crochet, quilting or other fiber arts project.

So many people enjoy doing these crafts, and if your recently deceased spouse or loved one was one of them, you don’t want to leave it unfinished. And in fact, having it completed may very well result in being gifted with an item that carries incredible meaning.

The Loose Ends Project, which has volunteer finishers from every state in the United States (plus Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.), as well as in 64 other countries, has stepped up to fill that need, knowing that survivors who are left behind usually cannot finish these projects on their own.

Knitters and nonprofit entrepreneurs Masey Kaplan of Falmouth, Maine, and Jennifer Simonic of Seattle, Washington launched the organization in September 2022 to complete unfinished projects left behind by crafters who have died or who can no longer do handwork due to compromised health. (The two women are pictured at the top of this article in a photo by Winky Lewis, shared with permission. Simonic is on the left and Kaplan is on the right.)

The free, volunteer-based service gives surviving families and friends an easy way to find knitters, crocheters, quilters, rug hookers, or any other crafters needed to complete a project. Skilled volunteer finishers wrap up the projects and return them to their intended recipients.

“We rely on a network of 22,000 volunteers around the world,” Simonic said. “These volunteers use their skills that they have honed over years. Project owners are responsible for paying for any costs that happen (if shipping is needed, if extra materials are needed).”

The two women share a love for fiber arts and have been friends for more than 30 years, Simonic said.

Over the years, they’ve been asked to finish blankets, sweaters, or other projects left unfinished by deceased loved ones. They would always do so enthusiastically, understanding what it feels like to wear something a loved one has made.

Eventually, they launched their nonprofit to serve others on a larger level. They rely on their network of volunteer finishers to help people who submit projects – they don’t try to tackle this themselves, Simonic said.

“But with over 1,500 projects submitted, there are so many that make us tear up,” Simonic said. “There are ones from Grandma, who never got to meet great-grandbabies, sweaters from loved ones and some projects started by children who have passed on before their parents.”

The toughest challenge has been getting the word out about what Loose Ends offers, Simonic said. So far, the organization has not worked directly with funeral homes – although it would welcome any support from the industry.

“Getting the word out to people who have the projects is the toughest thing,” Simonic said. “Our volunteers, who are crafters, know how important it is for these projects to get done because we know we will have projects that may be left undone. Project owners — or finders – don’t always know what they have or how to finish it.”

Projects are often submitted by people who have heard about the organization at craft stores, yarn stores, quilt shops and online, Simonic said. “Whenever a news story gets out about us, we definitely see an uptick in projects,” she said.

The items that are finished have been touched by the crafter who has died, so have incredible meaning for survivors, Simonic observed. “They even contain some DNA that has been left behind,” she said. “They were usually started with someone in mind. Finishing these items for grieving gives them a tangible item to remind them of that person.”

Kaplan added, “Handmade items are gestures of love. The time, expense, and skill that go into making them are impossible to quantify. When you wear something made especially for you, it feels good — the recipient of a handmade gift is thoughtfully considered with each stitch. When a maker dies mid-project, this tangible, handmade expression of love could get lost, donated, or thrown out. Loose Ends volunteers’ goals are to finish these projects as intended and give them back to be used and cherished.”

There are benefits for the finishers as well.

“Being a finisher gives people a chance to use a skill that they love to help someone else,” Simonic said. “That is a magical experience. With the way the world has been these past few years, people have been looking for ways to reconnect. Loose Ends helps volunteers connect with people in their communities that they may never have met if it weren’t for this project to be finished. We are reminding people that they can help others.”

Crafters tend to be a “generous lot,” Simonic observed. “Loose Ends is simply another place for crafters to demonstrate selfless kindness to a stranger,” she said.

The organization will match finishers to projects of any textile handwork craft, including knitting, crochet, rug hooking, embroidery, cross stitch, quilting and more, she said.  So far, the organization has facilitated the completion of more than 2,500 handwork projects to date.

There are ways to support the organization if you believe in what it is doing, Simonic said.

“People can help in many ways: Sign up to be a finisher, submit a project and donate,” she said. “All of this can be done through our website.  The one thing we do not take are craft items or yarn. We do have a list of places throughout the United States (by state) that will take these items.”

So far, the organization has enjoyed an impressive level of success, landing media coverage in publications such as the Washington Post and Down East magazine.

It also has an alliance with Joann Stores, which trades on the Nasdaq and which provides discounts and in-kind donations to volunteer finishers affiliated with Loose Ends. The chain’s locations serve as designated meet-up spots for family members and finishers to connect on projects. It has also assisted in helping the nonprofit by allowing customers to “round up” their purchases at checkout or donate.

The Loose Ends Project website is the best place to go to for information about submitting a project or signing up to be a finisher.

You can also read these news articles for more coverage on the organization:

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