Image from the pattern of my favorite mitten "recipe."
I grew up with two grandmothers whom loved knitting. I was lucky to have them as mentors. Nonnie, my mother’s mother, sent boxes of mittens to us every winter in every color and size imaginable. Some of them were knit in acrylic, some in wool. I didn’t know the difference in material then, but I did know the difference in quality. The mittens Nonnie made lasted longer, so long as they didn’t get lost, than gloves or mittens purchased from a store.
Nana, my father’s mother and the knitter I thank for teaching me, as far as I remember anyway, knit sweaters mostly. She was working on a brown and pink cardigan for me in her final days of a losing battle with lung cancer; she never finished it. My aunt, Kelly, finished it. She, too, knits and would send us boxes of mittens each winter as well.
When the mittens arrived, I would study them carefully and wonder that anyone could make such things! I had no idea how one would go from cuff to thumb to fingertips. All I could manage at the time was miles and miles of flat garter stitch on my powder blue size 6 Susan Bates needles Nana gave me.
I began knitting at Nana Sirois’s knee in Byron on those size 6 needles when I was about the same age as the needle size. Wrapping the yarn around my finger, then transferring it to the needle opened a doorway to a world of creation and meditation that I hope never closes. Those beginning days of learning the knit stitch are still with me: up through the window, around the back, down through the window, and off jumps Jack. With brows furrowed in concentration, I murmured those words as I taught my fingers to coordinate the needles and yarn.
My second year of college I grew weary of garter stitch pot-holders, dish clothes, and scarves and yearned for something more challenging; I had been knitting nothing but garter stitch for about fourteen years at that point. The resident assistant on my floor in my dorm knit and proudly showed off her hats to admirers. I asked her to teach me.
Then I knit boxes full of hats and shipped them off to shelters and other need-based organizations accepting donations.
I soon grew restless again. It was time to learn to make mittens.
Scouring the web, I found patterns but none that gave me the support I thought I needed to learn how to make this particular garment. Then I came across Katharina Buss and her book on knitting. This book is where I learned how to knit by gauge, how to adapt patterns for various sizes, and how to knit colorwork. And yes, she taught me how to knit mittens.
That first pair though. Oy! It pains me to think back on that pair now.
By this time, I was in graduate school. I cracked open Buss’s book and set out to make my first pair of mittens. I had a lovely lavender wool to work with and I was off to the races.
The cuff knit up just fine in a basic knit two, purl two rib. But when I got to the thumb gusset, that’s when I made my first error. I misread the pattern. It told me to increase by one stitch on both sides of the first thumb gusset stitch. No problem. But then, I continued to increase by two on both sides of the gusset, not the one stitch on each side as the pattern meant. By the time I had knit up the rows in the pattern, I had something like 50 stitches for the thumb, instead of the 15-17 that is typical! And I didn’t know the difference somehow. I continued knitting along and thought everything was fine. I made the second mitten for the set to match. Ay-yai-yai! The thumbs on that pair of mittens would have been appropriate for someone who’d just smashed their thumb with a hammer.
Luckily, the next pair was better and I learned. I’ve been cranking out the mittens since.
My most recent breakthrough with this garment, and the inspiration behind sharing this history of mitten-making, is learning a more effective and aesthetically pleasing way of making the thumb gusset increases.
I just finished the first mitten of a set for Gabe and when I came to the thumb gusset increases, instead of wrapping the yarn around the needle to make a new stitch like I would have in the past, I decided to try another form of increasing: I picked up the back side of the stitch on the row previous that was between the stitches where I wanted the increase. I used this method through three rounds of increases. On the fourth, instead of correcting the twist from picking up that stitch, I left it twisted. This created a hole-less and smooth increase. It looks great!
For those embarking on the journey of mitten knitting, I’d like to share the mitten recipe that will help you make mittens for everyone you know! Classic Mittens from Free Vintage Knitting. If you have questions about mitten knitting, or knitting in general, please feel free to contact me via the new contact form on the “About The Girl” tab.
It’s Saturday! Enjoy your day! I’ll be knitting. 🙂