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Yarn Xpress

Why knit mittens?

Knitting mittens is much like knitting socks. They're quick and easy. They're inexpensive, and make an ideal gift -- particularly because you can customize the fit and design to the unique needs of your intended recipient. Once you've got the hang of it, mitt knitting provides the best possible kind of portable project, for travel and in-public knitting -- you need few special supplies, not much yarn, and it's very easy to show people what you're doing when they (invariably) ask.

Mittens are also an excellent project for using up all those unwanted yarn scraps -- and then donating to charity. Why not donate a set of mitts, hat and scarf to a Christmas gift drive, rather than the usual packaged toy from your local department store? It gets pretty damn cold in the winter where I live -- I very much like the thought that I'm helping a child stay warm.

The set in the picture is made from Fleece Artist Yarns.

Kate's Training Mitt

My training mitt pattern is all you need to get started. It takes you through the process of building a standard mitt, albeit a miniature one [see below]. It gives you a chance to practise the general technique before you starting designing your own. It also produces, as a side-effect, a folksy embellishment suitable for holiday decoration or gift packages.

There are many variations on the mitten pattern. I pass no judgement on which is better or worse. I like this one, so this is the one I use. My mitts are worked in the round, and they are handed -- that is, there are distinct left and right ones. It is entirely possible to knit mitts flat, on straight needles, and sew them up, but I don't do it this way because I prefer to knit than to sew up. It is also possible to create interchangeable mitts. This is controlled by the construction of the thumb and the closure at the top. I use this thumb design specifically because of its adaptability. It's very easy to up- or down-size by doing a little bit of math, and the consistent number of stitches in the body lends itself to great color designs.

This pattern can also be adjusted to create interchangeable mitts. See note on the Closure in the Generic Mitt Template below.

Creating Your Own Patterns

I approach mitts the way I approach socks: I use a single pattern which can be adapted to fit anyone. I take a few key measurements, check the gauge of the yarn I want to use, do the math, and I'm ready to go.

The Generic Mitt Building Template

The Measurements
You need the following measurements:
- Wrist circumference in cm
Palm circumference in cm
Distance from wrist to base of thumb, in cm
Distance from base of thumb to top of little finger, in cm
Thumb length, in cm
Gauge of your yarn, worked in the round. I recommend going down a needle size or two, to create a denser and therefore more windproof fabric.

The Calculations

Cuff stitches:
- (Wrist circumference less 2cm) x (number of stitches per cm) rounded up to the nearest even number.

Body stitches:
- (Palm circumference) x (number of stitches per cm), rounded up to the nearest even number.

Thumb stitches:
- Body stitches divided by 6. For a woman's hand, subtract 1.

Closure rounds:
- (Difference in length of little finger and longest finger) x row gauge, rounded up to the nearest even number.

Closure stitches:
- Body Stitches divided by 3, rounded up to the nearest even number.

1. Cuff
With needles a size or two smaller than desired gauge needles, cast on the required number of stitches for the cuff. Join the round and work ribbing for the desired cuff length. An adult mitten cuff is usually 6-7 cm, 4-5 cm for a kid's mitten.

2. Increase for Body
Change to desired gauge needles and increase evenly across to the required number of stitches for the body. The rest of the mitten is completed in stockinette stitch (knitting every round).

Work until mitt measures the required distance from the top of the ribbing to base of thumb.

3. Mark the Thumb Position
You're going to use the scrap yarn to mark where you will create the thumb.

For right mitt: At the start of the next round, work with the scrap yarn the required number of stitches for the thumb. Slide these thumb stitches back onto the left needle, and work again with working yarn. Finish round as normal.

For left mitt: work to the middle of the round, less the thumb stitches. For example, if the round is 32 stitches, and the thumb needs 5 stitches, work to 16-5=11 stitches. Starting with the next stitch, work the required number of thumb stitches with the scrap yarn. Slide these thumb stitches back onto the left needle, and work again with working yarn. Finish round as normal.

4. Finish the Body
To finish the body, work in stockinette stitch until the mitten reaches the top of the little finger. Rearrange stitches on needles as follows: half of the stitches on Needle 1, and the other half divided evenly between Needle 2 and on Needle 3.

5. Calculating the Decrease
A bit of math is needed here. Given the number of Body Stitches, Closure Stitches and Closure Rounds, you'll need to calculate the Decrease Pattern.

Number of Decrease Rounds = (Body Stitches - Closure Stitches) divided by 4.
A decrease round reduces 4 stitches at a time. Therefore, the Number of Decrease Rounds is the number of times you will decrease 4 stitches to get to your Closure Stitches.

For example:

Body stitches = 32
Closure Stitches = 12. This is 32 divided by 3 = 10.6 rounded up to the nearest even number, 12.
Body Stitches-Closure Stitches = 32-12 = 20. Divide this by 4 and you get 5.
Number of Decrease Rounds = 5

If the numbers don't work out evenly, you will need to adjust the number of Closure Stitches:

For example:
Body stitches = 34
Closure Stitches = 12. This is 34 divided by 3 = 11.3 rounded up to the nearest even number, 12.
Body Stitches-Closure Stitches = 34-12 = 22.
22 doesn't divide evenly by 4, however.
If you do 5 decrease rounds, you'll end up with 34- 5*4 = 34-20 = 14 stitches for the closure.
Or, you can do 6 decrease rounds, ending up with 34-6*4 = 34-24 = 10 closure stitches.
If the hand you're knitting for is slim, decrease more.
If the hand is rounder, work fewer Decrease Rounds.

You then need to take the number of Decrease Rounds and distribute them evenly through the Closure Rounds.

For example:

5 Decrease Rounds distributed into 12 Closure Rounds:
Since 12 divided by 5 is slightly more than 2, you'll be knitting one decrease round for every two rounds, more or less.
Rounds 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 -- Decrease Round
Rounds 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12 -- Even Round

For example:

6 Decrease Rounds distributed into 18 Closure Rounds:
Since 18 divided by 6 is 3, you'll be knitting one decrease round for every three rounds:
Rounds 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16 -- Decrease Round
Rounds 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 15, 17, 18 -- Even Round

6. Decrease and Close
Complete the Decrease Pattern as calculated above, using the following for the Decrease Round.

Decrease Round:
Needle 1: Knit 1, ssk, work to last 3 stitches, k2tog, k1.
Needle 2: Knit 1, ssk, work to end
Needle 3: Work to last 3 stitches, k2tog, k1.

Creating interchangeable mitts:
Use the same decrease pattern, but distribute the four decrease stitches evenly around the round. The shaping isn't quite as elegant, but you'll end up with "ambidextrous" mitts. Are you making mitts for someone who's good at losing things? Make three of these.

Two ways to finish:
Graft these stitches together OR cast off the remaining stitches and seam top.

7. Thumb
Remove the scrap yarn used to mark the thumb, and pick up the "open" stitches on either side. Use one needle to pick up the lower stitches, and a second to pick up the upper stitches. Each needle will have the number of thumb stitches on it.

Starting with the needle closest to the ribbing, knit the thumb stitches. With that same needle, pick up 2 in the "corner" between the lower and upper needles.

Knit the stitches on the upper needle. Using a new needle, pick up 2 stitches in the opposite "corner".

You have established a round, of 2 times the thumb stitches plus 4. If you've got 4 thumb stitches, your round will be 2x4+4=12; if you've got 5 thumb stitches that's 2x5+4=14.

Rearrange the stitches so that they're relatively evenly distributed on the needles.

Knit 1 round, twisting picked up stitches.
Knit even until thumb measures the required length, measured from the picked up stitches.

Decrease on next round: *k2tog, k2*, repeated across round.
Final round: *k2tog*, repeated across round. For woman's size only: Knit last stitch.

Cut yarn and pull through stitches. Turn the thumb inside out, pull the yarn tail through to the wrong side and secure. If there are holes at the base of the thumb, use the yarn tail there to tighten it up.

Notes on Yarns
You're aiming for warmth, so choose appropriately. Natural fibres only, from animals that live in cold climates: wool, mohair, angora, cashmere, alpaca, and so forth, and blends. When making mittens for kids, I'll use washable wool; acrylic mitts are simply ineffective.

Design Ideas

A Warm Lining
My hands get spectacularly cold in the winter; I like to line my mittens for extra warm and wind-proofing.

To create a lining, work the body and thumb with two strands of yarn, alternating strands for alternate stitches. That is, use strand one for stitches 1, 3, 5... and so forth; use strand two for stitches 2, 4, 6, 8... The unused yarn looping behind each stitch forms the lining.

I typically do this with a single color of yarn, but let your creativity be your guide.

Do check your tension, as working with two strands can be tighter than with a single strand.

Ribbing Alternatives
Other ribbing patterns work nicely: 2x2, 3x3, or odd combinations like 3x1. Even combinations of ribs (e.g. 2x2) do have more stretch. Just make sure that you have the appropriate number of stitches. That is, for a 2x2 rib, your number of stitches will need to be divisible by 4.

The mock cable rib looks very sophisticated [see right], and is easy to do. It's a 4 round repeat, on a multiple of 4 stitches.

Round 1, RS: *P2, skip 1 stitch and knit into 2nd stitch, then knit into first stitch and slip both off the needle; repeat from *, end p2

Rounds 2-4: P2 k2 rib across

Fancy Cuff
Don't like the look of ribbing? Desperate to use that novelty yarn that matches your coat exactly? Create a fancy overlay for the cuff.

Work the mitt as normal, with a 1x1 ribbed cuff. Pick up the stitches of the first round of the body of the mitt with a different yarn. Ensure that you're working so that the right side is to the outside, and the knitting grows up over the cuff.

Knit this tube until it's about 2cm longer than the ribbed cuff, and cast off loosely. Whip stitch the cast-off edge to the inside of the ribbed cuff.

This fancy cuff can be made out of any yarn you please -- if that furry novelty yarn matches your coat perfectly, use it for the cuffs and make the actual mitts in a nice warm wool.

For the set in the picture, the body of the mitts is in Rowan Big Wool, and the cuff is Filatura di Crosa Hopla.

Pattern stitches

Combinations of knit and purl stitches on a stockinette stitch background create textural interest. Rounds in reverse stockinette stitch (that is, purl) provide a striping effect against a stockinette stitch background. Try a single round of purl every 5 or 10 knit rounds for stripes.

Cable patterns can be very effective, although they're best used sparingly or in simple repeats. Check your favourite knitting stitch book for ideas. Be inspired by other knitted garments. As with socks, I particularly recommend traditional gansey patterns -- they're designed specifically for knitting in the round.

Color work

Horizontal stripes are easy -- make them as wide or as narrow as you'd like. Try irregular stripe widths for a bit of visual variety, or to use up yarn leftovers.

Vertical stripes are just about as simple, and provide the wonderful side effect of lining the mittens with an extra layer of yarn for thickness and warmth. To create vertical stripes in stockinette stitch, simply work with two different colored yarns and alternate the yarns for every other stitch.

To create vertical stripes in ribbing, cast on using two different yarns at the same time, alternating yarns. Then work k1 p1 ribbing, alternating the yarns in same order as the cast on. You'll get the "up" ribs in one color, and the "down" ribs in the other.

Fair Isle -- Mitts lend themselves very well to this type of color work; that is, using two or more colors at the same time across the entire row. Fair Isle typically features small, repeating motifs or patterns across the row. Vertical stripes are the simplest possible form of Fair-Isle color work. All Fair Isle knitting has an extra layer of yarn on the wrong side (the strands), creating a warmer mitt.

Self-patterning Yarns
Although most of these are sock weight (which will produce elegant but not particularly warm mittens) some manufacturers are making heavier self-patterning yarns. This is the easiest kind of colour work.

Good old variegated yarns are the simplest form of a self-patterning yarn, and these can add some nice visual texture, as shown in the photo at right.


More Resources

Lots exist -- here are a few of my favourites.

Knit Mittens!, Robin Hansen, Storey Publishing, 2002

Folk Mittens, Marcia Lewandowski, Interweave Press, 1997

Vogue Knitting, Pantheon Books

Vogue Knitting Accessorize: Scarves, Hats, Ponchos, Socks & Mittens, Trisha Malcolm, Sixth&Spring 2004

Vogue Knitting On the Go! Mittens and Gloves, Sterling Publishing, 2000

Mitten knitting inspires less fervour than sock knitting, but there are still great resources available online.

Knitty has a few:
Manly Mitts
Broad street

Woolworks has a variety of patterns for cold-weather wear, including some great variations on the mitten theme

Many yarn manufacturers have free mitten patterns on their sites. Check out your favorite and see what they've got.



Kate, whose fingers get very cold, knits in Toronto.