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The Sartorialist Mittens

Sartorial: of or relating to a tailor or tailored clothes; broadly: of or relating to clothes—sartorially.
- Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition

She's a hard one to please, my youngest daughter Lelia. It's all about fashion and fit and a refined sense of style. She does love my handmade socks. But she's fussy about them, too. Color selection is critical, of course, and so is pattern, and even, stitch definition. Lelia can feel the purls on the sole of a too loosely knit stocking. I haven't made her a sweater in years. I try to consult with her before I begin a project. The times I haven't, well, I try not to think about them.

Lelia adores the "two-way dialogue about the world of fashion and its relationship to daily life" that fashion photographer Scott Schuman conducts on his blog, The Sartorialist. Away at college, she sends me links to her favorite posts-- a young barefoot knitter, a vintage photo of a gentlemanly grandfather. And a few weeks before Hanukkah, when I was thinking about presents I might knit, an email from her arrived with a link to the Sartorialist latest discovery --"Beautiful Mittens" was the subject line.

Beautiful mittens, indeed. Smitten mittens, commented a reader. Knit the usual way with a ribbed cuff and a stockinette body, these mittens sported an artful and unusual design.  Reproducing them would require fine-tuning and finessing the seven color irregular stripes; yellow, orange, red, two blues plus black and white.

I did not rush to my needles. The mittens would make a lovely gift, but if I consulted Lelia first, she might reject the idea. Surprising her would have its own consequence.  And besides, I wasn't convinced I wanted to take the project on. So I left her email with the link in my inbox. Every few days, I visited the mittens. Each time, admiring and examining them, noting some new detail.

Scott Schuman/used with permission
Photo: Scott Schuman, used with permission

A week or so later, I printed the image. For further study. The mittens reminded me of 1930's vintage knits. The yarn might have been space-dyed, but I doubt it. I could be wrong, but they look like a stash buster project made by a knitter with a great sense of color and rhythm. Even if Lelia didn't like them, understanding their aesthetic by knitting these mittens would be instructive for other possible projects.

I probably could have, really maybe should have, done some careful calculations to plan out the Sartorialist Mittens. But instead, I gathered up the yarns from my stash, trying to match what I had to what was in the picture. Only two yarns were purchased, a dark blue and a black.

Photo by Michelle
EdwardsTo decipher the mitten's creative striping, I enlarged the image. That's when I detected the orange row almost hidden in a yellow stripe and what looked like an outside knot on the mitten top. A few times when a new color join left me with an uneven transition, I thought about that knot and left the jag in. My mittens aren't perfect replicas, but that wasn't the point. They catch their spirit and style.

Happening upon an unusual name on a tombstone in a historic rural Iowa cemetery sparked my friend Anne Ylvisaker to muse about Tugs Button. The result of that encounter, is now a middle grade novel, The Luck of the Buttons. More humbly, venturing out into the Sartorialist’s world, I knit a spiffy bit of vintage fashion. And what’s more, Lelia likes them. A lot.

It is January. Our holiday gift making frenzy is over. Treat yourself to a break. Drop by your local art museum or gallery and breathe in the richness of color and design. Select a choice seat on a park bench or by the window of a coffee shop and observe the grander elements of nature and humanity. Journey over to Sartorialist and join Scott Schuman’s exploration into the variegated world of street fashion and style and life. Court serendipity and be inspired!  Happy 2012!

This is the color chart was made from my finished Sartorialist Mittens. Use the entire chart or just selected stripes to enrich any yarn project. Experiment and have fun. Colors: red, orange, yellow, white, black, dark blue, medium blue. Click on the chart to enlarge in a separate window.

Here are a few basic knit & crochet mitten patterns you can use as a starting point:

For some tips on working with multiple colors in a row (also called stranded knitting or Fair Isle knitting), click here.

Color Chart

Authored by

Michelle Edwards is the author/illustrator of A KNITTER'S HOME COMPANION and many award-winning children's books including CHICKEN MAN and STINKY STERN FOREVER. In her spare time, Michelle enjoys talking about books in schools throughout the US and beyond. Her newest book, Room for the Baby, will be available from Random House in Fall 2012. Visit Michelle Edwards at her website or on Facebook.
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