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Mitten Knowledge

To all those knitters who emailed me with mitten questions and to those of you who in spite of the summer heat are thinking ahead to winter, this article is for you.

Yarn: Let’s start with yarn. It’s a widely held opinion in the knitting world that wool makes the best mittens. Unlike socks, mittens don’t get smelly and dirty with use. Generally mittens only require that you dry them out when wet and you are careful not to loose them. Washable wools and wool blends are the next mitten yarn of choice, because in this less than perfect world, many mittens do find their way into washing machines and dryers.

Gauge: For sixteen years I lived in the nation’s icebox, Minnesota: I take mitten warmth very seriously. This is where gauge becomes important; knit mittens at tightest gauge you can and still have a flexible and comfortable mitten.

Design: Mittens are fast and portable projects, so you have time to experiment with color and design. And if for whatever reason you decide one pair is not enough and you want to knit another two or five or one hundred pairs, you will absolutely want to explore the design opportunities that mittens offer.

Click here for the pattern.


The easiest way to knit an interesting mitten is to use a variegated or patterned yarn. This way you can let the yarn do the design work and you can knit away while you can talk or read, or in my case, watch every episode of 24 and still remember the plot lines.

My favorite way to design a mitten is play with the mitten structure as I knit. Start with the cuff. You can knit one or two and purl one or two and make a ribbed cuff. Add stripes for variety. You can make a rolled edge cuff by knitting stockinette stitch. You can stripe your rolled edge cuff, both horizontally and vertically. Or you can cast on with a textured or novelty yarn like fun fur and knit with that for several rows.

The thumbs, mitten body, and mitten top can all be knit in different colors. You can choose colors ahead of time and play with say four colors, giving one mitten a cuff in red, a body in blue, a top in green, and a thumb in yellow. The second mitten could have the cuff in yellow, the body in green, the top in blue and the thumb in red. Well, you get the idea.

Knitting the mittens and pattern choice: For simple everyday warm mittens for you and your family and the cold hands in your community and our world, for mittens that can be knit quickly and in quantity, knit your mittens in the round, on double pointed needles. This will save you sewing up seams after you finish knitting.

Knit mittens with a non-Kitchener top. Instead of weaving the Kitchener way and creating a flat top mitten, the stitches on mitten top are decreased until there are eight or so stitches left. Those stitches are pulled together and gathered to create a more organic looking pointed top.

Knit mittens that can be worn on either hand. This can save a lot of frustration, esp. if you are forgetful or distracted. I can testify how easy it is to knit two right hand mittens. Avoid the problem all together.

Knit mittens with a pattern that is easy enough to memorize after a pair or so. You can carry the pattern with you but it’s a great comfort not to have to keep looking down and checking.

Instead of placing a marker for the gusset stitches, use a purl stitch. This idea comes from Mabel Corlett’s Old Fashioned Mittens, a pattern available on the Internet. This creates a very sharp looking outline for the gusset and eliminates marker, which are easy to drop.

When you are increasing stitches for thumb gusset, insert needle into stitch below as if you are going to purl, lift the stitch and twist it onto needle. Then knit it. This will give you a very tight gusset edge and usually eliminates the holes that can happen to even the best of knitters.

Place thumb stitches on a stitch holder rather than a piece of yarn. It is much easier to pick up stitches from a holder than it is from a piece of yarn. This is important if your splits easily or you are knitting with darker yarn.

The Starter Mitten: In the spirit of knitting and sharing, I’d like to offer up a mitten pattern. It is a hybrid of patterns I have encountered and used and incorporates many of the ideas I have written about in this article.

So grab your needles and yarn and give The Starter Mittens a try this summer. Make the first pair for yourself. This is the best way I know to test a mitten pattern for comfort, warmth and style. Have fun and good luck on your mitten journey!

Need help with this pattern? Click here and let us know how we can be of assistance! 

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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