Saturday, 3 June 2017

How to...knit mittens

In our corner of the UK we have been having a glorious spell of warm, sunny weather - the perfect weather to be knitting a pair of mittens! Today, I wanted to share with you my progress knitting mittens as part of a KAL (knit-along) but also share with you all of the things I've learnt along the way so that you can knit mittens too!

Along with millions of other people, I have Raynaulds Phenomenon and keeping my hands and feet warm is an ongoing challenge. As a consequence, I have crocheted mittens for myself (and our little boy) and have always wanted to knit myself a pair. As with many things, I initially assumed that I couldn't knit them and then procrastinated whilst I convinced myself that I really couldn't! Thankfully, the lovely Emma from Eldenwood Craft and Ellie from Craft House Magic came up with the idea of a Craftymitalong - an open invitation to use the same pattern and knit a pair of striped mittens. Knowing that I would be making the mittens along with others gave me the confidence to give them a try and I can tell you that mittens are super easy to make, quick and incredibly satisfying - I really wish that I hadn't waited to so long to try making them!

The pattern

Emma and Ellie chose Stripped Mittens according to Badegakk by Lena Gjerald as the pattern that we would all follow. This is a free pattern, available to download from Ravelry. I immediately loved the look of the finished mittens on the pattern - I do love a stripe - even if I don't like all of the ends that need weaving in!

There are a couple of things that I would say about the pattern; I think that it would be perfect if you had already made mittens. I have found that it has been challenging at points but only because I don't have any mitten knitting experience under my belt. I have made a lot of modifications to the pattern, so I think this pattern wouldn't be for you if you just wanted something straightforward to knit without thinking.

Yarn choice

For my yarn, I chose a set of mini skeins from The Little Grey Sheep - an independent yarn producer just a few miles up the road from where we live. Emma, who owns the business - they are her sheep and she dyes the yarn at her farm - was incredibly helpful in sorting out my order.
Five mini-skeins of Stein Fine Wool yarn

And then the yarn came - five mini skeins of Stein Fine Wool (4ply) and it is the most delicious yarn and possibly the best yarn that I have ever worked with; it is beautifully soft, with a really lovely lustre, the stitch definition is great and I know my finished mittens will be so warm.

Needle choice

I have chosen to use short circular needles to work up my mittens. I normally use Hiya Hiya short circulars for socks but for these mittens I am using 2.5mm 9 inch ChiaoGoo needles and I have found them lovely to work with and definitely quicker than if I have worked up the mittens with magic loop.

Mitten resources

Tin Can knits has great introductory tutorial on mitten construction; Let's Knit some super simple mittens is a helpful starting point for mitten knitting and they also have two free mitten patterns:
Maize mittens
The worlds simplest mittens
to put your new skills into practice

Working the cuff and the body of the mitten is straightforward. The off-putting element for me - before I started making the mitten was the thumb. But I can reassure you that is not as bad as it first seems; I have drawn on some key resources to help me and I wanted to share those with you:

Creating the thumb gusset and thumb
To construct the thumb of the mitten you increase stitches between two stitch markers. On my first mitten I used M1L and M1R increases and found that despite my best efforts I was getting tiny holes at the increase points. Emma in the Craftymitalong chatter thread on Ravelry had a similar problem and was able to share her solution with the group - (very nearly) invisible increases:
Techknitting: A very nearly invisible increase

Thumb gusset on knitted mitten

I used this increase technique for my second mitten and I am really delighted with the result.

Having created the thumb gusset, you transfer the stitches that you have created on to waste yarn, to pick up later when you need to knit the thumb itself. If you haven't done this before, Tin Can Knits show you how:
Placing stitches on hold on waste yarn

I had been dreading the next bit of the mitten construction - casting on additional stitches. I had found this incredibly tricky when I had been dividing the sleeves on my Westbourne top. I used a convoluted cast-on process that I had found online - a mistake. I did more research for my mittens and discovered a back loop cast on:
Love Knitting: The backward loop cast-on
Tin Can Knits: Backwards Loop Cast On

Example of backwards loop cast-on

This technique allowed me to create really neat additional stitches on my work.

Double pointed needles
I am using double pointed needles (dpns) to knit the thumb of my mittens. I use dpns to finish off the toes on socks but not much beyond that, however the thumb worked up quickly using them and it was fun - so I obviously need to do more dpn knitting! If you haven't tried working with dpns, Purl Solo has a helpful tutorial to get you started; double pointed needles.

One of the defining aspects of the mittens are those beautiful stripes requiring many colour changes. I started weaving in the ends as I went and for me - this didn't work, I found that it distorted my stitches so I stopped, but if you want to have a go, here are two great resources to try;
How to change colours and weave in ends as you by Cozy Knitter
Constrast Cuff, Heel and Toe Socks - joining in new colours by Winwick Mum (socks are quite like mittens!)

Life line
In a previous post I have talked about the importance of lifelines and the fact I am not always very good at using them myself. However, I didn't want to take any chances with the decrease section of the first mitten so I popped in a lifeline.
Close up of life-line on a knitted mitten

Fay from The Crochet Circle Podcast suggested dental tape as a effective lifeline so I gave it a try and it works brilliantly - it slipped into the stitches easily, didn't distort the stitches and came out easily too.

In case you want to try making these mittens yourself, I thought that I would share the modifications I have made to the pattern;
- I cast on 56 stitches (rather than 62 stated in the pattern)
- I shortened the length of the mitten before the wrist decrease (personal preference)
- I decreased down to 50 stitches after 23 rows rather than the 56 stated in the pattern)

These simple changes have allowed me to create a really good fitting mitten. Much like socks, I have kept trying the mittens on as I worked on them to make sure I was getting the best fit. Don't be scared to make modifications!

Finished mittens...not quite

I really wanted to have a finished pair of mittens ready for this post but I am afraid that life (and in particular the half term holidays) has intervened. I have however made great progress in the week....

One and half striped knitted mittens

It is really lovely to be part of a knit along - I recommend it as a way to push yourself to develop new skills - thank you to Emma and Ellie for hosting.

Future projects

Despite not having completed my first pair yet - I am already on the look out for more mitten patterns and I wanted to share with you three lovely ones that I have found...

Antler Mittens by Tin Can Knits
Vanishing point by Georgia Farrell
Tavy by Linda Lencovic

I would love to hear of any other lovely mitten patterns that you've come across and also any brands of dpns that you would recommend.

Thanks for visiting today, I hope you have a lovely week of crafting x


  1. Super post again Helen. Your mittens look great! Love the stripes. I definitely think a KAL or CAL is one of the best ways to tackle a scary new technique. You are almost persuading me to put down my hook for a while and pick up my needles. That local yarn is gorgeous. How wonderful to be able to buy it from just up the road!

  2. Thanks so much Tamara, I've got a few more knitting posts in the planning so I'm sure I'll have you back knitting before long!! xx