How to Construct a Mitten

I love making mittens. They are fast and can often be made from leftover yarn in my stash. They are also endlessly variable– they can be cabled, have stranded colorwork or intarsia, be thrummed or plain. They make great gifts here in the frozen Spokane winter. 

I rarely use a pattern for mittens anymore. What follows is my method for making mittens. First, you have to measure. You need measurements for:

  1. Wrist circumference
  2. Palm circumference 
  3. Thumb circumference 
  4. Length from wrist to tip of longest finger
  5. Length from wrist to the bottom of the thumb
  6. Length from crook of the thumb to the top of the longest finger

Once I have my measurements I figure out how many stitches to cast on: wrist circumference x number of stitches to the inch (as determined by swatching.) so, if the wrist circumference is 7″ and the number of stitches to the inch is 8 then I would cast on 56 (because 7 x 8 = 56.) inthen work 1 x 1 ribbing for about 2″. 

Then I switch to stockinette, and, at the same time, in the next round, I increase. I increase as many stitches as needed to make the mittens as wide as the palm circumference, plus about 1/2″ or so. This is not precise, but you don’t want your mittens to be too tight. Then I usually like to throw in a little motif between the wrist and the start of the thumb gore. Sometimes I use patterns that I have (Latvian Mittens by Lizbeth Upitis is an excellent source of graphs and motifs) or Sometimes I chart my own. You can find downloadable, printable, knitters graph paper by googling. 

Once the mitten is long enough– once the length between the wrist and the bottom of the thumb is long enough, I start the thumb gore. And this is where you have to pause and put some thought into thumb placement. Where do you want any motif you have worked to sit on the hand? Is there a beginning, end or center? Just think about it and then make sure you place the thumb so that the mitten will have the center or the pretty part of the pattern facing up. 

This is how I work a thumb gore: once I have determined where to place the thumb, I place a marker, then I work a m1 increase, place marker. On the next round, I work the stitch in between the markers without increasing. On the round after that I: slip the first marker, m1, knit the already existing stitch, m1, slip marker. I continue in this fashion, increasing 2 stitches every other round, until I have the right number of stitches for the thumb circumference, plus 2 or 3 more, so the thumb isn’t too tight.

Once the thumb gore is finished I move the thumb stitches to a holder. 

Then I work the remaining hand stitches until it is time to decrease. There are several ways to decrease, of course. My preferred method depends on the kind of mitten I am knitting. For color work mittens, I almost always decrease at the sides. To do so, work to 3 stitches before the first side of the mitten (where this spot is will be determined by where you placed the thumb), ssk, knit 1, k2tog, then I work to 3 stitches before the second side (usually the end of round, but it depends on where you put your thumb), ssk, knit 1, k2tog. I work the decreases either every other round or every round, depending on how long the mitten needs to be. When I have 4 stitches left I cut the yarn and pull through the remaining stitches. 
This decreasing method will allow you to keep working any color work pattern for most of the mitten. If you decrease in a circular pattern (like for a hat) the pattern gets wonky. 

The last thing I do is pick up the stitches for the thumb and finish it off. For the thumb I usually work a circular decrease since it’s such a small number of stitches. 


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