Mitten Mission


54eb64f8dbe5a_-_diy-style-knitted-snowbird-mittens-mdnWhatever your brand of fiber fancy– knitting, weaving, crochet or felting–mittens are small canvases for  your creativity. Mittens can be bulky or refined and most knitting traditions have their own take on shapes, patterns and embellishments.

This year the Mid-Essex Guild’s holiday challenge is mitten making. I’ve only knit one pair so far, but I have done a bit of armchair traveling while browsing mitten patterns.I picked up The Mitten Book little volume of mitten patterns from Gotland, an island off the Swedish coast, home to the eponymous sheep. In its overview of knitting in Gotland and the wool trade is a description of typical Gotland mittens. The yarns were dyed with natural dyes and the traditional patterns took inspiration from nature heavily featuring ivy and wildflowers–columbine, clover, roses– as well as wheel motifs and birds.

Traditionally mittens were knitted with the date or the recipients name or initials on the cuff or body. Sometimes mittens featured collars that extended all the way to the elbow. Mittens were often felted to give them added firmness and durability.

My version of Jodis mittens

My version of Jodis mittens

This description tells a story of an everyday piece of winter clothing at once sturdy and practical but also carefully embellished and personalized. Their patterns and construction ties them to a place and time. You could say the same about mittens from other traditions–fair isle, Norwegian, Estonian, New England etc. Mittens are made to keep us warm, but mitten-making is a wholly creative undertaking.

I want to take a quick look at Maine mittens, before I get onto sharing a few of my favourite patterns and hopefully inspiring everyone to run off and make mittens.

Sheep mittens

Sheep mittens

In Fox & Geese & Fences, A Collection of Traditional Mains Mittens, author Robin Hansen observes that these days most mittens and winter clothes are made in countries where it is never cold enough to wear them:

“…the mittens are usually just silly, knit from brightly colored synthetic yarns, and so thin that one can see skin through the stitches. …for mittens, northern peoples must rely on their own traditions and products.”

In Maine, writes Hansen, mittens are knit for density and thickness with good mobility. Mittens are knit fine and tight, felted, or using special stitches to increase thickness:

“Some Maine mittens are meant to be worn wet, soaked in salt water and wrung out before each wearing. Inland in Maine, mittens are knit with two strands of yarn in close all-over patterns reminiscent of the palm of a Norwegian mitten. … Another traditional Maine mitten is knit with bits of combed fleece tucked into the knit, creating a fluffy lining that changes to a thick, woolly mat with use.”



That’s one U.S. state with many mitten traditions. It turns out the fleece-stuffed (thrummed) mittens and caps are an import from Newfoundland and Labrador, which reminds us that when knitters travelled their patterns and techniques went with them. Here’s a how-to on Thrummed Mittens. There are some beautiful examples on Ravelry.


There are loads of patterns to choose from and I’ve put together a gallery of a few of my favourites on Ravelry. Amongst my very very favourites are the poetry mittens and the sheep mittens. I love anything with colour work and those poetry mittens, well how cool!

These Tatiana mittens are just fabulous. So creative. I also love the Let It Snow ones.

The ones I actually knit were the Jodis mittens from Rowan’s Nordic Knits. The pom-poms were a big attraction for me and I like the length on the cuff. This pattern has you knit the mittens flat, which works fine. But in future I think knitting in the round is better, because flat fair isle knitting is a drag. Spoiler alert–those are the ones I made for  the Guild competition. Further spoiler alert, I don’t think I’m going to win. Not that I’m competitive.

Handwoven and sewn

Handwoven and sewn

I also made some little mittens out of some felted handwoven fabric following this tutorial. The instructions are for making mittens out of felted sweaters and use a thin fleece lining. If you’re using felted handwoven you might not bother with the lining. These were very easy to make. Definitely try out this pattern.

If I have time I may knit one more pair of mittens before the Christmas. If I do, it will probably be the Let it Snow pattern. I love those birds!

Gift Ideas for the Fiberista


Rachel suggested we put together a list of fun or useful gifts for the fiber fanatics in your life. Which is funny, because every year before Rachel’s birthday or Christmas I get an email from her husband asking for gift suggestions. In Rachel’s case I’m at an advantage, because we talk about our fiber plans daily, but putting this list together I’m at a disadvantage because nothing on this list is on the list I made for Rachel’s husband! My spinning Guild also has it’s year-end gift exchange in a couple of weeks, so it seems like there’s always an opportunity to buy (or make!) a well-received gift.

Here are some useful tools:

a ball winder

a ball winder with yardage counter

a yardage counter

a swift

Ball winders and swift

Ball winders and swift

a niddy noddy. Make a custom-sized one on the cheap out of PVC.

small scissors

measuring tape

a wraps-per-inch gauge

blocking pins

a diz:


a hackle

a blending board

a dog comb or flick carder for preparing fleece

a few extra bobbins for their spinning wheel. These are always welcome, but be sure you know what kind of wheel your friend has—different manufacturers make different sizes and they’re not always interchangeable.

soap nuts

spinning wheel oil! I’m always having to depend on my fellow Guild members when my wheel starts whining during meetings, because I don’t have a small travel tube of it.

Does your friend weave? How about a travel loom, a pin loom or an inkle loom? There are plenty of instructions online on how to make a PVC inkle loom.

Inkle loom

Inkle loom

Does your friend only spin wool or alpaca roving? Maybe a gift of cotton, flax, an interesting synthetic fiber, or silk hankies. Rachel and I have found that spinning different types of fibers really helps with our overall technique. A tip: if you give silk hankies, include a bottle of talcum powder. It smooths over the rough places in your hands and makes mawata spinning a breeze.

Does your friend have a drop spindle? A Turkish drop spindle? There are lots of beautiful hand-made spindles out there. Look on Etsy or search online for hand-crafted spindles.

Turkish spindle

Turkish spindle

Notions. I love giving and receiving buttons. I find they inspire new projects, and you can usually find designs for anyone’s favorite interests. Etsy is also a great place to find handmade notions and shawl pins, by artists local to your area or from around the world.

Locally crafted ceramic buttons made by BeadFreaky that I found on Etsy

Locally crafted ceramic buttons made by beadfreaky that I found on Etsy

A salad spinner. These work great for getting the wet out of small batches of fiber. If you think your recipient will be confused, include a little unwashed fiber in the basket. Another tip: if your friend is in need of a salad spinner for, well, salad, definitely get her two! Thrift stores are a great place to find perfectly good second hand salad spinners for fiber processing.

Knitter’s graph paper. Great for charting things or keeping track of where you are in a pattern (ahem, Rachel). We happen to have a handy-sized Sheep Cabana version available in our brand new Etsy shop:

Sheep Cabana Knitter's Graph Paper

Sheep Cabana Knitter’s Graph Paper

Books. We are a bit on the fence about books. I like ones that are reference books, stitch dictionaries, and other how-to types.

If your friend really likes making socks, the latest sock-pattern book might be up his alley. I would check out his library first. Your friend’s Ravelry queue or Pinterest boards are also good places to check for favorite designers and designs. Some designers on Ravelry also give the option to gift patterns electronically, which is great. Support your indie designers!

There are some novelty books out there which non-knitters tend to give knitters. Coffee table books, if you will. If you’re tempted by something like that, ask yourself how many faux-taxidermy meerkats or rustic-modern crochet ponchos your friend is going to make. If it’s a resounding “That many!” then go for it. But still: if your friend has an e-reader, consider the e-version of the book.

One last idea is project bags and small notions cases. Lots of people make these, probably people you already know in your Instagram feed.

If I’ve left anything off this list, it’s because it’s on Rachel’s surprise list. However, as far as gift giving goes, if in the long run your recipient would rather have something useful than be surprised, just ask them what they might want! I find that that’s often the most appreciated gift of all.