Make Your Own Basics: Mittens and mitts

Make Your Own Basics: Mittens and mitts

The thing I love most about “basics” — i.e. a simple, hardworking pullover, or stockinette hat, or a mittens pattern like this one — is that they’re the perfect blank slate, begging to be personalized. Mine might be plain as day, while someone else’s might be purple or striped or covered in Fair Isle motifs or any textured stitch that matches pattern gauge. Pretty much every pattern I’ve featured in Make Your Own Basics is immensely adaptable, which to me is the whole point. The mittens pattern above, Knits for Everybody Mittens by Jenny Williams, is written for two weights (worsted and fingering) and 12 sizes, and would not only lend itself to whatever you want to do in terms of color and fiber, but would also be very simple to convert to fingerless mitts: Just stop short of the shaping for the fingertips — on both the hands and thumbs — and work a few rounds of ribbing before binding off. Same goes for Purl Soho’s free Arched Gusset Mittens, which also includes toddler, child and adult sizes.

(For even simpler handwarmers, see my Super Simple Mitts and Stadium Mitts — free patterns.)

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PREVIOUSLY in Make Your Own Basics: The hat

Favorite New Favorites of 2016

Favorite New Favorites of 2016

I never feature anything in New Favorites that I don’t truly love, but it’s always interesting for me, at the end of each year, to scroll back through them all and see which ones make my heart race and my fingers twitch the most. Or which I admire greatly versus really wanting knit and to have in my possession as finished objects. This year was not absent socks, scarves, shawls and blankets, but it was light on those things, and none of them made today’s list somehow. But what follows are my Favorite New Favorites for 2016—

PATTERN OF THE YEAR

There was only one pattern this year that had me lying awake at night thinking about it, and that’s Vidje by Kristin Ford, pictured up top. I’ve declared a year’s-best-pattern three times before — Stonecutter in 2013, and Aspen Socks (pattern of the year) and Marshal (sweater of the year) in 2015 — and I’ve yet to knit any of them.* But Vidje is the new Channel Cardigan for me — as in, the one I won’t stop fantasizing about until the day I’m wearing it, that I’ll spend months or possibly years knitting, and that I hope to love and wear for ages. You can read my previous remarks (and modification plans) on this one in New Favorites: Every stitch of the Tov collection.

*Stonecutter looks terrible on me, unfortunately; Marshal still occupies my thoughts on the regular; and I conceded at the time that I would likely never manage to knit Aspen.

Favorite New Favorites of 2016

WOMEN’S SWEATERS
top: Sourcebook Chunky Cardigan by Norah Gaughan (as seen in Exceptional shawl-collars)
bottom left: Bue by Nele Redwieck (as seen in Every stitch of the Tov collection)
bottom right: St. Brendan by Courtney Kelley (as seen in Finn Valley and St. Brendan)

Favorite New Favorites of 2016

MEN’S SWEATERS
top: Tamarack by Jared Flood
bottom left: Carver by Julie Hoover
bottom right: Auster by Michele Wang
(all three as seen in For Bob — or himever!)

Favorite New Favorites of 2016

LOUNGEWEAR
Crazy Feeling Sweater and Heartbreaker Shorts by Wool and the Gang (as seen in WATG knitted denim jammies)

Favorite New Favorites of 2016

HATS
clockwise from top left:
Divide by Emily Greene (as seen in Bulky hats)
Sourcebook Balaclava by Norah Gaughan (as seen in Hoods)
Rille by Olga Buraya-Kefelian (as seen in Every stitch of the Tov collection)
Earlyrising by Annie Rowden (as seen in For the hat list)
Halus by Jared Flood (as seen in Mad hatting)
Buck’s Hat by Thea Colman (as seen in Mad hatting)

Favorite New Favorites of 2016

MITTENS
top: Ossify Mitts by Whitney Hayward (as seen in Mitten mania cont.)
bottom: Handspun Dreams Mitten by Hannah Fettig (as seen in Mitten mania cont.)

Those are my picks — and in this year’s case I actually already have yarn and plans for several of them! (More on that to come.) What were your favorite patterns of 2016?

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PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Bulky hats

New Favorites: Mitten mania (cont.)

New Favorites: Mitten mania (cont.)

Seriously: cannot stop thinking about mittens! (See Mitten Mania part 1. And Jess’s post yesterday certainly didn’t help, either.) I’ve always thought of mittens as akin to straitjackets for your hands, but lately I have an overwhelming urge to knit a pair … or three. The latest contenders:

TOP: Ossify Mitts by Whitney Hayward is the pattern that answers the question I posed here — so yeah, these are a must-knit for me

MIDDLE LEFT: Aoibhinn by Ysolda Teague is other the pair I really can’t get out of my head (pattern not available individually until Dec 20)

MIDDLE RIGHT: Bearberry by Melissa LaBarre is a cute garter and stockinette combo

BOTTOM: Handspun Dreams Mitten by Hannah Fettig is a creative way to use a small amount of cherished handspun

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PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Griffin by Bristol Ivy

Swatch of the Month: Latvian cheer

EDITOR’S NOTE: My first exposure to Latvian mittens was when I won this amazing little boxed kit a few years ago. I don’t know much about Latvian mittens other than that I’d love to know more! So I’m especially happy about Jess digging in on the subject for her column this month—
—Karen

Swatch of the Month: Latvian cheer

For this month’s swatch, I wanted to do something festive. December is an intersection of many cultural and religious celebrations of light and color in the darkest month of the year (for the northern hemisphere, at least), and I thought this would be a perfect moment to look at knitting’s role in ceremony and celebration.

Back in college, I worked at a coffee shop owned by a Latvian woman. I didn’t really know much about the country, its people, or even where exactly Latvia was (in Eastern Europe somewhere, right? My international relations degree really strutting its stuff, guys). It wasn’t until I stumbled across Latvian and Estonian mittens for the first time as a knitter that I made the connection and picked up a copy of Lizbeth Upitis’ book Latvian Mittens to learn more about the region and its knitting traditions.

THE BALTIC REGION

The Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania sit east of the Baltic Sea, to the immediate west of Russia, and quite close to Sweden and Finland. People of the region share common history and similar traditions, although regional dialects and tribal histories distinguish them. Latvians and Lithuanians are known as Baltic people, and their respective, archaic Indo-European languages are the only surviving Baltic languages. Despite these close ties, Lithuania generally identifies itself more strongly with its neighbors to the south in Central Europe, like Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. Estonia, on the other hand, due to its linguistic and historical connections, strongly identifies with its Finnish neighbors to the north.

Although these linguistic and political differences have set them apart, the region shares a common history of being occupied and ruled by its neighbors for hundreds of years, most recently by the USSR. In 1989, more than two million people formed a human chain through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, called “The Baltic Way,” to peacefully demand independence from the Soviet Union. All three countries achieved independence in 1991 and later became members of NATO and the European Union. Today, the three countries are part of the Nordic-Baltic 8, or NB8, which includes Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden. While these countries have been closely connected for centuries, their closest cooperation began with the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s and continues today.

This brief historical overview serves as a reminder of the interconnectedness of this region, which of course affects its knitting and textile traditions. As I began riffling through images of Baltic knitting, embroidery, lacework and more, I couldn’t help but see the similarities in motifs and design from Latvian mittens to Fair Isle sweaters to Nordic stockings. And even though I’m a bit of a minimalist myself when it comes to knitting and my own wardrobe, I can’t help but want to cast on some brightly colored mittens or a complex colorwork cardigan when I look at these designs. I mean, c’mon.

Swatch of the Month: Latvian cheer

KNITTING AS CELEBRATION

Prior to the introduction of knitting, people in the region created fabric through a technique called nålebinding, also known as “knotless netting” or “needle looping.” This technique is estimated to predate knitting by 1,000 years! Instead of using two needles, the method required only one. Unlike crochet, it involved pulling through the full length of the working thread through each loop, which would make it difficult to unravel and adjust one’s work during the process. The finished work could be felted to make a more durable and cold-resistant fabric. If you’re interested in trying out the nålebinding process for yourself, there’s a tutorial in English here, or you can watch the process in action here.

Knitting likely migrated to the Baltic region during the Crusades, when knights brought the knowledge of knitting with them from the Middle East (Source: Nordic Knitting website). The oldest-known knitted object found in Estonia is the cuff of a mitten discovered in 1950 by archeologist Jüri Peets, which probably dates to the end of the thirteenth century. Other knitted textiles that have been discovered in the region include pattern knitting, indicating that more complex, two-color knitting has been practiced for a long time.

So, where do mittens come in? Aside from being highly functional and useful knitted objects, mittens in the Baltics also served as small capsules of information. The pattern, technique and colors in a pair of mittens could indicate where its wearer was from, and the patterns themselves could be full of symbols from archaic pagan mythology. A zig-zag, for example, represented the goddess Mara, whereas a sideway “S” represented an adder, a popular animal of the goddess Laima. Both motifs were and continue to remain popular in mitten design.

Latvian folk songs, or dainas, provide further clues about mittens’ role in ceremony. In 1880, Krisjanis Barons began to collect and document the folk songs of the Latvian people, a project he continued for the following 35 years of his life. Because of his work and dedication, nearly 36,000 dainas were preserved and provide a glimpse into the daily and ceremonial life of Latvians during that time. As seen in these folk songs, knit mittens were a critical part of weddings and were an opportunity for a young woman to display her skill and readiness for marriage. See this daina, written in the voice of a young woman eligible to be married:

Many mittens am I knitting
Putting in my dowry chest
When the rich girls have been taken,
Then will I come in their mind.

Young girls were taught to knit as young as four or five years old, and were knitting daily during or between their other tasks. By the time a girl had reached marrying age, she was expected to have accumulated a dowry chest full of over one hundred mittens and socks that were knit by herself and other women in the family. See this daina that’s written in the voice of a young suitor:

Good evening, maiden’s mother
As you see my hands are freezing;
All the while my mitten knitter
Snugly in your room is sitting.

During the wedding celebrations, which lasted three to four days, the bride gifted pairs of mittens to just about everyone. This included the minister, the groom’s parents, the driver of the wedding carriage, all brothers, sisters and remaining relatives, and the kitchen helpers. Even the barn animals received symbolic offerings of mittens, which were later retrieved by a member of the family. The married couple ate their wedding meal with mittened hands. Before entering the threshold of her new home, the bride laid down a pair of mittens, hung mittens above the hearth, tied them to doors. When I first read this in my copy of Upitis’ book, I couldn’t help but think of these mittens as magical totems, blessing the newly married couple and their community.

There is so much more I could write here about Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian mittens, but instead, I’ll leave you with some resources to explore further. I’ve heard only good things about the book Mittens of Latvia by Maruta Grasmane, which I haven’t read myself but would likely be a good companion for Upitis’ book. Mary Neal Meador’s quest for an authentic Estonian mitten at the Mason-Dixon Knitting blog is definitely worth a read, as is Donna Druchunas’ guest post about knitting in Lithuania on Hélène Magnússon’s The Icelandic Knitter blog. And be sure to check out the eye candy that is the incredible knitting from the Estonian island of Muhu, as shared through the eyes of Kate Davies on her blog here and here. Adding this to my Christmas wish list, please and thank you.

Swatch of the Month: Latvian cheer

THE SWATCH

When it comes to picking a yarn for a project, I’ve gotten accustomed to searching for that elusive, perfectly woolly and perfectly crisp je ne sais quoi yarn – and I often overlook some of the most readily available and solidly good yarn on the market. Quince amd Co., case in point. Of all the projects I’ve knitted to date, the ones knit in Quince were a delight to knit and have reliably held up to time and wear. Plus, for an American-sourced and produced wool yarn, Quince’s broad selection is so well priced and comes in a generous (and ever-expanding) palette of colors.

For this swatch, I originally picked a pattern that called for three colors. I chose Quince & Co.’s fingering-weight Finch in Canvas, Poppy and Barolo colorways, but after ripping and redoing the swatch twice with dismal puckering and pulling, I admitted that my colorwork needed some practice. I switched to a two-color chart instead, using the Canvas and Poppy. I really love how the warm cream of the new Canvas color and the bright, orange-red of the Poppy play off of each other.

I also knitted this swatch in the round, and with a little more time probably could have finished a mitten. Since the swatch is so small and my colorwork skills still a little rough, I figured it would be easier in the long run to just knit it in the round rather than knit an “in-the-round” swatch, as I did for my Icelandic lopi swatch. While working the chart, I trapped long floats using a technique I learned from Andrea Rangel during the Cowichan vest knitalong last year, which is a method I’ve come to rely on to prevent uneven tension in my colorwork.
Jess Schreibstein

Yarn: Quince & Co. Finch in Canvas and Poppy colorways
Needles: US 1 / 2.25mm double-pointed needles
Gauge: 18 stitches / 20 rows = 2 inches in colorwork chart

Swatch of the Month: Latvian cheer

M E T H O D

For the colorwork chart, see Chart 29 in Lizbeth Upitis’ book, Latvian Mittens.

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New Favorites: Mitten mania

New Favorites: Mitten mania

I’m heading for the frozen tundra of Northern Minnesota today for Knitting With Company — ok, highs in the mid-40s but that sounds pretty effing cold to me right now! — and the universe keeps whispering in my ear about mittens. First there was the flip-through of this Latvian mittens book on Tolt’s IG Story the other day, which is stunning. Then Clara Parkes wrote about the very appealing looking Big Book of Knitted Mittens. Oh, and when I’m done in Minnesota, I’m flying straight to Seattle for the Nordic Knitting Conference, where I’m taking a class about a knitting legend named Skaite-Maria. A mittens class! I have an exquisite pair Leigh made me last winter, that I’ll take with me just in case, but anyway here are some mitten patterns I’d love to knit:

TOP: Riva mittens (and hat) by Dianna Walla looks like a fun knit with colorwork just on around the upper hand (the sweater is Dianna’s Dalis)

MIDDLE: August Mittens by Kate Gagnon Osborn, cable-y goodness, aren’t meant to be worn in August but are the August installment of Kelbourne Woolens’ enticing Year of Mittens

BOTTOM: Wishbone Mittens by Michele Rose Orne have shaping at the wrist that creates the wishbone effect, and optional fingertip peepholes!

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BY THE WAY for those of you who were wondering what I was up to with that amazing Camellia Fiber Company handspun over the summer, it was a little pattern that will appear in the second issue of Making next month (which we’ll have at Fringe Supply Co when it comes out). My Camellia Tank, as it’s called, can now be seen on Ravelry. Show it some love!

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PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: For Bob (or himever!)

First of the best of Fall 2015: Wool and Gang walks again

First of the best of Fall 2015: Wool and the Gang walks again

Following last year’s Eek hat for the Giles Fall ’14 collection, my friends over at Wool and the Gang had more knits walking the runway at London Fashion Week yesterday. This time they collaborated with Christopher Raeburn on his shark-themed Fall ’15 collection. As seen in the photos here (from @woolandthegang and @jade_harwood) the pieces include a pair of shark-shaped mittens plus a killer multi-color slouch beanie and big fringed scarf. The mittens, dubbed the Bruce Knitmitts, are available on their site straight away, both as finished goods and a knit kit, and they’ve promised to let me know when the hat and scarf patterns are available later this year. My compliments to the Gang on what must have been another thrilling ride. And to Raeburn, who looks pretty pleased with those mittens.

p.s. They were kind enough to send me an Eek hat kit when I was crying for a fast break from my four months with Amanda, but I haven’t knitted it up just yet. Love. That. Hat.

p.p.s. If I had the sewing chops, I would totally be making my own version of that olive-drab duffel coat with Grainline’s pattern. That is my dream coat right there.

 

New Favorites: Twist Collective’s cabled delights

Twist Collective tweed cable sweaters and mittens

The fall 2013 edition of Twist Collective includes a pattern collection titled Woolgathering that is full of woolly cabled delights. But what makes me love it more than the tweeds or the cables, or even the tweed cables, is that the story was so beautifully and unfussily shot by Jane Heller and features this grande dame of a model. Magnificent.

TOP LEFT: Rafters by Stephannie Tallent, seamless shawl-collared cardigan (+Ravelry)

TOP RIGHT: Apple Catchers by Rachel Coopey, ribbed and cabled mittens (+Ravelry)

BOTTOM LEFT: Foxcroft by Marnie MacLean, shawl-collared pullover (+Ravelry)

BOTTOM RIGHT: Literati by Amy Herzog, cabled-lace argyle cardigan (+Ravelry)

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In other news, ICYMI for this week is a sort of back to the future: Best of Fall 2013, NYC. (Back to the future? The then-future is now?)