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July 1, 2008

Mitten Thumb Pattern Decoded!

I have mittens!!

These are the Super Mittens from the book Weekend Knitting. These mittens are knit with Paton's Rumor yarn in Duberry Heather (code name for "pink") and I needed one and a half skeins of yarn to complete two mittens. I used size 10.5 double-pointed needles and then at the very end of the mitten, when decreasing, I switched to smaller size 9 double-pointed needles. Same when decreasing the thumb. It made a nice smooth decrease.

These mittens probably took me about three or more hours for each one, but I am a slow knitter. Also, when making the gusset and starting the thumb stitches be sure you are in a place you can sit still and do it all at one time with no interruptions.

It's not super comfortable to cast on and knit that first row in the round but it gets easier as you have more fabric on the needles. If you can stand the awkwardness for a few rows it does get better! Ah, there are so many things in life that get better after some initial awkwardness....

Let's get to the thumb!

Super Mittens from the book Weekend Knitting

Even if you aren't making mittens from that specific pattern, hopefully this little explanation will help with thumbing. (Thumbing is totally legal in knitting!) So, when you get to making the thumb here is what you will have:


A mitten body and a hole where the thumb should go and a bunch of stitches on a stitch holder. Since I made this pattern in the next-to-largest size, I have 11 thumb stitches sitting on a stitch holder.

But the truth is, this method works no matter how many stitches your pattern uses. You're going to have some amount of stitches set aside to make a thumb. Those stitches will either be on a stitch holder or knit onto some scrap yarn, and you have this gaping hole. You need to find a way to connect all the stitches, make a few stitches to cover up the hole and knit in the round. That is your mission, should you choose to accept it!

Step one: Carefully slide half your stitches onto a double-pointed needle, then slide the other half onto another DPN. (See, I can use abbreviations, too!)

Since I have an uneven number of stitches, I put six stitches on one needle and five on the other.


Step two: Now you have the stitches on needles but there's no way to knit them unless you have some yarn! Adding yarn like this isn't really that hard. Just take the tail end of your yarn and drop it down into the hole that's about to become a thumb. I pulled enough yarn down inside the mitten so I could hold it pretty firmly in my left hand as I knit my first stitch. If you're worried about your first stitch being loose, you can always come back on the next round and tighten it up good. You will not go to mitten jail if your stitches aren't perfect!


Step three: Now start knitting. I have my mitten body on the right and my mitten thumb stitches on the left like so:

With a third double-pointed needle, insert the tip of the new needle into the first stitch between the mitten body and the thumb and begin knitting.

Just knit it right up! Knit all the stitches (I had 11 stitches to knit up.)


But see how I still have this big hole where the thumb joins the mitten:


Step four: Pick up stitches
This is the goofy fun part -- you're going to make stitches where none exist!! They call this "picking up stitches" or sometimes it's called "pick up and knit." I consulted my knitting guru, Stitch 'N Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook, for a full explanation. The author says that pick up stitches and pick up and knit both mean the same thing. But of course in knitting, as in life, ask four people and they'll all be experts with four different answers.

So all I can tell you is that for this thumb, you just make some loops where none existed and then on the next round you knit them as normal ol' stitches.

To begin, put a needle under a stitch on that open edge, wrapping yarn around the tip of the needle and drawing it through to make a loop on the needle (which you will then knit next time around). There is a great photo illustration at knitty.com and a video of this technique at KnittingHelp.com. And if the pictures and my yammering and the video still aren't enough, just try it yourself. I always learn best by doing it myself, anyway.

Ok, back to the pattern. It calls for three stitches to be picked up in this whole long area:


But I picked up five stitches. If I only made three stitches for this wide of an area there would be holes and my mittens are not meant to be holy! I will be picking up 5 stitches and then on the next round I'll do a fancypants "knit two stitches together" stealth move ... twice. That will decrease me back to the required number of stitches so I don't have a fat thumb on my mitten.

That means: My pattern wants me to have 14 stitches to knit in the round for my thumb to be a good size.

I have 11 stitches on the stitch holder (and now on my double-pointed needles).

I have to pick up three stitches in the gap area, 11 + 3 = 14 total stitches.

But three stitches isn't enough to cover a whole big long gap! So I am picking up five stitches. 11 + 5 = too many! So I will fix it on the next round by decreasing two times. All is well in mittenworld.

So to pick up stitches, take an empty double-pointed needle and stick it under a stitch on that open edge, wrap the yarn around the tip of the needle pretty much like you would if knitting, and pull it though. Your goal is to get a loop on a DPN just like it was a normal old stitch:


By the way it is really challenging to take pictures of yourself knitting. I am just saying.


Do this until you have five loops on your needle:


YOU DID IT!!!!! Pat yourself on the back! Place a marker on your thumb stitches to designate that you, rockstar thumb knitter, are beginning to knit in rounds for the big thumb finale. I always place my marker between two stitches so it doesn't fall off:


Step five: Knit in the round
Now remember, on this very first round as you make your thumb, you will need to:

1) Tighten up your very first stitch (where you added the yarn at the start of this novel.) Just check it out so nothing weird is going on there, and ..

2) On the stitches we picked up don't forget to knit two together (twice!) so you decrease those five stitches down to three stitches. It keeps your stitch count right but prevents any icky holes.

Knit until your thumb measures the desired length. I definitely think it's a good idea to switch to smaller size double-pointed needles when decreasing at the tips of both the mitten body and the thumb, just like the pattern says. I switched to size 9 double-pointed needles on my decrease rows and my decreases are nice and round and pretty. Switching to a smaller needle makes your stitches smaller and more compact and the tips of the thumb and mitten taper real nice.

Step six: Wear mittens in middle of summer, making people think you are crazy. Dream of frosty, cold places to go on vacation and wear your fabulous hand-knit mittens.

Posted by laurie at July 1, 2008 8:03 AM