Sunday, October 24, 2010

how to knit a mitten, part 4: the thumb

Thumbs are the reason most people quail at the thought of knitting mittens. I confess they're not my favorite part, but -- they're small! And the pain is brief. I often save up two or three pairs and do the thumbs all at once.

You have 14 stitches from the thumb gusset threaded onto a contrasting piece of yarn. Leaving that holder yarn in place, put 7 of those stitches on one dpn and the remaining 7 on another.

Now you need to finish the remaining part of the thumb by picking up stitches. Look at that open edge -- you can see where you cast on 2 stitches to close the gap that remained when you removed the gusset stitches. We will call those stitches B and C. You need to pick up one stitch on either side of those, too -- those will be A and D. So -- ready?

You don't have any attached yarn to work with, so you have to start with a new ball (well, it's not really a new ball, it's what's left after you finished off the top of the hand). Tuck the end down inside the hole for the thumb -- don't skimp; put 6 or more inches down inside the mitten.

Now, holding the mitten so the two needles with stitches are away from you and the edge where you're picking up is closest to you, begin. You will pick up 4 stitches; I'm calling them A, B, C, and D.

A: Invent a stitch by picking up in the crossbar of a stitch between the stitches already on the needles and the two cast-on stitches and pulling your working yarn through, forming a stitch that stays on the needle.

B: Put your needle through the first cast-on stitch and pull the working yarn through (2 stitches on the needle).

C: Put your needle through the second cast-on stitch and pull the working yarn through (3 stitches on the needle).
D: As with A, invent a stitch by picking up in a crossbar between stitch C and the first needle (4 stitches on the needle).

Here's how they look:

You now have 18 thumb stitches. On the first round, you'll decrease to 16 as follows:

Knit 13 stitches. Move stitch 14 to the needle that holds stitches A, B, C, and D. Now knit stitch 14 and stitch A together.
Knit 2 (stitches B and C).
Move stitch D to next needle. Knit stitch D and stitch 1 together, so 16 total stitches remain. This marks the beginning of the round. At this point I usually spread out the stitches more evenly, for example, 6-4-6.
Knit 14 rounds plain. (Sometimes I knit 13 rounds -- it all depends on the thickness of the yarn I'm using. Make sure you knit the same number of rounds on your second mitten--it's easy to count up from your holder yarn; that's why we leave it in there.)
If necessary, rearrange your stitches so you have a multiple of 2 on each needle.
k2 tog all the way around (7 stitches). Break yarn, leaving 8-12 inches.

Finish off exactly as for top of mitten: thread yarn through all stitches, pull closed, then do it again and pull tight. Thread yarn down through exact middle, give it a sharp tug to form rounded end of thumb.

Turn mitten inside out and weave in ends. Put your hand inside -- are there holes at the base of your thumb? (This does happen.) If there are, use the end from where you joined the yarn to discreetly repair those gaps.

Make another one!


  1. Hello; your explanation of your mitten is awesome, but I need to know how to move the thumb over so it is in the palm of the hand. Still looking for patterns or at least that little part of the pattern. If you have one or would like to explain further, please contact me at

    thanks !

  2. Gisele, I'm a little confused by your question. Have you actually made mittens following these instructions? When you put them on, they fit your hand in such a way that the thumb comes out at the right place. Because there's no seam, it shouldn't be a problem.

  3. I mean the thumb is a little toward the inside almost like an afterthought mitten, so when the mitten is done, you can actually tell which is left and right. But that's ok... my main problem is each I get to the thumb gusset and want to pick up stitches, I just don't understand how. Am I supposed to pick up existing knit stitches or create my own with new yarn? It's ok if you cannot explain it, it is so much easier when it is shown in a video, but cannot seem to come across the perfect one. What I need is step by step and then I'll get it. I love knitting mittens, but when I get the gusset and have to pick up the stitches, I start sweating.. haha... thank you Elizabeth.

    December 12-2010

    1. When I did my first mitten I figured that out, the tric is after one mitten is done, you know what hand the thumb tilts towards, and just do the opposite by picking that one extra stitch on the opposite side. On this the last picture Elizabeth holds those stitches on her one needle out of the three, I pick one extra toward the left, and for the other I pick one extra to the right, makes a difference, the way you want to differentiate between left and right.

  4. I have saved a copy of your photos and explanation and will look at it another day and really concentrate on what I am doing. Hopefully I can figure it out. I suppose I could make a lot of mittens without thumbs for now and when I figure out what to do.... go back and add the thumbs...


  5. I. Have. Made. A Mitten!!!! I'm actually doing a happy dance!! This has been a goal of mine since I was a kid and thanks to you, I have done it!!! (Can you feel how happy I am??) I was a little confused by the picking up stitches on the thumb, but I winged it (like I do everything else in life) and it turned out great; no holes and really beautiful (a crochet hook would have helped). No twists at the beginning, either....maybe I'll do more than just "dabble" in knitting. A few more mittens and then I'm off to conquer socks! Thanks again.

  6. I liked he mittens, well instructed, step by step.

  7. This is awesome!! All the instructions are so clear and comprehensive, it was so easy to make my very first pair of mittens!!! The thumb and thumb gusset explanations were especially helpful. I have been knotting for years, but before a couple of days ago never gave a thought to making my own. But when I thought about it and stumbled upon your pattern, I couldn't have been happier! The explanations and images were very helpful, and didn't make me feel like a incompetent newbie like some patterns might have - this one did not take on a condescending tone at all and was so personal, it was like you were there sitting right next to me explaining the pattern. Thank you SO MUCH, I cannot thank you enough for this pattern and all of your help.

  8. Perfect mitten pattern! I had four pairs to make for four different children from age 3 to age 16. I could not find a pattern that would accommodate all four sizes until I found yours! I did end up fudging a bit for the youngest, but that was easy after making all the rest. Thank you so much for clear, detailed instructions!

  9. The thumb gusset instructions really helped me! I learned to knit mittens at school years ago, and long since have forgotten how we were taught to make the thumb hole/gusset. I've been trying around myself a few times, but each time the thumb came out awkward and not very comfortable. So this time, whist knitting another fingerless glove, I was searching for a good and comfortable thumb gusset instruction, and came across yours. I had to slightly modify it to fit my much thinner yarn and tight gauge, but at the end it worked just fine! Thank you so much for this post, I'm going to be using your method from now on ^^