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!

how to knit a mitten, part 3: after the thumb gusset

Continue knitting in stockinette (knit around) for 22 rounds.

Now it's time for the top decreases. For the 40-stitch mitten, you will be decreasing in 5 segments. Arrange your stitches on your needles so each needle holds a multiple of 8. I hold my stitches on 3 needles, and work with the fourth, so my stitches are arranged 16-8-16.

Decrease as follows:
round 1: *k6, k2tog* around (35 sts)

round 2: knit
round 3: k5, k2 tog (30 sts)
round 4: knit
round 5: k4, k2 tog (25 sts)
round 6: knit
round 7: k3, k2 tog (20 sts)
round 8: knit
round 9: k2, k2 tog (15 sts)
round 10: k1, k2 tog (10 sts)
round 11: k2 tog (5 sts)

You will notice that once you've decreased to half your original number of stitches, you stop doing a plain row between decrease rows. This gives you a nicely rounded mitten tip.

Break yarn, leaving an end of 8-12 inches. Thread onto sewing-up needle. Working from right to left, transfer remaining 5 stitches onto sewing-up needle and pull yarn through.

Pull yarn through all 5 stitches again.

Now, snug up the top as tight as you can, distributing stitches evenly to avoid any wonky edges.

Plunge the sewing-up needles through the exact center of these tighened stitches.

Push it out through the side of the mitten.

Pull the needle and the yarn all the way through. Now, to avoid an unattractive pointy top, give that yarn a quick tug. You should end up with a nicely rounded top:

before (above) and after (below)

Go to Part 4: The Thumb

how to knit a mitten, part 2: beginning of hand and thumb gusset

Now that you have finished your cuff, it is time to start working in stockinette. On this very first round, increase 4 stitches, evenly spaced. You have 36 stitches on your needles; that means you'll increase every 9 stitches. I like to keep the increases away from the beginning of the round, so I knit 5, then increase 1, then *knit 9, increase 1* 3 more times, then knit the 4 remaining stitches.

Knit 5 rounds plain.

Now it's time to start the thumb gusset. Some patterns have the thumb pop straight out of the mitten; that's a design that does not fit my hand at all, so I always make a thumb with a gusset. You will need two markers. You can use little squishy plastic or rubber rings (my preference), safety pins, or even a contrasting strand of yarn.

Knit 3, place marker, increase 1, knit 2, increase 1, place marker, knit to end of round.

I do my increases as follows: pick up the bar between 2 stitches, lift it onto the lefthand needle, and twist it to avoid a hole, then knit. You can get very elegant and make left-leaning increases on one side and right-leaning increases on the other side if you wish. Check out a book such as The Vogue Knitting Book or The Knitter's Companion for information on making these paired decreases, or check YouTube for videos.

Knit 1 round plain.

Continue working as established:
round 1: knit to the marker, slip it, increase1 stitch right after that marker, knit over to the second marker, and increase1 stitch right before it.
round 2: knit
On one row you'll be increasing one stitch on each edge of the thumb gusset; on the next row, you just knit all the stitches.

Repeat these two rounds, ending with a plain round, until you have 14 stitches between the markers.

Now it's time to put the thumb stitches aside until later. You will need a sewing-up needle and a length of the same weight yarn in a contrasting color -- 12 inches or so is plenty. Knit the 3 stitches to the first marker. Remove that marker. Thread your contrasting yarn onto the sewing-up needle. Now, pass the sewing-up needle from right to left through all 14 thumb stitches (remove the second marker now). Remove the stitches from the knitting needle, making sure you don't pull the holder yarn all the way through:

(Remember -- you can click on any picture to make it bigger so you can see the details.)

I often tie the ends of the holder yarn together to make sure it stays put unless I've used a very long piece Many people like to use those little metal stitch holders that look like big safety pins, or kilt pins. I find that, because they are rigid, they stretch out the corner stitches and cause trouble later. I can't stop you, of course -- but really, you'll get better results if you avoid those things for thumbs.

Now, cast on 2 stitches using the old backward loop cast-on (probably the first one you learned).

Be careful not to leave a big loop when you join these two stitches to the old stitches:

You're back to a total of 40 stitches now, and you are ready to knit the rest of the hand.

Go to Part 3: After the Thumb Gusset

how to knit a mitten, part 1: the cuff

This tutorial is based on the largest size in this pattern, the one that works the hand over 40 stitches. You can apply all the same techniques to the smaller sizes; just use the stitch count for the thumb, the row counts, and the numbers for the decreases from the pattern.

We know you know how to start!! Find your worsted weight yarn and the needles that get gauge for you. Why didn't we say which needle size to use? Because gauge varies widely, depending on the hands of the knitter. Pat and I are both pretty good knitters. But if we're using the same exact yarn, from the same exact ball, she'll use a size 7 (4.5 m) and I'll use a size 5 (3.75 mm) to get the same gauge. If you use this pattern but are getting a looser gauge, (1) mittens will be too airy, and that's not good for keeping warm, and (2) they will fit Sasquatch. Knitting tighter will make a slightly smaller mitten, but that's not so bad.

Digression over.

Cast on 36 stitches using your favorite stretchy cast-on: long-tail, German twisted, long-tail in rib. . .check your favorite knitting book for these, or search YouTube. Join the stitches into a ring, being careful not to twist, and work in k1 p1 or k2 p2 ribbing for 20 rounds. (If you are afraid of twisting, or if you always get a twist -- work the first 2 or 3 rows back and forth and then join to work in the round. You can sew that tiny seam with the end left over from casting on.)

Why do I put that contrasting stripe at the beginning of the cuff? That's something I started doing one time when I had a lot of navy blue yarn to use up, and I decided to use it up by knitting mittens until it was gone. I realized that one navy blue mitten looks very like all the other navy blue mittens. In case two or more pairs from that batch ended up in the same family or classroom, I wanted to make it easy for kids to match up and make sure they took their own pair home (and that no one else who had lost a mitten snitched one of theirs). And I think it jazzes up a plain pair of mittens. I love the look of doing just the cast-on row in the contrast color, but that makes weaving in the ends kind of a challenge, so I knit another row or two. I start counting my 20 rows of ribbing after that stripe. That way I know I'm always going to count to 20, no matter how many rows I used for the racing stripe, and it's easy to make the cuff of the second mitten the same as the first.

Go to Part 2: Beginning of Hand and Thumb Gusset

We're knitting mittens

Pat and I both knit a lot for various causes that speak to us. One of our longest-running interests has been afghans for Afghans; in fact, there's been a link in the sidebar since the day we started this blog. Right now, A4A is in a position to accept mittens. We know some people find the idea of knitting mittens intimidating, so we're offering this tutorial to walk you through. Because it's very detailed, it's quite long, so we have broken it down into several blog posts to make it easy to find the part you need. Words and knitting by Elizabeth; magnificent photos by Pat.

Tools and materials: You will need 100 g worsted weight yarn (that is more than enough); double-pointed needles to give you gauge; two stitch markers; waste yarn in a contrasting color; and a sewing-up needle.

Gauge: ~5 sts/inch

The mitten pattern we'll be following is my own, and it lives over at the A4A blog, right here. I never set out to write a pattern. But I had downloaded one from the Internet -- probably 10 years ago now -- that was so riddled with errors that any new knitter who tried it would have given up. In the end I wrote my own mitten pattern. This pattern is written using row counts, not measurements, so no matter what weight yarn you use, you end up with a mitten that is in proportion to a normal human hand. (I often use the smallest or middle size with Lopi or Brown Sheep's Lamb's Pride Bulky to make an adult-sized mitten.) Please note that the largest size in that pattern has a slightly different increase at the tip than the other sizes, so read through and follow the directions for the size you've chosen.

I usually make the largest size (which is actually more for a woman's large hand than small, despite what the pattern says -- I've changed my mind since I first wrote it) because I've found that most people tend to knit more for the little kids. Little kids are cuter, and the mittens are so much faster to make -- but big kids are cold too, and if a pair of mittens makes it possible to stay in school longer, or keeps them just a little bit more comfortable, I am glad to contribute.  In a quick random sampling of kids I know, this size was a little too big for the tall 13-year-old girl but a bit tight for the (also tall) 14- and 15-year-old boys.

For afghans for Afghans, wool (or other animal fiber) is required. We strongly urge you to use wool anyway -- it's just plain warmer. Sometimes, if knitting for U.S. groups, or if your sister-in-law apparently boils her laundry, acrylics or blends may be a better bet. Use the best quality you can afford, of course, for two reasons: it's more pleasant to knit with, and it makes a nicer gift.

go to Part 1: The Cuff

Monday, October 18, 2010

We interrupt this program

Well, the whole project is supposed to be fun. In the interest of depressurizing, we have agreed to give ourselves the month of October off. The category was "wild card," so it's not as if we're dodging an unpleasant assignment, after all. That gives me time to finish the September socks and knit some more mittens, and Pat time to work on some things for Afghans for Afghans. (I'll still make those socks I showed you the yarn for; they just won't be done by Halloween.)

While I've been busy not finishing socks, I, too, have been knitting other stuff -- mailed 3 pairs of mittens to A4A last week, and have 2 pairs finished and 2 pairs in progress right now. Here's ocular proof -- stripes by Pat, green by me:

We've also decided to knit a couple of hats apiece (and some other friends are joining us) for this group. We're not far from New York, so are well acquainted with how cold and damp it can be outside during the winter.

And there's Christmas knitting, and unfinished projects, and more A4A, and both of us are aiming to complete sweaters for ourselves this year. . .

Monday, October 4, 2010

September Socks...they gonna be late!

OK, I have a number of fairly good excuses but my socks are going to be late.  I will finish them this week but they got delayed by a number of trips out of town as well as Spider Solitaire...yes, Solitaire.  My husband introduced me to this game and now I like to play a few hands before I start knitting.  I like to play until I win a hand, that can take awhile!

Friday, October 1, 2010

September, November

It's October 1. I have 1.3 socks from the September pair completed. I saw this coming, but I'm still disappointed that I didn't crack the whip and get them done.

Looking at our schedule, I realize that we managed to skip (how?) October. And a search of my emails doesn't indicate that we assigned a category once we'd discovered that omission. Pat? Is that correct? Hoping so, because if I can knit plain socks this month I can end up with September and October done by Halloween.

Here are the yarns I pulled to consider for the October sock:

It was very difficult to choose just one, but I managed. I resisted the call of the Mountain Colors Bearfoot (the berry colors) and Claudia's Handpaints (blue and caramel, in the middle). I reassigned the gray; it will be a cowl or gloves. The October yarn winner is the one at the top, going from about the 12 o'clock position to the 2 o'clock position. It's an Autumn House Farm yarn, and the colorway is Galway Moss. This particular yarn doesn't seem to be on their web site anymore, so I've written for information. I'll provide a close-up picture later today, when the sun comes out.

I'm also flirting with the idea of joining in on Kirsten Kapur's mystery sock project. Just to make life a little more impossible. If you're interested, details are available on her blog and you can join a Ravelry group for a knit-along.