Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mittens Miss the Mark

My friends Jeremy and Joshua have identified a significant flaw in my new mitten recipe. I mistook the decreases that I do below the thumb for a thumb gusset. In fact, my mittens are no wider around the base of the thumb than they are around the fingers. Therefore, they do not represent a perfect fit.

A mitten's success or failure depends almost entirely on the thumb. And while this recipe produces a serviceable mitten, it in no way qualifies me for the title of Evil Mitten Genius.

Back into the lab, then. Wish me luck.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Evil Mitten Genius

This blog has been silent for 666 days. Let us not speak of it again.

Every time I knit a sock, I pop it over my fingers to check its progress, and often I think, "I should make more mittens."  Then my attention skitters away.

But now I've gone and promised a pair of mittens for a friend, and it's made me want to develop my own recipe.  I want a customized fit, but little fuss.  As with socks, I want to grab yarn and, without a lot of planning, begin knitting a simple but perfect mitten.

Here's my prototype. (It's a first past. Expect it to change).

(If the first steps mystify you, check out this video demonstration by Cat Bordhi.)
  1. Turkish cast-on 3 and knit 1/2 round.
  2. Knit round with yarn and tail held together.
  3. Knit round working 1 stitch in each loop. (12 sts)
  4. Repeat [M1, K2] for round. (I use KRL for these increases).
  5. Knit 1 round plain. (18sts)
  6. [M1, K3] around.
  7. Knit 2 rounds plain. (24 sts)
  8. [M1, K4].
  9. Knit 3 rounds plain. (30 sts)
Continue in this way until mitten circumference = hand circumference + 10% positive ease.  (Measure hand at the base of the fingers, not including the thumb.  Multiply that by 1.1).

You can knit plain until you get to the crook of the thumb, but Priscilla Gibson-Roberts recommends working some short rows across the back of the hand, spacing them about 4-6 rows apart.  Last fall, I first learned about German short rows (video tutorials here and here), and they're perfect for this purpose.
  • Knit half a round (the half for the back of your hand, if you're keeping track already).
  • Turn, doing the German short row maneuver, and purl back across these stitches.
  • Turn, doing the German short row maneuver again, and knit across the back of the hand, working the crazy turning stitch at the end.
  • Knit across the palm stitches.
  • Work the crazy turning stitch at the start of the back hand stitches.
  • Knit 4-6 rounds.
Repeat until hand is desired length.

Mark for Thumb
I tried a number of top down thumbs, but the joins were messy. Then I decided to borrow a technique from Cat Bordhi's Personal Footprints for Insouciant Sock Knitters and create an "afterthought thumb."

Divide the number of stitches in your mitten circumference by 6.  Those are the number of stitches to mark for your thumb.
  • On the palm side, decide where you're going to want to place the thumb opening.  Priscilla Gibson-Roberts recommends setting it off from the edge 5%, but you're probably safe just making that 1-3 stitches from the side. 
  • Run a short strand of thin, smooth marker yarn through the thumb stitches.
  • Knit 2 rounds.
  • Run a second strand of marker yarn through the stitches at the same place (just 2 rounds further along).
You may find it helpful to place markers one stitch outside marked thumb stitches (so if you marked 7 thumb stitches, place markers 9 stitches apart).
  • Knit to marker (or 1 st before thumb stitches). SYTK (or SSK if you prefer).  Knit up to but not including last thumb sts (or 2 sts before marker). K2TOG.
  • Knit 2-3 plain rounds.
Repeat until your SYTK and K2TOG lines meet (or are 1 st apart).

Work in preferred ribbing to desired length.  Bind off loosely.

Watch Cat Bordhi's video demonstration of this technique.  We're working on fewer stitches, but the method is the same.
  • Slip your needle through the stitches that you marked marked for the thumb.
  • Find the stitch in the middle of the row between your marked rows. Lift it and cut it.
  • Carefully unravel the snipped row, leaving at 1-2 stitches intact on each side.  (Cat Bordhi leaves it in 2 stitches for the sock, but we don't have as many stitches to play with).
  • Join yarn, and knit thumb in the round to desired length.
Close the thumb by working K2TOG around.  Break yarn, thread it through your stitches, then cinch the opening closed.  Work in your ends, and you're finished.