Friday, February 18, 2011

Mommy’s Mittens

Mommy’s Mittens  

Its been said that you never forget the person who taught you how to knit. In this painting by Albert Samuel Anker (1831-1910) a brother is interested in learning from his sister. I remember my teacher: my mother. After the birth of my third child my mother got on an airplane to come and see the baby. In her suitcase were yarn, needles and a trusted pattern. She was answering a call to teach me how to make mittens.

Some women have strange cravings when they are expecting a baby. I would have cravings upon a baby’s joyous arrival. Perhaps the source of my mitten craving came from my repeated reading aloud of the story, Too Many Mittens. (Click photographs to enlarge.)

Anyway, I desired to make my children mittens like those my mother had made for her children. She must have made dozens and in all colors of the rainbow. My brother and sister and I were instructed to “be on the safe side” and wear one pair inside another (as a lining.) Doubly protected against the cold we rambunctiously dug into, and tunneled through, deep snow. How merciless we were toward our mittens! Soggy and somewhat shredded from the day’s use, we were directed to place our pairs on the baseboard heating. This is were they dried. They were lined up in a colorful row, cuff to fingertip, all along a wall of the family room.

The little blue mitten in the bunch was my first. It lost its match long ago. Saved from extinction it was tucked away at the bottom of the cloths drawer of a sentimental knitter. 

Unbeknownst to myself then, my early days of knitting were fulfilling a craving for Mother Culture. Quiet and creative minutes sequestered for the sake of knitting a few rounds with my double pointed needles, while the children were themselves occupied, brought calm to busy days.

My children wore Mommy’s mittens throughout their growing years. They shared them with friends who paid us a visit unprepared. The large mitten-&-hat basket sat at the back door. “Oh you have cold hands? My mother always makes extra mittens. How about the red ones?” one daughter would tell a friend wishing to be hospitable. Right up to the time my girls were married they were loaning out Mommy’s mittens.

I don’t have a clear memory of all the pairs that were never returned. I do remember, however, that the young people enjoyed a friendly day in the brisk winter air and that is what matters.

The mittens I made with my homespun wool are completed. They are tailored to fit my hands snugly – just the way I like them.  I will not loan these out. Well, okay, I would if I were asked nicely.

Knitters and non-knitters alike are invited to comment.

Karen Andreola


  1. Your knitting inspires me to go beyond my comfort zone!

    Great mittens!

    Love to you all!

  2. They do look so warm. Lovely post. So warm and filled with happy memories.

  3. I have been knitting hats alot lately. Isn't it comforting to have a basket of hanmade woolens by the door during winter season:-)

  4. I love the mittens you've made over the years. I too enjoy knitting but I think I've only made mittens once. I did enjoy them though. You may have motivated me to make more. I do have four little ones that could always use another pair. Do you have a favorite pattern you recommend for the older children and/or adults? I really enjoy your blog and am thrilled when I find you have a new post!!!

  5. Too Many Mittens is one of my childhood favorites. It sits in an old magazine stand on our hearth throughout the winter months!


  6. Lovely mittens. I want to try making some myself soon. Cables remind me of you. Thanks for showing me just how easy they are to do.

  7. lovely mittens! we don't need them much around where we live but I've been learning to knit along with my dd which has been fun!

  8. Thanks for showing us your mitten basket. It encourages me to go beyond my scarf knitting and get more comfortable with increasing and decreasing stitches. I love the hospitality of having extra mittens on hand to share with guests.

  9. I love the multitude of mittens - such homey, comforting images. Once in awhile I'll think I might like to be able to knit, but quickly the thought vanishes for another 5 or 6 years :)

    If my desire to have llamas ever becomes a reality, I would be delighted to share llama wool (do we call it wool?) with you.

    Thank you for the pretty pictures!

  10. I love seeing all the mittens you've knitted through the years. What special memories! I love to knit. But have only made one pair of mittens. You have inspired me to consider trying them again. I'd love it if you'd share your pattern.
    Your homespun yarn is gorgeous! Nice job!

    Warmly, Jennifer

  11. Thank you Ladies, for sharing your interest in making mittens or admiring them.

    I enjoyed re-reading comments you wrote on past posts and replied last Saturday. I tend to do things in batches.

    The basic pattern I follow is out of the book, "Folk Mittens" by Marcia Lewandowski. I enjoy looking at all the mitten examples representing cultures from around the world. I haven't ventured beyond her basic pattern to make any of the (more involved) folk mittens but have added a snowflake, checks, stripes or cables to it.

    Here is the basics without giving you an exact pattern for all sizes and yarn weights:

    K1-P1 rib stitch for the cuff going round on three or four narrow DP needles. For the body knit every round but begin increasing for the thumb by "making one" K1, and M1 again. Knit next round. Repeat M1 at the thumb place, K3, M1. A triangle gusset forms as every other round increase by two at either ends of the gusset.
    Join body stitches. Place thumb stitches on holder. Knit body until you reach the tip of the little finger and begin decreasing in three evenly spaced places every other row, then every row, to form a rounded top.
    Pick up thumb stitches. Knit to the middle of the thumb nail and decrease as for body.

    By this method either mitten can fit on either hand - (except when adding a design to one side).

    Karen A.

  12. Beautiful mittens. I tried to learn to knot when I was 20 and it drove me crazy. At 40 I learned and am not addicted to knitting. Plus my dyslexia and math skills are better since I learned to knit. Clarice

  13. Thank you Karen for sharing this pattern. I think I might give them a try after I finish the socks I am working on.

  14. I remember long midwinter walks in Maine, my nose and cheeks frozen and red but my fingers nice and toasty inside a pair of mother's mittens.

    When William was experiencing his first toddles around the back yard in the snow I could not find gloves small enough to fit his hands. I made do with a pair of socks shoved over his tiny fingers but made sure to place a custom order with mom for a pair of little mittens.

    The offer to teach me how to knit mittens always stood while I lived at home. Now I wish I had taken advantage of my mothers expertize. This Christmas time I struggled along with a wash cloth pattern. I think I will be requesting a lesson soon mom. :) Thanks for a childhood of warm hands!

  15. Dear Sophia,
    When Dad and I drive to Baltimore to see you next, I'll have to remember to bring a set of DP needles and some worsted. You'll pick up the thumb gusset in no time. A pair of size 2 mittens can be completed in two shakes of a lamb's tail (after it has supplied us with its soft lamb's wool).

  16. Wow!
    I'm reading the Charlotte Mason Companion right now. I've read pocketful of pinecones and i just did a search about you to see if I could find any more books. and then this lovely blog came up!

    I'm looking forward to reading more!

  17. Dear Karen,

    Your blog is a breath of fresh air.

    I've been knitting for a couple of years now. Two sweaters complete, many unseccessful tries at socks and now you have inspired me to try mittens.

    Thanks for your encouragement, it means much to me.