Wednesday, November 07, 2012


I just thought of a name I could have used for my business..."Mittens and Miscellaneous".  I didn't want a knitting-specific name, since I do sew and crochet.  I didn't want "cutesy" or random.  Oh well, the business cards are already printed!

I know I've written a LOT about knitting mittens, both by hand and by machine.  I'm a bit of a mitten snob.  When I first started, I made acrylic mittens.  Yup, 100% acrylic, for here in Canada.  I made them for me, and while I thought they didn't seem very warm, I was an adult and didn't engage in many snowball fights.  Then I made some for my toddler son.  He wore them out one day, it was cold and damp but not snowy at all.  After a while he took the mitts off and his hands were bright red and freezing!  I felt horrible!  I was learning about wool, so I started using Patons Decor because it fit the gauge of the Patons pattern I used (which called for Canadiana--100% acrylic).  Decor has 25% wool and is machine washable.  I made some in Shetland Chunky for me, which is also 25% wool.  I didn't think they seemed any warmer.  When the kids were a bit older, I made more in Decor, and they did indeed complain they weren't warm enough.  I had some 50% wool, and used that.  I did notice an improvement over the 100% acrylic, but still not as warm as we need.  Eventually I moved up to a minimum of 75% wool for mittens.

However, knit fabric has a huge drawback. No matter how tight you knit it, there are small gaps between stitches, as well as in the fiber itself. We get told that the loftiness of wool allows it to trap your body heat and keep you warm. Yes, it does this. But with no over-layer, the minute gaps also allow cold air IN! Even the double layer, wool and alpaca mitts I made for Rob were not great on windy or very cold days :( You just can't knit tight enough to prevent this (and you wouldn't want to knit that tight, or wear that fabric either).

I had never thought about sewn mittens.  I knew about sewing with felted sweaters, for making diaper covers....but other than that, I hadn't thought of it.  Then I was reading a blog devoted to wool sweaters and started seeing all her great projects (including running tights).  She shows fabulous wool sweaters on her blog, and I figured I should be able to find some too!

Well, I had a hard time finding cool sweaters like her's :(  Really, I don't know where they are.  Last year, just before Christmas I was looking for a Goodwill but found the Salvation Army instead, and they were having a 1/2 price sale on sweaters.  I grabbed some, but never got around to doing anything until I made the water bottle holders in the summer.  Then this fall I started looking more, and still had trouble finding cool sweaters.  I really wanted fancy ones because I'm not good at embellishing!  I did find that there are nice wool scarves though, so that helped round out my collection.
I had focused on my idea of production knitting mittens over the summer and was disappointed with the results, so I figured I should give sewing them a try.  Of course, this meant hours on the internet looking for the perfect pattern--one that mimics the ones I knit, with the thumb coming from the side.

Here's the other element to my mitten snobbiness.  I have never handknit a "palm thumb" (I have machine knit them).  I have never worn this style.  To me, our thumbs come from the sides of our hands, not out from our palm.  However, NONE of the patterns for a 'side thumb' came with multi sizes, they were all just "trace your hand and add 1/2".  I actually found only two sources for multi sized sewn mittens, and one was just kids' sizes.  I figured I'd just have to trust all the sewers (and other knitters who do palm-thumbs).

I chose a purple sweater that felted well, and one kid size with a printed jogging fleece and one size with bright pink fleece.  I used the sweater ribbing, even though the pattern said not to bother.  However, when I went to sew them together, I realized that I hadn't allowed extra on the jogging fleece to turn under at the bottom.  I sewed some elastic to the bottom of the jogging fleece and hand stitched it in.  I was disappointed because I felt the printed fleece did not feel nice inside, and now they weren't really reversible, unless you want the purple cuff to show.
I started on a men's pair, using a cardigan with front pockets.  I thought the pocket would be neat for holding a bus pass.  Then I realized they wouldn't really be reversible.  I still made the liner so that it pulls out (but is handstitched at the bottom), and they can be reversed, if you don't mind the button.  These got a lot of "ooohs" and "aaaahs" from family.
The brown sweater used for the inner didn't felt much, but is a nice fine merino.
 I finished off the adult purple mitts with the pink fleece.  Again, I didn't leave enough fleece to turn under, so I hand stitched it to the bottom of the purple mitten.  This didn't take as long as I was expecting, but still, I didn't want to do it for every pair!  I made a note to remember this--that if I cut the sweater pieces using the ribbing on the bottom on the pattern piece, to allow a half inch more on the bottom of the liner pieces.  I totally forgot every time.  For these ones, I also added elastic inside.  The patterns using felted sweaters didn't do this, but the other pattern using fleece (and flannel for the inside!  What?!  Diaper (absorbent!) fabric for the inside of a mitt?!), used elastic to snug them up.

Some people really liked the feel of the fleece inside.  However, Lucy pointed out that snow sticks to the wool mittens, so that the fleece is better outside for during snowball fights!

After these, I got a little busy, but I kept buying sweaters (and scarves), and fleece. I knew I needed to get started on mass production, but other things kept getting in the way.  Then I had a medical procedure scheduled for in Toronto.  I figured that'd be a great time to take them in to my friends' store directly!  I got to work, but things still kept getting in my way!  Finally, on Friday, I was in work mode.  Going great.  Then on Sat. I woke with a headache!  Since I was having a biopsy on Monday, I wasn't supposed to take any pain killers that can thin the blood.  Finally, after some googling, I decided some ibuprofen would be okay.  I was able to get back to work for awhile, but was way behind.  I got it all done on Sunday, but it was a push, and I didn't get good pictures :(
 I took in 12 pairs (including the large purple pair and the green pair above).  Some have wool inside, some have cashmere, some have fleece, one has Minkee.

I had already put the tags on so I didn't want to disturb them to turn them inside out.  It was fun picking out different fabrics to go together, and I learned a lot from this first run.  Some sweaters felt really thick, and don't need an inner layer (but then aren't reversible either).  The total thickness should be about the same for all mitts, so if it's a thin outer, then a thick inner is needed.  The thicker the layers, the smaller they turn out to be.  I did machine stitch around the bottoms to join the layers, and it's acceptable to me.  None of these have elastic and they seem fine. 
Best of all, Cherie (from Beadle, the store where I took them) really liked them!  In fact, she put two pairs up in her window display!  And people are liking her picture (she shared the one I have above, of the 6 pairs)...people I don't know!  It's nice when family says they're lovely, but the real test is strangers, LOL.  And if they sell.  Fingers crossed!

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