Mitten, mitten, who’s got the mitten? Well, at the moment, I do. In fact, I have nine pairs of mittens to my knitting credit, with a pair of gloves yet to knit.
I began the mitten-making odyssey in November when I realized I had in my stash lots of Reynolds Lite Lopi wool, grown in Iceland, and when my younger son hinted that he’d like me to knit him a pair of mittens. Then a friend gave a similar hint. At about the same time, it occurred to me there are now seven youngsters, “the greats,” as I call them, in the family. So I decided I might as well put aside the sock knitting and do a stint of mitten knitting for “the kids.”
The first thing I did was dig out my vintage “Mittens and Gloves” booklet, circa 1953, and open it to the mitten instructions, all nicely written out in a detailed chart so even a first-time mitten knitter can’t get fouled up.
I found my size 5 double point aluminum needles, the ones I inherited from my sister — she used them for knitting socks and the points are not as pointy as they once were from so much use. I grabbed a stitch marker crudely fashioned from a piece of flexible wire and two small beads, my little scissors shaped like a stork and my knitter’s rule acquired in the 1960s. I set those essential tools near at hand.
I knit the first pair of mittens in a dark spruce green color, the second pair in a dusty celery green and the third pair in a combination of those two colors — with thumbs of the lighter green because it amused me to make mittens with green thumbs. I hope the wearer will share my amusement. If not, I’ll make another pair of mittens.
For the baby in the family, I selected a sunny yellow yarn. She’s too small to need thumbs in her mittens. For her big brother I chose a bluish-purple yarn that reminds me of twilight.
For another boy I selected dark blue yarn, green for his younger brother and candy pink for his little sister. I chose pale aqua for the big girl in the family — the color will remind her of turquoise. She loves rocks and stones.
I will knit gloves for the big boy of the clan — he doesn’t like mittens — in a shade of tweedy brown the color of beach sand to remind him of our trip to Fort Point last summer and the fun we had finding tiny crabs and collecting bits of beach glass.
Mittens, or other kinds of hand coverings, are a necessity for children who want to go outside and play in the snow. True, fabric technology has advanced to the point where mitten fabrics are waterproof, warmly lined with fleece and made in bright colors and patterns. But I am old-fashioned enough to believe that every Maine child should have a least one pair of home-knit mittens during childhood.
Mittens are iconic of times past when life was, if not more simple, then lived closer to the sources of things. The sheep that grew the wool the mittens were knit from lived out in the sheep shed. The yarn spun from the sheep’s fleece was manufactured by a mother or other relative on a spinning wheel set by the fireplace in the great room. Yarn is still grown and produced in Maine on small farms and in small commercial spinneries, I am glad to say. However, the old, close-to-the-source ways of acquiring yarn — shearing, carding and spinning — are long lost to most of us.
But knitting by hand, so portable, so easy to pick up and put down, so engaging to mind and hand, has survived all the advances in mitten-making technology. Although, the young ones in my family don’t know that, I am certain they will understand intuitively that the mittens I make for them are made with love and that love warms the hands all the way to the heart.
Here is a list of books with “mitten” in the title for knitters:
• “Favorite Mittens” by Robin Hansen.
• “Latvian Mittens” by Lizbeth Upitis.
• “Knit Mittens!” by Robin Hansen.
This list is for children:
• “The Missing Mitten Mystery” by Steven Kellogg.
• “One Mitten” by Kristine O’Connell and Maggie Smith.
• “The Mitten Tree” by Candace Christiansen and Elaine Green.
• “Yoon and the Christmas Mitten” by Helen Recorvits and Gabi Swiatkowska.
• “A Mountain of Mittens” by Lynn Plourde and Mitch Vane.
• “The Mitten” by Jan Brett.
Ask for these books at your library or bookstore.