Folklorist, knitter and mitten expert Robin Hansen of Bath has made a career of mittens. Her latest work in the field is “Ultimate Mittens: 26 Classic Knitting Patterns to Keep You Warm.” It’s a most satisfying book. In it, Hansen mixes mitten knitting lore and history with mitten patterns that will keep knitters happily challenged for a long, long time.
In her introduction she writes of folk handcraft, in general, and mitten knitting, in particular: “It flows through human hands and minds, from one person to the next. It can’t exist without a person, and each person adds or subtracts from the way it’s done to make the product her own.”
Hansen’s book celebrates that tradition. The book also is testimony to the fact that Hansen figures out how to modify traditional mitten patterns to make them accessible to the knitters of today — an art in itself.
Essays on the history, knitting technique and engineering of mittens are featured in the pages of “Ultimate Mittens,” making it far more than a mitten knitting instruction book. Those who enjoy delving into the historical past of the mittens they knit will enjoy the information Hansen shares, such as, “Mittens have been knit, crocheted, felted, knit and fulled, knit tightly, knit loosely and covered with cloth, woven like little baskets of yarn, lined with all manner of stuffing and surfaces, and sewn from cloth and skins.” She writes that she found most of the mittens featured in the book in New England and Atlantic Canada — some even turned up in an attic.
An essay on fulled mittens reveals: “Fishermen fulled their own mittens by wetting them in icy sea water, walking on them on a cold deck, drying them on the hot engine manifold, turning them carefully to keep them from scorching, then wetting them again in sea water …”
Hansen’s foray into mitten making takes the reader to places where she purchased or was given mittens to add to her collection, including Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, the Faroe Islands, Norway and Sweden. She also introduces Inuit and Aroostook sewn mittens and Polish basket maker’s mittens, unusual techniques that serve as examples of the ingenuity that arises when hands need be protected from freezing wind and water.
She writes that the directions for the mittens in the book are “not thought up by a computer, but the human, usually female, mind working out of love.” Which is another reason I really like this book. Not to mention the fact that the book itself and the mitten information and technical information it contains were thought up by yet another woman — Robin Hansen.
The book is lavishly illustrated with color photographs and black-and-white drawings, charts and schematics. Readers will find yarn requirements and knitting needle size on a page separate from the mittens directions page, but that is a minor detail when you factor in the wealth of technical information included, such as hand measurements, mitten measurements and the time it takes to knit one pair; for example, three to six hours for a pair of children’s mittens, depending on size.
The book also has a section called “Nice Touches” that includes what to do to keep from losing your mittens, reinforcing mittens and gloves with leather palms and repairing and caring for mittens and gloves.
This is a book for all seasons. It allows the knitter to enfold herself in the deep tradition of keeping hands warm with wool even as she knits a pair for a loved one.
Hansen is the author of several knitting books including “Favorite Mittens” and “Knit Mittens.”
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