The Yarnologue

On The Needles: Top-Down Mittens

Happy New Year!

Mittens and champagne

Happy New Year!

I hope you sent 2012 off in fine fashion and are revved up to make 2013 a year full of fun, happiness, and yarn!

You will not be surprised to hear that I welcomed the New Year with yarn in one hand, a champagne toast in the other, a kiss from my beloved husband.

mitten start

Doesn't look like much yet.

If you are a fan of our Facebook page my project will look familiar because I was teasing you with obscure pictures over the weekend.

When I posted this picture most people guessed I was working on a toe-up sock. While that is a reasonable assumption, I’m actually working on a pair of top-down mittens.

I started them using “Judy’s Magic Cast On“, which is a popular start for toe up socks.

The advantages of working mittens fingers down are similar to those of working socks toe up.

In my opinion it’s easier to control the length of the fingers when working top down. You can try the mitten on and when it reaches you’re thumb it’s long enough. The thumb acts as an anchor as opposed to cuff-up mittens that can slide around when you’re trying them on.

I also think it’s easier to make the cuff as long as you want when working fingers down. Again, the mitten is anchored by your fingers and thumb so you get a more accurate fit.

Finally, if you run out of yarn it makes more sense to have a different colored cuff then to have your finger tips a different color.


Same yarn, different looks

Mittens, like socks, move along quickly. That is lucky because these mittens were a long time coming.

At the end of last winter my friend Judy explained the lining had worn out of her a pair of old fashioned leather mittens and asked whether it would be possible for me to knit her a new lining. I said yes, but it was already spring time so I had months, and months before she would need them.

Of course, now winter is in full swing and I’m frantically knitting!

I’m using Ella Rae Lace Merino Worsted yarn in color #2-Greens. This 100% Superwash Merino Wool yarn comes in 218 yard hanks, so I’m hoping it will be enough for the pair. If not I have some black Classic Wool on standby for the cuff.

Wool is a great choice for mittens because it is warm, durable, and absorbent. Did you know that wool can continue to keep you warm even when it’s wet?

The Lace Merino Worsted will be soft and cozy for Judy’s fingers, but they will also be long lasting because yarn has a multiplied structure with a good twist.

first mitten

A nice swirly pattern

After starting the first mitten I decided to work them two-at-a-time to ensure they come out even.

I was also afraid of accidentally working two right mittens! By working them at the same time I was sure to place my thumbs correctly.

second mitten

A nice striped pattern

The mittens are turning into an interesting example of how hand-dyed yarn can have different results.

I’m working with both ends of the same ball of yarn, on the same knitting needles, with the same gauge and stitch count. The colors in the first mitten are coming up in a random, specked pattern, while the second mitten is coming up with stripes.

When you get those bands of color in a hand-dyed yarn is referred to as “pooling” or “flashing.” Some people don’t like pooling and will go to great lengths to avoid it.

The easiest way to do that is to use either two balls of yarn or the two tails of one ball of yarn and alternate working two rows from each. You work two rows because it makes it easier to swap your working yarn: the knit row takes you out and the purl row brings you back.

Other options are to work pattern stitches since the texture will draw up the yarn at a different rate and possibly break up the pooling. There are pattern books devoted to knitting with hand dyed yarns to use the unique properties to their best advantage. You should be able to find them at your local yarn store.

The Pattern So Far

At this point you are probably wondering what pattern I’m using so you can knit a pair of warm mittens of your own.

Well, I’m making them up as I go along, but I can share what I have so far. Knit slowly so I can keep ahead of you, ok? Experienced knitters will probably have better luck since the pattern isn’t finished yet.

Size: 8 1/2″ circumference. (I’m aiming for 1/2″ of ease for an 8″ circumference hand.)

Yarn: Ella Rae Lace Merino Worsted. At least one ball, maybe two.

Needles: US 6 dpns, or size needed to obtain gauge.

Gauge: 5.5 sts and 8 rows = 1″ in st st in the round.

Cast on 16 sts using Judy’s Magic Cast On (8 sts each on two needles)


First needle: K1, M1R, K across to last stitch, M1L, K1. Repeat for second needle. (4 sts increased)

K even, dividing sts over 4 needles.

Alternate increase row (increasing at the sides of the mitten as established) and knit even row to 48 sts.

Work even until piece measures 5 1/2″ from cast on (or desired length).

The thumb hole will be next, but I have to figure it out still.

Stay tuned!

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