The Yarnologue

Top Down Mittens: Thumb Holes & Gusset

When last you saw my green mittens (um, yesterday) knit using Ella Rae Lace Merino Worsted yarn I had knit the hand to the point where I was ready to add the thumb hole.

For mittens (and gloves) that are knit from the cuff to the fingers you’ll reach a point (usually just above the cuff) where you’ll start increasing for the thumb gusset. The gusset is to accommodate the extra width the base of the thumb gives to your hand.

In that style thumb you increase to a set number of stitches between your markers then either bind them off or place them on a stitch holder. Then you cast on new stitches to replace the missing stitches and continue knitting the hand.

You can see that type of thumb being used in the Chadwick Owl Arm Warmers I knit for my aunt last month.

Provisional Cast On

For my Top Down Mittens I’m going to build the thumb gusset in reverse.

First you place stitches on the hand on a holder for the top of the thumb hole. Next you cast on many stitches for the bottom of the thumb hole. Then you decrease all those extra stitches away to create the gusset.

Provisional cast on

Go under the bump on the back of the chain

Instead of just using a “backward e” cast on to bridge the gap of the thumb hole I decided to use a crochet chain provisional cast on.

This has a bit more stability than the “backward e” method and will also give me live stitches to use when I’m ready to knit the thumb since I’ll be able to unzip the crochet chain and transfer the stitches to a knitting needle.

If you use the backward e, or another closed cast on, you’ll have to pick up stitches along the edge of the thumb hole when you’re ready to knit your thumb.

To work this type of provisional cast on you’ll want a length of contrasting color yarn in a similar weight to your main yarn. I’m using a scrap of Sublime Extra Fine Merino Wool DK.

Work a crochet chain of more stitches than you’ll need. In this case I planned to pick up 12 stitches so I made a chain 20 stitches long. I often find that some of the chains are useable so having extra saves trouble down the line.

Take a look at the chain. One side will look like little Vs reminiscent of a column of knit stitches. The other side will have little bumps. You want to work on the bump side.

Insert your knitting needle under the bump and knit it as you normally would. That is what I’m doing in the picture, which just proves that one picture is worth a thousand words!

After you’ve picked up all your stitches in the crochet chain bumps you just resume knitting on the hand as though nothing unusual happened.

Oh! It’s helpful to place a stitch marker on the right hand needle before you start picking up the stitches on the chain and then another one when you’ve finished. That will target you’re gusset decreases.

Other Applications

I’m using the crochet chain provisional cast for my thumb hole, but there are many other places you can use it.

If you are working toe up socks you can start with this provisional cast on in combination with a short row toe.

You can use it for inserting a pocket into a sweater or cardigan.

Sometimes scarves have a pattern that has to be “upright.” In that case you might knit two separate pieces that are grafted together. You can use this provisional cast on in that situation.

Basically, if you want to have access to live stitches at a point in the future this might be a good option.

thumb holes

Yeah, thumb holes!

Pattern! Thumb hole & Gusset

The start of the mittens are in yesterday’s blog post.

After working the hand from the fingers down to the desired length start your thumb holes.

Right mitten:

Round 1: K22, place last 4 sts worked on a holder for later, K to end of round.

Round 2: K18, Pm (place marker), PU and knit 12 sts from crochet chain, PM, K to end

Round 3: K even

Round 4 (decrease round): K to marker, SM (slip marker) SSK, k to 2 sts before next marker, K2tog, SM, K to end

Round 5: K even

Alternate Decrease Round and Knit even round until you have 46 sts.

Next round: K2tog between markers.

Knit one round even.

Next round: Decrease one stitch to get to 44 sts total (I worked a k2tog in line with the other gusset decreases to keep thing neat.)

Knit one round even.

Left Mitten:

K6, Place last 4 sts worked on a holder, k to end.

K2, PM, PU 12 sts from crochet chain, PM, k to end.

Work shaping as for Right Mitten.

Cuff: Things are getting tricky

I plan to work a K2, P2 rib for the cuff.

I say things are getting tricky because I’m not sure how far my yarn will get me. Remember, I’m knitting these in real time as I’m posting! If I run out of yarn I’ll have learned my lesson and will finish the project before I start posting so we’ll all know what to expect. haha.

My plan is to knit the cuffs for 2″, break the yarn, knit the thumbs, and use any remaining yarn to expend the cuffs.

If you aren’t feeling daring you can always just knit the cuff and thumb in an alternate yarn from the start. The really safe thing to do would be buy to hanks of yarn at the beginning so you don’t have to worry about quantities!

2 At A Time

As you can see in these pictures, and as people on our Facebook page have already guessed, I’m knitting the mittens 2-at-a-time.

2 at a time

I use dpns and a circ to keep things organized

Usually people use two circular needles when they make socks or mittens two at a time.

I like to be different and use one circular and a set of double pointed needles instead. I find this system better enables me to keep track of where I am and see the flow of the knitting.

See, you have half the project on one needle and have the project on the other needle. You have to treat the halves as a single row or you’ll get all confused and end up working one mitten and ignoring the other, which defeats the purpose of working them simultaneously in order to keep them even!

By “working them as a single row’ I mean you have to knit both palms and then both tops in order. If you are going to put the project down you should make sure you are at the side. Don’t stop in the middle!

Some people use two different length circular needles (so a 24″ and a 32”) or two different styles as a cue for where they are. With my system I know that I’ll knit all the double pointed needles first. Then I’ll use the two ends of the circular needle to knit those stitches.

You can probably take a class for knitting projects two at a time at your local yarn store. They’ll probably offer it as a sock class since that seems to be the most common application. If you’ve been wanting to learn to knit socks you’ll be getting two techniques at once!

There are also probably videos available, but you can’t ask a video questions!


  1. I always do socks two-at-a-time on two circs. I either do the two different lengths or one wood / one metal to keep it organized. The 1 circ and DPN is kinda’ weird (in a good way) …

    Thanks for the pics, updates and website!

  2. Oh, my method is totally weird! The knitting is probably easier (smoother) when you are on two circs, but I’m too lazy to track down a pair. 😀

  3. Mittens seem intimidating to me, but your posts make them look straightforward, almost easy. I’m not ready to try them two-at-a-time, but I might just be ready to try them. Thanks!

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