The Yarnologue

Top Down Mittens: Thumb

The top down mittens I’ve been knitting using Ella Rae Lace Merino Worsted yarn are almost done!

I’ve knit both thumbs and just have to finish off the cuff.

Now, I’m going to provide the pattern for the thumb, but you’ll have to remember you’re not locked into my numbers. You have to trust your knitter’s instinct and pick up more stitches to close up the holes in the corners.

The only thing you’ll have to worry about is to have a number divisible by 3 (so 18 or 21 stitches) in order to have the decreases work properly.

Late to the party? You can find the start of the mittens here. And the Thumb Gusset here.

Thumb Pattern


Transfer the stitches for the thumb from the holders to two needles. (16 sts)

Attach the working yarn to the bottom of the thumb and knit across 12 sts.

Pick up one or more on the side of the hand to close the gap.

Knit across 4 sts on top of thumb.

Pick up one or more on side of hand to close gap.

You will not have anywhere from 18 to 22 on your needles. Divide stitches as evenly as possible on three needles. Attach a marker to this row for measuring later.

Knit in the round until thumb measures about 1″ from picked up sts.

If necessary, decrease as many sts as necessary on the next round to get to either 18 or 21 sts. (So if you have 22 sts, K2tog once. If you have 20 sts, K2tog, k half way around, k2tog, k to end)

Knit one round even.

Begin thumb decreases: K2tog at the beginning of each needle. K remaining sts on needle. (3 sts decreased)

K one round even

Alternate decrease round and knit even round until 6 sts remain.

Cut yarn, leaving a generous tail. Draw tail through remaining sts and pull tight.

Finish knitting cuffs. Bind off in rib pattern.

Weave in ends. Go play in the snow.

See what I mean about using your knitter’s instinct for the thumb? It’s good practice in visualizing the end result you want and just making the stitches get there.

One my first thumb I had 19 sts after picking up in the corners. After knitting for an inch, I knit two together at the beginning of the round because I think it’s easier to decrease with even numbers.

On the second thumb I had 18 sts after picking up in the corners, so I didn’t have to worry about  decreasing until I got to the top of the thumb. The finished thumbs still match nicely.

Transferring Stitches

Now, an experienced knitter who has used a crochet chain provisional cast on won’t have any trouble transferring the stitches from the chain to the needles in order to knit the thumb.

A knitter who hasn’t used this method before might be puzzled. I had a little trouble getting picture of the process, but these should put you on the correct path.

If you do an internet search for “crochet provisional cast on” you’ll find options for videos and other blog posts about it. However, it might be easier to head down to your local yarn store for help in person. The other blog post pictures I saw did seem much more clear.

First, take a look at the picture up above and compare it to your own knitting. You can see nice, normal looking stitches pierced by the crochet chain. You’ll want to slide your knitting needle under the right hand leg of each stitch.

Really, you’ll just want to get the stitches onto your needle. You can worry about untwisting them later.

Once you’ve inserted your needle you can pull on the crochet chain and it will pop of out the knit stitch.

Some directions will have you just pull out the crochet chain all at once and trust your stitches not to run. I’m too nervous for that, so I take the more fiddly route and slowly pull the chain out as I go along.

You’ll have to decide how brave you are, and how slippery your yarn is, before you select a method.

This might be one of those techniques where you want to set up a practice piece to try it out before you apply it to your project.

The Length of a Cuff

You’ll remember from my last blog post that I was planning to knit the cuffs for at least 2 inches before working the thumb.

That’s just what I did.

The 2″ cuffs seemed rather short to me. Since I had plenty of yarn left I unpicked the bind off, reattached my yarn, and continued knitting the cuffs.

While the ribbing draws in, you might want to consider going down one needle size to make a more snug cuff. You might also want to knit a few more rows of stockinette stitch between the bottom of the thumb gusset and the start of the cuff ribbing.

Try it on and see what you think.

Our Facebook Fan Joyce S. says:

Way back when, I made mittens with a 2″-3″ cuff and a 1″ stocking knit before starting the thumb. Cuff would be long enough to tuck under coat sleeve and the space before the thumb made it fit better

After knitting on the cuff for a while I realized I didn’t know how long I should make it. The mittens are big for me, which is making it hard for me to judge the fit. They actually fit my husband nicely. I used his hand to judge the thumb size and the 2″ cuff was definitely short on him.

These mittens are for a friend in another state, so I can’t have her try them on. And they are sort of a surprise, so I don’t want to ask how long she’d like them.

Since I couldn’t ask my friend, I asked our Facebook fans.

The general range is from 2″ to 6″ with many people saying it depends on the person who will wear it. Many people like the cuff to be long enough to tuck into their coat sleeve.

Jennifer DD says:

Male or female? I’d use the Stephanie Purl McFee rules – use an index finger length or index finger to the first knuckle.

Amanda E gave me a giggle with her suggestion of:

Elbow length,’cuz elbow length mittens sound awesome.

Cali had an interesting guideline:

I do a standard hand width past the bottom of the thumb hole.

At this point, my cuffs are 4″ long and I still have a decent amount of yarn left.

I think I’m going to continue the cuff until I run out of yarn. That way my friend has options. She can wear them long or fold them down for extra warmth.

And if she doesn’t want a really long cuff she can ask one of the knitters near her (and there are plenty!) to shorten it for her. Since I’m ending at the cuff it will be a simple matter for them to unravel a bit and bind off.

What these long cuffs really mean is that my Top Down Mittens are a one skein project. Hooray! You will just need one hank of Ella Rae Lace Merino Worsted to knit your own pair.

This 100% Superwash Merino Wool yarn comes in a mix of 36 semi-solid and variegated colors. Which one would you use?


  1. Thanks for the great photos! Makes it so much easier for a visual person like me.

  2. #12 Yellow, Gold.

    Your mittens turned out lovely, you’ve inspired me! Thank you!

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