Warm woolen mittens – our favourite things

Jan Brett reads her illustrated version of an old Ukrainian folktale about the adventures of a lost white mitten.

As I delved into the topic of mittens for this month’s Yarn Club meeting, an interesting theme jumped out at me and began to bounce around in my head.  Mittens, arguably, are the most knitted item in history, with socks probably a close second. Every textile tradition includes its own variation, techniques, customs, and even, as in the example above, mythology surrounding the mitten. (I’m unaware of any sock or stocking folklore, but I’m already thinking that our study of mittens requires a companion sock edition.) As I thought about this fascinating, overwhelming mitten truth, a parallel began to form in my head between the varied mitten incarnations, and the different incarnations that deities, legends and fairytales take on across different cultures. Could mittens be the knitter’s (read, yarn crafter’s, please, my dear crocheting friends) mythology? When you make a new pair after your old ones have finally given out (never to be thrown away, but tucked somewhere safe and sacred as a Pyramid), are you adding the next chapter to your maker’s testament? When I tested this parallel in my own life, and took my pile of mittens to join those of the Yarn Club members at last week’s meeting, I was delighted with the narratives that emerged: Cherished baby mittens made for people now grown; mittens made because of a change in lifestyle, a move to a new location, a new job. And more craft-specific, mittens made at previous levels of proficiency (witness the mittens I worked flat in stranded colourwork – I know, I know – and then seamed up with sewing thread, at age 15), that now attest to the miles we’ve come in mastering our techniques (and all the wonderful miles yet to go).

It makes sense. Mittens are such workhorse items, such important parts of our cold weather wardrobe, because they protect a pretty important asset – especially to us makers. In fact they’re often the only line of defence between our fingers and the elements. That’s a position of great honour and responsibility! Is it any wonder they play such an important role in our work, our lives, and the traditions that have sprung up around their creation?

So, what is your mitten story? And what chapter are you going to create next?

More mitten reading and resources:

Mitten books 

Folk Mittens by Macia Lewandowski – my personal favourite

Jorid Linvik’s Big Book of Knitted Mittens

Latvian Mittens by Lizbeth Upitis

Magnificent Mittens & Socks by Anna Zilboorg

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