Mittens for Aunt Sally

Completed for Christmas 2007

This is Aunt Sally in her 1966 high school majorette uniform.
I love this photo!

Some of you have followed my knitting tales of woe, including me knitting gifts for Dad and my brother. Boy, did I learn a lesson!

Now of course, it's nicer to give than to receive. And, when you give a gift, you should give it selflessly and without expectation.

But come on, when you spend $200 on yarn for a sweater, then you spend over 200 hours knitting said sweater, well then, it just becomes a little disheartening when the recipient doesn't like it, as in the cases of Dad and Chris. (They don't mean any harm, really. I'm sure you would like Dad and Chris, if you didn't know these knitting horror stories!)

But not only do they not like the knitted gift, they find fault with it. They ask me to change this or that about it. They say that my handknitted sweater isn't as nice or doesn't fit as well as their store-bought acrylic sweaters. Which, as a knitter, just kills me.

I have a bad track record with my family regarding this. So, as a general rule, I don't knit for family members.


Aunt Sally is the one person in my family who really seems to appreciate handknitted things. So, guess what. Aunt Sally is my favorite person to knit for!

Last year, I knitted a lace shawl for Aunt Sally. But, this year, I thought I'd knit something more practical, for the harsh Michigan winter in which she lives.

Mittens, by definition, are meant to be used and abused. Mittens are the opposite of a lace shawl. And, as mittens get worn, they actually get better: they conform to the natural shape of your hand, and they get felted down by default, which makes them warmer.

For Aunt Sally's mittens, I wanted to try some colorwork.

So, here we are with some experimental dyeing. I started out with off-white Jamieson & Smith brand yarn, 100% Shetland wool, 2-ply jumper weight. When it comes to authentic Fair Isle colorwork, this yarn is the real deal. I personally wouldn't buy any other brand of yarn for color knitting.

I dyed each section of the hank, with my favorite Jacquard brand acid dyes, purchased from Dharma Trading Company, which is such a good place to purchase inexpensive dyes. Don't let the term, acid, scare you off. It just refers to the vinegar that you add to the dye bath.

When dyeing, I specifically left white sections un-dyed. The goal here was to get a stark contrast to the black heathered yarn.

Here's the finished, dyed yarn all wound up, with a center pull.

Here's the black heathered alongside the dyed yarn.

Here the first mitten is on its way. This is my first experience with corrugated ribbing, and I have to say, it's a good effect. Learn from my mistakes, though: Double your yarn for the casting on; otherwise, the cast-on edge will be too lightweight in comparison to the colorwork.

I'm working the Norwegian Star mitten pattern from the book, Knitting Fair Mittens and Gloves by Carol Noble.

Not to knock the author or anything, but...I did have some issues with the way the pattern was written. What a surprise, eh?

As you can see from the closeup of the thumb gusset, I am winging it. The fault of Noble's book is the lack of instructions regarding thumb gussets. It was quite disappointing in that respect.

What I really wanted to know was, for instance, Noble's opinions regarding the proper way of increasing stitches along the gusset. There are a million ways to do this, of course, and I think she should've spent some time discussing it.

The palm side of the mitten has a nice, constrasting effect. I like the way the colors vary, and how they really show up against the heathered black.

From a design perspective, it's nice and balanced to have a large motif on the top side of the mitten and a small repeat on the palm side.

It wasn't long before I realized that this was only to be a Practice Mitten. Yes, I have a habit of making Practice Things. It doesn't bother me at all to frog. In fact, it's kind of fun to frog, unraveling and re-using the yarn to create a more perfect iteration.

So, to frog, I had to chop off the tip of the iceberg, since I had gone so far as to Kitchener stitch it closed.

The thing is, I couldn't take the way that the design just seemed to peter out at the fingertips. It wasn't well planned by the author. For me, there needs to be a definitive conclusion to the pattern. In this mitten, in my opinion, the author needed to have designed a sort of finial or a proper conclusion to the fingertip.

So, I looked at the original pattern then took pencil to graph paper. I re-designed the fingertips, to create a little more conclusion.

Overall, I am pleased with the final result. I like the way the dyed yarn plays with the black. I like the traditional nature of these mittens. I love the idea of replicating historical patterns. It gives me a sense of community with knitters gone by.

I do like the splashes of color! It was fun to knit with this colorful skein. I could hardly put the knitting down; I was so anxious to see what the next row would look like.

And here, below, are the palms, with their camouflaged thumbs, sans gusset. With this kind of mitten, I have found, it's completely acceptable (and even sometimes encouraged) to utilize the afterthought thumb technique. That way, you can knit thumbs that really blend into the mitten, like some optical illusion.

All in all, I am pleased with the final result. After some aggressive blocking, the mittens look uniform and finished. And most importantly, Aunt Sally liked them! Hip hip hurray!

Knitting specs:

These mitts were knit with Jamieson & Smith brand yarn, 100% Shetland wool, 2-ply jumper weight, contrast color is heathered black. Knit on Brittany birch DPNs, size 2.75mm, purchased from Patternworks.

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