Mittens in May

When I say that cast-on-itis has hit, I mean it. I don’t know why I get so rejuvenated about knitting in the spring. I lag in the depths of winter – doesn’t everything lag in the depths of winter? I think it’s the heavy coat impeding bus-knitting. But in the spring, unencumbered by coats and scarves and gloves and hats, it’s far more exciting to tote along knitting.

Back in February, I bought some merino sport weight hand dyed yarn from The Periwinkle Sheep in three quite complementary colors.


Mid-April, I decided to use all three yarns together in one project. I started searching for projects that used sport weight yarn in a stranded design and ran across the Fiddlehead mittens, which I adore – but I didn’t think they worked for the color combination I want to use.

While contemplating the Fiddlehead mittens, however, I remembered that in the Knitter’s Almanac, Elizabeth Zimmerman devotes the month of May to mittens, explaining it is far better to knit mittens when they aren’t immediately needed. I pulled out my copy of Knitter’s Almanac and read the through her thoughts; though I do like her charts, they aren’t me and the yarn I’m itching to knit with. So I took the wisdom gleaned from EZ’s chapter, glanced at the pithy directions, and set out to design my own stranded mittens. I pulled out an old Interweave with a great article on color and my copy of (thank goodness finally reprinted) Alice Starmore’s Fair Isle knitting. I spent a while reading with my favorite design notebook in hand (spiral bound full size notebook with gridded pages…yes). I love really getting into the knitting projects. I’ve spent over a month looking at pictures and swatching and contemplating various aspects of this one. Reading the reference books has been one of the most fun parts.


I spent a while with my notebook, sketching out designs and ideas. I then made a swatch to check my color dominance and gauge. I knit two rows with every potential combination of colors and hands – blue in left, brown in right; blue in left, pink in right; pink in left, blue in right; and so on.

Mitten Swatch

Once I had my gauge, I sat down with my notebook and actually charted out some motifs. I knew I wanted to do hearts, birds, and squirrels. For the heart, I just drew out some ideas. For the bird and the squirrel, I looked online and in my resources for inspiration, but didn’t find any charts that were just what I wanted and the right size. So I went and drew my own. There was a lot of crossing things out involved. I then swatched all of the motifs – the heart needed a LOT of tweaking. I liked the hearts and such best with the motif color in the left hand and the background in the right hand.

Mitten Swatch

Mitten Swatch

I wish I could remember where I recently read the tip about looking at colorwork pics in black and white to get an idea of values…maybe Handwoven? My roommates both picked up on the squirrel quickly, but the bird was harder. We’ll see if any duplicate stitching or embroidery will be needed on my final mittens.

I charted out the full mittens in Excel using the directions from Chemknits.

From just the process thus far, I already appreciate how much more difficult it is to think about colorwork and charts from the perspective of design. I have done a small amount of colorwork from charts – no full items, but I learned stranded knitting at a Rhinebeck workshop on steeking in October 2008 with Donna Kay, and the sampler for that was my first colorwork knit. Apart from that, I’ve made a hat (the Swatch Hat with a Norwegian star on it) and a sweater with a simple colorwork yoke (the one I steeked and blogged all about that process). This will definitely be my first allover stranded adventure, and I’m really psyched to cast on…once I get some sleep, and maybe get something off the needles (for sanity’s sake).


About Kristy Lamb

I recently finished my PhD in genetics at Yale and am currently a postdoc at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University in NYC. I love science, people, and the fiber arts. We'll call it my muse. I taught myself to knit over Christmas break in 2002, when I was home from my sophomore year in college and was terribly bored. Despite starting with three big mistakes (very long aluminum needles, a very bad Coats & Clark how to knit book, and Lion Brand Homespun), I kept at knitting, even after that first 1/2 hour trying to tie a slipknot. Science...seems to be much the same process as the above.
This entry was posted in Adventures, colorwork, design, for me!, WIPs and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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