Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Friday, 3 January 2014

Thrumming Away With My Fingers: Building a Better Mitten

Michele, the organizer of our Open Fibre Nights, suggested a Knit-a-Long to carry us through January.  She proposed we knit mittens.  I wasn’t too keen at first. (I’d rather knit socks or gloves.)  On the other hand, it’s been bitterly cold here for over a month.  I have many, many pairs of warm socks, but only one pair of mittens, which is strange for a person who walks as much as I do. I revisited my aversion to mitten knitting and thought of what I’d like to do.  I decided to knit thrummed mittens, something I haven’t made in years.

There are dozens of thrummed mitten patterns on sites such as Ravelry.  I thought I’d use something available there, but I don’t like to use other people’s patterns.  It did seem silly to rewrite what has been done well, but years of mitten wearing in cold weather have taught me a trick or two about what constitutes a good mitten.  Mittens which will withstand our -25C and colder winters must be closely knit, of wool or alpaca or other warm protein fibres.  Since I carry packages to and fro or I’m hanging out at the end of a dog leash, I prefer rugged mittens-no delicate Merino or qiviuq for me.  One of my biggest problems with thrummed mittens in the past has been that they don’t resist our bitter winds, partly because the thrums are not thick enough.  The thrums are not particularly abrasion resistant.  Could I make a mitten that was warm, fairly wind resistant and which wore well? It would be interesting to find out.

The pattern here was written from scratch, but there is not much new material in it.  I knit my mittens from a coarse, tightly hand spun and plied Jacob fleece which is really too rough to wear next to the skin; however, I reasoned that the softer thrums would protect my hands from the coarser yarn.  Young Master DD gave me a cake of Custom Woolen Mills wool pencil roving for Christmas; I used that for the thrums.  I knit the mittens on small needles in relation to the yarn size and I made the thrums very dense.  (I had to continually check to make sure I could get my hands in the mittens.)  The cuff ribbing is longer than most patterns require.  You’ll notice that I increased the distance between the wrist to the beginning of the thumb gusset.  Usually, mittens start the thumb gusset after a few rows (the distance between the wrist bone and the base of the thumb).  I find that this distance causes both the cuff and the wrist to pull up on the inside of the hand, near the base of the thumb, exposing the wrist to the cold.  When you increase that distance, the mitten looks out of proportion, but the cuff stays tucked under your coat sleeve and the mitten encases the wrist.

I knit the mittens quite small, partly because the thrums will pack down with wear and partly because close fitting mittens are warmer.  If you require a size larger than Women’s Small, the easiest way to get there is to knit the mittens in a thicker yarn.  I have given directions for two sizes here, with suggestions for commercial yarn substitutes, the Women’s Small and Women’s Small/Medium.  You can change the sizes by increasing/decreasing the cuff stitches in multiples of 2; increase/decrease the mitten stitches in multiples of 4, adding 2 more stitches to the thumb gusset for every size increase.  Adjust the length of your mitten and thumb accordingly.  Do not skimp on the thrummed inserts. (See my Test Notes below.)

I make a pile of thrums before I begin and I pull them, rather than cut.  You want the ends to be uneven so that they full and fill the spaces inside the mittens.  Twist each thrum in the centre before you knit it into the mitten.  Lock each thrum by taking the mitten yarn across the back of the thrum to work the next stitch.

UPDATE, January 5:  I'm now knitting a smaller pair on 32 body stitches in 2 ply Jacob hand spun with Romney roving thrums.  I fulled the mittens shown below by placing them on my hands, running hot water (not too hot) on them and rubbing the mittens with a bar of homemade soap.  I rinsed them with alternate hot and cold water baths and let them dry by the heat register.  I prefer the look of them now; the thrums don't shed on the outside of the mitten, but are still fluffy on the inside.  I'm planning to test them today with a (short) walk in -34C/-51C windchill weather.  


Thrumming Away Mitten Pattern

  Sizes: Women’s Extra Small/Small; Women’s Small/Medium (numbers in brackets).  My hand circumference at the palm is 18 cm/7 inches; the outside palm measurement of the mitten is 23 cm/9 inches.

Materials:  Approximately 100 metres 2 ply Handspun Jacob yarn; 80 to 100 grams wool fleece, roving, pencil roving (I used Custom Woolen Mills pencil roving).  Substitute yarn:  100 grams of Briggs and Little Heritage or Regal wool yarn.
Handspun Yarn: Approximately 10 wpi, 9 tpi in 2 ply/13 in singles, 19 degree angle of twist.

Needles:  4 double pointed needles (dpns) in size to suit yarn.  I used 2.75 mm.

Stitch marker, yarn needle, scrap yarn, scissors.
Gauge:  4 stitches per inch with 3 knit stitches/1 thrum; 5.5 stitches per inch over stockinette stitch.


Twisted Rib Pattern:  Rnd 1: K1, P1.  Rnd 2: K1B (Knit one through the back of stitch), P1.

Make two mittens the same.  Weight of each mitten is approximately 65 to 70 grams.  Each mitten uses approximately 40 to 50 grams of thrums.  Thrums are made by breaking off pieces of fibre about 5 cm/2 in long.  Twist each thrum in middle before knitting into mitten.

Cuff:  Cast on 32 (36) stitches and distribute over 3 dpns. Place marker (pm) at beginning of round and join stitches. Work in Twisted Rib Pattern for approximately 7.5 cm/3 inches or 25 rnds. 

Mitten Body:  Working in stockinette stitch (SS), increase (inc) 4 stitches evenly over next rnd by K8 (9), m1 (make 1) to 36 (40) sts.

Work in Thrummed Pattern:

Rnd 1: K3, K1 Thrum (Drop the main yarn. Knit 1 piece of fleece or roving as next stitch.  Pick up main yarn and carry it across the back of the thrummed stitch.)  Continue in K3, K1T around.
Rnds 2 & 3:  Knit round.
Rnd 4: K1, *K1T, K3,* around, ending K2.
Rnds 5 & 6:  Knit round.
These 6 rnds form the pattern.  Maintain pattern throughout knitting.  Thrums will be staggered.

Thumb Gusset:  Knit 2 to 3 repeats of pattern as desired for wrist to base of thumb length before beginning the gusset. 

On Rnd 6 of pattern:  Slip marker to right needle, K into front and back (Kfb) of 1st stitch after marker, K to last 2 sts of rnd, Kfb of next st, K1.  Keeping in pattern (staggering thrum sts every 3 rnd), continue increasing for thumb gusset on every 2nd plain rnd until gusset is 8 (10) sts wide.

(Gusset increases will be worked as follows in appropriate rnd: K1, Kfb of next st, K to 3 sts before end of rnd, Kfb in next st, K2.  Next increase rnd: K2, Kfb in next st, K to 4 sts before end of rnd, Kfb in next st, K3. K3, st, K to 5 sts before end of rnd, Kfb in next st, K4. Kfb in next In each increase rnd, you will knit 1 more st past marker before your increase and knit to 1 more st before marker before second increase.)   You should have 44 (50) sts. on needles. (8 gusset sts/10 gusset sts)

K 2 rnds plain.  At end of 2nd rnd (at marker), break yarn, slip 8 (10) thumb gusset sts on scrap yarn (4/5 sts each side of marker).  Reconnect yarn. Work to end of rnd.

Working in pattern, at space made by held sts, CO 2 sts, pm, CO 2 sts (40/44 sts).  Continue in pattern.  Decrease 2 sts on 2nd plain rnd on each side of marker (38 sts/42 sts).  Work 1 more pattern repeat, decrease 2 sts on 2nd plain rnd at marker (36/40 sts).   You have completed the thumb opening and are back to the original number of stitches.  Work even until mitten body reaches the tip of the little finger (Approx. 7 inches/18 cm from cuff for Women’s XS/S; 8 inches/20 cm for Women’s S/M.)

Decreases for Top of Mitten:  On 2nd rnd of plain knit rnds, K2 together (K2tog) around (18/20 sts).  Stay in pattern; work 1 thrummed rnd (K1T, K1 or vice versa).  Work 1 plain rnd; on next plain rnd, K2tog around (9/10 sts).  Break yarn and fasten off.

Thumb:  Pick up (PU) 8 (10) sts from thumb gusset.  On inside of thumb, PU 3 sts, pm, PU 3 sts.  Keeping in pattern, work 1 thrummed rnd, dec  1 st at beginning and end of rnd for XS/S size only (12/16 sts).  Work in pattern until thumb is just short of tip of thumb nail (Approx. 5 cm/2 in for XS/S; 6 to 6.5 cm/2.5 in for S/M).  Decrease Rnd: K2 tog around (6/8 sts).  K3 rnds.  Break yarn and fasten off.

Make second mitten to match first.  Turn mittens inside out.  Darn in all ends.  Spend some time tightening and fluffing the thrums on the inside of the mitten.  Trim thrums if necessary.  Although I usually recommend washing items before wearing, I prefer to wear thrummed mittens a few times before washing because this helps full and compress the loose fibres, which will increase durability.  You can also full the mittens by wetting them with hot water and rubbing a small amount of soap over the outside of each mitten.  Rinse and dry the mittens thoroughly.

The Test:  I wore the mittens on a 30 minute walk at -10C with a windchill of -20C.  I also “snowball tested” the mittens by rubbing fresh snow vigorously into both mittens as I was walking.  The only areas I noticed the wind coming through were in the palm areas near the fingers where I had cut back on the thrum size slightly because I thought I had over packed the mittens.  This was a mistake; the thrums began to compress on the first wearing, leaving plenty of room for my hands.  Where the thrums were added to capacity, in the wrists and thumbs, the mittens were very warm.  Not a snowflake penetrated the mittens.  Although the outsides of the mittens were wet and icy cold, the insides remained dry and warm. They felt like sleeping bags for my hands.

I recommend you make the mittens a size smaller than you require and pack the thrums to capacity.  If you do need to cut the wind a little more, wear thin stretchy gloves inside these mittens.

Time will tell how these mittens will wear. Right now, I am pleased and ready to knit another pair in the Jacob yarn with Romney roving for the thrums.

Deborah Behm © January 2014




  1. I made a couple pairs of thrummed mitts for Christmas gifts a few years ago. I don't have a pair myself and I may try your pattern. Can't have too many pairs of mitts and I think I may have lost my last pair I wore. This KAL is a good idea :) thanks for the pattern Deb! I like the idea of the longer space between the wrist and the thumb. And your mitts look lovely, not un-proportioned at all.

  2. Hi Deb,

    Can I pass this pattern around to my knitting group next week? Nancy

    1. I'm happy to share this with your knitting group. Please have your group link to the pattern here or on Ravelry, rather than printing multiple copies. I use these patterns for teaching purposes, so they are not to be used for classes or profit. Thanks and please feel free to contact me with comments.