I used to look the other way while walking by the Hobbywool Latvian Mitten stand at the Ally Pally because I knew if I stopped, I would buy a mitten kit and I didn’t think I’d have the talent to get them right. Of course, who let’s that stop them (stash, what stash?!) but I wanted a pair so badly that I knew that if I had the kit at home, every time I saw it unfinished, I would feel quite sad!
That worked until The Loveliest Yarn Company set up directly across from Hobbywool at the Olympia this year and well, I challenge any knitter to stand and stare at their magnificent display of Latvian Mittens for more than a few minutes and not buy at least one kit! I bought a kit on day one, struggled very hard on day two not to buy a second one and by day three I knew I had to have them in the shop! Not only because they are the loveliest mittens but also it meant I HAD TO make mine as a sample. Honestly, owning a yarn shop has done wonders for my knitting!
Fast forward two and a bit months and I have finished my first mitten! It is too small (the only bit that fits without cutting off circulation is the thumb), my finger tips hurt from the tips of the tiny needles & my tension is wonky where I moved from mini-circulars to DPNs. So yes, in short, I am in love with it. It is the most perfectly imperfect piece of knitting I have ever completed.
I am inordinately pleased with this wee mitten!
As I have these in the shop I want to share how I went about making mine as they are a desirable but perhaps daunting project. The kits come with a pattern but there are a few calculations you have to do for yourself and it is a lot less prescriptive than what people may be familiar with. I found myself rereading it a few times before I decided where I needed to start and what to do so I think this may be helpful to others.
I don’t think it’s a flaw in the pattern, I think it’s because mittens are so ingrained into Latvian knitting tradition that the calculations etcetera are like breathing so not always specified in minute detail. Similar to steeking in Norwegian knitting. I heard a Norwegian knitter remark once that steeking doesn’t really have a specific knitting term in Norwegian as cutting and securing parts of your knitting are just a part of knitting, in the same way as knit and purl!
Hopefully this Irish knitting lens on this Latvian knitting recipe will be useful … so you can Knit like a Latvian with a slight West Cork lilt!
The Size (circumference)
The pattern requires you to measure your hand, then work a swatch and calculate the gauge. Did I do this? Did I heck (excuse my language!). I adjusted the needles size up .25mm (from 1.5mm to 1.75mm), counted the number of stitches required to work the chart to get a stitch count and hoped for the best. I didn’t fancy adjusting a colourwork chart, although I feel you could add 2 additional stitches between each side without impact it too much but I’d need to try that to be sure.
Not sure 'Fits like a glove' is working out this time!
Result: Given that my glove fits like a glove, just a really-small-way-too-tight glove, this approach didn’t work for me but having tried on the samples at the show, this may work for others. My hand is 7.5 inches in circumference (measured around the knuckles) which, according to a quick google search, means I have ‘Large’ ladies hands (‘Small’ men’s hand though which is a comfort ; )) so folk with smaller hands may be alright. I am also a tight knitter so once colourwork was added to that, I imagine my tension became even tighter which made them even smaller.
Next time: I should say that I will diligently knit a swatch but instead, I’m going to take a punt and go right up to 2.25mm needles. The basis for that is that I cast on 72 stitches for socks (the same as the chart required for this mitten) when making them with a 2.25mm needle, where the wool is a little heavier, and while the socks are a little large when I pull them on my hand, once I add the tension difference for the colour work, I should be in the ball park! Of course, I’ll probably end up with a giant thumb but at least it will have plenty of circulation.
The Size (Length)
I put my thumb where the chart said (only for the right mitten, it needs to be different for the left!). It looked ‘about right’ compared to the actual position of my thumb on my hand (as I write this I am beginning to think perhaps I shouldn’t be writing a knitting blog!). I wouldn’t do that next time. I would put it in much earlier as my tension had an impact on the finished length as well. I will also be doubling the length of the space between the thumb and the picot edge as in their current length, as well as no circulation, I’d have lovely chapped wrists!
Frosty wrist alert!
2.5mm sock needles can be a surprise to some folk but I knit a lot of quite fine items so the 1.75mm needles weren’t too big a surprise … until the tips of my fingers were almost bleeding! This was definitely a knitting style issue rather than the needles as I was using Hiya Hiya DPNs and ChiaoGoo mini-circulars and at the end, both were biting my finger tips. Also I’m not sure 2 to 3 hours straight of tiny needle use is really recommended.
I started on DPNs but was only about 3 rows in when I knew I was going to have to go to a mini-circular needle. I am a convert to them for socks and this felt similar. I did need the DPNs for the tips and the thumb though so they weren’t wasted.
The Cuff (& casting on)
There are three cuff options – a standard rib, a pico edge or a tassled edge. I love the pico edge cuff as they look really mittenly so it was the one for me. This was one part of the pattern where I thought there should have been a little more detail in terms of rows. It didn’t specify how many so after casting on the number of stitches to match the chart, I knit 11 rows, then did a YO, k2tog repeat row to get the picot holes (as per the pattern) and then knit another 11 rows to give me about a centimetre and a half of folded edge. I wouldn’t change that next time as it looks right.
Once you are on the last row of your picot edge (Row 23 in my version), the pattern calls for you to fold your knitting to give you the picot edge and then knit each live stitch together with the corresponding loop on the cast on edge. It’s really neat as it means that you don’t have to whip stitch the cast on edge inside later on. You can still do that if you prefer but with this method it’s done as part of the knitting. I hadn’t seen it before but it is a technique I will use again as it’s great.
For the ribbed cuff, I would have just cast on the same number of stitches and done as per the pattern. For the tassels, I wasn’t quite clear on how these are done but a quick YouTube search should be revealing if you fancy tassels.
After securing the picot edge, I knit another row and then started working the chart. I started with the palm side chart and just worked across both on the basis that I work charts from right to left and from the bottom.
Just a little note on this in case this is your first colourwork project. Depending on how you carry your floats, one colour will appear more prominent than the other. I can’t recommend this article from Ysolda enough.
I really only mention it because there are two mittens and you’ll need to remember how you did it for mitten one because you’ll want to repeat it for mitten two. I colourwork with both hands so I carry my base colour (white in this case) in my right hand and the other colour(s) in my left to make sure I get the same look each time. I recommend spending time learning how to do this if you are still having to use one hand for both colours and finding it quite slow.
Shaping the top
I swapped back to my DPNs to do the shaping for the top as I haven’t figured out how to use mini needles for this. It is very similar to the toe of a cuff down sock in that it’s at the start and finish of each side (4 stitches decreased per row). As the pattern doesn’t tell you which colour to use for each decrease I did my best to match the colours on the chart. Next time, depending on the pattern, I may try to use the same colour for each decrease so I get a more even coloured set of decreases on each side.
Next time it will be all black or proper black and white edges!
Picking up the afterthought thumb
I usually pick up my afterthought stitches on the wrong side (usually garter stitch) and then move the needles through to the hole as I find it easier to spot where the stitches to be picked up are. This time though, one look inside told me that wasn’t going to happen because the stitches are so fine and were obscured by the floats. So I picked up with the right size facing. I needed extra light due to the tiny stitches and black yarn!
Tiny needles in super tiny stitches ... pass the daylight lamp!
There are two ways to pick up stitches for an afterthought thumb (in my knitting world anyway!), either by picking up stitches as you remove the scrap yarn or by inserting the needles into the stitches before removing the scrap yarn. For this I put the needles in first as losing a small black stitch might have meant that the mitten was defenestrated rather than finished! I didn’t try to pull out the scrap yarn either, I just cut it and picked out the bits. All I wanted was to get the thumb finished so I could see just how too small the gloves were.
The pattern was worth it for the No Holes afterthought pick up instruction (You'll have to buy the kit! ; ))!
For me I think Latvian Mittens are the new Socks … Either that or Latvian motifs will be featuring heavily in my socks. I’m a bit awed by my one mitten, even though it’s not perfect. It’s one of those projects that you look at and get a warm feeling inside to think ‘I made that’.
Once the Handmade Fair is over I plan to make samples in a number of different yarns and colours to get a better feel for them. Speaking to the Hobbywool team, Shetland wool is supposed to be quite a good substitute and I have some gorgeous Jamiesons of Shetland that is just dying to be mittenised!
If you are making these, my recommendation is either to see your first one as a toile and then adjust after you know how it comes out for you - a bit of a giant swatch - or make a proper swatch and do the size calculations. I’d love to know which option you choose!
When making these for other people, please make them for people with similar sized hands so that if they are underappreciated they can find their way back to you! I would go almost as far to get recipients to declare their undying admiration for you or sign a minimum wear contract. These mittens should not be allowed to languish in drawers and should be worn from September to at least the end of April (Ireland / UK, other climates may require different minimum wear times!).
Sorry to ramble but these are lovely and I hope this gives people more confidence to try these gorgeous and rewarding mittens. Should you buy a kit (or have a kit already (you don’t have to have bought it from us!)) and have any questions, please drop me an email or message. I may not have the answers but will have loads of sympathy / empathy : )
Now to go pick out colours for my post Handmade Fair mitten (I wrote ‘pair’ there before changing it to 'mitten', I’m kidding no one!).
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