Legacy of knitting mittens passed down through family

It’s mitten season. My vintage copy of Mittens and Gloves is open to the charts providing
instruction for mittens knit of worsted weight yarn that fit children, teens, men and women. Piled in a basket near my favorite chair are yarns I pulled from my stash and deemed mitten-worthy — a hodge-podge of worsted weight wool, several skeins of wool that started life at a spinnery in Italy and what I refer to as “mongrel” yarn — balls and skeins that have lost their labels, probably acquired at a thrift shop, or maybe the transfer station exchange shed, a.k.a. the dump.

I also threw into the pile a skein of charcoal gray chunky yarn. Generally speaking, I don’t like working with chunky yarn, but it was so pretty and every time I held it in my hand I could feel its woolly warmth. So I gave it a try. Using No. 5 double-point needles, the ones I inherited after my sister died, I cast on 32 stitches, the number required for mittens to fit a small child had I used knitting worsted. I knew the “right” thing to do was knit a swatch and do the math, but I opted to ”knit on the edge,” so to speak, to take a risk and see what happened. I figured it really didn’t matter what size the mittens turned out to be. I’d find someone they’d fit. As it turns out, the mittens fit my hands. The mittens are dense and cushiony and I like how they feel on my hand.
I have a feeling they will become my favorite snow shoveling mittens.

I prefer to knit plain mittens. I don’t want mittens cluttered up with cables, colorwork or stripes (though in the past I have knit all those). I like simple mittens because that’s the kind my sister, mother and grandmother made. They were down-to-earth women and saw no reason to pretty-up the mittens they knit. For them, a mitten was strictly utilitarian, meant to keep hands warm. Period. They wanted the knitting to go smoothly and quickly without having to pore over written instructions.They often chose earthy colors for mittens — gray, brown, navy blue and tan. But sometimes when they were feeling especially pert they chose bright red, or added two narrow stripes of a different color to the cuff.

In winter, my grandmother brought mittens to knit when she came to spend the day with my mother. In her daily life at her home, my grandmother knit mittens when there was a lull in her day. My mother knit mittens during the day when her brood was at school. My sister knit mittens in the evening while she was watching a program on television, and that has become my habit, too.

Neither my mother nor my grandmother used a pattern when they knit mittens because they had committed it to memory — indeed, they may never have had written instructions, the pattern passed on by showing, rather than writing.

I have a photo of myself decked out in a red snowsuit my mother made for me when I was 5. I also am wearing a pair of red mittens she knit. The last thing she ever knit for me was a pair of red gloves, which I still have. The last thing my grandmother ever knit for me was a red sweater. And I still have the last pair of mittens, in charcoal gray worsted wool yarn, my sister knit for me.

My grandmother, mother and sister are long gone, but they are with me every time I knit mittens — making me a strand in the sturdy thread of knitting tradition they left behind.

Call Ardeana Hamlin at 990-8153 or email ahamlin@bangordailynews.com. Don’t forget to visit her blog at byhand.bangordailynews.com.