Having lived in the frigid midwest for many years now, I'm a big fan of the convertible mitten (you know - those ones with the tops that flip open so you can use your fingers - there must be a million different names for them). I used to have a pair that my mom picked up for my at an import store years and years ago. They met their demise last winter after a few years of faithful service. These mittens were hand knit out of nice wool yarn, and not only were they convertible, but they had these holes (like button holes) on each thumb so I could pop my thumbs out for extra dexterity. This was especially great whenever I was caught outside in minus a billion degrees windchill, fumbling with my keys and cursing up a storm.
Eventually those import store mittens met their demise through heavy use, and I've been making due with other, inferior mittens ever since then. This wasn't a big deal until I got a smart phone. And let me tell you, yes, it is absolutely essential that I be able to text/tweet/facebook/email/gchat while I am outside - oftentimes even while I'm walking. So far this winter I've found myself choosing to put my bare hands out in the 5 degree air so I can do this. Rather than reflect on what this says about me as a human being, or about my priorities, I set out to remedy the problem with knitting.
I needed a pretty, simple mitten pattern on which I could try out my new thumb buttonhole idea. As much as I love fair isle mitten patterns, and have about a bajillion of them in my queue, I really didn't want to deal with putting a buttonhole in a thumb featuring stranded colorwork on my first attempt. I also didn't want to die of boredom, and, quite frankly, I want the mittens to be warm enough to be useful in a midwestern winter. The Ribbon Mittens use a colorwork technique called Estonian Roositud Inlay, which basically involves wrapping stitches, one stitch or multiple stitches at a time, in contrasting colors. Jane has a fantastic tutorial (omg fyi pdf link!) on the technique available for free on her blog. As far as colorwork goes, it's extremely intuitive and very forgiving as far as tension is concerned, since you can just give little tugs on each wrap section to straighten things out. (Dirty dirty secret: I didn't even swatch for the project, or practice the inlay technique beforehand. That's how forgiving it is.) Added bonus: the color inlay on these mittens is a great way to use up scraps of yarn. Each color requires about 15 yards each. Lord knows I have a ton of wool of the andes scraps hanging around the house.
As far as the thumb button hole goes, what I did was very simple. I just knit about 3/4 of the way up my thumb, trying it on as I went, and then cast off 5 stitches on the inside of the thumb (I was working magic loop with 7 stitches on each side of the needle, so I cast off the inner 5 stitches of that half), worked around, then cast on 5 stitches using the backward loop method. Then I finished the thumb according to the pattern.
I'm pretty dang happy with the results. And I know after all my ranting and raving about my ideals for convertible mittens and phone usage what comes next may sound kind of, a little bit batshit crazy, but I gave these away. Don't worry - the recipient is so, so worthy. They went to Carolyn, who may use her smartphone even more than I am on my own.
At long last, here are the specs on these mittens: the main color is patons classic wool, and the colorwork is done with knitpicks wool of the andes. They were knit magic loop style (as I do everything) on US3s, and they took me just over a week. This is longer than a pair of mittens would normally take me, but I was trying to take my time with the colorwork so it would look exactly right. I would never give Carolyn, as she herself is a totally stellar knitter, a pair of mittens that is less than perfect.
Next up - more gifts! end of the year recap! Happy New Year to you all, dear readers, and I'll see you on the other side.