The Mitten from Latgale
I bought Latvian Mittens sight unseen from Amazon because I had read so much about it on the internet. I remember the Latvian Mitten phase that the Yarn Harlot went through a year or so ago and I have read in other places how much people liked knitting the mittens and how cool the book was in general. The whole idea intrigued me. Here was a book that was part knitting/part history, part technique/part culture. I bought it and I did not regret it.
When I bought the book I did so while willfully banishing the thought of my last stranded colorwork project. Last October, when I first really caught the knitting bug I did so after picking up a copy of Vogue Knitting on a whim. One of the projects that caught my eye was a fair isle hat. I chose this project because it was small but interesting to me. It did not work out well. I made the hat, and, using the SNB book I figured out how to add in more than one color in a row. Unfortunately I had no idea how loose to make the strands in the back, so they were way too tight. I also did not read up on how to weave in the long floats in the back and ended up with a twisted mass of yarns. And the beginning of the row? Terrible. Granted, the beginning of the row always looks a bit crappy, but this was terrible. The stitches were all wonky and really, really loose. So loose that there were actual gaps along that row edge. Bad. Now, I don’t consider the project a total failure for a couple of reasons. It actually fit over my head (although it gripped like a vise) and I did wear it once. And then I promptly lost it. I think the Universe was trying to tell me something. Anyway, aside from that project, the only other stranded colorwork I’ve done is something so vile I shudder to mention it (they may have been fair isle leg warmers, but if they were I’m not going to admit it.)
Needless to say I came into this project with a lot of trepidation. I really didn’t believe that I could do stranded colorwork. I thought that it would be too tight and pull. I thought that my yarns would tangle and drive me insane. I thought that it would look like something the dog dragged in. I was afraid. And yet, I was also wild to start in on a pair of mittens. So I did. As I was looking at the pictures of the mittens in the back of the book I noticed a pair that I thought would work. Since I had recently been through my stash I knew that I still had a lot of yarn left from that fair isle hat in approximately the same colors as Plate 2b, Chart 24. I decided to give it a whirl. Note: I used the pattern in Chapter Six of the book (the mitten from Latgale) for a guide as I knit this mitten. So, when I talk about what the pattern tells you to do, that’s what I’m talking about. As you all know, that first time that I cast on, I cast on way too few stitches. Fifty to be exact, which resulted in a mitten that would have fit one of my nieces perhaps, but not me. I did this not out of blind folly, but out of totally aware folly. I swatched but I failed to work a two color swatch. Folly. So, LESSON #1: make a two color swatch. When I was finally able to admit that my mitten was way, way too small I ripped back and started anew with 75 stitches.
I didn’t rip back and start over that first mitten just because I had cast on too many stitches. I also realized as I was knitting that my failure to heed the author’s words with respect to another (HUGE) detail had indeed come back to bite me in the ass. All of the charts show only the back of the hand. What this means is that they do not necessarily show the entire design. This also means that even if they do show the whole design, the end of the chart does not necessarily match up with the beginning of the chart. In fact, the two ends most likely do not match up. What does this really mean for you, the knitter? LESSON #2: You must draw out the entire chart on your own before you start knitting. I drew mine on engineering graph paper, but there are places where you can get printable knitter’s graph paper drawn to reflect your gauge. Just Google it. Another important thing to remember is that, since the chart doesn’t necessarily show the entire design, the total number of stitches of each repeat may be more or less than the number of stitches in the chart. So, when I cast on 75 stitches I soon realized that this was jackassed because there are actually 36 stitches in the main design of the mitten, and 34 in the cuff pattern. 75 is not a multiple of either of these numbers. I fixed this problem pretty easily by decreasing three stitches in one of the plain rows before the cuff pattern started, leaving me with 72 stitches, which is a multiple of the main pattern and only four more stitches than the cuff pattern.
The second time through I was determined to get it right. One of the things that had really driven me just about off the deep end on the first try was that every time I twisted my yarns to secure a long float, I twisted my yarns and therefore the yarn became more and more twisted as I went along. I decided that someone, somewhere must have come up with a better way of doing this. I decided to read through the entire section in my SNB book on fair isle. I was really glad I did. LESSON #4: Learn how to weave your ends in without twisting the yarns together. There is a way to do it and it depends on which yarn you’re weaving in. I can’t really explain it. My suggestion? Either buy a book that illustrates the technique or you can probably find it somewhere on the internet.
Once I had figured out how to weave in my yarns as I went along, it became obvious to me how I could keep my other colors from getting twisted while I was knitting with them. I figured out that I should hold my main color in my left hand and “pick” the way that I normally do (I knit continental.) I alternated the other colors in my right hand and “wrapped” like people do when they knit “American.” In addition, I kept the other colors always in the same order. For illustrative purposes, when I was knitting the cuff pattern I kept the green yarn to the far left, the blue in the middle, and the orange to the right. Then when I was alternating yarns in the right hand, the green always came under all of the other colors, the blue always came over the green and under the orange, and the orange always came over the other colors. LESSON #5: Learn to keep your colors in order.
The other big hurdle for me in this project was avoiding too tight stranding and puckering. I dealt with this mainly through mindfulness. When I was weaving in a long strand or alternating a color I took care to strand loosely and to stretch the stitches between the last time that I had used the new yarn color or woven it in and the current stitch that was being knitted. I also took care to stop every so often and physically stretch and loosen the stitches on the needle. This technique did not make my stranding perfect and I can still see some puckering but it is slight and does not affect the overall wearability of the mittens at all.
I did modify this pattern slightly. In the patterns in the book the author places the beginning of the round at the side of the mitten. I decided that I wanted my beginning of round to be in the middle of the palm because that part always looks crappy, no matter what you do, and I figured that in practice the middle of the palm would be seen the least. In order to accomplish this I placed my thumb hole in a slightly different place, which meant that I needed to place my top decreases in a slightly different place as well. Basically I moved it all over one needle, or 18 stitches.
On my second mitten I did two things differently than my first. I cast on 72 stitches instead of 75 and I actually followed the directions for the patterning on the thumb. On my first mitten the patterning on the thumb is the same all the way around. On my second mitten I did as the author instructs: On the portion of the thumb that will be facing out I continued the patterning of the palm UP, and on the portion that will be facing in I continued the patterning of the palm DOWN. I didn’t do this on the first mitten, frankly, because I read that direction and couldn’t figure out what the hell the author was talking about. It turns out that it means exactly what she said. On the inside of the thumb you cast on in the pattern and then follow the pattern but work down on the chart instead of up (the opposite of what you normally do) and on the outside of the thumb you work up in the chart (like you normally do.) This is a small detail that doesn’t really make that big of a difference, but is neat when you get it right.
This is my last note on the pattern. I promise. The author actually instructs you to work the left hand mitten chart as a mirror image of the right. I didn’t do this but I can see why that would be neat if you did. It’s like the thumb. It doesn’t make that big of a difference but I can see why you might take the time to do it.
Alright. Are you read for the pattern stats? Here they are:
Yarn: Katia Australia (I think), 50% merino, 50% acrylic. About the yarn. All I can say is what the author says over and over in the book: USE WOOL! OR A NATURAL FIBER! DON’T USE ACRYLIC! Because it won’t stretch as well and it won’t be as nice or as warm. Basically all the reasons that it’s better to use natural (animal) fibers when knitting.
Pattern: Plate 2b, Chart 24, in Latvian Mittens by Lizbeth Upitis
Needles: Size 2 dpn’s
Mods: See above