I hope this late November day finds you well. Today I wanted to show you these moth adorned colourwork mitts that I knit up earlier in the year. The photos were taken on a glorious autumn day when the air had a nice moist forest smell, different coloured toadstools covered the ground and the paths were littered with colourful leaves making a pleasing whooshing and crushing sound walking through them. Truly one of those days that illustrates really well why this is such a beloved season at the Treehouse and also a very fitting walk to take photos from this project as the particular moth species this mitten is inspired by is a late season flyer that thrives in these conditions.
I’ve long had it on my to do list to make myself a pair of fingerless mittens. I have a pair of elongated cotton retail-wear colourwork mitts that I’ve had for years and have been wearing instead. However I’ve always planned to knit a woollen colourwork pair, which would be warmer, and I could pick my own colour and style choices. I think having a short pair of fingerless mittens, in addition to the longer pair that goes almost to my elbow, will be more practical in some cases. Additionally somewhere deep down there is perhaps also the feeling that for such a long-time and avid knitter as I’ve been over the past years it is perhaps a bit odd to not have a single self knit pair that I can wear out.
In any case, as is the fate of many of my small project ideas, it continued to get kicked in the long grass in favour of big projects. While I like what I like and I will probably always be biased toward those bigger projects (allovers! yokes!) but between this project, the selbu mittens earlier this year and the many socks I’ve been knitting I feel that over the past two years I’ve gotten better at the balancing act. In part this is because smaller projects simply have grown on me more, and I see their value in my life now more than I used to do. I think in the beginning of my knit life I saw them as a bit of a waste of time, why knit them when I could be knitting on sweaters which I saw as more fun and useful. I think this idea was amplified by me making a few ill advised and chosen accessories while I was learning the basics of knitting. I made them purely to get the hang of the craft and not because I passionately wanted to wear the things I was making. So of course those things never got worn, whereas I did wear the sweaters I started to knit immediately after that period and I think this unconsciously helped cementing the idea that I didn’t need to knit smaller projects as they didn’t get as much wear as sweaters anyway. Ha, the past few years with feverish wear of handknit socks, mittens and hats have definitely put that idea to rest. Turns out I just had to starts making them in my style (you can essentially read colourwork here) and then they would automatically get worn more (who would have thought?).
I knew I wanted to make colourwork mitts and had a running list of candidates which included types and styles of mittens as well as some specific patterns. Among the lot of patterns where nature inspired patters, moon inspired mittens and a host of Norwegian knitting tradition based and Shetland fair isle style mittens. I guess what you could call them the usual suspects when it comes to my project choices. In the end I chose to go with the underwing mitts, because I like the witchy vibes but it also ran nicely in tandem with a book I was reading at the time which was, in part, about moths and the part they play in our world. Additionally moths play a role in a communal storybuilding thing I’m part of so it felt like a nice nod towards various things in my life. However the Shetland style mittens where a close second so perhaps I’ll make those too somewhere in the future as I should have enough leftover balls and scraps from my colourwork projects to make that happen.
The pattern is the Underwing Mitts. They are a fairly popular pattern and have been out for a while so chances are high you will have seen a version of it before. They are colourwork mittens featuring a depiction of a moth – an underwing moth to be precise – which are known for their eye catching colours on their hind wings (which are often hidden from view). They feature a moon phase at the cuff and a palm pattern of empty circles which to me symbolizes the new moon. They have a very short cuff knit in twisted rib and per pattern have an open top for the hand. I modified the mittens to have half fingers instead of an open top, a modification I’ll talk about in more detail later in the post. The thumb is made with increases at the side on the mitten itself. For the most part it features two colour colourwork, with a tiny bit of a third colour on the lower wings.
I used a mix of two Rauma yarns to knit these mitts. The bulk of the mittens is knit in Rauma Gammelserie and I used a little bit of Finull pt2 for the colour on the wings. The light contrast colour was a leftover ball from the Selbu mittens I knit earlier this year and the bit of orange came from leftovers from my Chestnut fair isle cardigan. To this selection I added a dark chocolate/walnut/bark brown colour to set off the colourwork. Gammelserie is a stronger, firmer yarn, spun tight and with a lot of twist, but still retains a woolly, rustic character so it’s a perfect yarn for mitten projects. The colour selection, with 22 colours, is a lot smaller than the Finull I used for the splash of colour on the wings so there are some constraints there, though at the same time it goes well when combined with Finull which significantly broadens your options.
The pattern pair uses a white on a colder black purple-ish main colour, which I knew I wanted to replace with a warmer colour selection. I first opted to just go with a solid sheep-black or charcoal main colour but then pivoted to brown as it’s the colour of a lot of woodland butterflies and months. Additionally it veers the theme slightly more towards earthy woodland witch which suits me better I think. I have been reading more about moths and butterflies this year, particularly those that are from my region and I decided to base my mitten on one of the types that I’ve grown to particularly like. The Lemonia dumi, a European moth that is active throughout the day as well as the night and flies only late in the year from early October till the end of November. It is an exceedingly rare moth in my neck of the woods and is only found in a particular area of woodland and heath these days. The moth is dark brown coloured with a striking golden yellow-to-orange toned dot in the upper centre wing and a band in the same colour running through the middle of the wings from the top of upper to the end of the lower wing. The common name for the moth here is “herfspinner” which translates to Autumn Spinner, which are two of my very favourite things and would be a very cool secret agent name should I ever have need of one (albeit also a very easily uncovered one) so of course this moth was always going to be a favourite of mine.
The third colour is used so sparsely in this pattern that the designer’s advice is to duplicate stitch it instead of use stranded colourwork. I wasn’t sure what to do with it whether to just strand it (albeit it in a more cumbersome way than was needed), do duplicate stitch or use intarsia to add the third colour. In the end I opted to do it with intarsia using a different piece of thread for both wings. As I knit these mittens in the round I decided to weave back the 3rd colour yarn a couple of stitches to the beginning of the round where I needed them to avoid pulling an bubbling of the fabric by using the thread just as is. It would have been a lot of work were I to do this for a large piece, but the colour is only used sparsely over a few stitches in three rounds so it was done quickly. I think this worked out well, for this, though duplicate stitching would probably have been fine too.
My main modification is replacing the open mitt with half fingers. I low key have a strong preference for half fingers and seeing how easy it was to modify these to have them will probably always add them. For me it is largely a sensory issue I think as I just vastly prefer how half fingers feel to the skin and fit on the hands. It’s weird because I don’t have this issue with full/close mittens, which I tend to wear more in winter than gloves. Regardless I think my feelings in this are an outlier opinion given I see open end mittens, and not a ton of hacks on the majority of knitting patterns. I heard that some find knitting fingers and half fingers on such a small circumference finicky and annoying to knit so perhaps that plays a part in why I see them less. Either way it’s not a huge deal as I don’t mind knitting them and they are easy to just add to any pattern. After knitting the mitten body I just divided the open top into 4 groups of stitches. I gave the hole for the pinkie less stitches, and made the other 3 even. Then I just knit in regular 1 by 1 rib stitch for a few rounds and created 4 small tubes. I originally wanted to do twisted ribbing to match the cuff ribbing, but pivoted back to regular ribbing in favour of it’s elasticity. The thumb I knit as per pattern, except I matched the rows of ribbing to the fingers on the body.
The fit of the mittens is decent, the body of the mitten fits my hand perfect. It fits loose at the cuff and the twisted rib exaberates that looser fit as it doesn’t offer much in terms of elasticity. Given the body of the mitten fits nice and snug you don’t run a risk of loosing the mitten or something like that. The thumb is constructed by gradual increases at the hand palm. This means the thumb stays attached to the main body of the mitten up until the thumb ribbing. This results in a not terribly flexible thumb: the thumb looks beautiful when you hand lays flat but gives a bit of resistance when you move your thumb around. My relative inexperience in glove knitting shows here, before these mitts I had only knit mittens with gussets – either the regular one or the selbu style thumb gusset – both resulting in a much better fit. So in hindsight I should have gone for a gusset here. It’s not a huge issue, I mean it’s not like it feels hammered out of a stone, you can still move around and it will likely get better with wear, but you know – a gusset would have been an improvement in my opinion.
I’m quite particular in how I like the proportions of things including in my knitting and colourwork. The first few official pattern photos only show the mittens laying flat on things and not worn, they show of the colourwork nicely but say nothing about the fit or proportions. When I did see photos of the mitten being worn I could see that both the mitts and the patterning were bigger than I expected from the flat lays. Bigger, but still acceptable to me after I got used to it. When I started the mitten on needle 2.5 I could see that my moon motif was bigger than I anticipated so I decided to knit on for a bit, awaiting the more densely stranded bits to see what that would do, and if I still didn’t like it, I’d restart with half a needle size smaller. The chequerboard patterning pulled in the work a bit more so restarting wasn’t needed. My gauge was slightly smaller than the recommended gauge so going down half a needle size would potentially have thrown up other curveballs. Throughout knitting the mitts I was afraid the proportions of the motifs would be a bit too big for my liking but it turned out alright.
In the end I like how the mittens came out and am pleased with how the addition of half fingers and how those fit. The colours worked out really well and I like the earthy vibes. The dark chocolate brown fits my wardrobe beautifully. I like that they are basically a constant reminder of one of my favourite moths and that is always a good thing. The yarn was of course wonderful to work with and does feel well made and long lasting but as with the selbu mittens wear over time will tell if that is indeed the case. The only real iffy thing is the thumb fit but it is still wearable so I’ll live with it. Anyway with the state of the world and ahem the energy prices at present I’m sure I’ll get loads of use out of these in the coming months.
Coincidentally, I knit most of these mittens in tandem with what what my national butterfly society had dubbed “moth month”. This was not planned on my part, and it wasn’t a huge thing; there were extra articles and love on moths and some small independently organised moth walks. So you’d only really know it if you already follow the moth and butterfly news circles in my neck of the woods but it was a funny coincidence. Moths get a bad reputation pretty much anywhere but especially in the craft world as we are all (myself included) in deep fear of our work and materials being ravaged by the wool-, and other fibre-eating larvae. It’s a shame as out of the thousands of moth varieties only a fraction eats wool but we are all (understandably) on guard of those. I think it helps that in my native language we have a different word for all night active moths and a separate word for the cloth eating variety so the association for me is less there when talked about the general species. Moths are important pollinators and apart from taking over the night shift and pollinating nocturnal flowers many are also active during the day. They are however also in steep decline with loss of habitat, climate change and light pollution threatening them, but their decline is less visible to us as the lives of moths are largely invisible in general. Anyway, apart from sharing fascinating info about a less known and loved species the Moth Month also served as a called to action and spotlighting their decline.
I hope you are enjoying these last days of November. Over here we are enjoying the last days of autumn as it is getting increasingly colder and the dark sets in early. I hope you are all well and until next time.