When I first learned to knit, I fell in love with photos of gorgeous colorwork mittens. I decided to try knitting some, even though I was intimidated.
I soon realized that, although colorwork looks complex, it is made with only knit stitches.
I made these snowman mittens as a special gift for my friend.
The steps will cover everything you need to know to make them, except the very basics of knitting, like how to cast on, how to knit, and how to purl.
Colorwork mittens are knitted in the round, and I will explain how to do that. (I use less needles for this than most people, because mittens are small and I don't like needle ends poking out everywhere).
DK weight yarn in two contrasting colors. (if you don't have this weight, you can also use fingering (sock) weight by holding two strands of yarn together for each color (DK is double the thickness of fingering). Wool yarn works best for colorwork, but any fiber will do. I used yarn that I found locally, but a very similar tonal yarn, in similar colors, is Valley Yarns Valley Superwash DK Hand-Dyed by the Kangaroo Dyer in colorways dutch tile and inky fingers. One ball of each color will be plenty.
For a lower priced, solid color option, Valley Yarns Valley Superwash DK would work well, in colorways boy blue and navy. You will need to buy 2 balls of the Navy, and may want to get two balls of boy blue as well, because these balls are only 137 yards. I used 140 yards of navy and 132 yards of blue for my pair of mittens.
Double pointed knitting needles in size US 2 (2.75mm) You may need a different size, depending on how tightly you knit. (I'll cover that in step 2). You can get these online here, or at your local Walmart or craft store.
Tapestry needle, for running in yarn ends. I got mine at Walmart.
A few pieces of scrap yarn for holding stitches. You can use stitch holders if you have them, but I just use yarn.
A wire coat hanger (optional).
If you'd like a more traditional pattern for these, rather than a step by step, you can download my pattern pdf here.
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Step 1: Sizing the Mittens
You will need to know the size of your hand, so that you know how big to make the mittens. Most patterns will list the size according to hand circumference. A medium sized adult hand is about 7.5" around.
I find it's comfortable to have my mitten be the same size as or, for looser mittens, half an inch bigger around than my hand.
To figure out how big your mittens will be, you need to know how many stitches there are per inch of your knitting. This is called gauge, and it will be different for everyone. If you are following a pattern, it will list the gauge that you should try to get for the pattern.
In order to figure out your gauge, knit a small amount of the colorwork in the pattern (read steps 3-5 first, so that you know how to knit colorwork) and then measure how many stitches per inch you are getting. This is called a swatch. If you are getting too many stitches per inch, then change to larger needles and measure again, if too few stitches per inch, then change to smaller needles. Knitting at the same gauge as the pattern will make sure that your mittens come out to same size as those in the pattern.
I'm lazy and don't like to swatch, so I usually just begin with the needle size recommended in the pattern and hope for the best. Once I have a bit of the colorwork done, then I measure my gauge. If it is close enough, then I've already got some of my mitten done and can continue. If it's too far off, then I consider what I've knitted so far to be a swatch and try again on different sized needles.
The gauge for these snowman mittens is 8 stitches and 8 rows per inch.
I made the snowman mittens 60 stitches around, so that the mitten will be 7.5" around. (60 / 8 = 7.5)
If you wanted the mitten to be 8" around, then you should knit it at a gauge of 7.5 stitches per inch, because 60 stitches divided by 7.5 in an inch equals 8 inches. (If you need smaller mittens, then you could try a smaller needle, but that might make it difficult to work with the thick yarn. In that case, it would be a good idea to see how many stitches per inch you could get with sock yarn.)
Step 2: Cast on in the Round
Cast on a total of 56 stitches in the lighter color. (we will be adding more later to make 60). I cast on 29 on the first needle, then slipped the last one that I made onto the second double pointed needle. (this helps make sure there are no gaps between the stitches on the needles). Continue casting on 27 more stitches, after this one, on the second needle. Now there should be 28 on each needle.
The two needles will be connected to each other by the cast on stitches. Bring together the two ends that are not connected.
Make sure that the ridge that the stitches make on one side of the needle is straight along both needles, because you are about to join the stitches into a circle, and if they are twisted, then there will be trouble later.
Use a third double pointed needle to knit, beginning where you started your cast-on. The work will now be joined on both sides.
When you get to the end of the first needle, use the now empty needle in your hand to knit the stitches on the second needle. (Make sure to pull the yarn fairly tight after knitting the first stitch on a new needle, so that there's not a gap in the knitting where the needles join.)
Knit 5 more rounds.
Purl all stitches for 1 round.
Step 3: Latvian Braid
This video shows how to join the second color. You simply begin knitting with it, leaving a bit of a tail that will hang down on the inside of the mitten.
To set up for the first Latvian braid, we will knit every other stitch in a different color. Knit the first stitch in light blue, then 1 in navy, then 1 in light blue, 1 navy, etc, all the way around. This video demonstrates joining the second color and beginning to knit the setup round.
Bring both colors of the yarn to the front, because we will be purling the next two rounds, to create the braid.
You may notice that the yarns will twist around each other on the first round of the braid. Don't be concerned about this, because they will untwist again as you do the second round of the braid.
On the first purl round, purl light blue into the light blue stitches, and navy into the navy stitches, and make sure that on every stitch, the yarn that you are using for that stitch passes under the other color, as shown in this video.
On the second round, purl each stitch in the same color as before, but make sure that the yarn you are using passes over the other color. Here is another video to demonstrate.
If you want the braid on your second mitten to point in the opposite direction, then go over on the first round and under on the second round. This will reverse the braid.
After completing the braid rounds, knit 2 rounds in navy. Just leave the light blue yarn hanging where you left it at the end of the braid. You will be using it again soon.
Step 4: Knitting the Cuff
You can download the colorwork chart for the cuff at the end of this step.
Colorwork charts are read from right to left and bottom to top. Knit each stitch in the first row of the chart in the color indicated. You will notice that when you do not use a color for several stitches in a row, when you use it again, there will be a strand of yarn on the inside of the mitten, where you carried the yarn across the stitches of the other color this is called a float. This is normal. Try not to pull your stitches too tight, because this can cause the fabric to pucker.
If there are more than 5 consecutive stitches of a single color, then it's a good idea to twist the two yarn strands around each other so that there's not a really long float on the inside of the mitten that can get caught on your fingers. Try not to twist the yarns in the same place on adjacent rounds, because this can cause little dots of one color to show up in sections that should be solidly in the opposite color. You can tell where you twisted it on a previous round by looking between the stitches. If you twisted the yarn between those stitches on the previous round, you will be able to see both yarn colors between the stitches. If you didn't twist it there, then you should only be able to see the one color that you had used to knit the next stitch.
I like to print the chart and mark each row off as I complete it, so I don't lose my place.
The two yarns may become twisted around each other as you work. If
they're very twisted together, then it can become difficult to knit. When this happens, I hold the mitten up by the yarn, holding 1 strand of the working yarn in each hand, and then gently pull them apart. The mitten spins around as the yarns untwist. Once they're untwisted, you can keep knitting with no difficulty.
After completing the cuff colorwork, knit 2 rounds in navy.
Complete a second braid by working the set up round and then the two purl rounds, the same as for the first braid.
Step 5: Increase Stitches for the Hand
Knit 1 round in light blue.
Knit another round in light blue and increase by 4 stitches on this round. Try to spread your increase stitches out fairly evenly, but it doesn't have to be exact (I did 2 on the front needle and 2 on the back needle). After increasing, there should be 60 stitches in total, which will widen the mitten for the hand.
Step 6: Hand Charts and Thumb Opening
Right and left hand mittens have separate charts for the hand portion of the mitten. Both can be downloaded at the end of this step.
Continue knitting this chart, just like you did with the cuff chart, until you reach chart row 21.
The red line on the chart indicates where the thumb opening will go. Knit across the row until you reach the red line. Transfer the 11 stitches, that are at the line, onto scrap yarn, as shown in this video.
Next, cast on 11 stitches, in the color indicated for them on the chart. (This is plain navy, for these mittens, so don't forget to twist your yarn together in a couple of places so that you don't have a huge float right at the thumb opening. Here is a video showing how I cast on some stitches over the thumb opening. In this video, it shows me casting on a light blue stitch in the middle, but I didn't like how it looked, so I changed the chart. Instead of casting on a light blue stitch there, just twist the navy yarn around the light blue.
Step 7: Narrowing the Top of the Hand
I started narrowing the mitten at chart row 50. This is done with two different types of decreases. The ssk (slip slip knit) decrease makes the decrease stitch slant to the left and it is shown on the chart as a box with \ in it. The color of the box indicates which yarn color to knit the decrease in. A ssk decrease is done by slipping two stitches knitwise onto your working needle. Knitwise means that when you insert your needle to slip the stitches, you insert the tip from the bottom, just like you would if knitting, (as opposed to from the top, which would be purlwise). Then insert the needle that the stitches were on before you slipped them, into the two slipped stitches, purlwise, and knit them.
The second decrease is easier. It is a k2tog (knit 2 together) decrease, and it makes the decrease stitch slant to the right. It is shown on the chart as a / in a box. Instead of knitting a single stitch, insert your needle through 2 stitches and knit them together.
Complete the chart, working the decreases where indicated. There should be 24 total stitches left.
Step 8: Close the Top of the Mitten
Cut the light blue yarn, leaving a tail, and thread it through the tapestry needle.
Pull the yarn through the first stitch on the next needle and slide that stitch off, then pull it through the corresponding stitch on the opposite needle, and slide that one off. Keep threading the yarn through stitches on alternating needles until all stitches are off the needles. This is how I like to sew up the tops of mittens.
Step 9: Knit the Thumb
On one double pointed needle, pick up the stitches that were set aside on scrap yarn. There should now be 11 stitches on the first needle.
Using a second needle, pick up 11 loops from where you previously cast on over the top of the thumb hole. It's difficult to see what I'm doing in the video. Because of the dark yarn, I could not even see what I was doing. I just made a scooping motion with the needle until it picked up a loop of yarn and then moved over a little and scooped again, until I had 11 stitches on the second needle.
Pick up 1 more loop on each side, between the two needles. There should now be 24 stitches on the needles.
Join the navy yarn and keep knitting rounds until the mitten thumb is almost to the top of your thumb. Keep trying on the mitten to measure it against your thumb (I knitted 19 rounds, but yours may be different, depending on your gauge in plain knitting or the length of your thumb).
Now begin narrowing the top of the thumb by knitting decrease rounds.
knit 1 round where you knit 2 stitches, then k2tog (knit 2 together). Continue this pattern of knitting 2 and then knitting 2 together, all the way around. At the end of this round, there should be 18 stitches in total.
Knit 1 round.
On the next round, alternate knitting 1 stitch with k2tog. At the end of the round there should be 12 stitches in total.
Knit 1 round.
K2tog all the way around. There should now be 6 stitches remaining.
Cut the navy yarn, leaving a tail. Knit each stitch and pull the yarn all the way through the stitch before sliding it off the needle. (If you prefer, you could also use the tapestry needle to thread the yarn through the remaining stitches).
Pull the yarn tight.
Step 10: Weave in the Yarn Ends
Now the knitting of the mitten is complete, but there are some dangling yarn ends that need to be taken care of.
For ends that are next to the floats, it's very easy to use the tapestry needle to run them under the floats. Any yarn that is left after running it under the floats can be cut off with scissors.
Yarn ends that are not next to the floats can be woven through the fabric as shown in the video below.
Step 11: Block the Mittens
Colorwork will often look lumpy before blocking. Blocking your mitten means getting it wet and then laying it out flat to dry. The water will help relax and even out the stitches. I like to use a frame to pull the stitches straight and line up the sides.
Put some tepid water in a bowl, with a tiny bit of dish washing soap. I just touch my finger to the top of the bottle and swish it in the water. You don't need enough to make bubbles. Drop the mitten in and let it sit in the water for a while. (10 minutes or several hours, it doesn't really matter as long as the yarn gets soaked through).
Fold a towel in half and lay it on the floor. Gently squeeze the water out of the mitten with your hand. Do not wring it. Lay the mitten out flat on one side of the towel. Fold the other side of the towel over top of it. Jump up and down on the towel to force the water out of the mitten and into the towel.
Now the mitten will be damp, but not dripping water.
At this point, you could just lay it out on a flat surface to dry, but I think stretching it on a frame makes the stitches more even.
I made a frame from a heavy wire coat hanger. (In the past I have also cut the plastic of a baby wipes box into the shape of a mitten and used that, but it didn't work as well as the coat hanger).
I gripped under the hook of the coat hanger with one hand and then pulled down on the bottom with the other, then shaped it with my hands. It should be wide enough to very slightly stretch the mitten. The vertical lines on each side of the mitten should line up with the wire on each side of the frame. Allow the mitten to dry. I set mine on a wire shelf next to the dehumidifier in the bathroom, to speed the process up. It will take about a day to dry completely.
Congratulations! You have knitted beautiful colorwork mittens.