Intro to Mitten Construction: Tips on How to Design Your Own Knitting Pattern

Have you ever wanted to design your own knitting pattern but thought it seemed intimidating? If you already know how to knit and can do a little bit of basic math, you can design your own patterns! Once you understand the basic construction of any given garment or accessory, it’s easy to construct your own if you know the gauge of your knitting and the size you want your finished project to be.

Depending on how you look at it, there are 5 parts of a mitten: the cuff, palm, thumb gusset, thumb, and fingers. (In the video, you can see how I break it all down.)

With a basic mitten, the cuff, palm, and fingers are essentially a tube, and all have the same amount of stitches. (E.g., if you cast on 36 stitches for the palm, you’ll be knitting 36 stitches around the fingers, too, until you reach the decreases you’ll use to taper the fingertips.) This number really only changes at the thumb gusset, where you are increasing at a rate of about 2 stitches per every other row. Again, you can refer to the video to see where this happens.

Cast on Stitches
But back to the beginning–how do you determine the number of stitches you need to cast on? First, figure out your gauge. This should be the number of stitches per inch. Then, figure out how big around your fingers/palm needs to be. If, for example, your gauge is 5 stitches per inch, and you need the mitten to be 8″ around your fingers, you would multiply 5 x 8 for 40 stitches. This is what you would cast on to your double pointed needles.

Once you have your stitches determine and have cast on, you’ll knit the cuff, preferably in a rib stitch, as this will allow for lots of stretch while keeping a snug fit around your wrist. You can choose any size of ribbing that you’d like, so long as the original number of stitches you cast on is divisible by the number of stitches in your rib repeat. If we take the example of 40 stitches, you could do ribbing that was knit 1 x purl 1, knit 2 x purl 2, knit 3 x purl 2, etc…however, you wouldn’t want to do a rib pattern that was knit 4 x purl 2 (6 stitches), or knit 3 x purl 4 (7 stitches), because 40 is not divisible by 6 or 7.

Starting on the Palm
Once you’ve decided your cuff is long enough, you’ll be moving on to the palm. This can be knit in a plain stockinette stitch, or just about any other stitch you like. However, within a couple rounds of beginning the palm, you’ll want to choose a point where you can start increases for your thumb gusset. Generally you can start with one increase, then knit a round, then begin making 2 increases every other round. Continue making these increases as you knit in the round until you get to the point where the thumb and palm meet (you will probably need to try your mitten on as you work to determine this point.) Once you get there, you would then place all the extra stitches you made at the thumb gusset onto a stitch holder so you can come back and work the thumb later.

Knitting the Fingers
Things get simple again as you begin working on the fingers. After having placed your thumb stitches on the stitch holder, you should now have the number of stitches you started with. Continue working in a circular fashion, until you reach the part where your fingers taper. Then you can either choose to work evenly distributed decreases for a rounded mitten, or you can keep the decreases at two sides for more angular fingertips. Once you get to the end, break your yarn, leaving a tail and either pull it through or work a Kitchener stitch to close the end of the mitten.

Back to the Thumb…
Now you can go back to the thumb stitches. Take them from the stitch holder and distribute the thumb stitches evenly onto your double pointed needles. You may also want to pick up and stitch a couple extra stitches at the gap where the thumb and palm meet (and these are then generally knit together.) Work your thumb in the round, and start decreasing where the thumb tapers. Again, break your yarn, leaving a tail to pull through the stitches.

Finishing up
Once you’re finished, weave in the ends, block, and enjoy! Do not forget to write down what you’re doing as you’re knitting your first mitten! You might have an amazing memory, but believe me, you will want to write everything down. It is so easy to become confused about what you did at a certain point if you don’t have a record of it.

Also, unless you’re knitting a very plain mitten or a mitten with a pattern all over, remember to mirror your mittens! If you knit them with, for example, a cable design on the back of the hand but not the palm, don’t forget to switch it around for the next mitten. Something else to keep in mind is that most people’s thumbs are set closer toward the palm of their hands and not directly at the center side of the hand. So, rather placing any pattern directly at the center when your mitten is laid flat, be sure to place it slightly to the side of the center away from the thumb (see illustration below).

In order for the design to be centered at the back of your hand when you wear your mittens, it should be slightly off-center, in the direction further from your thumb.

Hopefully this has been helpful to anyone wanting to write their own mitten pattern. If you want to make handwarmers or fingerless gloves instead of mittens, simply follow these guidelines but bind off before finishing the fingers and thumb tip. If you do that, you may also want to add some ribbing to the edge of the fingers before binding off so it won’t be too loose.

If you have questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment!

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Gardener, artist, maker, lover of local and earth enthusiast.

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