Monday, January 25, 2021

Mittens for Grownups

Hello friends! 

I made some mittens this past Christmas. Partly because I myself needed a pair of decently warm ones that weren't of the puffy utilitarian winter-sport variety, but also partly to see if I could still . . . y'know . . . sew. 

2020 was a weird year. So was 2019, for that matter. I know a pandemic happened. I know there was tragic civil unrest and a momentous national election. I know that life, as we once knew it, was canceled (in a manner of speaking). I was working through losing my dad and my aunt and didn't have a lot of emotional energy left over to process much else. That is not to say I walked around in a daze. Um . . . okay, that's not entirely true. 2019 was my daze year. 2020 was the year I was angry at everything, including nameless people who whined that they couldn't go out to get a Starbucks latte because The Government Made Them Stay Indoors.

It's a mixed bag, grieving alongside the entire world. Initially, it was all relief: I and my newly-misshapen family could finally stop feeling like the mopey outcasts in a shinyhappy universe. Because suddenly, every other newsfeed article was about grief! Everyone - from experts to politicians to the donut shop owner down the street - was talking unashamedly about death! And people were even waxing philosophical about the specific horror of losing loved ones from miles away and not being able to say goodbye. I was no longer invisible! It was all hugely validating in a giant-support-group sort of way.

Then, inexplicably, it began to feel a tad annoying. My very personal grief, it seemed, was dissolving in the vast sea of generic global tragedy. On top of losing two particular people who were cornerstones of my identity as a daughter, niece, child-turned-adult, parent and immigrant, with each dire statistic in the news, I was now also losing the unique experience of adjusting to a sane world without them in it. No, I groused at the headlines, losing the right to work out at a gym or buy groceries in person or hop on a cruise to nowhere are not the same as never again hearing my aunt call my name or seeing my Dad grinning at the airport when we stepped off the plane and onto home soil.

Of course they aren't. But I had to work through that, too - the annoyance, the disgruntledness, the cynicism, the emotional burnout from fighting the temptation to compare my lot to that of any random person on the planet. There was a boatload of self-pity in there, too - anger wears many cunning disguises when it walks the streets of loss. In the handbook we use in my grief support group, there is a near-comprehensive checklist of emotions we're encouraged to revisit often. The goal is to learn that we're always in flux as we mourn - we never really arrive, but we're not the same person we were when we began, either. We use that checklist to measure how far forward we've come (some people might call this progress but that might be implying that grief is a state of regress from which we need rehabilitation, which of course it isn't), and how wide our hearts are expanding to accommodate and transform the pain.  And that's the point, isn't it? Loss - whatever that may mean to you - is your own, and you get to process it however you need to, because no one will - or can - do it for you. 

It was particularly interesting to discover that my motivation to sew (or make, in general) was another, albeit subconscious, calibration for my grief. I didn't write or sew or make a cardboard thing for a very long time after my Dad died. And when I eventually did sew again, it was a Menagerie critter or two at the request of my aunt, who herself was dying. It was at once intimate and desperate, because I was in a kind of purgatory bookended by losses, one traumatic in how it blindsided me, the other looming in slow-mo technicolor dread. I knew of other bereaved people who "threw themselves" into new projects and new crafts, and this filled me with awe and slight envy; if I threw myself into anything at all in those early months, it was grief literature and the company of other broken souls united in our wont to discuss maudlin issues with relish. Please try to sew something, I'd tried convincing myself so many times, it'll be good for you, and might even feel nice. Wouldn't it be nice to feel nice?

Incredibly, I survived the first Christmas. Seven months after losing Dad and anticipating a trip to Singapore on which I would see Auntie Laura for the last time, I painted wooden trees, because it was all I could manage by way of Advent participation. And I made airplane bags for the kids. And behold - even though it absolutely gutted me, ironically, it did feel nice to sew again. 

Then we went hurtling into the pandemic, head over heels, with nary the chance to stop for breath - literally. What a year. I took so many steps backward, all while under the impression that I was making impressive headway grief-wise. And as the year petered off into more restrictions and apocalyptic holiday forecasts and such (whee), Christmas arrived again. Do you remember? It seemed like ages ago, didn't it - the year 2020?

Yet, Christmas 2020 felt different than Christmas 2019. Lighter somehow. Not as viscous against forward momentum. Like I'd survived something and miraculously not been utterly annihilated.

Well, let's try that sewing thing again, I thought. Once upon a time, you made stuff simply for the hedonistic pleasure of it. Shall this be an experiment - you like experiments, don't you - to see if you can sew something new again?

 And that, friends, is whence came these mittens. 

Two days before the gifting-deadline, I made mittens for myself (prototype, therefore iffy) and for my mother-in-law and sisters-in law.

I cut the outer layers from wool fabrics that were a long-ago gift (you may recognize them in some skirts in these old posts here, here and here).

The mittens are lined with fleece and faux fur. 

which make for pretty cuffs when folded up.

There is a hidden elasticized panel in the lining at the wrist to help the mitten stay on securely while allowing it to slide over the width of your hand. You can't see any gathers on the outside, which means the outer wool fabric gets to stay sleek-looking without bunching. 

This pair has a faux fur lining.

These next two are lined with luxe fleece (I'll talk about this later in this post).

and this one is lined with regular printed fleece (like the anti-pill or blizzard sort you can find in stores like Jo-Ann and Hobby Lobby).

This thumb seam took some patience to piece together, but it does allow the thumb to rest at a more natural angle than in these earlier mittens I've made for my kids. I love the fit and wider range of motion.

Anyway, I thought you might like to make your own mittens as well (what else is there to do in January in these parts, anyway?), so here's a tutorial. 

Let's talk about fabrics first.

As mentioned earlier, I used wool for the outer layer of the mitten, mostly of the tightly-woven melton variety. I've heard of folks repurposing old sweaters, which is a fabulous idea. Bear in mind, though, that because sweater yarn is much more loosely woven/knit together, the insulation factor is compromised somewhat. Which is fine if you're in the less frigid parts of the world but if you're living close to the poles like I am, and want to cut up a cable-knit jumper, I'd strongly recommend bulking up on the lining or adding Thinsulate or something.  Repurposing wool coats (commonly melton) might be another good upcycling option. 

The lining layers in my mittens were made from many different fabrics, but all chosen with the goal of comfort against the skin. My favorite warmth-wise, is luxe fleece. 

It's available in fabric stores like JoAnn in a wide variety of solid colors and prints, and costs about twice the price of regular blizzard/anti-pill fleece.

It's also thicker and plusher than blizzard and ant-pill: here is a comparison of the lighter-colored luxe below the darker-colored blizzard.

Polar fleece is another kind of fleece to use in this project. I haven't seen it at stores like Joann, unfortunately, but our local SR Harris carries the Polartec brand. Polartec 100 is thinner and feels quite like the anti-pill and blizzard. 

The 200 is equivalent to the luxe fleece in thickness. Anything higher than the 200 would be difficult to sew in this project.

In a pinch, you could even try that luxe or polar fleece in both outer and lining layers. I wouldn't recommend microfleece or minky or any of the cuddle fabrics. They're soft and lovely but not anywhere as warm. 

Feel free to mix-and-match your outer and lining fabrics, not just in color scheme but also in insulation function. For instance, pair a thicker wool outer fabric with a lighter fleece lining and a thinner wool fabric with a luxe fleece lining. I've been using my wool melton-outer, blizzard-fleece-lining mittens since December in typical Minnesota winter temperatures and they've felt perfect.

For a pair of mittens, you'll need about 1/3 yard of each fabric (outer and lining), as well as 7" of 1/4"-wide elastic and some scrap knit fabric (dimensions below). 


First, download the templates by clicking HERE.

I've included two sizes. Size 1 is a little smaller. I drafted it for my hand - here are the dimensions below. If your hand is roughly this size, use Size 1. If it's bigger, use Size 2. 

Second, note that there are NO SEAM ALLOWANCES (SA) IN THE TEMPLATES. The solid lines are the STITCHING lines. Remember to add your own SA around all the solid edges of the templates. I recommend 1/4" unless your fabric frays easily, in which case I'd use 3/8". 

Third, you'll need to assemble the BACK upper and BACK lower template pieces into a single template pieces, which we shall call the BACK template piece. To do this, align the dashed lines so that the respective end points (one is a star and the other is a cross in a circle) match. Tape the two template pieces together along this dashed line. Use this taped-together template to cut out the BACK of the mitten.

Fourth, lay out the templates and cut out the fabric pieces. I've omitted grain-direction arrows from the template pieces because they're already so busy with the other info on them. Just imagine that your finished mitten should stretch horizontally (across your palm between thumb and pinkie) rather than vertically (between wrist and fingertips) and orient your template pieces with the grain of the fabric accordingly. 

You'll want to cut out two sets in an outer fabric and two sets in the lining fabric. One set in each fabric will be the mirror image of the other i.e.
* Set 1 in the outer fabric is the mirror image of Set 2 in the outer fabric and
* Set 1 in the lining fabric is the mirror image of Set 2 in the lining fabric.

In addition to the template pieces, you'll need 
  • Two strips of soft stretchy fabric (I recommend knit of some kind - an old T-shirt is perfect) each of dimensions 1" x 6" (SA included)
  • Two pieces of 1/4"-wide elastic, each 3-1/2" long (SA included).

In the photo below is ONE set of lining fabric pieces, plus the knit strip and the piece of elastic. They are hideously multicolored for visibility in this tutorial. Yours of course will all have been cut from the same piece of non-hideous fabric. All these pieces will make the mitten lining of one hand. The elastic and knit strip are only needed for the mitten lining layers - you won't need elastic or the knit strip for the outer mitten layers. I'll remind you of this later.

Let's get started!

STAGE 1: Attach the THUMB front
This is the fiddliest part of the entire construction process. It requires some serious fabric acrobatics but be patient and remind yourself that the rest of the mitten will be a piece of cake compared to this bit.

Step 1
Familiarize yourself with the three points B, C and D on the FRONT upper and THUMB front. Actually mark these points on the WS of the fabric if necessary. Visualize how the respective points are supposed to match up. This is not instinctive - it will feel more natural to want to attach B on the THUMB front to point A on the FRONT upper (deliberately not labeled in the photo below for this reason). 

Step 2 
Place together the RS of the FRONT upper and THUMB front pieces and align their respective edges BC as shown. Starting at the edge of the fabric at B, sew from B to C. Stop at point C (the actual point C as indicated on the templates, not the edge of the fabric.

sorta like this (ish). My BC line is a bit shorter than it should be.

Step 3
Now visualize that you'll be next sewing from C to D. On only the THUMB front piece, snip almost all the way through the SA at point C to allow you to spread the fabric as shown. On my piece of fabric, this snipped SA looks like a wonky "M" - that isn't typical, and I have no idea why it turned out thus. Yours should look like a single cut. The important thing is the SA should split apart almost all the way to the actual sewing-point C.

Step 4
With RS still together, rotate the THUMB front piece to allow you to align the edge CD with the respective edge CD of the FRONT upper piece. Sew from C to D.

Step 5
Along the SA of the edge DE of the FRONT upper piece, make shallow snips as shown. This will allow you to align this concave edge along the corresponding edge DE (which is inconveniently convex) of the THUMB front piece.

Step 6
Flip the entire project upside down now so that the WS of the FRONT upper piece is lying face up on your work surface. In this orientation, it is easier to align and sew the respective edges DE of both pieces.

Match the respective points E of the two pieces.

Working with the FRONT upper piece on top and the THUMB front piece underneath, sew from D to E (or E to D, whichever is easier).

You can see how the snipped SA of the FRONT upper layer spreads apart around the convex edge of the THUMB front piece underneath.

You should now have something that looks like this. Go ahead and trim/notch/grade the SA at points C and D to allow these seams to lie as flat as possible. I skipped pressing the seams in this fleece lining ensemble, but if you're using wool for your outer layer, you'll want to steam-press these same seams so they lie flat.

This is the RS. Hurrah! The fiddliest part is done! And here's that point A finally - we're going to be using in the next steps.

STAGE 2: Finish the FRONT

Step 7
Smooth out the bunched up THUMB front piece so that it lies flat(tish) like so.

You're going to attach the THUMB back piece to it next. Locate point A on the THUMB back piece.

Place the RS of both THUMB pieces together, align their edges and points A and F.

Beginning at the edge of the fabric at point A, sew from A around the thumb to the edge of the fabric at F.

Here's what it looks like on the THUMB back side.

Step 8 
Spread apart the two layers of the thumb so that you can access points G, F and E as shown. Orient the FRONT lower piece so that points G and E (and F, too, although that's not shown in the photo below) are lying adjacent to the respective points on the FRONT upper.

Flip the FRONT lower upside down and onto the FRONT upper piece so that their RS are together and the respective points G, F and E match up. Sew across the edge of the fabric through G, F and E as shown to connect the FRONT upper and lower pieces together.

The front of the mitten is finished! Set it aside.

STAGE 3: Prepare the BACK of the mitten lining
Note: Skip this entire stage when you make the outer mitten layer for each hand - remember that you'll only need the elastic bit for the lining layer.

Step 9
Lay the BACK piece WS up on your work surface. Mark or notch the points X and Y. You're going to attach the piece of elastic along the line XY, stretching it so that it spans the entire width XW. You'll also be encasing that elastic piece in a fabric channel. We'll be sewing both the elastic and the knit fabric channel in the same step, which can be hard to visualize, so I'll show you the layout layer-by-layer.

This is where knit fabric strip goes. It needs to lie on the BACK piece so that the long midline of the knit fabric strip lies along the line XY. You're going to align the end of the knit fabric strip with the edge of the BACK piece at X. Because the knit strip is longer than the width of the bitten, there'll be surplus knit fabric at Y. Remember this layout. Now remove the knit fabric strip so we can position the elastic.

This is where the elastic goes. Lay the piece of elastic along XY with 1/4" of its end extending beyond the edge of the BACK piece at Y.

Here's a closer-up:

Now carefully position the knit strip over it as demonstrated earlier. Trim off the surplus knit fabric at Y.

Step 10
Now carefully transfer everything to your sewing machine. Starting at the X end of the knit fabric strip, using a 1/4" SA to sew along the long edge of the knit strip toward Y. At about 1/8" from the edge of the fabric near Y, stop and turn the project 90 degrees and sew along the short side of the knit fabric strip, stitching over the end of the elastic at Y. Turn the project 90 degrees again and, using a 1/4" SA, sew along the other long edge of the knit strip back toward X.

I stopped partway to take this next photo to help you visualize what we're doing. So far, we've sewn 2-1/2 of the 4 sides of the fabric strip, and attached one end of the elastic. 

Let's keep going - fold back the knit strip to expose the free end of the elastic. Yes, I know - my needle should be in the down position (way to break sewing rules!) 

Grab that elastic end and pull it toward X. Everything behind your presser foot is going to bunch up in protest.

Keep sewing toward X, pulling more of the elastic and holding it in place, until you're able to pull the end 1/4" beyond the end of the fabric at X like you did at Y at the start of this step. 

Here is the end of the elastic folded back to show you that while it's protruding 1/4" beyond the fabric edge, it's still positioned exactly over point X. Turn the project another 90 degrees and sew the fourth side of the knit strip, stitching over this end of the elastic.

If you've done it right, the mitten back should look like this. This elasticized section which, incidentally, will be invisible on the outside of the completed mitten, is what will discreetly hug your wrist so as to keep the mitten on your hand.

STAGE 4: Connect the FRONT and BACK

Stage 11
Place together the RS of the FRONT and BACK pieces.

Sew around the long sides and curved top of the mitten. Do not sew along the short straight bottom of the mitten. Leave a 2"-3" gap along one of the long sides for turning out later. You'll only need this gap in the lining of the mitten; when you make the outer mitten, sew all the way around and don't leave a gap at all. One of my kids is pulling the elastic taut so the edges of all the fabric layers align neatly for this photo.

Here's a short videoclip showing the mitten being modeled at this stage.

STAGE 5: Make the outer mitten
Repeat Steps 1- 11 to make the outer mitten for the same hand, with the following differences:
  • All the outer mitten pieces are the mirror image of the respective mitten lining pieces for the same hand.
  • Omit STAGE 3 for the outer mitten and proceed directly to STAGE 4 (the outer mitten doesn't have an elastic channel).
  • Omit the 2"-3" gap in Step 11 (the outer mitten doesn't require a gap).

STAGE 6: Attach the outer mitten and mitten lining

Step 12
Turn the lining WS out and insert the outer mitten into the lining so that their RS are together and the thumbs are nested.

Step 13
Align the respective side seams

and sew the outer and lining layers together around the bottom opening.

Step 14
Carefully pull out the outer mitten through the gap in the mitten lining, then turn the entire project RS out.

Sew the gap closed. Ladder stitch is recommended but you could also use the sewing machine.

The mitten is finished. Push the lining back into the outer mitten and fold up the cuff. The hidden elasticized section should keep the wrist area snugly fitted when the mitten is worn. This is one completed mitten. You'll need to repeat this entire construction process to make the other mitten of the pair - remember to cut out all the pieces of the second mitten in the mirror image of those of this first mitten.

It feels wonderful to write and share this tutorial with you. Happy mitten-making and stay warm and safe!



  1. I've been hoarding some gifted Ralph Lauren wool fabric samples. This would be a good project for them!

    1. Супер!! Большое СПАСИБО!!! Круто!

  2. Thank you so much for this tutorial! I use my bike every day and handgloves can't keep my fingers warm, not even cool.
    These mittens will be a great solution!
    I understand your feelings about loss and corona very well. My son died last year just before corona and his dead and my grief got lost in the overwhelming talk about the virus and all the restrictions. I feel very sorry for you! Hugs from Belgium.

  3. WOW what a great tutorial I printed and bookmarked your site.....thank you for this wonderful gift

  4. Brilliant! I had a feeling you'd have a good tutorial for Bernie mitts and now you have two. And as always I appreciate your eloquent writing.

  5. Great post, and it's wonderful to read your o so great instructions again. You are a very gifted writer and teacher. I lost my best friend, my Mom, and 2 of my brothers in less than a year, I understand how grief can gut punch us, but still let us progress through it. Bless you, Leir and thank you for the great mitten pattern. Hugs!

  6. Oh, sweet post--just: Hugs. Thank you for sharing the pattern and directions. The download link sent me to a catalog for bikinis 🤨-- I am on an ipad; will keep trying to print the pattern--for mittens!--not interested in the bikinis!

  7. I just wanted to say it's nice to "hear" your voice again--thank you! This'll have me digging through my stash for some wool--ooh, I do have a wool skirt I've been saving for no good reason . . .

  8. Yes Bernie mitts, thank you LiEr!! and thank you thank you for not asking us to sew masks (I got a box of those blue ones from a discount store instead)

  9. Love the pattern, love your tutorials, and I just went back and printed off the templates for the airplane bag because I will be traveling on a plane in a couple weeks to stay with a friend who has had a stem cell transplant and needs a companion while she stays close to the hospital. You are not alone in your life journey, and your sharing is good for all of us. Thank you!

  10. I love these! Thanks so much for publishing them. I think I'll make a pair to keep in my car. It is always so cold on the winter. I have done wool that would be perfect for this.

  11. Thank you! So many mitten patterns are too simple and thus don't really fit well. I'm used to knit mittens, with a thumb gusset and a thumb coming out from the side. It's been hard to find this in sewing patterns (too many designers are more interested in followers, rather than good construction or drafting). I LOVE how you made each piece a different colour for the tutorial!! I'm looking forward to making these! I have a huge stack of wool sweaters that I felted for mittens but then only made a few because I just didn't like the patterns available.

  12. Thank you for the pattern! So nice that the thumb doesn't stick right out the side like oven mitts.

  13. hmmm cant download this amazing pattern without subscribing to an app!!

    1. Anonymous: I don't believe you'll need an app if you accessed the link from a desktop or laptop.


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