How To Knit The Ultimate Mitten Thumb, & Two New Free Mitten Patterns

Red worsted-weight magic loop mittens with hands holding a green appleMaybe it’s because I’ve got my mother’s hands.

Big, substantial hands, with a big, strong thumb.

Or maybe it’s just because I want my mittens to fit perfectly.

A mitten hand is easy enough to design – just measure as you go and be sure to check your gauge, and you can make it fit.

But a thumb is a slippery part of the anatomy to cater to.

When you’ve got hands like mine, the thumb just won’t fit into some generic tube stuck onto the side of the hand, as so many mittens are designed.

Red magic loop mittens with hands held palm out showing thumbWith an ill-fitting thumb, the mitten tends to pinch or bunch unless you hold your hands perfectly still. Not very useful…

Ever since I designed my first pair of mittens, I’ve tried to achieve the perfect mitten thumb.

I reached true understanding when I knitted a pair of mittens designed by Brittany Tyler, co-founder of “Tangled” – the knit and crochet online magazine.

What Is The Secret To A Perfect Mitten Thumb?

First, the mitten thumb has to be in the right place.

Look below at the photos of my hand, shown from the side.

Closeup of thumb next to hand, shown from the side

LEFT: Anatomically, a person’s thumb is offset towards the palm about a half an inch – in mitten terms, a few stitches, depending on the yarn weight.

If your pattern ignores the natural position of the thumb, you’ll end up having to hold your thumb like I do in the right-hand photo – not very comfortable.

An added challenge: when designing for two-at-a-tine, the stitches have to be perfectly set up from the get-go: you can’t adjust the stitches once you’ve started.

So to offset a thumb correctly, the trick is to figure out how many stitches you need for the offset, plan out where each stitch will go, and then divide the stitches correctly for Magic Loop right at the beginning.

Requirement #2: The Thumb Should Be Wider Towards The Palm

A thumb is not a cylinder stuck to a rectangle. See the photo below.

Hand palm showing base of thumb, contrasted with thumb held into side of hand

LEFT: A mitten thumb should perfectly fit the triangle-shaped area between the palm and the thumb, not pretend it doesn’t exist (RIGHT)

For the perfect mitten thumb, you need to pick up and knit as many stitches as can possibly fit between the hand and the thumb, but be careful – the thicker your yarn, the fewer stitches you can pick up before things start getting unwieldy.

Then, in order to rapidly taper the hand into the thumb without any holes, you have to decrease many times in the same row, until the knitting matches the circumference of your thumb.

The Ultimate Mitten Thumb Incorporates Both Thumb Principles

When used correctly, these concepts, which I came to deeply understand as I wrote and re-wrote the mitten patterns for this post, result in what I call the Ultimate Mitten Thumb. The key:

“To knit the ultimate mitten thumb, pick up twice the stitches then decrease fast.” Click to Tweet

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Get To Understand Mittens With 2 New Mitten Patterns

Because KNITFreedom is all about teaching you intermediate knitting techniques and tips as you knit, I use good, basic patterns as the starting points for all my video lessons.

And while of course you can use any method to knit in the round, I always add specific directions for Magic Loop, to help those of you just learning the technique.

Chunky mittens with blue variegated yarn

Ready for publication, in time to make plenty of Christmas mittens

When I filmed and published How To Knit Mittens last summer, I designed these basic bulky-weight mittens for Magic Loop for the main project.

The knitting would goes fast and students quickly learn all the steps.

Tons of students then asked for a worsted-weight version of the same pattern.

So, just in time for summer, I’m publishing both the worsted-weight and bulky-weight versions free to my readers.

Students also told me it would be a great idea to do a video demonstrating the tricky bits of the Ultimate Mitten Thumb.

I was happy to oblige – the video is below the pattern downloads.

Red magic loop mittens with hands in a heart shape Line Break
Worsted-Weight Mittens for Magic Loop

Download the pattern here
See more photos and details on the
Worsted-Weight Mittens pattern page.
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Blue chunky yarn mittensLine Break
Chunky-Weight Mittens for Magic Loop

Download the pattern here
See more photos and details on the
Chunky-Weight Mittens pattern page.
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Good news: after you learn these techniques, you will feel confident tackling more complex mitten patterns like the Bella Mittens or the Give a Hoot owl mittens.

Video Demo: How To Knit The World’s Best Mitten Thumb

Don’t forget to leave a comment below if you like this post!

Equipped with these two basic patterns, plus the above video on the slightly-tricky Ultimate Mitten Thumb, you’ll be ready to turn out at least a dozen pairs of mittens by this Christmas.

Happy knitting!

Liat posing with blue bulky weight mitten

My Latest Travel Adventure: A Perfect Month In California

I have a secret for you – I grew up in Palo Alto (proud home of Google, Facebook, Hewlett-Packard, Xerox, and more…) but haven’t been back to visit in more than ten years. Eek!

My Ima (mom) and I are such better friends than we were when I moved away after high school that it was a pleasure and a treat to be able to stay with her this month.

We walked together, talked late into the night, cooked for each other, supported each other in our business endeavors, and just shared our lives.

Here are a few photos from my month in sunny Palo Alto…

First – a MUST for enjoyable and responsible transportation:

Used red Centurion from Cardinal Bike Shop in Palo Alto

Yep, I bought a used bike, as is my custom almost everywhere I go when I stay for more than a month. This one is a bona-fide collector’s item (a Centurion with a mixte frame) and, of course, it’s red – my favorite color.

That said, bikes are for getting places, not just looking cool and environmentally-friendly.

Bikram Yoga Mountain View signI used my bike to get my butt here daily for a full mind, body, and spirit tune-up –> –> –>

I even used the skills I’ve learned from running KNITFreedom over the past year and a half to help the wonderful studio owner with her website – and scored a month of free yoga!

I highly recommend her Mountain View Yoga Studio if you’re in the area.

Although my mom and I were working too hard on our own businesses (she’s becoming a real estate agent in her second career) to spend lots of time out and about, we made a point every week to get to the Palo Alto Sunday Farmer’s Market, which takes place year round. That’s California for you!

My mom at the California Avenue Farmer's Market in Palo Alto

My mom LOVES radishes! She’s a gourmet cook, and says that radishes have a great peppery bite. Mom’s tip: add radish sprouts to an herb salad for more “zing.”

While mom was shopping for organic veggies, I was just enjoying being out under the clear blue California sky.

Liat smiling at the Farmer's Market
We also treated ourselves to a little bunch of Gerbera daisies each week…

Ima and Liat with a Gerbera daisy
And lots of love and appreciation every day. I love you, Ima!

Lastly, I had a special commission to fulfill before I packed my bags and set off for Argentina.

For my good friend Gi and her family, I had to absolutely, without a doubt, on no uncertain terms, bring to the home of Tango and the Aconcagua a hefty serving of something that doesn’t exist there:

PEANUT BUTTER.

That’s right – In Argentina, peanut butter is as legendary and foreign to the locals as Vegemite is in North America.

Last year when I lived there it seemed that, by the astonishment of my interrogators when I answered the question “do you guys actually eat that stuff?” I might as well have told them that I have a pet unicorn.

Needless to say, Gi’s never tried it before, and, while I tried not to go overboard, I did manage to make enough room in my suitcase to responsibly fulfill my role as peanut butter ambassador to Argentina.

Jars of peanut and almond butter

Up next week: a fantastic technique you can use on this week’s mitten patterns to make the ribbed cast-on completely invisible: The Italian Cast-On. See you then!

Resources:

Leave a comment below! I love to hear your thoughts.

About Liat Gat

Liat is the founder and video knitting expert at KNITFreedom. If you liked this article, you'll love the tips you learn from her FREE video newsletter. Get it now by subscribing here.
This entry was posted in 2012 World Travel, Announcements, Knitting Techniques and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

54 Responses to How To Knit The Ultimate Mitten Thumb, & Two New Free Mitten Patterns

  1. Virginia Harrison says:

    LOVE this post! Enjoyed your trip to California, especially interesting as I will be going there next week! THANK YOU for the mittens, for the patterns and the tutorials…..

    I’m especially glad to have the pattern for worsted, but I have a QUESTION.
    Is it possible to make these bottom up? If I used Judy’s Magic Cast On and worked toward the cuff, would I be able to knit the thumb? I have small hands and most patterns are too large for me.

    Thanks, again, Liat! You are great!
    Virginia

  2. Bobbi says:

    Thanks again Liat! I love the ultimate mitten thumb tips! Where would my knitting be without you! I also love your travel notes. Having just finished a great family reunion, I know how special those family re-connections can be! I will be looking forward to more from Argentina! Have a wonderful time and thanks for the worsted weight pattern and all your guidance!

    • Liat Gat says:

      Bobbi, thanks for your comment! It makes me so happy to know my tips are helping you. And I agree, being with family is so dear, especially when you normally don’t get to see them. I am definitely learning to treasure my friends and family more than ever as I grow up and become a (hopefully) better and wiser person.

  3. Susannah says:

    Finally, directions for a THUMB THAT FITS!!!!! Thank you so much, Liat. I can’t tell you how many attempts I’ve made at making mittens with thumbs that fit, and now the work is done for me. I love your website, and I’m an ardent reader of your many tips and techniques.

    Thank you so much for sharing your creativity and expertise!

    Cheers,
    Susannah

    • Liat Gat says:

      Susannah, how fantastic that this post is right on target for you! I’m delighted that you love my videos and tips. Your comment makes me feel so encouraged that I am giving my readers what they want. Thanks!

  4. Julia Mason says:

    When I was knitting a pair of mittens. I offset my thumb by knitting a couple of stitches and then place my marker then do the increases for the gusset. By doing this I get the perfect fitting thumb.
    Your mother is beautiful!. I love my mother still even though she is gone and has been since 2003. She never got to see my 2nd grandson, my youngest son’s boy. He loved the mittens I made him for Christmas 2011. I used cables to make a little owl on the back and then sewed little buttons for the eyes. He loved it.

    • Liat Gat says:

      Julia the mittens you made for your grandson sound so cute! It sounds like you are a great knitter. Thanks for commenting and telling me your story. :)

  5. maureen says:

    Liat,
    Thanks so much for this awesome pattern! I cant wait to make myself some and will probably end up knitting beaucoup mittens for my 39 neices and nephews too!
    I must admit that YOU have made me a magic loop addict! I can not handle dp’s due to carpal tunnel and neuropathy in my hands so i had given up knitting mittens or socks until i learned the technique from you.
    Your notes about your trip really touched me, especially your line I love you Ima.
    Good to know you are good friends with your mom.
    Keep up the great work.

    proud to be a knit freedom addict.
    Maureen

    • Liat Gat says:

      Maureen your comment makes me so happy! To know that I have helped you knit mittens and socks despite your carpal tunnel just makes me so glad. Thanks for letting me know I’m publishing the kind of tricks and tips that are helpful for you!

  6. Caroline says:

    This is great – I haven’t yet managed to make a mitten without holes at the thumb. So this is my next mitten – I want to modify the technique for top down though – any suggestions?

    • Liat Gat says:

      Caroline, it can be done, and I’ve added your idea to my list of blog posts to do. Have you done a bottom-up no-seams sweater before? A top-down mitten is similar. Start with Judy’s Magic Cast-On like you would for a toe-up sock, and increase until you have the number of stitches given in the pattern for the HAND (not the cuff). Knit the hand and stop when you get to the base of the thumb.

      Then, on another set of needles, cast on like 4 sts using JMCO and increase rapidly (but evenly: k1, M1, k1, M1, etc) until you have the number of sts for the thumb. Then knit until the thumb fits your thumb, down to the “crotch.” Do an increase round until you have 18 sts. Then place the hand and thumb sts all on one needle, doing rapid K2TOGs near the thumb base. Then knit straight and decrease for the wrists, using the numbers from the pattern. I’ll do a blog post about this, but these are my suggestions for now!

  7. Rochelle McBride says:

    As always, your instructions are clear, concise and you make it look easy. I am learning SO much from your videos and e-books. I would venture to guess that since these mittens are knitted from the cuff down, that they could be easily adapted using your thumb technique to make wrist warmers too. I made some wrist warmers that looked like anything but wrist warmers, especially at the thumb gusset! I’m ready to tackle the project again using the “new and improved” methods you show. Wish me luck!! Thanks again. I love your instructions. Shalom.

    • Liat Gat says:

      Hi Rochelle, you can definitely make wrist warmers from either of the patterns. Instead of knitting the whole hand, stop when you get to the base of the fingers and do a few rounds of ribbing, then use an invisible ribbed bind-off or any stretchy bind-off and you’re done! Your comment makes me think I should do a few posts on wrist warmers and mittens with flaps, too. I’ll add that to the list!

  8. Jean says:

    Thanks for the 2 patterns and for sharing the video. I had decided not to make any more mittens (they never fit just right) but after seeing the video I’ll give it another try. You’re my last hope for getting a perfect fitting mitten. LOL Your emails always teach me something new to help make my knitting look more professional and finished. You give me the courage to forge right in. I eagerly await your next “how-to”.

    THANKS!

    • Liat Gat says:

      No, don’t give up hope! Let me know if this pattern fits you better than the others. If not, we’ll figure out what to do!

      And I feel so proud that my emails always give you a helpful tip. That’s exactly what I’m going for! And your feedback on the blog posts helps me know if I am getting it right. Thank you!

  9. myra says:

    Thank you for the mitten patterns. At last someone with a strong hand like mine who can design mittens to fit me.
    Thanks you SO much.

    Myra.

  10. Suzanne says:

    Thanks Liat! Can’t wait to try your thumb! Is there a way we could do it “toe up” with magic cast on and still work in the thumb then on to cuff?
    Have a great time!!!
    Suzanne in CA

    • Liat Gat says:

      Hi Suzanne, it seems like at least a few people are interested in doing “toe-up” mittens – it can definitely be done – I’ve done it before (I started some toe-up socks and then decided I didn’t want socks, so turned them into “toe-up” mittens). I may do a couple follow-up posts about how to adapt a regular mitten pattern to a top-down mitten pattern. Thanks for the suggestion!

  11. Kelly says:

    I envy your travels and enjoy reading about them and seeing your pics. Let us know how the peanut butter is received. Thanks for helping all of us with your knitting tutorials and patterns. It is much appreciated!!

    • Liat Gat says:

      Thanks, Kelly! I will be sure to follow up about the peanut butter. Actually, last night I had another friend over, and he saw the as-yet-ungifted peanut butter, and his eyes got all wide and he said, “Can I try some??!” and I had to tell him no, because I hadn’t opened it yet, and it was a present…. I’ll have to save him a little bit. :)

  12. Jan says:

    I’ve been looking for the answer to the “non-holy” thumb since my first mitten. You always seem to read my mind on those ‘in between the lines’ kinds of questions. A mitten is about to be cast on! Thanks for direction and the good video.

    • Liat Gat says:

      Yaaaay! See, this is why I do this work. And it’s so funny, because I never know that I am going to answer someone’s question until I post, and then it turns out the information was really welcome. I’ll keep trusting my instinct!

  13. Margery says:

    I love reading about all your traveling, helps me to see a little of places that I will never

  14. Emma Simmons says:

    A big “thumbs-up” to you, Liat! I have never made mittens, or gloves for that matter, but (honestly!) was trying to find a summer project that wouldn’t be too warm to hold and work with, other than socks. BTW, you taught me everything I know about socks, and I am so grateful. But, now my “cool” project can be mittens. It was 109 degrees in MO today. Crazy, huh? Thanks again for all your good work. Love your blog and your sweet Ima too.

    • Liat Gat says:

      Hahaha you are funny! You are SOO ready to knit mittens. And I’m happy that this post was so timely for you! I wondered if this was the best pattern to be posting now, but I have such a backlog that I said to myself, “just post it now, people are waiting for it!” And it turned out happy anyway. :)

  15. susan krisch says:

    still havent gotten comfortable with the magic loop but would love to try the mittens.
    do you have it available for dpn’s?

    • Liat Gat says:

      Susan, you can actually do this pattern on DPNs without any adjustments. Just where it says “divide for knitting in the round on Magic Loop,” divide the stitches on 3 or 4 DPNs instead. Since you will be knitting one mitten at a time, the distribution of the stitches isn’t important, since you can move them all around whenever you want.

      I also encourage you to work through the videos in my Magic Loop video ebook – it’s guaranteed, so if you finish it and aren’t comfortable with Magic Loop after a little practice, you get your money back. And I am here to help you always! I know you will love it once you get the kinks ironed out. :)

      • susan krisch says:

        im still afraid of magic loop….
        thinking of trying it at some point though.
        i also want to try sock knitting.
        do you have a tutorial using dpns?

        • Liat Gat says:

          Susan, I’m sorry, I don’t have any tutorials using DPNs. I want to encourage you to feel your fear, know that that’s all it is, and to give Magic Loop a try anyway.

          What’s the worst that can happen? It’s not as if you’re trying to get up the courage to jump of a 50-foot cliff in Hawaii into the water.

          Absolutely nothing bad can happen if you try the Magic Loop course and for some reason you don’t like Magic Loop. First, if you can’t understand the technique after going through all the videos, you can ask for your money back.

          Second, you will have learned something about a new technique that you didn’t know before.

          But think of all the good things that you will gain! You will have tried something that scared you. You will discover that it’s not as hard as you thought (it’s much easier than DPNs). You will be able to knit so many projects, quickly and easily, without having to buy different lengths of needles. The list goes on!

          We are always here to help you in the forum if you have any trouble. I know you can do it! :)

  16. Beatrice Fortin says:

    First time I received your news letter and was more than pleasently surprised. Do not do mittens but I will try yours, as I probably have the coldest hand in NC. Thanks and I look forward to more of the same from you

  17. Cate Z says:

    I stumbled on this a couple of weeks back, as I was making a pair of mittens and hate holes. Since there are no ‘rules’ around thumbs, I thought it kinda like a gusset decrease for the thumb :-). Thanks Liat for confirming my thoughts and for sharing your visit with your mom.

    • Liat Gat says:

      Cate, you are so welcome! I’m happy to share with everyone and I’m so glad that I could confirm your thoughts on how to get your thumbs just right. :)

  18. Ingrid says:

    OK I’ve read through the comments and obviously “I” have a problem….when I knit these mittens (the worsted ones), I don’t have a problem with the bulky ones. But, with the worsted pattern my thumbs are “off set” it seems as though with the pattern going in 3 stitches on one mitten and to the last “4″ stitches on the last mitten, then doing the thumb gusset increases. I end up with my mittens with the thumbs kind of “in too far” I’m concerned because I know when it comes to the “decreases” for the hand…they will be off balance, (not running along the actual edge of the mitten.) What am I doing wrong? I’ve tried moving the stitches (as per the pattern) still the thumbs are off set. Hmmm I need help.

    • Liat Gat says:

      Hi Ingrid, I’m sorry you are having trouble with the thumb! The thumb is only off-set by 3 stitches. Does that feel like that will be too much? Why don’t you do one mitten up to the thumb and do a few rows on the hand, and then try the mitten on and see where the “edges” will be once you finish the mitten. Let me know what happens! PS Maybe you are trying them on on the wrong hands? (Dumb question – but I have to check.)

  19. Debbie says:

    Liat, you have done it again! You have a very special gift. And a very big heart. Saying “thank you” does not seem enough for all the teaching you share with us. I have been knitting since I was 9 (almost 50 years!) and I am proof you CAN teach an old dog new tricks! LOL! This week I re-tackled double knitting. You made the technique look so easy – it finally clicked in my brain and off I went. No confusion any more. Now I can’t wait to start working on Christmas mittens. Thank you Thank you Thank you. And keep the travel news coming too, it’s fun traveling vicariously through you!

    • Liat Gat says:

      Debbie — 

      You are too sweet and you are very welcome! I’m so glad that you decided to give double-knitting another try. :) I can’t wait to hear how your Christmas mittens turn out.

  20. Judy Helie says:

    Hi Liat,
    I made the mittens, but I don’t like the way it looks in thumb area. The quick decreases make an indent on the thumb and the stitches are loose where I picked up stitches.. Is the beginng row after the added on stitches doesit begin on 1st picked up stitch??

    thanks,
    Judy

    • Liat Gat says:

      Hi Judy,

      Hmmm, the picked-up stitches shouldn’t be loose at all. The beginning-of-round starts exactly after you finish picking up stitches, not on the first picked-up stitch.

      You place the thumb sts on the needles, pick up and knit 8 stitches between the needles, and then place a marker to indicate the BOR.

      The good thing is, since you do the thumb at the end, it’s easy to take it out and try it again to make sure the gusset comes out right. I’m here if you need any more help!

  21. Pingback: Hiding Purl Wraps: A Short-Row Video Guide | KNITFreedomKNITFreedom

  22. LaNecia says:

    OMG, thank you thank you thank you!! This has resolved that nagging issue of holes around the thumb! Your website has saved to the desktop of my iPad for quick reference.

    Many thanks!

  23. Marie says:

    Rereading your column again. I get such a joy spending time with you.Again I thank you for sharing your knowledge with everyone.
    Marie

  24. Nell says:

    Hi,
    I am trying to view the thumb mitten video instructions, the yarn is lime green, and the video is very jerky. How do I correct this to view smoothly on my laptop?? I have cleared out the browser. I’ll try a different browser too.
    Thanks,
    Nell

  25. Leslie Murray says:

    You are a fantasic teacher! I’ve learned so much from you and so appreciate all you do! Your videos are so helpful! I’m always going to them especially when I forget how to do something or need to learn a technique.

    Your mitten pattern and videos gave me the courage to knit my first ever mittens. Success, YAY, all because of you!! I would like to do this worsted weight pattern for kids. How would I go about converting to a child’s size?

    Mooseful of Thanks & Blessings,
    Leslie

    • Liat Gat says:

      Wow, Leslie, thank you so much for your sweet words! As to how to convert this mitten to a child’s size, I would just google “basic child sized mitten pattern worsted,” or something like that, and see what kind of numbers the other patterns give you, and just use this thumb technique on the pattern that you find. That’s what I would do… I hope this helps!

  26. Katie says:

    I did learn magic loop awhile ago but I need to practice, again. I love knitting with dpn’s so I’m going to try the thumb directions you give using my dpn’s. I’m really particular and never want to see even a small hole.

    I just found your site today and what I’ve seen so far it looks wonderful. I will be visiting, often. Thank you

    • Liat Gat says:

      Hi Katie,

      I’m so glad that you found KNITFreedom and that you’ll be back! I’m happy that I could help you with your Magic Loop refresher. :)

  27. Cris says:

    Dear Liat, I have been enjoying your tips and patterns for the magic loop method. I ran across the a two at a time book at our library a few years back and thought I found gold. I love my circular needles and this was a Godsend. I am very appreciative to you for your very nice and clear videos and instructions helping us new two at a time (magic loop) knitters. you are so helpful!! Thanks Cris

  28. allison jones says:

    Thank you!!!!! Thank you!!!!!! Thank you!!!!! this has solved the problem i’ve been vexed by all winter. my previous attempts to close the gaps in the thumb gusset were leaving a messy, uncomfortably rigid eyesore. This next thumb gusset? beautiful.

  29. Jane Kelly says:

    I found you when I was looking for magic loop instructions, and I just LOVE this website! I live in So. CA and don’t wear regular mittens, but I really want to learn how to make fingerless mitts (are they the same as “wrist warmers?”) with a good fitting thumb for myself and for gifts. I’m using a pattern with ribbing at the wrist, and stockinette down to the thumb, and have knit that much. They are 32 stitches around and seem like they’re a good size for my small hands. I don’t think the thumb part, as written on that pattern, will fit very well, and I’m not sure what to do next. I thought of buying your knitting two-at-a-time mittens book, but don’t anticipate making regular mittens, so I’m not sure if it would be useful. Do you have any other videos, e-books, etc. that would help me figure this out? Thank you for your awesome videos. You’re a fabulous teacher, and I’m so happy to have discovered you!

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