Tallinn mittens

Back at the start of this year, I was working on a pair of Chrysanthemum mittens using Zauberball crazy colours in a purple/turquoise/red shade, and some beautiful, pale blue yarn which I purchased from Oxford Kitchen Yarns way back in 2007.

The mitts were SO NOT FUN to knit that I have only one partially finished mitten at this stage, and am yet to summon the mojo to add its thumb and make its partner.

The pattern is very good; the yarn is very good; the colours are very good. But through the process of trying to knit these mitts, I learned that skinny, shiny sockweight yarn is not well-suited to the mysterious alchemy of stranded colourwork at all. I was displeased by the way the yarns felt together in my hands and the unpliant ways that they handled together as I knit them; unsticky, resolutely distinct from one another and too silken and hairless to meld into a single layer of knitted fabric. OKY bluefaced sock yarn is gorgeous. It is buttery and soft with a delicate lustre, and its blue/grey shade has the glowing complexity of natural dyestuffs. For any other project in the world at all, it is perfect. But for colourwork, one needs more stickiness and more hooks in one’s woollen fibres, so that they all bed down together into an even layer of knitted goodness.

It was a poor pairing of yarn and pattern on my part.

Estonian knitters know better! At least, the knitters whose handiwork I found and seized upon with gurning, foolish excitement in Tallinn. For this is a proper mitten exhibiting the results of pairing perfectly one’s yarns with one’s pattern. No namby-pamby insufficient yarn choices for this substantial mitten!

Please to observe the simple patterning, the modest ribbed cuff and the evenly decreased pointy end.

This is a knitterly object finessed by years of practice; a workhorse mitten exhibiting the most perfect pairing of yarn and pattern and the correct level of warmth and hardiness for a climate wherein the winters can be -30 degrees C. Look what happens when we turn this glove inside out!

I have examined this glove closely, and have attempted to pull those loops from the front, to understand whether they are simply long strands which were looped as the knitter knitted it, or whether some more complex technique was employed. I am still uncertain; it seems like thrumming combined with stranded colourwork and although I have skimmed through Folk Knitting in Estonia in search of answers, I am still not completely clear on how these wonderful loops have been achieved. If you know, please leave a comment! One thing which is clear, however, is that the stickiness of the yarn (which is more like straw than butter) holds it all together beautifully. You can even see where I failed to pull one loop of knitting from the front of the mitten in one of the photos above; a puff of white fibres emanates from around the stitch, which remained resolutely in place in spite of my tugging, entwined intrinsically with its neighbouring stitches by way of its invisible, hardy little hooks. How I love an uncompromisingly hardy woollen wool!

This VILL is very solid; it is warm and rugged and rough and it makes me wish that I had been in Estonia long enough to travel to the landscapes where it comes from and to find links – as I so love to do here in the UK – between knitted things, sheep, and places. I also acquired a pair of handknit socks whilst in Tallinn; they are the scratchiest socks I have ever worn but I love them and the way that the colours of sheep fleece and dyed wool have been combined. See how the sticky wool makes such beautiful colourwork patterns?

There was enough inspiration, perhaps, in the Tallinn mitts for me to resolve to finish the Chrysanthemums…

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