As a bit of a break from baby blanket knitting (will it never end?!), I picked up a wee bit of mending instead. I should really confess now that my mending pile is pretty epic: I’m terrible at throwing out knitwear but I’m also superb at procrastination. The two sort of work against each other and all the time, I’m catching threads on something or just wearing it out from overuse.
Overuse was definitely the culprit in the case of these mittens. I made them about 5 years ago and they took me a whole winter. The pattern is the Flamingo Mittens by Spillyjane knitted in Jamieson and Smith 2 ply jumper weight. I think the shades were 034 (green) and 095 (pink) but I made no notes so I can’t be totally sure. While my colour choice is fairly gaudy, I love these mittens and I remember them being a properly satisfying knit. The fit was really good and it was the first time I tried grafting (another superhero skill for sure).
With year round wear to contend with, thanks to the Shetland “summer”, the mittens gradually wore out. I could see it happening but I didn’t really know what to do about it. Then, a couple of years ago, I went to a darning workshop at Shetland Wool Week by Tom of Holland and I finally had answers. If you haven’t read any of Tom’s work or about the Visible Mending Programme, then I thoroughly recommend that you go and get lost down the internet rabbit hole here. Tom’s class was really practical and made me feel very inspired about darning which is definitely not something I ever thought I’d say! At the class, I produced some super neat swiss darning (also known as duplicate stitch) and cockily figured I’d get round to repairing the mittens eventually.
More mitten wearing happened and then disaster struck. The thinning wool on the fingertips finally changed into A HOLE OF DOOM.
Mittens immediately came out of rotation and panic ensued. I knew my swiss darning wasn’t up to dealing with a hole. I wasn’t even sure you could swiss darn a hole (let me know if you know). Mittens went in a cupboard while I figured out what to do and my fingers got very, very cold.
Then, a wee while back, I was discussing mending repairs with an older neighbour of mine. She told me that back in the day when jumper cuffs got a bit ratty, they just took them back and knitted on new cuffs. It set me thinking: could I take back the mitten past the hole and then reknit the top?
This, however, seemed like a fairly high risk strategy for a person who hates picking up stitches. If I made a mess of taking back and picking up, the mittens might be completely wrecked but then, they’d already spent far too long in a cupboard and something had to be done. That something was a bit more procrastinating until this week, I just went for it.
Where the right mitten had thinned, I swiss darned over the area. I used the instructions and needles from Tom’s class and got a wee refresher from the Women’s Weekly website while I was at it. As you can see above, my swiss darning isn’t neat and I found it really difficult to see where I was darning since I was using the same colour as in the original mittens. The yarn had also thinned so much that I had to darn pretty delicately to avoid another hole situation. Although it’s not my best work, the mitten no longer has a thin patch and it is wearable again so I count that as a success.
For the left mitten, I took drastic action. I cut across the grafting and began ripping back. It was utterly terrifying and didn’t look terribly successful.
More cutting, more ripping. I thought I’d made it past the hole and started putting the stitches back on a super thin needle I inherited from my gran. When I transferred them to the correct size of needle to start re-knitting, the yarn was so thin in places that it just melted before my eyes. More ripping back and I was coming dangerously close to both the edge of the colour work and a nervous collapse.
Then somehow, I’m really not very sure how, I managed to get the correct number of stitches back on the correct size of needles to start re-knitting. Wow. After that, I used the magic loop method and followed the pattern for decreasing before grafting the top together. I’d always thought grafting was a bit stressful but it seemed a breeze after the cutting-and-ripping routine I’d just been through.
The result is also pretty good. The colour of the new top is a bit brighter but I really like that and I’m amazed that after 5 years, the dye lot is still so accurate! Both mittens are wearable again so that feels like a big win for just a couple of hours work (and several years procrastination). I was also completely blown away by the wool’s memory. The old mitten top I removed has remembered all the stitches it was linked too and just looks incredible to me.
Overall, my approach was pretty brazen given how little experience I have of mending and how much I loved the mittens. It was definitely humbling to find out that I had no real idea what I was doing but super satisfying to have wearable mittens again. I was also really fortunate I’d used Shetland wool because it’s stickiness definitely made picking up the stitches much easier than it would have been in some other yarn.
All of this is a very long way of saying that mending turned out be both more skilled and more satisfying that I’d thought it might be. I could definitely use some practice though so I’d be thrilled if anybody could pass on any resources that would help me to mend more.
Pattern – Flamingo Mittens by SpillyJane
Swiss darning – Women’s Weekly has got the basics covered
Grafting help – the ever wonderful Knit Witch has your back
Magic loop info – Tin Can Knits have a pretty good explanation of the magic loop technique
Recommended reading – everything by Tom of Holland. Inspiration.