7 Tips for Knitting Warmer Mittens

Raise your hand if you like to knit mittens!

Raise your hand if you struggle with sizing mittens! Loose hands, tight thumb gussets, short cuffs—you know the struggles.

Raise your hand if you want to make the warmest mittens possible!

If you raised your hand , it’s probably getting cold, so put it down. And you’ll need it as you click over to order Kate Atherley’s newest book, Knit Mitts: Your Hand-y Guide to Knitting Mittens & Gloves.

Kate applied her analytical approach to the science of mitten knitting, crowd-sourcing her research and looking at all the details. You’ll want to have the resulting book in your reference library, because you’ll turn to it again and again for years to come. It includes everything: true-to-life sizing averages, the anatomy of mittens and gloves, choosing yarns, troubleshooting problem areas (The Hungry Stitch is so cool!), and customizing designs. Plus there are 10 projects that range from lacy fingerless mitts to stranded colorwork gloves.

To give you a taste of all this book has to offer, we’re sharing snippets from Chapter Two, where Kate provides all sorts of tips on knitting mittens (and gloves!) for warmth—including a very handy reference chart that lists how much yarn you’ll need for mittens or gloves.


1. Choose Wool

It probably comes as no surprise that wool is best for mitten and glove knitting. Sheep’s wool breathes, it will wick moisture away from the skin, and it’s naturally insulating, making it ideal for keeping your hands warm. If your mittens get wet, the moisture is wicked away from your hands to the surface and will evaporate even in very cold temperatures, making wool mittens perfect for a snowball fight.

A Note About Acrylic: Manmade fibers such as acrylic just aren’t good for mitten knitting. Although they may feel warm to the touch, these fibers absorb and hold water and will freeze. Your hands are actually better off exposed to the air than enclosed in a wet or frozen acrylic mitten. The same is true of cotton and bamboo. For warm and well-protected hands, avoid these fibers entirely, even in a blend.

2. Tighten Up That Gauge

Knitted fabric is inherently quite holey: the little gaps between the stitches will let the wind through. The solution is to work more tightly, on smaller needles than you would for a garment with the same yarn. Use needles 2 or even 3 sizes smaller than recommended. Indeed, there’s no harm in going as small as you reasonably can, as long as the size doesn’t make the yarn difficult to work with or risks breaking the needles. The resulting fabric might be stiff, but that isn’t a bad thing for a full-coverage mitten.

There is one exception, however: if you’re using yarn intended for sock knitting, go with the needle size recommended on the ball band, as it is intended to be worked tightly, and the yarn company’s recommendation will take that into account.

Swatch for mittens with a needle size 2 or 3 needles smaller than the ball band suggests for a denser, warmer fabric.
3. Double-Stranding

For a warmer fabric—and a faster result—hold your yarn doubled. For an extra-warm fabric, you could also combine two different yarns for their different properties, such as smooth wool held double with lace-weight mohair. If you’re double-stranding yarn, there’s a quick calculation that can help you assess the gauge you might get and the needle size you might need. If you’re working two strands of the same yarn together, you can expect to get a gauge of about two thirds of the gauge of the yarn worked single-stranded. That is, if you expect 30 stitches across 4 inches (10 cm) in 1 strand of fingering weight, when you knit it doubled, you can expect a gauge of around 30 x 2/3 = 20 stitches in 4 inches (10 cm), which is the equivalent of a worsted weight.

4. Felt Your Knit Mittens

A felted wool fabric makes for excellent mittens that are utterly windproof and very warm. A felted fabric is fairly stiff and inflexible, so it’s best for a full mitten—it wouldn’t work well for gloves or lighter fingerless mittens.

5. Make a Lining

Another way to create warmth—and to combat the openness of a knit fabric—is to line the mittens. Kate suggests 4 options, each with different pros and cons.

  • Knit: Make a bulky outer mitten and a smaller, lighter mitten in a finer yarn to wear inside.
  • Thrums: Use roving (unspun wool) to create fluffy “thrummed” mittens that are comically bulky but incredibly warm.
  • Fabric: If you’re handy with a sewing machine, you can very quickly and easily sew a fleece or flannel liner mitten.
  • Store-Bought Linings: The quickest solution of all is a store-bought lining; many commercially sold mittens come with a fabric lining that you can remove and reuse.
Adding a lining to your mittens adds extra warmth.
6. Cabled Stitch Patterns

Cables are a classic way to create a dense fabric for added warmth. Crisscrossing stitches can close up holes that would otherwise occur between stitches.

7. Stranded Fabrics

And of course, stranded colorwork is the original solution to creating a warm mitten. The floats of yarn that sit inside the mitten create a barrier against the winds by blocking the holes and provide a second air-trapping layer of fabric. Cold countries such as Norway and Iceland have particularly long traditions of colorwork mittens and developed many beautiful traditional stitch motifs. Do you think they have stranded-tradition to simply combat the cold?

The Guillemet Mittens from Knit Mitts are a beautiful example of stranded mitts that can provide warmth and style.

A Note About Mom: Your mother was right; mittens are warmer than gloves. It’s all to do with heat transfer and exposed surfaces: in a mitten, fingers sit next to each other, and can share and hold the heat between them. If you’re wearing a glove, each finger is separated off, and therefore has only its own heat to rely on.

I can’t wait to start knitting mittens this fall. They’ll be extra warm—well fitting and beautiful too—thanks to Kate’s expertise.

What will you be doing keep your digits warm this winter?

-Kerry Bogert
Editorial Director, Books

Custom mittens and gloves are at your fingertips with Knit Mitts – order today!

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