What is a Thrum and Why is it in My Mitten?

Learn about the purpose of thrummed mittens in knitting.I have become quite obsessed lately with having warm hands up here in the land of single-digit-temps and multi-digit-snowfalls. I bought a pair of thinsulate gloves, but a half-block of dog walking finds me pulling my fingers into the palm section of the gloves because my fingers aren’t warm enough out there all by themselves. What I really need are mittens. WARM, totally toasty thrummed mittens.

I scoured through all my patterns to come up with Warm Mitten Candidates. I was thinking I could line a pair, or even felt a pair. But then a colleague at Interweave sent me the actual mittens Marlaina Bird made for the Winter 2008 issue of Interweave Crochet. (If you don’t subscribe, you’re missing out on making these. Subscribe now.) Within two minutes after opening the box, my little hands were singing with warm delight.

Thrummed mittens, people. The answer to cold hands and truly warm mittens is THRUMS.

What are thrummed mittens and why are thrums in my mittens?

Learn about thrummed mittens and how they keep your hands so warm in this exclusive knitting article.“Thrum” originally referred to the short lengths of waste yarn leftover after woven cloth was cut off the loom. In the spirit of necessary thriftiness, craftspeople would find a variety of uses for these thrums—stuffing pillows and mattresses, and after a while, knitting them into mittens and hats to provide an extra layer of warmth.

Each thrum, or short length of yarn, would be worked together with the main knitting yarn as a single stitch, with the ends of the thrum left hanging inside the mitten to provide insulation. Lovely! Except that people soon discovered that the yarny thrums could catch on fingers, and even fray.

The second type of thrum works much better, and has been a tradition for generations in the chilly-but-gorgeous environs of Newfoundland and Labrador up here in Canada. This type of thrum is actually roving, or unspun sheep’s wool, separated into wisps, which are then knit into the stitches along with the working yarn as before. The ends of the fleece formed little poofy pillows inside your mittens, and your fingers start thanking you the minute a pair of thrummed mittens is on your hands.

Basically, you’re making a sheepskin for the inside of your mittens. With the wide variety of dyed wool roving available these days, you can choose a rainbow of colors from which to make your thrums. (You can purchase unspun roving at many local yarn shops; or take a trip to your local fibre festival!)

How do you make a thrum? And then how do you get it inside your mittens?

Thrummed mittens by Marlaiina Bird in Interweave Crochet Winter 2008 issue.The technique of thrumming lends itself beautifully to both knitting and crochet. Since I cannot be the only person in the entire world with cold hands this time of year, here’s what we’re going to do the rest of this week:

On Wednesday, we’ll learn how to handle the roving and make thrums. (Fair warning: Handling roving to make thrums is a gateway drug. Once you start with the thrums, it’s just a short distance to a spindle or a spinning wheel. Just sayin’.)

On Friday, we’ll show you how to get the thrums into your mittens! Marlaina herself will show us how to do this using a crochet hook, and I will show you how to do it with knitting needles.

And along the way, we’ll have links to nifty thrummed mitten patterns (both knitted and crocheted) so you can make your own hands toasty and warm.

Because I gotta tell ya, there is nothing quite like reaching inside one’s mittens and finding lots of tiny little sheepy fluffs waiting for one’s poor cold hands.


Thrummed Mitten Patterns You Have to Try:

Knitted thrummed mittens by Jennifer Appleby in Interweave.For knitters:
Thrummed Mittens by Jennifer Appleby

Thrummed Mittens by Rita Buchanan
Spin-Off, Winter 2001 (Subscribe here)

For crocheters:
Thrummed Mittens by Marlaina Bird
Interweave Crochet, Winter 2008 (Subscribe here)

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