Hermine Colorwork Mittens Creative Process
I know that I say every new pattern is my favorite, but the Hermine Colorwork Mittens are truly the OG (yes, I just referred to mittens as "Original Gangsters"). The inspiration for them came long before I even knew how to knit, when my Great Great Aunt Hermine (yes, she's a boss - still knitting at age 95) sent my family gorgeous colorwork mittens all the way from Austria to America every few years when I was a kid.
These are the kind of mittens that everybody loves - even my sister, who dresses in purely neutrals & solids, has a pair. There's something completely classic about them that's a little irresistible. Whenever I knit a pair in public, I get strangers coming up to me oooh-ing & aaah-ing. Whenever I knit a pair for someone I know & love, it's treasured in a way that I really hope all my handknits are treasured, but it's for some reason a more palpable feeling. It's like these mittens are unmistakably a great feat of knitting - people can't help but stop & admire them.
But the best part about these mittens is that they're remarkably simple to knit. Sure, stranded colorwork isn't exactly easy, but it just takes a little practice. The pattern itself is simple as can be - just a little increasing, a little decreasing, some pretty little kitchener stitch, & a little thumb surgery at the end. And boom - you've got a great mitten (well, hopefully 2 mittens) that will make all of your friends oooh & aaah.
My first attempt at these mittens was as a Christmas present for my mom three years ago. As you can see in this screenshot, she was pretty geeked about them. And so was I! It was probably the first thing I'd designed (& I use that term loosely). I looked at one of the pairs of mittens Hermine had sent us & tried to dissect it (metaphorically, of course - I didn't tear it apart) to figure out the structure.
This was the winter of my sophomore year of college - the time when I was really getting into my knitting groove. That Christmas, I would receive the yarn that would become my first sweater. I started experimenting by making up my own patterns or tweaking others to make them exactly what I wanted.
These mittens I made my mom were the very beginning of that experimenting. It was much more of a technical challenge than a creative one. I tried to figure out where the increases & decreases went (& what kind to use), how to knit with two colors of yarn at a time, what yarn & needle sizes to use. And they turned out pretty good - but not perfect (sorry, Mom!). The stitch count was off, the decreasing was fairly sloppy, & my tension was kind of all over the place (I hadn't yet discovered blocking). But as you can tell from the Instagram post above, she loved them.
My second attempt at these mittens was about a year & a half later, & the stakes were high. I was making them for Hermine herself. I studied abroad in Vienna, Austria & I knew that I had to travel to her home (& my Grandma's hometown) of Obersdorf, Austria to meet her. This place is in the middle of nowhere - like I had to take a train to the town over & literally hitchhike to get there because there were absolutely no taxis - but it is everything you'd ever want the Austrian countryside to be (the hills were most certainly alive).
For some reason, I only have these horrible pictures of me working on the mittens in my bed back in Vienna as evidence that I made them. But even with the questionable photography, you can see I started to take liberties in the design. I fixed the stitch count so that the front & back were better aligned, I did kitchener stitch at the top instead of bringing the two sides to a point, & the overall tension is much better. I was extremely proud of these mittens, & I could not wait to give them to Hermine.
Hermine was everything I hoped she'd be & more. She didn't speak a word of English, & my German was elementary at best, but I genuinely had some of the best few days of my life getting to know her. Whenever the language barrier became too much, we would just sit & knit together. As you can see in the photo above, she was working on her own pair of mittens while I was there. She trades handknit goods (mittens & socks, mostly) to other people in her town for other goods such as clothing or delicious bakery items, or services around the house. She's a vision.
She almost refused to take the mittens I'd made her. She literally said to me (in German) "I don't need these, I'm going to die soon" - with a good natured laugh. But then she said that since the finishing was so good, she would accept them.
So flash forward another year & a half, & here I am releasing this pattern into the world. It's fully my own now - I've changed a lot of the techniques while still keeping the simple structure to let the colorwork shine.
But this pattern would never exist without Hermine - or her sister, my Great Grandma (who we called Grossma - you can see a snapshot of her above). They were the two reasons I wanted to learn how to knit in the first place. Grossma, because she didn't speak much English but she did knit, & I wanted to have a way to bond with her. I thought if I learned to knit, we could have our own language (it actually kind of worked - hooray for kid logic!). And Hermine, because the mittens she sent us gave me something to aspire to.
As for the pattern itself, you get a whole lot of options in one little package. The original snowflake design is available as one of the colorwork charts, but I've created several more as well. You can mix & match them as much as you want, as all the back of hand, palm, & thumb charts are interchangeable (21 different mitten options altogether!). And just by switching the weight of yarn used, you can create three different sizes (so it's really like 63 mitten options! but that logic is pushing it).
I'll be sharing a little bit more about each colorwork design over on Instagram today, so make sure to follow along. And the pattern is available for purchase through the link below, or on Ravelry or Etsy. And it's 25% off through Friday to celebrate its release - grab it at the discounted rate while you can!
If you'd like to order a pair of handknit mittens, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to craft something special just for you (or your loved one!)