The Shoemaker’s Children

I have something to tell you.  It’s an embarrassing, shameful thing, and a secret I have been keeping for almost two years. I think of telling you often, and you shouldn’t think that because I haven’t we are not close, but the truth is that I haven’t felt ready. I know that so many of you could have helped if only you had known, but it has seemed easier to carry it alone than to reveal it. It’s finally time.

I have been wearing store bought mittens.

Oh, it gets worse.  Not just any store bought mittens, but crappy acrylic mittens that I bough from a sale bin at The Bay when I had super-cold hands and my last pair of fantastic hand knit mittens had finally shovelled one too many driveways, and left this earth for the great big sheep pasture in the sky. Since then, I have knit (checks records) about 14 pairs of mittens for other people.  Beautiful mittens. Mittens with fancy cuffs, mittens with Latvian braids, colourwork mittens, simple woollen mittens, and trigger finger mittens.  Hell, I knit four pairs of mittens for other people in December alone, all while jamming my hands either into my pockets, or shamefully donning the craptastic store specials when the weather demanded it.

Suddenly, I could take it no longer. I grabbed a ball of some decent upstanding wool from the cupboard, and slammed out a pair for myself, just using the mitten pattern I carry in my head (thanks Aunt Helen) and this morning when they were done and dry,  I looked at them and realized that I deserved better – sure, a good plain pair of handknits is never wrong, and at least I was back in the game, but I was pretty sure I could do more.  I’m still deep in baby-knits land (the blanket is in the round now, and I’ve entered the phase where it looks like the worlds fanciest shopping sack) so frankly all my bandwidth for fussy things was used up, and then I had an idea.

I’m embroidering them.  It’s a fast and pretty way to take them to the next level, and make them something that a textile artist can be proud to wear. A one of a kind pair, made with my own two little hands.  I worked up a sketch on the back of an envelope, found oddments in pretty colours from my leftovers bin, and I’m almost done.

Bouillon roses with french knot centres, and fetching little satin stitch buds, a meandering path of split stitch, and wee lazy daisy leaves.

Tomorrow, I walk among us again, with my hands proudly out of my pockets, and my head held high.

112 thoughts on “The Shoemaker’s Children

  1. I have done nearly the same thing. My pair of hand knit mittens finally wore out each in the thumbs. I was sure I would bang out another lovely pair, winter was nearly done so I had months to create a new pair. Nope, next winter came, thumbs still cold. So instead I performed surgery, chopped off the holey thumbs, picked up stitches and used similar handspun yarn and frankensteined new thumbs on very old mittens! Two years later those thumbs are holding strong!

  2. I had a similar realization this winter and just started a pair of your Cloisonee mittens for me! Can’t wait to wear them!!

  3. As I walked along the city streets during the recent chilly weather, my fingers still felt cold, and then I wondered why I was wearing worn-out polar fleece gloves instead of the alpaca mittens still in the closet at home.

  4. Oh, so pretty. Well done.

    I too never knit anything for myself. I didn’t think too much about it. I buy yarn. I take great pleasure in knitting it. I give it away or sell it. I buy more yarn. A happy circle.

    Then my 10-year-old daughter, who has been watching me do this her entire life, suddenly upset the cycle. “Mom, how come you always give everything you make away? How come you never make anything for us? You know? Your family? I mean, you like looking at your handknit stuff a lot, so why not knit me a sweater so you can see your work AND your pretty daughter at the same time?”

    And that’s how a clever girl gets herself a Sock Arms. I shall not be embroidering anything, though. That IS the next level.

    • Very clever. Clearly learned from her clever Mum I’ll bet.

      Steph those are beautiful and I’m glad to hear you’ll have warm hands once again.

    • Right? This is an important reminder to .. at least every so often .. make something for those closest to us. They will treasure it (if they don’t throw it in the was and shrink it).

    • On Tuesday at the store, the lady next to me at the checkout admired my sweater and asked if I’d knit it, and I had to tell her that I DO knit, but I’d bought this one at LL Bean…in 1998! It’s a tweedy gray with a yoke design in oatmeal, and it has to be below 15F to wear it, or it’s much too hot. I need to get out the small needles and knit my middle-aged self some fingering-weight wool sweaters that keep me warm without overheating.

  5. Your mittens are beautiful! Such wonderful embroidery! [I am wearing store bought socks today. Will rectify that tomorrow.]

  6. Thank you for admitting to us that you had an issue with store bought knits. That took some bravery. I can say you are absolutely redeemed with those gorgeous embroidered mitts that you knit.

  7. lol, I’m walking around wearing shoes but no socks this morning. Why? I finally got around to washing all my hand knitsl and they are on hangers in the bathroom drying. I ‘feel’ you. 🙂 PS there is another pair on the needles…okay the first of two, but I’m beyond the heel.

  8. Fellow confessor here. Until last winter, when I wore a hat at all, I wore a plain unisex merino cap from MEC. Not a flattering look for me, but it was fast and warm and …
    Not that I don’t knit lots of hats (my live-in-the-purse-for-queues knitting), but they are for gifts or get donated. Then I found the Palindrome (reversible cables!!!) pattern on Rav and now I have two in rotation, one with a little silk in it (so pretty), and one out of 70s lopi (a tad itchy but super warm when it hits –40-odd like it did last week).
    Generally, I am a glove person (MEC again) not a mitten person, but these might make me a convert. Very beautiful.

    • I’m a glove person so I knit a pair of fingerless gloves and wear them over leather gloves. Especially welcome with the coat that doesn’t have pockets to shove cold hands in.

      • Smacks head with hand! I don’t wear my fingerless mitts outside because of cold fingers…putting them over leather gloves…genius!

        • I wear my fingerless gloves under my mittens, so my hands don’t freeze when I take the mittens off to pick up dog poop.

  9. Okay, I’m off to slam embroidery on everything I can find.

    I can’t tell you how many pair of Cloisonne mittens I’ve made for other people but none for myself. They’re perfect, looking impressive while being deceptively easy. They’re my go-to pattern.

  10. Beautiful. I am wearing a cashmere sweater that I got at the local thrift store for $3.00. On my list this year is a pair of mittens and a pair of fingerless gloves. Some proper ones with cables or colorwork.

  11. They are beautiful!! French knots are hard (in my humble opinion), and they look beautiful! We will not tell anybody about the … other mittens? What other mittens?

  12. I understand the shame of finding yourself in a dark path, but sometimes we have to do what we have to do to get through a tough spot. You can be proud that a) you found your own way back into the light and b) at least you didn’t drag the children into the darkness with you.

    • Except for Elliot….didn’t he wear a store bought hat for a long while that Steph (ahem) bought him. However, it was an emergency as I recall.

  13. They are gorgeous! About 15+|- years ago, I saw a woman with the most beautiful Fair Isle gloves or mittens and she had an i-cord safety “string” so they could hang at her wrists if she didn’t want to use them. I love that idea and will use it someday! Enjoy them.

  14. I am standing beside you, Harlot. I have worn crappy acrylic gloves for many years. Partly because I prefer to wear gloves, but really hate to knit them. I have made many pairs of mittens for friends and family and charity, too, but none have been made for myself.

    Those are lovely mittens you’ve made. The embroidery certainly takes them over the top. My embroidery on handknits tends to look wonky, but yours is beautiful. Well done.

  15. for ultimate warmth you need some thrum mittens though. Knit some of those for nieces….not for myself. I too have a shameful secret (sssshhhh).

  16. Super pretty mittens and warm hands! I keep knitting socks and not wearing them. I”m not sure why! I do wear them sometimes, but I haven’t this year since it got cold. I must wear hand knit socks tomorrow. They are warm!!

  17. Who knew?! An accomplished embroiderer as well as a knitter. Bullion roses are my nemesis. These are beautiful and perfect for you.

  18. Nice! Pretty elaborate emroidery, though. Obviously not your first time. Acrylic could be useful for moving firewood from the shed into the house… maybe.

  19. ohhhh LOVE those mittens!!! I am inspired! And wondering if you used embroidery thread or yarn from your stash? I’ve got a lot of embroidery floss in the garage that was my mom’s, if that would work okay…

    And… I am sort of in the same place, in that most of what I knit goes to other people… and since it doesn’t get very cold where I live, I only have fingerless mitts (that Knitterotica made, since I always give away what I make) and no hats… so when I went to visit the snow on Sunday, I just had an ancient Polarfleece ear warmer and fingerless mitts to wear. Note to self: knit hat and complete mittens for ME for next year! My hands were lovely and warm inside the mitts, but my fingers were red and cold after I threw a few snowballs!

  20. I would love to hear more about how you manage the logistics of embroidering something that is a closed tube. I tried embroidering some plain mittens and gave up quickly because it was a major pain to deal with the needle from the inside of the fabric. Do you not go all the way through as you would with cloth in a hoop?

  21. Beautiful embroidery !! I have toyed with the idea of learning so I could embroider on a felted bag. Another undisclosed talent.

  22. wait what? trigger finger mittens? what are these things because i have a friend who could use a pair

    also, the ones you have made for yourself are wonderful. the embroidery is gorgeous.

  23. You are preaching to the choir.
    Beautiful mitts though.
    Whatever happened to those delectable mittens you made directly from the silk hanky? You said those were for YOU. Please don’t say you shovelled snow wearing them.

  24. Those are stunning! Suddenly I’m wondering what plain knit items I might have around the house that could be fancied up with some embroidery.

  25. I love embroidering and doing duplicate stitch on hand knits! It’s such a great way to use up odds and ends and it always looks much more complicated than it really is!

  26. You have new mittens. Now you need a hat to match. And a scarf. A cowl, too. Maybe a balaclava. And you found your leftovers bin — doesn’t Elliot’s bunny need some new clothes? And what was that about a new granddaughter needing a king-size baby blanket??

  27. Your mittens are lovely! But I fail to understand why anyone would WANT a pair of mittens except maybe to sleep in if they were camping in the dead of winter; you keep having to take them off to make change, unlock a door, drive a car, hand the bus driver a ticket…well, you get the idea. So I buy leather gloves lined with Thinsulate and knit wristlets that go from my elbows down my arm and then flare out, ending just about where my fingers start. There don’t seem to be a lot of patterns for these so I make them up as I go along. And because I use a CPAP machine and don’t like the draft on my wrists, I also have a pair to sleep in. I think you’ve inspired me, though; my next pair will be embroidered!

    • HaHaHa! I’m in Winnipeg and wear leather mittens to keep the wind out. I’m in the process of knitting proper mitts to go over the leather ones because like you I’m embarrassed that I’m not wearing handknit ones. I found that the wind still goes through the thrums so I don’t know if I’ve done something wrong there and I never knit mitts without icord idiot strings so shopping and bus rides are a breeze.

  28. I was exactly at the same point two years ago with mittens. This year I felt a lot of shame/remorse over having so much yarn and purchasing an acrylic hat… the tipping point was that it was for a winter hike with my children. Now I need to hide it somewhere and knit myself a few more hats! Your mittens are lovely!

  29. Handknit wool mittens are pretty much the Platonic ideal of what knitting is good at. Look at them–so human! Our hands, making hand-shaped objects to protect our hands! The cuff, the thumb, the way the top comes to a neat, roundish (imo) point–they’re just so perfect. And faster than socks, which also partake of the essence of knit-hood.

  30. I was stalled on my City of Fountains scarf, a place where I had five stitches instead of four, when a friend from a literary group unexpectedly thrust at me a bag of yarn she was never going to turn into something else, among them two skeins of a gorgeous, same dyelot, multicolor acrylic. Using that familiar dishcloth pattern I’ve almost finished a lovely baby car seat cuddler.

  31. Stephanie, I do not judge you at all, because clearly you didn’t have your own hand-knit mittens because you were too busy knitting them for others. I’d be worried if you had multiple pairs and your children/grandchild had none! However, I am glad that your hands are now properly covered in wool, because acrylic doesn’t cut it in Canada in the winter.

  32. Acrylic? Acrylic?? That must have been the hardest part of your confession, even harder than the store-bought part. But we all understand *makes a quick exit to search for and purge any acrylic that still lurks*

  33. There is no shame here! Sometime you just gotta do what you gotta do. And life gets dang cold during these months. Your new mittens are absolutely lovely though! Congratulations on beautifying your life….and ours!

  34. I always picture you wearing a pair of SpillyJane mitts, with beer mugs on them. I guess that was a while ago, and they wore out? (or did they go to someone else?) I, too, am wearing cheap fleece gloves from Walmart rather than handknits.Because they were on sale for $2. And if I lose them, it doesn’t matter.

  35. OMG, I feel so much better for reading this post and all the responses. I am currently also wearing the cheap fleece $2 gloves from Walmart! I have a pair of log cabin fingerless mitts over them that I knit for myself after making about 2 dozen of them for everyone else.
    Steph, that embroidery is so lovely. I wonder if there is enough time for that in my world? SIGH

  36. Yeah, not only do I wear store-bought gloves, but also a store bought hat and wool socks. I am wearing my own knit cowls tho. Mostly because I got kind of obsessed last year and knit 15 cowls with no one to give them too.
    I have plans for a half dozen sweaters, but end up just knitting for the kids, the grandkids and my mom.

  37. I feel you. I moved back to the city fr4om our lakeside farm a year ago last November. I am gradually retrieving items as I need them or find places to put them in my tiny accessible house. My handknit mittens somehow remain at the lake. This past fall I finally bought a rather nice pair of mittens (not knitted) that go well with a poncho I made for travelling by mobility scooter or power chair when my hands are exposed. Ironically, my current work in progress is a pair of flip top mittens but they are too large for me and were always intended for a local mission. They came with me when I moved but got put on hoild while I knit a sweater for a friend which also took too long because my shoulders don’t like me knitting long. Anyone need a lifetime supply of yarn?

    • Almost certainly the nearest yarn store would be happy to give you the name of a charity that would LOVE all or parts of your lifetime supply of yarn.

  38. Welcome back to the fold!

    For the past two years I’ve been wearing storebought Buffalo Gold fingerless mitts (bought from a sale bin), all the while saying to anyone who will listen, “I really do need to make myself another pair of fingerless mitts.” My husband steals every pair I make, and I’ve worn my own to pills and holes.

    But you know, acrylic doesn’t keep you warm. It just transmits cold.

  39. I’m not a commenter on anything. But I am a regular reader of your blog.

    Those mittens with the embroidery are outstanding.

    If I lived in a place that warranted mittens I would be banging out a pair in a minute.

  40. Oh hunny don’t feel bad! I’ve been wearing the $2 gloves from the Michaels bin for like a decade now. My nails grow fast so quickly I’m forever punching holes in my gloves and no longer had the heart to continue to abuse lovely knits. It’s sad, my hands aren’t as warm as they could be, but I see it as respecting knits and using the yarnie budget elsewhere. (though lord I’ve tons of soft sock yarn that would be lovely for it…)

  41. True works of art.

    I had to laugh – my aunt used that phrase all the time. My father repaired TVs – and we always had old ones people wouldn’t want to fix. Waited forever for a color tv, because they ‘weren’t perfected’ and he was constantly adjusting others.
    Thanks for the memory! Wear them with love and pride.

  42. Time for the real truth…celebrities are always in sunglasses trying to duck hoards of fans. Celebrity knitters wear dollar store mittens.

    Beautiful embroidery. And no other mittens like them!

  43. Wait! 14 pairs of mittens of all types and how many shared with us? I guess you do have a right to some privacy. Thank you for sharing this pair. I shared the post with my daughter, who doesn’t knit, and she loved it.

  44. I wear store bought mittens most of the time in winter. They are black with multi-colored sparkles! I can’t resist sparkles. I save my hand knit gloves for the coldest days. Besides, more time to knit the sweaters that are most important for keeping me warm and can be used all year round.

  45. I never make mittens. They always got lost. We can’t wear wool anyway. When the kiddo was young I would buy the cheapy acrylic mitts at the farmers market, 3 pairs at the time.
    I did make one mitten once, to be used as a favour in medieval combat. That is all.
    Knitted mittens are too cold here. You need wind proof heavy lined ones here.

  46. Woo Hoo for simple (thought they don’t look that simple to do) additions to basic mittens to upgrade them to ‘hand worthy’ status!!

  47. Gorgeous! My go-to mittens are plain, knit in double worsted or bulky yarn to fit my rather large hands. A couple of years ago I made myself two nice new wool pairs that generally matched my two favorite hats. But the hats are getting (have gotten) ratty and my husband finally converted to the mitten side of the force (after losing yet another pair of gloves) and adopted one of the nice wool pairs I had made myself. So…probably time to do some more new mittens for the household. Sooner or later mittens will be lost or wear out and I like to be prepared.

  48. I just want to wish you all blessings on your blogaversary — I remember because today is the eleventh birthday of the Boquete Knitters and Quilters, my little charity in the mountains of Panama. I take quiet joy in our mutual celebratory day.

  49. Those turned out really well.

    Since you are in deep on the baby blanket (and we know that babies can’t be born until the blanket is done), that is one approach.

    Personally, I thought that you were going to use those for tasks that are hard on mittens, like shoveling, and then knit a fancier pair for when mittens don’t need to be as tough, just warm.

  50. Living on the #wildwetcoast as I do mittens are not something I wear. Good old leather gloves with an alpaca knit lining for me. Mittens would be sopping wet in 5 minutes in the rain (of biblical proportions) we have had this winter.
    But I do love your mittens <3 <3 <3

  51. Oh, dear. I’m wearing store bought mittens made out of crappy acrylic, too. After I’m done with “Zig” the cowl I will cast on mittens. Though attempting embroidery would likely send the finished product into the bargain bin. Maybe a pretty cable or decorative cuff. Perhaps an easy Fair Isle beginner project. Any ideas? I’m a perennial low intermediate knitter.

  52. I am currently relying on 2 craptastic pairs of red gloves…….I’ve made hats and mitts and cowls and such for everybody! Still haven’t given myself the pleasure of some pretty things just for ME.
    And the beat goes on….
    Nancy in MN

  53. I have never had a pair of handknit mittens, gloves, etc that keep my hands warm. However the store bought ones with lining are so warm that I even put them on in the house when I’m chilly. Result : I don’t knit mitts anymore, even as gifts.

  54. I *love* these!

    Mine are store-bought because Buffalo Wool Co had a sale right before a trip to my daughter’s, then in Alaska, so that they were cheaper than buying their yarn to make a pair. And let me tell you, scraping snow and ice off a windshield in the winter in Anchorage? Buffalo was definitely the way to go. Totally lived up to the hype.

  55. Stephanie – I’m proudest of the changes you have made and the challenges you have met in your life – learning to ski is huge! For you and your hubby. Long distance biking! Deadlifting! Dealing with grief and new bundles of joy! Starting new traditions. All serious things – and you’re still willing to share with us – and share glorious bullion roses – OMG! Thank you! And keep on changing!

  56. Life is full of change and we do well when we embrace it. I love your blog as much today as I did when I found it 10 years ago. Keep being you, whatever that looks like 10 years from now.

  57. HaHaHa! I’m in Winnipeg and wear leather mittens to keep the wind out. I’m in the process of knitting proper mitts to go over the leather ones because like you I’m embarrassed that I’m not wearing handknit ones. I found that the wind still goes through the thrums so I don’t know if I’ve done something wrong there and I never knit mitts without icord idiot strings so shopping and bus rides are a breeze.

  58. The first thing my Oma taught me to knit was mittens. Flat. On two needles. She would make a new pair for each grandchild each year. I learned how to knit them on double pointed needles, and now I am never without a mitten on the go. One fall I knit about seven or eight of the same mittens in the same colour in case of losses.
    Also, for people who say knit mittens aren’t warm enough, You just wear two pair at a time. Make the outer pair maybe two stitches larger than the inner pair. And when the thumb goes, or the index finger area gets thin, take it off and make a new one. Mine always end up looking like colour blocked. gray body, green finger area, blue thumb, maybe red darning in the thumb crotch, etc.

  59. Gorgeous! Love the embroidery, why have I never thought of this??? I have to admit, I have lost my favorite mittens and have been wearing a pair of fingerless mitts over a pair of dollar store gloves. Yikes, it does the trick but where are those lovely cashmere mittens?

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