Learning from Elizabeth, The Thumb Trick

If I had followed the vast majority of knitters on Ravelry who have knit Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Mitered Mittens, and there are currently 1161 such knitters, I would have deviated from her pattern and knit a side-gusseted thumb.  But there is just something in me that wants to knit her patterns exactly as she has written them even when it seems there is an easier course to follow.  After all, she is the knitting genius so many of us knitters aspire to be so there must be a reason behind her choice of every knitting technique.  Right?

At least so I thought until perusing the mitered mitten pattern I came to her casual words, “Try on, snip 1 st at joint of thumb, unravel in both directions…..”   What’s that? What did she say?  Did she just tell me to snip my mitten?  Did she just say ‘unravel’ part of my mitten?

It was at that point that I thought, “There must be another way!” and then I considered that there just may be a reason why scores of people were knitting a gusset side thumb!  Nonetheless, I continued to knit the cuff while I pondered the situation.

I probably looked at every helpful note attached to every Mitered Mitten on Ravelry and then, most fortuitously, stumbled upon my blogging buddy Cheryl’s extensive notes.  Cheryl had wrestled with the same issues I had over the side gusset thumb.  Both of us had concluded it was not anatomically correct, our thumbs don’t stick out at 45 degree angles from our hands.  In her notes she mentioned that she followed the ‘thumb trick’ method that Elizabeth talked about in the chapter.  It was then that I discovered the importance of reading the entire chapter, not just the part on the pattern.

The pattern didn’t mention a ‘thumb trick’ but when reading the chapter I discovered EZ was in a quandary when she knit the first mitered mitten and performed the ‘thumb-trick’ to solve the problem.  Well, if it worked for her I might as well give it a go and a ‘pleasant surprise was in store’ for me, too.

The Thumb-Trick is an ingenious knitting trick and I will use it often in the future.  It works thusly, when you come to the base of your thumb you knit seven stitches with a piece of waste yarn.  You then slide the seven stitches back to your left needle and continue knitting with your mitten yarn as if, in Elizabeth’s words, ‘nothing had happened.’

After finishing the body of the mitten you simply unravel the waste yarn revealing stitches on both sides of the opening.

After placing these on needles and picking up a stitch or two on either side you are ready to knit a thumb!  The placement of this kind of thumb is much more comfortable on my hand than a side-gusset thumb.  Most Ravelers were concerned about the miters pulling in and interrupting the pattern but it didn’t pull in enough bother me.  I would much rather have a comfortable mitten.

Pattern: Mitered Mittens for Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitters Almanac

Yarn: Noro Silk Garden (color 084)

Needles: 4mm (US 6)

What another great Zimmermann pattern!  Every pattern teaches me something new and I enjoy the ‘process knitting’.

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6 thoughts on “Learning from Elizabeth, The Thumb Trick

  1. Thank you for sharing your results and
    thoughts about EZ’s mittens. I have those
    mittens on my list of to knit items. EZ
    was amazing and brilliant. I have started my Vickie’s Cardigan and love the
    pattern.

  2. Isn’t it just a wonderful pattern! I just finished my (officially 2nd) pair, although I had knit quite a few pre-Ravelry. Your rendition is just gorgeous! For a moment I thought you had knit them out of handspun. Don’t I remember some spindle spinning a few posts back??

    I’ve knit the thumbs as she describes in the past, but my hand shape much prefers side gussets to my mittens. I must have one of those 45 degree angle thumbs! This holds true for me with all mitten patterns, not just this one.

    EZ truly is a genius though. I have most of her books, but it’s been years since I have read them. I really need to re-visit. I’m sure I would enjoy them 2nd time around as much as I did the first go.

    Again – beautiful knitting!! You inspire us all.

  3. Yay! I’m so glad it worked out for you.

    Even though the “thumb trick” thumbs make the miter in the palm pull out of alignment, the lines on the back of the hand stay straight. The side gusset makes the miter on the BACK of the hand pull sideways, which is more obvious. So even aside from the comfort, I think the afterthought thumbs make the mitten look better from the side that most people will see.

  4. It’s great of you to share your experience on the thumb placing & it looks like a great technique. Will have to try it the next time. Love your mittens.

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