When I was growing up we had a large grocery sack full of hand-knitted mittens and hats. These were not the mittens and hats we wore to school or out with our friends. Oh no, we were far too cool for that. However, each time we went out to play in the Winter months, these were the mittens and hats we reached for. The store-bought mittens were left shoved in backpacks while the handmade ones accompanied us into the wind and snow to keep us truly warm.
Now that I am a mother, I’m on the other side. I am the mitten-knitter. Each year I spend much of the Summer and into the Fall knitting mittens for my own children as well as our niece and nephews and the children of friends. With a self-imposed deadline of October 1st, I pull as many pairs of little mittens off my needles as I can manage in an attempt to keep all the little ones we know and love toasty warm in the cool Winter months ahead.
Sometimes it seems a cruel joke of the universe that knitters are so often blessed with children that aren’t the least bit interested in a handmade sweater. Perhaps the abundance of handknits in our home has made mine oblivious to the luxury. Whatever the reason, their willingness to don handmades seems directly proportional to their growing independence. Despite this resistance, mittens are one mama-made my (quite young) children are still happy to wear. I wonder, for how long? I try to choose patterns and make modifications so that the children I knit for will feel stylish as well as warm, but who knows, it could be that in their minds I’m already an old lady.
Grand expression of love that a handknit sweater certainly is, a mitten is perhaps more grand, even if it is physically smaller. Children explore the whole world with their hands. They need to touch. They need to play. They need sensory experience. I knit mittens knowing full well that they will be sullied and mostly likely felted a bit and possibly lost. I knit mittens knowing that they will fit for only a season and at its end won’t likely be in any shape to make it worthwhile to pass them on. I knit them knowing they will keep the hands of the small children I love warm while they play and delight in all that Winter has to offer.
I knit mittens and I think of that grocery sack kept by the front door all Winter long, the long hours of play with my siblings, the waiting at the bus stop knowing I would be warmer had I only chosen to wear the grocery sack mittens. I knit mittens to connect with my own mother and her mother. I knit them thinking of these women before me, with a new understanding of why they kept knitting even when they knew we would claim to be too old for such things. I knit mittens to keep my children warm. I knit mittens and wonder if one day my children will knit mittens too.
Carrie McClain is a wife, mama, wanna-be writer and photographer, lover of good food, art, and living simply. She lives in the Finger Lakes region of NY state and blogs at November Morning.