Esther Rutter: Gather Mitts
Esther Rutter is a writer, knitting historian and knitwear designer based in Fife.
For this commission, Esther has designed a complete, illustrated, and graded knitting pattern for Gather Mitts, including information on the context and history of knitting techniques used and practical guidance for making the garment.
Download the pattern as a PDF here.
To knit’ literally means ‘to bring together’, and as a writer, knitting historian and knitwear designer I am fascinated by the ways knitting not only builds communities, but is an accessible and widely practiced art form that has a two-hundred-year history of being used therapeutically in the treatment of mental illness. My knitwear design is informed by my experience of being mentally unwell – which included being sectioned in a Japanese psychiatric hospital – and reflects both the knitting heritage of Scotland where I now live, but also the material culture of Japan.
Shibori is a traditional Japanese resist dyeing technique where the fabric is folded before being dipped in indigo dye. The folded or bunched areas retain their original colour, whilst areas exposed to the indigo dye take on that hue. In essence, shibori is a techqniue where the physical history of the fabric forms an intrinsic part of the finished product, adding to its beauty and unique character.
To me, shibori is a prescient analogy for the process by which lived experiences shape our lives. What happens to us has a bearing on who we are and will become. Our history is part of who we are, and when that history is traumatic or difficult it is important to acknowledge that; not to lessen or magnify its importance, but to understand the person fully and appreciate the developing texture of our lives.
Because shibori works by contrasting the dyed and undyed parts of the fabric, I have sought to recreate that contrast in my design for the Gather Mitts. By using lace or open-work knitting, the body becomes part of the design, and every person who makes a pair of Gather Mitts is free to choose a colour that they thinks works best with their skin tone. The pattern then becomes unique to them, intrinsic to themselves.
I have designed this pattern for laceweight woollen yarn so that the resulting gloves are light but warm: ideal for wearing in May in Scotland when the weather can still be cold. The mitts are knitted in the round; traditional lace-knitting from Shetland is knitted in the round rather than as flat pieces which are sewn together.
The central lace pattern in the middle of each mitten is a pattern known as ‘feather lace’. There are many different feather-type lace patterns in both Shetland and Japanese knitting, but this one is a simple pattern repeat that makes a simple, elegant feather shape across the back of the mitts. The rest of the mitts are knitted in stockting stitch, making them a straightforward and comparatively quick lace-weight knit.
About the Designer
Esther Rutter is a writer, knitting historian and knitwear designer based in Fife. Her first book, This Golden Fleece: A Journey Through Britain’s Knitted History, was published to popular and critical acclaim by Granta Books in 2019; her second book, due for publication in 2024, explores the connection between language, landscape, literature and mental health. Esther is also an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of St Andrews, and her knitwear designs seek to combine the cultural history of knitting with contemporary design sensibilities to create accessible, wearable garments that anyone can learn to make.
Samples are shown in Jamieson & Smith L21 laceweight (50% Shetland wool/50% lambswool)
Needles: 2.25 and 2.5mm DPNs, or your preferred needles for knitting small circumferences in the round.
Waste yarn in contrasting colour.
Tension: 30 sts and 44 rounds to 10cm over stocking stitch using 2.5mm needles.
Sizes: Adult (S), M, (L). Size shown: adult M.
With smaller size needles, cast on (46) 54 (62) stitches in the round being careful not to twist.
K1, P1 for 6 rounds to creat a ribbed cuff.
Switch to 2.5mm needles and knit for two rounds.
Work from chart as follows, reading each row from right to left, or follow written instructions given below.
R1: Knit (14) 18 (22) sts; K2, yfd, k2; s2, k1, psso; K2, yfd, k1, yfd, k2; s2, k1, psso; k2, yfd, k1; knit (14) 18 (22) sts.
R2 and every alternate (even) row: Knit all stitches.
R3: Knit (14) 18 (22) sts; K3, yfd, k1; s2, k1, psso; K1, yfd, k3, yfd, k1; s2, k1, psso; k1, yfd; K2; knit (14) 18 (22) sts.
R5: Knit (14) 18 (22) sts; K4, yfd; s2, k1, psso; yfd, K5, yfd; ; s2, k1, psso; yfd, K3; knit (14) 18 (22) sts.
Rows 7, 9, 11, 13: Knit (14) 18 (22) sts; K1, K2tog, K2, yfd, k1, yfd, K2; s2, k1, psso; K2, yfd, K1, yfd, K2, skpo; knit (14) 18 (22) sts.
R15: Knit (14) 18 (22) sts; K1, K2tog, K1, yfd, K3, yfd, K1; s2, k1, psso; K1, yfd, K3, yfd, K1, skpo; knit (14) 18 (22) sts.
R17: Knit (14) 18 (22) sts; K1, k2tog, yfd, K5, yfd; s2, k1, psso; yfd, K5, yfd, skpo; knit (14) 18 (22) sts.
Rows 19, 21, 23: Knit (14) 18 (22) sts; k2, yfd, k2; ; s2, k1, psso; k2, yfd, K1, yfd, K2; ; s2, k1, psso; K2, yfd, K2; knit (14) 18 (22) sts.
Row 24: Knit all stches.
Repeat pattern twice plus rows 1 – 6 once more (54 rounds in pattern). ***
For thumb stitches: Knit (14) 18 (22) sts; work row 7 of lace pattern; knit 4 sts. Then using waste yarn knit (9) 10 (11) stitches, slips sts just worked back onto needle, knit to end.
Continue in pattern until you have completed 3 repeats of the lace pattern (72 rounds).
Knit 2 rounds in stocking stitch, then switch to smaller size needles.
With smaller size needles, K1, P1 for 6 rounds to creat a ribbed cuff.
Cast off in pattern.
Pick up the right side of each stitch in the main yarn directly below the row of waste yarn stitches,, leaving you with (9) 10 (11) stitches on your needles.
Rotate mitt and pick up the stitches which are now below the waste yarn on the opposite side; (18) 20 (22) stitches.
To close gaps at the sides of the tumb, pick up an extra stitch at the beignning and end of each needle, so you have a total of (22) 24 (26) stitches aroud the thumb.
Knit in the round for 10 rounds, then switch to smaller needles and knit 6 rounds in K1, P1 rib.
Work as right mitt to ****.
Next round: Knit 4 sts; then using waste yarn knit (9) 10 (11) stitches, slips sts just worked back onto needle; knit 4 sts. W ork row 7 of lace pattern; knit (14) 18 (22) sts.
Complete as for Right Mitt and Thumb.
Weave in ends with tapestry needle and then wash in warm but not hot water. Roll in a towel to dry and then block until the lace pattern pops!
Concept: Light, lace-weight mittens inspired by Japanese shibori dyeing and traditional Scottish lace-knitting.