Knitting History: What are Buff Mittens?

Good question. What are buff mittens? I’ve never heard of them before, but today, Knitting Daily e-newsletter featured an article from PieceWork magazine that was published in Fall 2011. The following is quoted from that article, “Annis Holmes’s Buff Knitting: Preserving and Updating a North Country Tradition.” The North Country cited includes  New England, which increased my interest, being a lifelong native of the region.

According to author Joanna Johnson,  “In winter during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, warm, windproof, and waterproof mittens, deemed ‘buff mittens,’ were a mainstay for loggers and others laboring in the woods of the Adirondack region of New York, New England, and neighboring Canada….The term ‘buff’ may refer to the felted pile or to the undyed yarn that typically was used to make the mittens.”

Curious about the term “buff”, I checked it out in several dictionaries, but none of the definitions I found relate to mittens or even to knitting. Instead, a soft, thick leather with a napped surface, often made from buffalo skin, was known as buff. Then there were the more common meanings, such as a brownish yellow color, a polishing process, bare skin, a devotee of some particular subject or activity, or the slang for physically fit. Interestingly, American colonists in the 17th century wore a short, thick coat made of buffalo leather, called a buffcoat.




But back to the mittens. For PieceWork’s 10th annual Historical Knitting Issue, available now, Joanna designed the child’s buff mittens seen in the photo. If you want to know how that soft fuzzy surface is made, you can order a kit, or read about it in the magazine. Basically, it involves knitting the fabric with loops on the surface, then cutting, trimming, and fulling the finished product. Sounds like the embroidery technique of Turkey work, aka Ghiordes Knot, for which there are numerous tutorials online.

More info about this project, including where to get the mitten kit, is available right over  here .

(Wonder how these mittens hold up after multiple washings and wearings. They recall to mind some dusting mitts my mother used to have.)

Diagonal Twist Scarf

One of the best commercial fiber arts sites on the web is . They’ve been around for a while, but recently revamped their website, and it’s a winner, exceptionally organized and beautifully photographed and presented. All the major fiber arts techniques (sewing, embroidery, crafting, weaving, knitting and crochet) have their own department, with patterns, tools, and tutorials. It all makes for very fun browsing.

If you’re a knitter or crocheter who hasn’t seen the new PurlSoho site yet, you’re in for a treat. Many beautiful yarns, and on the product page for each one, there are pictures of related projects that the particular yarn is best suited for. Today’s free newsletter pattern immediately caught my eye, because of its  unusual design in diagonal twist stitch. I also love the color, sheen, and drapiness of the Alpaca Pure yarn, which is worsted weight and comes in a range of other equally lovely shades. The color shown is called Grey Fig.


The scarf is made using size 8 (US) needles, circular or straight, and requires 7 skeins of this particular yarn, which comes in skeins of 109 yards. The pattern, which includes a tutorial on this stitch, can be found here . Just noticed that the wrong side is every bit as attractive as the right, always a plus.

Little Felted Snowman

Over the years I’ve occasionally added felting articles to Dances with Wools, but except for mittens, not very many actual patterns. Earlier this week,  I subscribed to another fiber arts blog, Crafts n Coffee, and have been enjoying my explorations over there. This morning, this adorable snowman made its appearance, and it looks like so much fun to make. If you think so too, you can find the pattern right here .


Madge, Part Wrap and Part Sweater


What a find in my email this morning! Meet Madge. Today’s Lion Brand newsletter contained this awesome original pattern, designed by the knitter Katy Smith, who writes the Philigry blog. She developed it because she wanted a garment that combined sleeves with the look of a wrap. It can be symmetrical or asymmetrical depending upon where you place the snaps, and she describes it as a rectangle with holes for sleeves. And it looks super in Woolease, an inexpensive yarn that comes in many colors. I use it often and have found that it really holds its shape after many washings.

Pattern can be found here .