The secret to knitting same-size mittens (+ giveaway!)

I started knitting in the year 2000. Two sticks, some string, and a patient friend is all it took (thanks, Ursula!). But I’m one of those knitters who has only completed hats, scarves, and halves of sweater vests. Knit, purl, increase, decrease. That’s all I know.

When the sock-knitting craze soared, I was introduced to Antje Gillingham’s first book, Knitting Circles around Socks. I knew how to knit with circular needles, but without ever having knitted a sock before, I doubted I could pull it off. (In other words, I totally chickened out.) I set the book aside for . . . someday.

Fast forward to Antje’s newest book, Knitting Circles around Mittens and More. Socks are great, but mittens? Luxurious, keep-my-digits-warm-through-Utah-winters mittens? My “someday” has arrived. I had the opportunity to ask Antje (below left) a few questions about circular-needle knitting and two-at-a-time knitting from a beginner’s point of view. Her answers spurred me to reorganize my circulars and plan a trip to my local knitting shop. I hope they’ll do the same for you!

My Q&A with Antje Gillingham

What has been the response from beginners to your two-at-a-time technique—can a confident novice really do this kind of knitting?

Antje: Absolutely, they can! You are actually the perfect candidate for knitting two somethings at a time on two circular needles because all you need to know is how to comfortably knit, purl, increase, decrease, and work in the round. This method is going to be filled with fresh ideas regardless of whether you’re a beginner, advanced knitter, or expert. And that’s part of the thrill—learning new techniques, conquering more involved patterns, and in the end being able to say, “Heck yeah, I made this!”

I am fortunate to be able to teach this method all over the country. Some knitters come to my workshops with only basic knowledge; some have knitted socks using other methods. But all of them need the same two things during class and beyond: Time and patience. Time to read the instructions carefully and understand them as each step is worked, and patience to learn a whole new way to work in the round.

Unfortunately, I lacked both time and patience when I first decided to learn how to knit two socks at a time on two circular needles.

I always shoot for my dreams first, and then work my way down to reality. It was no different when I encountered this two-needle sock knitting business. I wanted to do it, and I wanted to do it BAD! I had just recently opened The Knitting Nest in Maryville, Tennessee (shown at right). Before even looking at the technique, I offered a workshop. Mind you, I was no expert knitter. I knew my basics, and learned the rest through books and on the internet as I went.

Fourteen people signed up for the class, and I was thrilled. Three days before I was supposed to teach them how to knit two socks at a time on two circular needles, I sat down in the living room, utterly excited, with sock yarn and two size 1 circular needles in hand. I began to tackle the basic pattern I had written out that afternoon. Oh boy! Within minutes I began to curse needles, yarn, and pattern. The itty-bitty fingering-weight yarn had not only wrapped itself around all four needles, it had also started to cling to itself, creating knots and tangles. My language stooped to new lows—husband, children, and pets alike fled the room. But I couldn’t give up because I had to teach 14 excited knitters!

I plowed along, vowing to never ever use this dumb technique ever again. And then it happened. I had worked about 2″ or 3″, and I paused. I stared at the little cuffs, which were suddenly hanging off my needles . . . the working yarns were in the right place . . . my eyes flitted from one cuff to the other . . . and then a big bright lightbulb went on over my head. I got it! I caught on in that split second and never looked back at any other method of knitting socks.

Kudos to my early students who were great sports, having to learn this method with sock yarn and small needles. These days, my students use worsted-weight yarn and much bigger needles. All I ask of them in return is their time and patience.

In your new book, beginners can start with Basic Fingerless Mittens. The pattern uses two sets of circular needles and two balls of yarn. Do you have any tips for starting up, and for keeping it all together as you go?

Basic Fingerless Mittens

Antje: When the patterns say, “take time to knit the gauge to save time,” they mean it. Keeping this in mind, here are a few tips to help you get started faster.

I ask you to use two circular needles of the same size, but with different cable lengths, because it helps distinguish them from one another as you practice the technique. Putting point protectors on either end of the “resting” needle while only using the “working” needle will also help you get along faster. It’s very tempting, but DO NOT use both ends of one ball to practice this method.  Instead, wind two balls from one. Remember, you can try out different ways later when you are more comfortable using the technique.

Take a moment to read through the knitting basics and abbreviations before you begin your project. My patterns include what I think are the least-confusing methods that work best for my patterns.

Finally, take your time. Remember, this is supposed to be fun and exciting, educational, relaxing, rewarding . . . you get the idea. There’s no need to rush; no one is there to time you. The fewer times you have to rip back, the more ecstatic you’ll feel and the faster you’ll get done!

You’ve turned thousands of knitters on to two-at-a-time knitting. (Our editor in chief now knits all her stuffie arms and legs using the technique she learned from you!) It sounds like a great technique to use beyond the patterns. What do you like best about the two-at-a-time technique?

Antje: Wow, where to begin? As a compulsive knitter, I definitely like the fact that I don’t have to count rows continuously to make sure that both pieces come out the same length. When I did work one mitten at a time using the same yarn and needles, they came out different sizes—one was visibly larger than the other! They would have been the same size had I worked them at the same time.

I also LOVE that when I work two pieces at the same time and I bind off or Kitchener my stitches at the end, I AM DONE. I can immediately try my projects on. It’s instant gratification. When you’re done, you’re ready to start a new project rather than repeating the one you just finished all over again. And isn’t that just happy and totally awesome?

It sure is, Antje. Thank you so much for sharing your take on two-at-a-time knitting!

Have you tried two-at-a-time knitting? How’d it go? How about knitting with circular needles? Leave your knitting story in the comments and you could win a copy of the Knitting Circles around Mittens and More eBook! We’ll choose a winner one week from today and let you know by email if you’ve won. (You can also purchase the book here, and if you do, you also get to download the eBook for free right away.) Good luck!

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Thanks to all who entered the drawing to win the Knitting Circles around Mittens and More eBook! The randomly chosen winner is Diane, who said:

“I’ve just picked my knitting needles back up after a 40 year hiatus! I’m looking forward to working with the circular needles I just bought, and this book is going on my list of must-haves!”

Diane, we’ll email you a special coupon code for your free eBook. Congratulations!

Projects from Knitting Circles around Mittens and More:

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