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What is a Thrum and Why is it in My Mitten?

Feb 2, 2009

I have become quite obsessed lately with having warm hands up here in the land of single-digit-temps and multi-digit-snowfalls. I bought a pair of thinsulate gloves, but a half-block of dog walking finds me pulling my fingers into the palm section of the gloves because my fingers aren't warm enough out there all by themselves.

What I really need are mittens. WARM, totally toasty mittens. I've begun scouring through all my patterns to come up with Warm Mitten Candidates. I was thinking I could line a pair, or even felt a pair. But then a colleague at Interweave sent me the actual mittens Marlaina Bird made for the Winter 2008 issue of Interweave Crochet. (If you don’t subscribe, you’re missing out on making these. Subscribe now.) Within two minutes after opening the box, my little hands were singing with warm delight.

Thrums, people. The answer to cold hands and truly warm mittens is THRUMS.

 

What is a thrum and why is it in my mittens?

"Thrum" originally referred to the short lengths of waste yarn leftover after woven cloth was cut off the loom. In the spirit of necessary thriftiness, craftspeople would find a variety of uses for these thrums--stuffing pillows and mattresses, and after a while, knitting them into mittens and hats to provide an extra layer of warmth.

Each thrum, or short length of yarn, would be worked together with the main knitting yarn as a single stitch, with the ends of the thrum left hanging inside the mitten to provide insulation. Lovely! Except that people soon discovered that the yarny thrums could catch on fingers, and even fray.

The second type of thrum works much better, and has been a tradition for generations in the chilly-but-gorgeous environs of Newfoundland and Labrador up here in Canada. This type of thrum is actually roving, or unspun sheep's wool, separated into wisps, which are then knit into the stitches along with the working yarn as before. The ends of the fleece form little poufy pillows inside your mittens, and your fingers start thanking you the minute a pair of thrummed mittens is on your hands.

Basically, you're making a sheepskin for the inside of your mittens. With the wide variety of dyed wool roving available these days, you can choose a rainbow of colors from which to make your thrums. (You can purchase unspun roving at many local yarn shops; or take a trip to your local fibre festival!)

 


 

How do you make a thrum? And then how do you get it inside your mittens?

The technique of thrumming lends itself beautifully to both knitting and crochet. Since I cannot be the only person in the entire world with cold hands this time of year, here's what we're going to do the rest of this week:

On Wednesday, we'll learn how to handle the roving and make thrums. (Fair warning: Handling roving to make thrums is a gateway drug. Once you start with the thrums, it's just a short distance to a spindle or a spinning wheel. Just sayin'.)

On Friday, we'll show you how to get the thrums into your mittens! Marlaina herself will show us how to do this using a crochet hook, and I will show you how to do it with knitting needles.

And along the way, we'll have links to nifty thrummed mitten patterns (both knitted and crocheted) so you can make your own hands toasty and warm.

Because I gotta tell ya, there is nothing quite like reaching inside one's mittens and finding lots of tiny little sheepy fluffs waiting for one's poor cold hands.

-- Sandi

 


 



Links to Thrummed Mitten patterns

For knitters:
Thrummed Mittens by Jennifer Appleby
available in the pattern store

Thrummed Mittens by Rita Buchanan
Spin-Off, Winter 2001 (Subscribe here)


For crocheters:
Thrummed Mittens by Marlaina Bird
Interweave Crochet, Winter 2008 (Subscribe here)

 

 





Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles? I finished a quick hat over the weekend; and am one-quarter the way through a pair of mittens. (My sister's Central Park Hoodie is on hold temporarily. My sister lives in Chicago, so she totally understands and doesn't mind waiting until the mittens are done.)

 


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Comments

sharon@4 wrote
on Feb 10, 2009 2:16 AM
Hi It's summer here in Australia and has been very hot. around june it starts to get cold I'm looking forward to trying out your Thrums although I don't know where to get the yarn from we are very isolated here .
AmyS@12 wrote
on Feb 6, 2009 1:29 PM
Hi. Your video for crochet thrum mittens is very clear. I thought you were going to have a video for knitted thrum mittens -- am I mistaken? Is it somewhere else? Again, I appreciate your videos. They are very clear.
ZassZ wrote
on Feb 5, 2009 7:01 PM
JOY & RobinC, I was going to mention but didn't, but now that you did about the Keeshonden fur. I was told by my breeder that their fur does not have an odor even when wet, like most other dog hair. It's true, our Kees was with us for quite a long time and her fur never did. Once I bathed her, I brush her and separate the clean fur into pillowcase for spinning later. Keeshonden have a double coat, the undercoat is soft and the top is furrylike.
JOY@2 wrote
on Feb 5, 2009 8:33 AM
Someone mentioned dog hair--there are lots of sites on the web discussing how to collect, spin, knit, etc. I am currently saving the undercoat of my Australian shepherd--I keep it in a mesh bag. The plan is to mix it 50/50 with merino wool. I have been advised to not wash it prior to spinning. Also, they say it will always have the dog smell when wet, so something more than a hat it probably not a good idea. The down I collect is similar to the musk ox--very soft and expensive! Good luck! S
JOY@2 wrote
on Feb 5, 2009 8:25 AM
Last year I ran across thrums somewhere on the web and was so excited by the concept I proceeded to make a pair of mittens. They are really warm and eventually the thrums felt for an even warmer mitten. The roving is so soft it is like wearing clouds on your hands! Thrums were used in leg warmers, fronts of sweaters, vests, hats, boot socks, anyplace where people needed to be kept warm. The thrums can be spaced however one wants--only on the back, an inch apart, etc. Mittens without leather palms are not good for driving and the palms are hard to find. Happy thrumming! S
ZassZ wrote
on Feb 4, 2009 10:03 PM
RobinC No, it's not too crazy. In fact we had a gorgeous Keeshonden. The couple we purchased her from told us about how beautiful their fur is and people really do knit with it. It has been done before! Hope you can too.
berigora wrote
on Feb 4, 2009 8:05 PM
Thrumming seems like a wonderful alternative to using faux fur lining in all sorts of items, not just mittens. I grew up in post-war London and instead of mittens had a muff with a real fleece lining and a useful pocket on the outside. It kept the hands warmer than gloves did and of course did not get wet during snowball fights. Just the accessory for trying out this technique - but it can wait until our scorching Australian summer becomes a memory! Thank you.
Lulu5156 wrote
on Feb 4, 2009 3:50 PM
What amazing mittens, you certainly couldn't find these store. They are so cute! Thanks for sharing.
tamdoll wrote
on Feb 3, 2009 5:54 PM
I adore my thrummed mittens, made them a few winters ago before I knew what I was doing. They're huge. The roving pattern is irregular (I just threw in a strand when I remembered to). The wool inside and out is starting to clump a little. But I wouldn't trade them for the world! I shovel with them, wear them when I have to walk outside in this frigid New England weather. Now that I know better, I'm going to make some more, make them prettier and would encourage everyone to make at least one for themselves!
BettyB wrote
on Feb 3, 2009 11:46 AM
I live in Quebec, canada, and the winters are cold. I'Ve been making thrum mitts for agesand my family loves them! The slippers are wonderful also, toasty warm, but don't forget to add leather soles, as they are very slippery!! (If you have rugs all over then it is not necessary. Betty B shefford quebec canada
LeslieB wrote
on Feb 3, 2009 9:34 AM
Well, now I have to make a pair. Ball of roving and you sending a message about them now requires it. Thanks, sigh.
Kristie wrote
on Feb 3, 2009 8:48 AM
I made some thrummed mitts for my niece last year, (without thumbs, she didn't need them and it made for quick knitting!) and I bought undyed roving, and then my 5 yr old nephew and I died little batches of it in kool-aid until we had all the colors of the rainbow, and made a rainbow mitten that way. Since you only use a small amount of roving for a pair of mittens, by dying it yourself you only have to buy one chunk of it instead of lots of different colors. You can check knitty.com for instructions on kool-aid dying.
ChrisT wrote
on Feb 3, 2009 8:45 AM
I made three pairs of thrummed mittens this winter and they are the best mittens I have ever put my hands into. I have also made several earflap hats and thrummed the earflaps, then needle felted the thrums - oh, so nice and soft on the ears, and so warm. This is a great idea to spread the thrums around the world.
GillianB wrote
on Feb 3, 2009 3:56 AM
There is a free two needle thrum mitten pattern at www.wool-tyme.com I have made dozens and dozens using this pattern--it uses canadian wool produced by Briggs & Little--a tough hard-wearing outdoorsy wool. People say thrum mittens are like instant warm.
kittybear24 wrote
on Feb 3, 2009 1:21 AM
I have the interweave crochet that these are in.I actually saw a how to video on thrums on youtube.Im not sure if it is the same person but im pretty sure since she said that it was for knitting and she haddone these for crocheters in the viseo.I was so stoked when i saw those but then i saw a written pattern that i can have and love forever.oh, it's too good.....Now, all i have to do is finish one of my 8 WIP's so i can start these...flump
Bpv.johnston wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 7:57 PM
Sandi, This is a brutal first taste of Canadian winter but honestly we have not had one with quite so much snow and quite so cold for so long in quite a while.....somehow we missed our January thaw, Feb freeze...seems like it is just a straight freeze....On a positive note though I have had buds on my roses, and crocus peaking thru safely some years by the end of February, and I live 40 miles east of Toronto...Hang in there.....bets
Thomasean wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 4:59 PM
"On Friday, we'll show you how to get the thrums into your mittens! " Please include how to do it so they don't look like boxing gloves!!!!
Ellen M.R wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 4:57 PM
Gateway Drug indeed! I wish I had that warning sooner!!! I have made several pair of these mittens and have done socks too! Now I spin, felt, and have tried weaving...but still prefer knitting. you can also knit with roving without a base yarn...Very Fun!
MaryP@3 wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 4:52 PM
I just finished the warmest pair of mittens I have ever had. The pattern is Carol Thilenius' Reversable Two-Faced Mittens from Homespun/Handknit editted by Linda Ligon. I used Frog Tree 100% alpaca sport-weight yarn. Not only did I learn something new -- double knitting -- I have mittens that keep all of my fingers warm and toasty.
Lynn G. wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 3:14 PM
I want to thank Circulation Manager Jodi for emailing me to let me know that, despite the implication in several places in today's wonderful blog, new subscribers to Interweaave Crochet may find that their subscription begins with the Spring issue rather than the Winter one containing today's featured mitten pattern. I was able to subscribe today and get an email confirmation that seems to indicate that my subscription will include the Winter Issue, but Jodi indicated that they are very low on stock of those issues, and orders will be filled in the order that they are received. Also, if you click through Sandi's first hyperlink in today's blog, rather than the second link, and you scroll to the bottom of the page, you will be offered a choice of a better subcription price with more total issues, as thanks for paying in advance. That offer does NOT appear through the direct "subscribe now" link that Sandi provided. I've long wished that all Interweave web pages would list all of the offers because it is not uncommon to find three different prices on different pages. For those of us who are already loyal Knits subscribers, it would be nice to be able to see the various offers clearly listed on all pages so that we don't find out later that we chose the wrong one for our needs. Thanks for your consideration.
IsabeauM wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 2:32 PM
in the book "Home Spun Hand Knit" There is a mitten by Robin Hansen called the " Kennebunk Wooly Bear Mittens" . In her book "Fox & Geese & Fences" (1983) she showed a Fleece Stuffed Mitten. But this mitten uses a shagging technique that is amazing, I have knit many of the Kennebunk Wooly and it is perfect, NO MORE COLD HANDS. Isabeau Mittan Coeur d'Alene Idaho
HeatherB wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 2:27 PM
I have also just discovered the joy of thrums. I made a pair for my mother in law for Christmas, she has neuropathy and really feels the cold in her finger tips- she even wears them in the house some evenings and just loves them. Then I made some for my dad and he loves them for shoveling. Finally still had roving left, so made a pair for my sister in northern Minnesota and she was so happy. They are great and fun to do.
GailD wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 2:19 PM
Robin Hanson, Fox and Geese and Fences, made thrummed mittens well-known among knitters. No reference here, though--why not?
AndreaC@3 wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 1:48 PM
I discovered a pattern from 1830's New England called Fleeced stuffed mittens. I have rewritten and modernized it and have it available at www.greenwoodhillfarm.com. I have also used this method for a hat and slippers. It is so warm and our merino makes a nice soft lining.
lydagrace wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 1:33 PM
When I get to stay home and NEVER go to work. I am going to knit everything I see. My husband suffers from Type 2 Diabetes and is always cold. We don't have single digit temps but his hands were soooo cold, I went and pulled out the New England boiled mittens for him yesterday. He went in and slept to keep warm and his fingers were toasty the rest of the day.
JodiW wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 12:48 PM
Looking forward to hearing how to insert thrums in knitting. I bought some roving in Banff, Canada a few years ago. The shop, which no longer exists, gave me a mitten pattern but I lost it. I've since decided I want to put the roving in slippers instead. I'm wondering how that might felt or if it would be better not to felt. Any thoughts?
BEVS wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 12:45 PM
I made mittens for my daughters about 25 years ago with roving when we were living in Duluth, MN. They were so warm and I was so sad when they outgrew those mittens. They were fun to knit and I loved that wonderful layer of wool of sheeps wool that was next to their fingers. I never heard that their fingers were cold when they wore those mittens.
LoreenK wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 12:40 PM
Have been doing these for a few years, the thrums can and do felt. The more active and warm your hands get the faster the felting happens
bosley384 wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 12:24 PM
I can't wait to see how to make the roving into thrums. I know exactly what fiber to use ... the small combings I ge between pluckings from my angora rabbits. Angora wool is 8 times warmer that sheep wool, so thrums made from angora would be really warm, and incredibly sensual fuzziness.
MaryB wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 12:21 PM
They look very comfy, I'm just glad I live in an area where I don't feel the need for them
Cora Shaw@2 wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 12:10 PM
Wow, how cool!. I had never heard of thrumming until last year. I actually mead a pair, except the pattern I found uses an afterthought thumb, so they never got finished. I just am terrified of cutting into the fabric to make the hole. I have the Interweave Crochet magazine and was enthralled with the design, because I found crocheted mitts not to be very warm. I live in Edmonton, AB Canada, where it gets very, very cold. It can drop down to the -40 C, where exposed skin can freeze in a matter of seconds. Oh end Sharon L, they are adaptable to slippers. Let me see if I can find some examples for you. Cora
Huan-Hua wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 12:06 PM
Sandi, you might be interested in this tutorial I posted on my blog about adding invisible afterthought thrums to stranded colorwork mittens. Please feel free to share the link with your readers if you like it.
bizzybutt wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 11:57 AM
Well how cool is THAT! I never heard of Thrums before and can't wait to try the technique. Are they adaptable for foot wear like slippers or would that be too lumpybumpy to walk on?
JulieL wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 11:53 AM
I made some for my daughter in Minneapolis. She says they are fantastically warm-make more!!
Lynn G. wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 11:51 AM
I actually came online to consider subcribing to Interweave Crochet (already get Knits) because I received a subscription offer in the mail and wanted to compare it to your online offers. In looking at the subscription page, I just want to make sure: if I do subscribe today, will I definitely receive the Winter issue or will my subscription begin with the Spring issue? I would much prefer to start with the winter one because those mittens and other accessory patterns in that issue interest me. Thanks for any info you can provide.
MarlaE wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 11:46 AM
Oh NO! I don't need another gateway drug when my stash is taking over my living room...but....I'm still going to try making thrummed mittens. Thanks for the laugh, Sandi!--Marla
RobinC@3 wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 11:36 AM
I have been wanting to make thrummed mittens using the hair from my very cuddly Keeshonden dogs. Every time I brush them I save the hair in hopes of making thrummed mittens. Any advice on making thrums from the fiber collected from our furry northern breed dogs? Or is this idea too weird? Robin
CathieH wrote
on Feb 2, 2009 11:33 AM
I have been knitting Thrummed mitts, Thrummed slippers and Thrummed headbands for the last 2 years. I do it for a few Alpaca farms. I love it. Cathie
ZassZ wrote
on Jan 29, 2009 5:43 PM
The pics are very clear here and also appreciate the 9 steps to How To Insert Thrums. A ? for you - my calendar reads January 29, 2009 so I am wondering how your post reads Feb 02, 2009 above.