Tutorial: Afterthought thumbs

When I learned to make mittens, the tutorial I found involved creating a thumb without a thumb gusset. I didn't know this at the time but it turns out this is called an afterthought thumb - probably because you do minimal work to set up for it! I love afterthought thumbs. They're a great way to get in to mitten or glove knitting.

This tutorial assumes you're following a pattern (like my Starry Starry Mitts) that use an afterthought thumb. It'll have details in it on how many stitches to knit on scrap yarn and how far into the palm you need to start the thumb stitches.

First off, as you're knitting the main part of the glove, you'll set up a hole that you'll knit the thumb into later. The pattern will say something like this: knit 8 stitches with scrap yarn, transfer stitches back to the left hand needle, then knit stitches with main yarn. Let's break this down step by step.

You'll need some scrap yarn. If you can, use a slippery yarn like cotton to avoid it felting with your main yarn. It also helps to use a colour that's very different to your main yarn so you can see it more easily later.

When you get to the thumb stitches, join your scrap yarn to your project and knit the indicated number of stitches with it.

Step 1.jpg

Then, slip those stitches knitwise from the right hand needle back onto the left hand needle.


Leave a couple of centimetres for a tail and cut the scrap yarn. I also like to tie the two ends of the scrap yarn together.

Step 3.jpg

Now, pick up your regular yarn and knit all the scrap yarn stitches.


That's it! Leave the knotted ends hanging on the inside of the mittens, and finish the rest of the mitten hands.

When the main part is done, your pattern will tell you to pick up the stitches around the thumb hole. Use a long cable needle for the magic loop method or DPNs.

Take your needle and insert it into the left leg of each of the stitches in the row directly above the scrap yarn section, working from right to left. You should have the same number of stitches on your needle as the number of stitches you knit with the scrap yarn.

Then, if you're using a long circular, pull it so the stitches you just picked up are on the cable and your needle is free of the stitches. If you're using DPNs, just pick up another DPN.

Turn your work upside down and using the needle, pick up the right leg of each of the stitches in the row directly above the scrap yarn section. Again, you should have the same number of stitches on your needle as the number of stitches you knit with scrap yarn.

Now turn your work back the right way up and reach in to the glove to grab the knot you made in the scrap yarn ends. Cut it off. Then use a spare needle to unpick the scrap yarn stitches.

At this point, you have a hole for your thumb, and your stitches arranged on your needles ready to be knit.

Step 8.jpg

Join your main yarn back onto the project and follow your pattern to knit the thumb.

When your thumb is finished, you may notice some small holes in the corners of the thumb. You haven't done anything wrong - it's just unavoidable with afterthought thumbs. When you're weaving in your ends, use the yarn tails to sew the holes shut.

One tip: To avoid these holes I like to pick up an extra stitch on the outer edge of each row I pick up. So if the pattern said to knit 8 scrap yarn stitches, when I pick the stitches up I'll pick up the stitch to the left and right of the 8 for a total of 10. Some patterns will tell you to do this, but some don't. If you do this but the pattern doesn't say to do it, make sure to decrease the extra stitches you created in the first or second round of the thumb.

If you'd like to try an afterthought thumb out, check out my Starry Starry Mitts pattern!