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Making a Mitten Harness
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Make a Mitten Harness
by Sue Hamilton
Very early on during our visits to arctic Canada we learned that having mittens blown off a moving qamutiq while taking photographs was a big ooops. It was one thing to give a shout out to a snow machine’s driver - assuming your screams could be heard over the roar of the engine – to stop and retrieve the only protection between your hands and frostbite. But when behind a team of hard working and eager Inuit Dogs, it is a little disconcerting to ask the team to stop and hope they will stay that way until you trudge back to retrieve your handwear then return to the qamutiq and get securely settled down before the dogs jump to their feet and take off again. It’s even harder in either case if the mittens are on the wrong side of a lead!
When I was a kid, my Mom made me wear something I remember being identified as "idiot mittens". It was a simple affair – a piece of string or yarn ran up one jacket sleeve, across the back of the shoulders and down the other, and a mitten was tied to each end. I never understood the "idiot" part. Was my mother referring to the wearer or to the design? Later in life, I did figure out that the moniker was a pretty much universal one, although I continued to ponder the answer to my question.
Retired British Antarctic Survey doggy man
and artist Mike Skidmore (foreground) wears
a mitten harness made of lampwick.
Photo: courtesy Mike Skidmore
The mitten harness is a functional step beyond what I wore as a child. The version used by many of the early South Pole explorers was a strictly utilitarian design. But all the ones we have seen on many trips North have been as decorative as they are functional. Two of the major differences between them and the ones of my youth are 1) the polar version is worn entirely on the outside of the parka and 2) the yarn is long enough so that the mittens, when tossed off the hands, can be flipped behind the back and the yarn crossed to keep the mitts out of the way, which can be useful for different tasks.
Apparently many northerners know how to make mitten harnesses but this "idiot" had to go looking for some printed instructions. Luckily, thanks to sympathetic friends, I was directed to Linda MacPhee, one of Canada's foremost sewing experts. Along with her husband Harris, she is co-founder of the MacPhee Workshop, one of Canada's largest design houses and pattern manufacturers. Linda has very kindly given me permission to reproduce in The Fan Hitch her instructions which appear in her booklet Pattern #902 Making Mittens, available to purchase through her website. Thank you, Linda!!! So here in her own words, in time for the cold season (at least in parts of the northern hemisphere) and as a holiday gift suggestion, which is timely for any place on our planet, is Linda MacPhee's "Harness your mittens":