The Fan Hitch Volume 13, Number 4, September 2011

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog
In This Issue....

Editorial: We’ve Moved!

Historic Ceremony in Kangiqsualujjuaq

Passages: Heiko Wittenborn

In the News

Point of View: Veterinary Service in Nunavik

Chinook Project: Summer 2011 Report

Unikkausivut: Sharing Our Stories

Making a Mitten Harness

Media Review: Martha of the North (video)

IMHO: Historical Perspective or Hyperbole

Index: Volume 13, The Fan Hitch

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Index of articles by subject

Index of back issues by volume number

Search The Fan Hitch

Articles to download and print

Ordering Ken MacRury's Thesis

Our comprehensive list of resources

Defining the Inuit Dog

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Editor: Sue Hamilton
Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
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                                     Photo: Hamilton

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":

Many Inuit people make a colorful four-strand braid harness for their mittens. Worn over a parka, the harness allows the mittens to hang freely in a position where they may easily be retrieved when needed. The mittens are attached by a leather thong embedded in the thumbside mitten seam around the lower tassels. The cross-bar slides for easy on-off. The top tassel hangs decoratively below the parka hood in the back.

Braiding the harness is easy with two people. It can be a fun rainy day project with your child. Cut four double strands of heavy yarn (such as rug wool) 1½ times the measurement from the left wrist, around the back of the neck to the right wrist. For cross-bar, cut four double strands 1½ times chest measurement. For decorative rear tassel, cut four double strands the length of the distance from the back of the neck to peak of hood.

Tie double strands of main string to a point above your head (curtain rod, picture hook, nail, etc.). Now for the fun! Two people grasp ends as shown. "A" crosses his strands, changing hands, outside strand over inside strand in back of "B's" inside strand. "B" then crosses his strands, outside over inside in back of "A's" inside strand. In a few passes you will see your four strand braid. Mistakes will show up in the form of a twisted cord rather than a braid.

Make large tassels by wrapping a book or cardboard several times with yarn. Cut on one side (a 10 inch/25cm length is good). Tie ends of braid strands tightly over mid-point of yarn bundle. Then fold bundle in half, wrap tightly and tie with a single strand to form tassel.

Braid cross-bar. Make two more tassel bundles. Holding cross-bar yarn ends over main string, tie ends tightly over main string and yarn bundle. Finish tassel ends as before. The bar will slide easily on the main string.

To braid decorative tassel, fold strands
in half over middle of main string. Braid and finish with tassel.

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