The snuggle is real

November 2022

It’s winter in Thunder Bay, and baby, it’s cold outside. A whimsical way to keep warm is to slip on a pair of sweater mittens, a delightful yet sustainable alternative to store-bought polyester or nylon versions.

“I received my first pair of sweater mittens for Christmas many years ago and I loved them so much,” says Carol Backor Dyce, owner/operator of Mitten Momma. “One day I thought, ‘maybe I can make these myself?’ After much trial and error and encouragement from my daughters, I mastered it and began to sell them to others.”

Making mittens from sweaters is a delightful way to upcycle old clothing items, combining the touches of nostalgia with the concepts of craftsmanship and sustainability. In fact, old and new seem to meet in this vibrantly vintage yet practical creation.

“I’ve always been interested in re-using items and materials,” says Artisans Northwest’s Kaisa Penttinen of Kaisa’s Kreations. “I immigrated to Canada as a child with four siblings and my parents, and the only possessions we had were what we could carry. Both my parents sewed, so clothing was passed down and modified to fit. If we needed new clothes, they were made at home. My sisters say we were born with a needle in our hand.”

“I love finding just the right sweaters,” says crafter Judy Stewart, owner/operator of The Smitten Shoppe. “And then matching them to make just the perfect pair of mittens. I never make 2 pairs identical. They’re always one of a kind!

The fact that no two mittens are alike is a huge part of their charm. Some are commissioned with family sweaters in mind, and others are chosen simply for their woolen beauty.
“Mostly I shop in thrift stores,” says Backor Dyce, a retired nurse and now empty nester. “It’s like treasure hunting and is the best part of the whole experience! I usually look for sweaters with wool content as these make a warm mitt. If you wash in hot water, some of the wool sweaters will felt, which makes a very dense thick outer shell. All the mitts are lined with new fleece. I find the Nordic patterns are popular though, but sometimes people just love a pretty colour or pattern.”

“I love to mix and match colour and prints, bright colours and earth tones,” says Penttinen. “And I try to make mitts for a variety of likes and styles. That is the fun part, running around my room with a sweater in hand trying to find something to match for all the parts!”

Penttinen was one of the first artisans in Thunder Bay, making and selling sweater mittens for over 15 years now. Because of this, she had to create her own patterns.
“I played around a bit until I got to the patterns I use now,” she says. “They’re my own pattern, not purchased or copied. I make two styles, with cuffs and cuffless. The cuffless ones are great for people who have sensitivity to wool as the fleece covers the top of the wool part of the mitt. I’ve even done custom mitts, like once for a wedding party with hearts on them!”

As a person who can’t darn a sock (let alone create an upcycled masterpiece), I asked these amazing artisans to briefly describe the process, and to ballpark approximately how long it takes from inspiration to completion.

“I’m always out looking for sweaters,” says Backor Dyce. “This is the most time consuming but also the most fun. After washing and drying, I have a 3-piece pattern I use, which I cut out for both the fleece and the shell, and then sew together. Then I add the cuff and usually finish with a button. It does take practice, and I’ve had many a pair that were two lefts or two rights!”

“It’s difficult to put a time on it,” says Penttinen. “I need to count the sweater hunting, washing, taking apart, matching sweaters for all the parts, cutting, machine sewing, hand sewing, button matching, final pressing, and labelling. Most buttons are also recycled from sweaters and other clothing, and sometimes finding the perfect button can take quite a bit of time. I do get lost in the button bin often!”

But once they’re done, there’s nothing quite like the perfect pair of warm, fuzzy, funky and nostalgic woollens to make our long dark winters just a little bit brighter.

“It’s a good feeling to repurpose something,” says Backor Dyce. “To take an older or well-worn sweater and transform it into something beautiful that can be worn for many more years.” 

“Sweater mitts are warm and cozy and very unique,” adds Stewart, who enjoys sharing the creation process with her daughter. “They can match people’s wardrobes as well as their personality. Everyone needs mittens!”

If you’re interested in a pair (or more), you can contact Kaisa Penttinen at Willow Springs Creative Centre Christmas Market, and Carol Backor Dyce on Facebook at ‘Mitten Momma – Handmade Mittens.’ Judy Stewart’s The Smitten Shoppe is on FB and Instagram. Get snuggling!

Heather L. Dickson is a photoshop guru, zoologist and author of 6 novels.

Visit her website at

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