Fiber in History

poetry mittenSpecial thanks to Interweave Press for providing the photo and story information. The mittens were originally featured in the January/February 2008 issue of Piecework magazine.

About 1970, Susanna Springer of Missoula, Montana, bought a single mitten at an antique show in Chatham, New York. Tucked inside the mitten were a newspaper clipping from a Bangor, Maine, newspaper dated 1880 and a handwritten note. The article described the mitten as more than 100 years old, and belonging to Mrs. Charles H. Penny. It had been knitted by her great-great-aunt, Margaret Evans of New Hampshire. The newspaper article dated the mitten to about 1780. The mitten has “80” worked into the design on the thumb.

The mitten was fine handspun yarn, but what made it extraordinary was that words wound around the mitten. What makes even more extraordinary is that the maker was blind. In her early childhood she had learned to knit figures and letters by counting. (The Ns and Ss are reversed, and one line drops to the next in mid word.)

Step-by-step instructions for making a version of the mittens accompany the article and can be ordered online at Interweave Press. Words wind around each hand on the the mittens knitted of fine handspun yarn. The opening lines of a poem are on one mitten, the continuation on the other. The mittens engage us with their novelty, the skill and thought required, and the peculiar attraction of decoding the written word.