To gusset or not to gusset

I have knit 11 pairs of fingerless mitts over the last few years.  Each of these has had a gusset.  A gusset is the triangular-shaped expansion that is knit into the mitt to provide room for the thumb.  The gusset can be merely practical, allowing for a better fit, or it can be a canvas for creative design, in which the oddly-shaped wedge sparks some artistic ingenuity.  The former kind can be seen, for example, in my Wedgewood Mitts (designed by me and blogged here):


Often, the gusset is knit in plain stockinette regardless of the pattern on the body of the mitt, as in the Antiquity Mitts, designed by Alicia Plummer.  Here is my pair:


Sometimes, an overall pattern is incorporated into the gusset increases, as in the Flecktone Mitts, designed by Susan Moskwa.  Here is my pair, knit for Leah:


And sometimes, the gusset is a creative adventure, as in the Green Thumb Mitts, designed by Diana Foss.  I love the way she has incorporated the curves of a leaf into the triangular-shaped gusset.  It is a strikingly simple and organic design.  Here is my pair:


Without the gusset, the mitt is merely a tube with a hole for the thumb.  There are two huge advantages to the gusset-less mitt: it is easier to knit, and the gusset doesn’t interrupt the pattern, allowing for the adoption of more intricate patterns with ease.  I don’t think that I have consciously been discriminating against gusset-less mitts.  On the other hand, 11 for 11 gusseted mitts clearly indicates a strong bias.  Whenever I see the un-gusseted variety, I always wonder: will they be comfortable?

This brings me to the point of this post: knitters, I ask of you, what do you think of gusset-less mitts/mittens/gloves?  Are they comfortable?  Do you recommend them?  Do you wear them?  Do you think that the little afterthought thumb looks funny?  Do they pull or stretch over the base of the thumb?  Can your hand move like it’s supposed to?  Is the thumb-hole in the right spot?

On a side note: Have you ever noticed that men’s shoes look mostly foot-shaped while women’s shoes don’t? (I ponder on this fact frequently, especially when my feet hurt.)  Is this the way of mitts – that gusseted mitts look hand-shaped but gusset-less mitts don’t? Given that shoes are designed to be inflexible and knits are designed to have ease and stretch, I realize the ridiculousness of this comparison.  Socks, on the other hand, should be roughly comparable: feet have heels and thus socks are normally knit with heels in them.  I can testify that tube socks are inherently uncomfortable.

Let me take this opportunity to point out that I could easily address this question in the tried and tested scientific method – I could make a pair of gusset-less mitts, wear them, and determine through direct experience how comfortable they are.  However, my innate sense of laziness leads me to take the easy, and extremely unscientific and subjective route of throwing the question into the blogosphere.

Before you answer, I should say that the impetus for this post is an awful lot of terribly cute patterns sans gusset.  Take, for example, the Goats of Inversnaid (gauntlets) by Kate Davies:


© Kate Davies Designs

Or the Calaveras Mittens by JennyPenny:

mittens calaveras front

© JennyPenny

And while I am on the topic of thumbs, I have noticed more and more mitt patterns which not only have no gusset, but which have no thumb at all.  Like the terribly cute Gully Gloves by Kelly McClure:


© Bohoknits

Or the Colorblock Handwarmers by Purl Soho:


by purlsoho

In fact, the thumb-less mitt is a fast-growing category.  I look at these mitts and think “But doesn’t your thumb get cold?”  Knitters, I beg you, rescue me from the reliability of scientific experiment and throw me into the lazy vat of subjective speculation: Does your thumb get cold?

41 thoughts on “To gusset or not to gusset

  1. I’ve never really thought about it, but I’ve knit a lot of mitts. All with thumb gussets. I don’t think I’ve even considered patterns without them, but those Gullies went to the top of my list!!

  2. I have mostly knit them with gussets thinking thumbs might be cold. I have been tempted to make them without because they would be a faster knit. The gussets can sometimes fit a bit awkwardly needing a little create stitching after the fact, but then I’m not the most advanced knitter. Many of you amaze me with your expertise!

  3. The only pair I’ve kept to wear are gusset-less. I think they work delightfully. The caveat is that you don’t pull the stitches too tightly at the opening to make it uncomfortable.

  4. I find the ones without gussets to be uncomfortable if I am doing anything with my hands, like carrying grocery sacks and such. The opening starts to bind as more of the Palm pad at the base of the thumb seems to work out. I only made one pair with this construction and since then I’ve added thumb gussets to every pair. I usually bind off in purl at the end of the gusset, I don’t picked up stitches and add the tube for the thumb. I’ve never done an afterthought thumb. The gusset seems to be closer to the physiology of the hand and I find them very comfortable.

  5. My favorite thumb-less mitts are Runrig Muffatees, . They feel wonderful, almost therapeutic, and they are a fast knit, easily adapted for men by omitting the picots. Some of my recipients (I have knitted at least 20 pair) think the thumb-less mitts are better for driving (provide a better grip on the steering wheel) and are easier to use when keyboarding in drafty offices.

  6. My thumbs get cold so I only wear gusset ones. They are wonderfully comfortable and I don’t have to continually explain that “No I didn’t forget about my thumb; it’s part of the pattern” when I wear them.

  7. I knit the gusset less Purl Bee mittens and the thumb looked terrible. I’m afraid I had to undo them. When you put on mitts minus thumbs they just look cheap, even adding a few rows of ribbing looks terrible.

  8. I’ve knit a few pairs of thumbless things (i called them glovetts but I believe they should be called wrist warmers) as I’m not too keen on things being too snug round my fingers and I love them! They are not the warmest things so are for intermediate weather wear! (or in a pinch under a slightly bigger pair of mittens in really cold top of a mountain weather!)
    As with most things variety is the spice of life and nothing is right, wrong, cheap or otherwise!

  9. It can be so tricky! I did the Pawkies (no gussets) twice, and both times had a great fit. The Spilly Jane cupcake mitts though were way too tight across the thumb/palm join – I wish that pair had a gusset!

  10. I’m working on a pair of WinterWonderland mitts right now, and yes, your fingers and thumbs get cold at -20C with fingerless mitts. But what doesn’t? But when I wear closed mitts, I end up taking them off in the car, dropping them in my lap (always), and then forgetting about them when I exit the car. They then fall into a puddle of slush in the parking lot, and when I come back to my car, some kind person has draped the now-slush-soaked mitts on my windshield, and so the cycle continues. Obviously, I’m not a quick learner.

    So yes, gussets all the way. I can’t fathom a proper fit otherwise. Sort of like knitting tubes for a sweater and calling it sleeves (another trend that’s been irking me lately). A few M1R and M1L can create wonders.

  11. As long as the afterthought thumb is placed in towards the palm instead of right on the side seam, I find them comfortable. And especially for something like fine gauge colour work, it’s nice to not have to do all of the gusset increases! 😉 I make my thumbs both ways, depending on the pattern and my own mood and how much ease is involved. In wearing my various pairs, I notice a bigger difference in comfort between the thumb placement (on the side seam or off set towards the palm) than gusset/no gusset.

    I have one pair that I knit without a thumb, because I thought that would make it easier to wear them pulled down over my hands for warmth but then push them out of the way for things like dishwashing. In practice though my thumb gets cold and when I push them up the thumbhole gapes on my arm. So for around the house wear, next time I’d just knit something like the Toast pattern! I’ve always loved extra long sleeves anyway.

    • Hi Eva, this is an interesting observation. So, it’s really more important where the thumb goes, than what the construction method is. I think that’s what bothers me when I see the unmodelled photos of mitts with after-thought thumbs. I think “That’s not where my thumb is!” Around the house, I am always whipping mine off and then back on again; never thought about trying to knit a pair to push up and back down again. Thanks for commenting.

    • Yes, those are pretty. I hadn’t realized that they were gusset-less; she credits Elizabeth Zimmerman’s “thumb trick”, which looks like it might be what I am calling an after-thought thumb. Thanks for commenting.

  12. in my experience, gusset-less and thumb-less mittens can’t compete with the comfort of a well worked gusset. (also, it looks way nicer! and there are so many things to do design-wise)

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  16. Thanks for this article. I learned to knit mittens when I was nine and rather than make them complicated, Mum had me make the gussetless style. They worked out just fine. As one commenter mentioned above, it helps if the thumb is placed slightly toward the palm. I’m halfway through making a pair of stranded patterned gloves and just now realized I’d forgotten to include a gusset (it’s my own design, made up as I go along), so this pair will be gussetless. I am planning a second pair with slightly different patterns and those will definitely have gussets. I think part of the comfort issue comes down to the size and shape of your hands. My hands are long and slender and gussetless will be fine for them. But I do like the designs possible with gussets (such as those on gloves made in Selbu). I’m following your blog now; will be back to explore. ~ Linne

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  19. I know this is an older post and perhaps no one will read this post but maybe someone like me will be wandering about the knitting web and come across your post just like I did…

    I have been knitting mittens for a few decades now and I started out with the triangle shaped gusset mostly because that is the way my mom knit a mitten …then about 5 years ago I discovered the afterthought thumb and fell in love with that construction but if I am perfectly honest I fell in love with it because of how easy it was… but then my eye started to wander and I began noticing the wedge thumb…is there a better name? I’ve seen it referred to as the Indian Wedge thumb or simply arched thumb…anyway it is my new favorite thumb flavor. It’s no easier or harder than the the triangle shaped gusset and is no easier or harder to work a pattern into but it is hands down the most comfortable! I will say this tho I knit some fabulously patterned mittens with the afterthought thumb and I tend to do that less now…

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  21. Here is another comment coming very late in the game. I purposely looked this subject up after trying to knit my first pair of mittens. The pattern is Purl Soho ancient stitch. It is worked in two pieces, back and palm, then seamed. I slipped my thumb into the finished palm side, and it was clearly not going to work. The palm side stitch pattern was twisting toward the thumb, and it was quite uncomfortable. It’s a shame because I love the pattern otherwise. Maybe I’ll try to modify the thumb hole some way after I get used to making some gusseted gloves. I’m just glad I’m not just a horrible knitter because these didn’t turn out!

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