Afterthought thumbs are often used in colourwork mitt patterns to create a thumb that’s inserted within the colourwork patterning without increasing for a gusset. It’s the same idea as an afterthought heel on a pair of socks, where the heel is added in later by keeping some stitches ‘live’ on waste yarn. I’ve use this technique in my Tolkowsky Mitts pattern to ensure that the thumb matches nicely with the long finger cuffs

A pair of hands, wearing colourwork mitts and held together. In their palm are some purple crystals.

Firstly, we need to place some waste yarn in the middle of the row or round, which marks where the thumb will go, and will be unpicked later.

Follow the instructions in your pattern and knit the required number of stitches (in this example below left, I’ve knitting 4 sts). Take your scrap yarn and use it to knit the next few stitches. I’ve knitted 5 here (below right), but knit however many is stated in your pattern. Then one-by-one slip those ‘afterthought’ stitches back across to the left-hand needle, so that they are ready to be knitted again.


Next, knit the ‘afterthought’ stitches again with your main yarn, or if you’re working a colourwork pattern, this might be a couple of different colours. This means that the ‘afterthought’ stitches have been knitted twice, but don’t worry because we’re going to unpick the waste yarn later to create some ‘live’ stitches for the thumb.


The second part of creating the afterthought thumb usually happens once you have cast off, although there’s no reason that you couldn’t work the thumb before that, especially if you wanted to check the fit before finishing the rest of the mitt. I would suggest working a couple of centimetres past the ‘afterthought’ stitches before unpicking the waste yarn, just to make everything a more stable when you come to pick up the stitches.

Now I’ve cast off my swatch, I’m going to come back and carefully unpick the waste yarn to reveal some ‘live’ stitches above and below where the waste yarn was. Stitch by stitch, carefully unpick the waste yarn (you might find a spare double-pointed-needle handy for this) and pop the stitches onto two needles. At the edge of the live stitches you might find that there’s a ‘half-stitch’: you can put that on the needles for now, but you might need to adjust the number of stitches you pick up at the edges to ensure you have the correct stitch count overall. Below, I’ve picked up 5 stitches on the top and the bottom.


Next you’re going to re-attach the yarn and pick-up a few stitches at the edges of the afterthought gap to begin knitting in the round. I’m picking up 2 stitches at each edge to give a total of 14 stitches, but your pattern will tell you how many and which side to begin at.

If you’d like some pointers on picking up stitches, have a read of this blog post, which I wrote about i-cords but the tips will help in this situation too!

Once you’ve picked-up the stitches you can continue working in the round to create the thumb for your mitts.

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Click here to head to the pattern page of my website, to find out more about my Tolkowsky Mitts pattern.