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Christmas Mittens for Chilliwack

posted by: The Royal Hotel Chilliwack on: November 27, 2019 01:00:50 PM

This holiday season the Royal Hotel is collecting new mittens and gloves. The hand warmers will serve two purposes – they will adorn our 12 foot live Christmas tree; adding to the festive holiday décor, then they will be donated to Chilliwack Community Services to be distributed throughout our community.

But have you ever thought about the history of the hand warmers? And I am referring to mittens, specifically.

Mittens on Chilliwack kids circa 1962
image credit: Chilliwack Museum & Archives

For thousands of years men, women and children have donned mittens as soon as the weather turned cold. It’s also a fact that mittens are indeed warmer than gloves because when your fingers are grouped together – like when in a mitten – they will stay warmer than in a pair of gloves.

The origins of mittens can be traced to 19th century Norway, a young girl and a pair of knitting needles. Marit Emstad used two colours of wool to create a star design. Her star pattern would live on as one of Norway’s most common knitting patterns and remains part of its cultural heritage. And all she was aiming to do was to keep her hands warm.

In the United States another woman, Abby Condon, was able to get herself a contract to produce hand-knitted mittens for the soldiers fighting in the Civil War. She did this by organizing 1500 American women to knit the mittens at home with wool she provided before they were sent to soldiers on the front. She later adapted to market and technology changes by utilizing knitting machines to produce 96,000 mittens a year before she passed away in 1906.

An important part of the war effort during World War 1 was knitting mittens for soldiers serving overseas and North American women embraced this task wholeheartedly.

Mittens that once belonged to A.C. Wells
Sheep wool with leather palms, circa 1921

image credit: Chilliwack Museum & Archives

So next time you need something warm to put your hands into on a cold, blustery morning, remember that mittens have a feminist history – and they will keep your hands warmer than a pair of gloves.
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