Wrist warmers are the perfect accessories for autumn: you can wear them when it’s a little bit too chilly for short sleeves, but not quite cold enough for sweatshirts and jackets; when you’re not sure if you need a cardigan or a coat; or when the air conditioning is still on in the office even though the weather has started to cool down outside. It’s amazing how a small piece of fabric wrapped around your wrists can keep your whole body warm, but it’s true. Some call these little wonders “pulse warmers” and say that they warm the blood as it passes through your wrists, bringing up the temperature of your entire body. I don’t know if this is true, but I can tell you that when you wear wrist warmers certainly feels like you’ve turned up the thermostat.
Yesterday I was a student in a knitting workshop and I learned how to make Lithuanian riešinės (wrist warmers) with traditional beaded patterns. The course was taught by Irena Juškienė, who has written a wonderful book about knitting these little beaded treasures. I think it’s the nicest Lithuanian-langauge knitting book I’ve seen and it’s just the kind of book I love: it has some history and background information, technical instructions, and lots of photos and charts. The first edition sold out almost as soon as it hit the shelves and the book was impossible to get a hold of for almost a year after that. The second edition, which has a green cover, is expanded and readily available. At least in Lithuania. I may buy some copies to ship home and sell on my website, and write a translation of the how-to sections.
For the workshop, we met at 11 at the Mezgimo Zona yarn shop, and got started right away. The class began as Irena told us a bit about the history of wrist warmers as part of the national costume in Lithuania. Just as in other countries where the climate is cold and even summers can be chilly, people in Lithuania have worn a lot of clothes, mostly made of wool, with some linen (and later cotton) pieces for the summer months. Wrist warmers were worn throughout the year, indoors and outdoors, because they add warmth without encumbering the hands. Unlike mittens and gloves, wristers don’t hinder you from doing your work, something we can appreciate today as well, especially those of us with iPhones.
For everyday wear, wrist warmers were made out of scraps of yarn in just about any technique the knitter (or crocheter) wanted to use. Like this pair of striped fingerless gloves that I found in a local market, they were very often made in stripe patterns. Many wristers were made with so many scraps of colors that they are reminiscent of the “hit and miss” color schemes used by Amish and Shaker knitters who made rugs in North America.
For holiday wear, fancier gloves were called for, most often made in a garter stitch design with glass beads carrying the pattern. These wristers had more regular patterns and were made with much more care. The yarn or beads might be one color, making for fairly quick work, or multiple colors, making for a tedious process because the beads are strung onto the yarn in advance of the knitting and they must be counted and strung in the order they are presented on the chart. When more than one color of yarn is used, beads must be strung onto each yarn; when multiple bead colors are used, counting the number of each color and stringing them in the correct order is imperative.
After we covered the background material, we got out our yarn and needles, and the shop provided the other materials. We all had purchased wool yarn, similar to fingering or sock weight yarns in the US. Some of us used Latvian yarn that is made of three strands of two-ply yarn that are wound together in one ball; others chose a softer merino yarn. Knit on 1.25 to 1.5mm needles (size 0000 or 000 US), the stitches are tiny and tight, holding the beads in place and creating a firm fabric that won’t lose its shape when stretched to pull over the hand and onto the wrist. The yarn is fine enough to allow size 9 seed beads to slide on easily, although requiring needles with a VERY small eye and a special trick for getting the beads strung onto the yarn.
I intended to take a lot of photos in the class, but I got caught up in the learning experience, trying to understand the instructions in Lithuanian, and chatting a bit with the other students. Before I knew it, Irena was telling us about finishing techniques, and the class was winding up.