I'm starting in on an exciting new mini-project. Taylor, one of my friends on livejournal, mentioned that she is afraid of freezing to death at the Saratoga reenactment in October. She said she didn't have mitts to go with her outfit, which got me thinking about knitting some. Long story short, I am now making Taylor some knit mitts.
I began with some research, starting with Richard Rutt's A History of Handknitting. This book deals mostly with European knitting, but I was able to confirm from it that most knitting was done in the round in the 18th c. The book also seems to indicate that bar increases for thumb gussets were common. Then I looked at No Idle Hands: A Social History of American Knitting by Anne Macdonald. This book is more about the social meaning behind handknitting, as opposed to talking about knitting techniques. However, there is is nice picture of an 18th c mitten, which clearly shows a worked thumb gusset.
With this knowledge in mind, I looked at some pictures of mitts on the MFA website. They have some gorgeous pieces here. Looking at these examples made me realize that 18th c knitters had one major difference when compared to modern knitters. 18th c knitters didn't mind rolling edges due to the way stocking stitch curls. The MFA site is littered with mitts where the top edge and the thumb edge roll in on themselves. Us modern knitters would freak out if this happened, and would instead use ribbing to finish off these edges. But I haven't seen any garments with ribbing from before the 1830s. So I guess I will have to suck it up and deal with the slight rolling. Maybe I can do something with the bind-off to make it less noticeable. At least I've found examples of mitts with turned under hems, so I don't need to worry about rolling there.
Anywho, after looking through these sources, I came up with a plan for Taylor's mitts. I got some lovely wool, Brown Sheep Naturespun Sport, in the color "ash." It's a sort of beigeish white. The Naturespun is made from US wool and is a plied yarn, which seems to be a good modern substitute for period yarn. It's a little heavier weight than would have been the norm, but not too bad.
I have now worked out a rough pattern, and I am a few inches into the body of the first mitt.