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Newfoundland woman’s love of knitting has been a lifelong passion

Free mitten pattern: Knit along with Dianne


Take a glance at Dianne Sexton’s colourful collection of newly knitted mittens and it’s not surprising to learn she’s been working with wool for about 50 years.

Sexton grew up in North West Brook, Trinity Bay, N.L. She started knitting as a young child and as a member of her local Pentecostal girls’ church group called the Missionetttes.

She credits her group’s instructor, the late Ruby Baker, for teaching her how to knit.

“I was between eight and 10 years old. We were knitting with yellow Phentex wool and red skivers (knitting needles),” Sexton said over coffee at her home in Topsail, N.L.

Sexton grew up surrounded by knitters, including her mother and sister.

“Back then, if you needed mitts, socks or sweaters, you made them. It was something that came natural for me,” she said.

Mitts Dianne Sexton has knit since January.
Mitts Dianne Sexton has knit since January.

By her teenage years, she was knitting trigger mitts. Trigger mitts are knit to keep three fingers together, but the index (trigger) finger and thumb separate. Often described as part-glove and part-mitten, the mitts were historically were used by hunters who needed their index finger to fire a gun. (The women of Newfoundland knit thousands of pairs of trigger mitts for troops serving on the front line during the First World War).

Trigger mitts were also used by Newfoundland fishermen and other people whose outdoor work was made easier by the convenience of the trigger mitt.

In the 1980s, Sexton started knitting with other women who called themselves the South West Arm Knitters.

“We would knit and ship across Canada and the US.”

She also knitted sweaters for about 20 years for the well-known, non-profit organization with a retail outlet in St. John’s called Nonia as well as for the Cross Roads Craft Shop in North West Brook for many years.

While she put away her needles for a few years when her arthritis affected her hands, since picking them up this past Christmas her hands have improved, she said.

Sexton knits a variety of mitts, including the traditional Newfoundland double-knit mittens.

“It’s like riding a bike. It’s not something you ever forget.”

Puffins, moose, the Newfoundland flag and a map knit into the front of her mitts have made their way across the country and onto the hands of Newfoundlanders longing for a piece of home.

Although she often creates her own design, Sexton also enjoys following patterns in a book titled “Saltwater Mittens from the Island of Newfoundland.” Written by Christine LeGrow and Shirley Scott and published by Boulder Books, the book features more than 20 heritage designs and beautiful coloured illustrations.

Sexton has knit everything from scarves to socks, sweaters to salt-and-pepper hats.

It takes her between five to six hours to knit a pair of mitts.

Sexton has made her own design for her Montreal Canadiens mitts and is thinking about creating a Maple Leafs design for Toronto fans.

Her granddaughter Rachael is also interested in knitting, she said, and is currently making finger puppets for young schoolchildren.

A woman of many artistic talents, Sexton also sews, crochets and does needlepoint.

She sells everything from key chains to china cups; model cars to other memorabilia, through her Facebook page (Forgotten Treasures in Topsail, NL). Sexton’s mitts sell for $15 to $20 and can be shipped across the country.

Newfoundland women knit thousands of mitts for First World War troops

During the First World War, women from across Newfoundland volunteered their time, energy, and expertise to help Allied forces overseas and to boost morale at home.

Lady Margaret Davidson, wife of Newfoundland Governor Sir Walter Davidson, founded the Women’s Patriotic Association (WPA) at a public meeting in St. John's on August 31, 1914. More than 700 women attended.

Davidson sent letters to magistrates and justices of the peace throughout Newfoundland asking them to meet with prominent women in each community with a view to establishing a local branch of the WPA. Support was enthusiastic and branches soon sprang up across the island.

Between 1914 and 1916, WPA volunteers (which number over 15,000) produced 62,685 pairs of socks, 8,984 shirts, 6,080 pairs of cuffs (mittens with a trigger finger) and 2,422 scarves for the troops.

Source: Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador Website

FREE PATTERN: Child size mittens

Photo of child’s mitts knit by Dianne Sexton.
Photo of child’s mitts knit by Dianne Sexton.

Materials: 50 gr ball Bernat yarn; size 4.5 double point knitting needles

Band: Cast on 24 stitches knit 2, purl 1 for 16 rows

Cuff: Knit for 12 rows

Turn: Slip 7 stitches on stitch holder, knit rest of row

Cuff: Pick up 7 stitches under thumb piece for thumb - continue knitting for 18 rows

Cast off: Row 1 – Knit 2 together to end of needle

Row 2 - Knit

Continue rounds 1 and 2 until 6 stitches remain

Draw string through stitches

Turn: Pick up 7 stitches under thumb

Knit for 10 rows

Knit together all around

Draw strings through, darn in strings

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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