Found in a Newfoundland field, these well-mended “tumgluttons” were used for hunting and fishing. Notice how three fingers are kept together for warmth, while the index finger and thumb are allowed to move freely. These mittens maintain heat better when wet, so fishermen dipped them in warm salt water with their hands still inside.

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Why did the donor of these mittens refer to them as “tumgluttons” – what is the origin of this name?

responded: Jan 29, 2012

Posted by Amber H

Recommend this Response
The “finger” or “trigger” mitten is still treasured in Newfoundland and Labrador, with patterns being passed from one generation to the next. The name “tumgluttons” will have originated from the East coast of Canada due to the origin of the item, yet more specifically may be the of result of a certain region, locality or even a family. With cross-referencing, the information I gathered can only speculate as to the origins of the donor’s term. As has been pointed out, “tum” could refer to “thumb” due to their irregular construction of the item. The term “glut” and “glutted”, according to the Newfoundland English Dictionary, refer to fishing in the sense of having an excess of supply or a sort of overcrowding. This can be speculated to relate to the fisherman mitten wearer. In Greenland, there is also a cultural mitten with two thumbs (one on each side) for use by kayakers and fishermen that could be connected to the origins of the Newfoundland mitten. It appears that the general design of the knitted “three fingered mitten” has remained fairly similar since the early-twentieth century with its major changes seen due to mass manufacturing. The main function of the design is to allow the wearer to operate a gun trigger while hunting or the jig while fishing cod. Though the construction is generally seen for hunters and fishermen, women and children also wear them likely due to the utilitarian nature of the design. Traditional and modern versions of the style incorporate cultural patterns or thrumming which contribute to the end warmth of the item due to the added materials. These mittens were specifically hand-knit which allowed the wool to retain more of its lanolin that would increase the item’s water resistance and warmth. Being an item knit from wool, the fiber itself allows pockets for the air to become entangled and therefore hold the warming air closer to the skin. For double layer knit mittens, this possibility would be increased. The concept of dipping the mittens in warm salt water and wringing out excess water to kept the mittens warm is an interesting process. The warm wet mittens would cause the wool fibers to bind closer together. As the fisherman continued to work the friction needed in the felting process would be added. The mittens would have been knit too big, but with the felting process being repeated as they worked they would eventually become too small and passed along to children if still worthwhile.

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