Trigger mitts sales surge in St. John's shop, thanks to CBC documentary

The coolest way to keep your hands warm this winter has been around for more than a century.

The mittens are making their way across Canada — and even to California

The trigger mitt, in all its index-finger glory. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

A traditional Newfoundland way to keep hands warm in winter became a red-hot gift item this past holiday season across North America, says a knitwear shop in St. John's, and it's all thanks to a CBC documentary.

Trigger mitts have been flying off the shelves at Nonia, a non-profit organization that operates a storefront on Water Street, in the wake of CBC host and producer Heather Barrett's A Yarn About Mittens, which first aired Dec. 16 on The Sunday Edition.

Trigger mitts are designed to make it easier for people to hunt or work outdoors during the winter. The pattern started to disappear - but the two reigning queens of traditional Newfoundland knitting are trying to revive the art. Heather Barrett's documentary is called "A Yarn About Mittens." 15:58

"No sooner had it gone to air then the phone started ringing in our shop, for people looking for trigger mitts," said Keelin O'Leary, Nonia's manager.

Those calls didn't stop coming all day, as the documentary played in time zones across the country.

"The shop staff said it was kind of like New Year's, with every time zone ringing in on the hour," O'Leary told CBC News.

Nonia stocks trigger mitts among its knitwear selection at its Water Street store. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

From Cape Spear to California

About 50 orders came through Nonia's online shop for about 70 pairs of trigger mitts in total, said O'Leary, with requests from across Canada. Staff even received several American orders from as far away as Pasadena, Calif.

Foot traffic into the retail store also picked up, she added.

It's a remarkable turnaround in fortune for the mitten with its distinctive large index finger. The mitten, which O'Leary estimated has been knitted in the province for at least a century, faced extinction as local knowledge of its patterns waned in Newfoundland and Labrador.

That fate was diverted through the efforts of two avid knitters, Shirley Scott and Christine LeGrow, who took stock of patterns and published a book, Saltwater Mittens, which proved to be a smash hit.

The book's popularity and the documentary are riding a wave of knitting enthusiasm that O'Leary hopes will only continue to grow.

"It's great for us, we're delighted to see it," she said.

"Nonia will be 100 years old next year and we hope to keep going strong into the next century, and for that we need lots of knitters."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Lisa Gushue

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