Bear Mittens

UPDATE 3/1/09: We’ve been informed by the Zoo that due to the overwhelming response to this pattern, the bears are all warm and toasty. So, no more bear mittens are needed at this time. Thanks so much to everyone for your time and energy!

In early 2008 we were contacted by the Oregon Zoo for help writing a pattern for mittens for the Malayan Sun Bear. Portland’s KGW Channel 8 aired a story on the evening news (write up here, video here) about the mittens on February 25, and we’ve been overwhelmed by requests for more information. Thank you for wanting to help, and read on for all the details!

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The Bears

bearsThe organization that initiated the call for the bear mittens is the Animals Asia Foundation, a Hong Kong-based charity dedicated to ending cruelty and restoring respect for all animals in Asia. The bear images on this page are from their blog. The AAF rescues bears from inhumane conditions where they pass a miserable, tortured existence as living sources for bear bile, which is used in traditional medicines. For more information about the bear’s plight, you can read the AAF blog but, be warned, some of it is not for the squeamish.

As you might imagine, after their rescue the bears usually need urgent veterinary care and often surgery. Also not surprisingly, the bears must be anaesthetized to receive this care. It’s important that they stay warm and comfortable during the process but, just as for humans, bears’ extremities are the first things to chill. What they need is HUGE mittens to help their paws stay warm while they’re asleep. And that’s where knitters halfway around the world come in!

The Mittens

high fiveThe mitten pattern allows for several weights of yarn and includes instructions for knitting in the round with one circular, two circulars, double-pointed needles, or knitting flat. Finished mittens are about 7″ wide (14″ circumference) with a 12″ foot and 6″ cuff. The pattern is intended to be beginner level, but if you have any questions about the techniques mentioned, you might find the website helpful.

There is no deadline for completing the mittens – there are literally thousands in captivity and, while progress is being made, there is little hope for a quick end to their plight. Also, you do not have to knit a full set (not a pair… a quad?) of mittens. Any number is helpful as the bears don’t care if their mittens match!

Bear mitten pattern as a PDF (50KB) (download the free Adobe Acrobat Reader)
Bear mitten pattern as a MS Word document (150KB)

bearOnce you’ve knit up your mittens, you have a few options for delivering them:

  1. Drop them off here at Twisted.
    2310 NE Broadway
    Portland, OR 97232

  2. Drop them off at or mail them to the Oregon Zoo.
    Oregon Zoo
    Attn: Amy Hash
    4001 SW Canyon Rd.
    Portland, OR 97221
  3. Mail them to the Animals Asia Foundation directly.
    Animals Asia Foundation
    PMB 506
    584 Castro Street
    San Francisco, CA 94114-2594

If you were affected by this story, please also take a moment to write an email to Tracy Barry of KGW. She has said that she’d love to hear viewers’ feedback.

The first finished mitten is below – thanks to Jennie! Please email us photos of your finished mittens (reduce your file to a reasonable size, please!) and we’ll put them up here, as well. And thanks for taking the time to do a little knitting for animals in need.

paw print
Bear paw print
Jennie’s bootieJennie M. CarolCarol (Emily’s mom) BethBeth RobbieRobbie