The image of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont sitting in warm, cozy mittens and a plain brown coat on Inauguration Day continues to make the internet rounds as a meme. But what about the knitter behind those recycled-wool mittens?
It turns out she was quite surprised to find herself — via her mittens — in the spotlight.
“Everyone looked beautiful at the Inauguration, their outfits were stunning and cool to look at and made by famous designers and then: there were my mittens,” Jen Ellis told Teen Vogue.
Contrasting with the high fashion many other dignitaries wore, the Vermont senator’s casual but practical winter attire immediately grabbed the attention of Twitter users such as @obedmanuel, who gave the photo a gruff caption to match Sanders’ personality:
I am once again asking that you not talk to me at parties. pic.twitter.com/b6wzZNv9KG
— Obed Manuel (@obedmanuel) January 20, 2021
But the mittens were the real star of the outfit, and people wanted to know where to get a pair. Second-grade teacher Ellis was busy teaching (remotely) when friends flooded her phone with texts that her mittens had become part of a viral meme. She told Teen Vogue that 5,000 emails hit her inbox from people wanting to buy a pair.
Ellis is a self-taught knitter who made the mittens for Sanders back in 2016. “His daughter-in-law was the director of my daughter’s preschool,” she told Teen Vogue. “I was making mittens for all of the teachers for a holiday gift and I made an extra pair for him and sent it along through her. She told me that he liked them.”
She knits upcycled mittens from old wool sweaters and lines them with fleece made from recycled bottles, and as you can see from this tweet, she uses quite a few fun patterns:
I made Bernie’s mittens as a gift a couple years ago. They are made from repurposed wool sweaters and lined with fleece (made from recycled plastic bottles). #BerniesMittens pic.twitter.com/lTXFJvVy9V
— Jen Ellis (@vtawesomeness) January 21, 2020
“I really do care about the environment and when I can, make something that’s beautiful that comes from repurposed materials and prevents materials from going into the landfill,” she told Teen Vogue.
Sanders has worn his brown-and-cream-colored mittens in many places, including on the campaign trail when he was running for the Democratic nomination in 2020.
Much to the disappointment of Ellis’ new fans, she said her teaching schedule keeps her too busy to make mittens all the time. For those looking to make their own mittens, she did suggest heading to Etsy to look for similar patterns to try at home. (Ravelry is also teeming with copycat and inspired-by patterns, as well as crochet dolls of the senator wearing the coat and mittens.)
However, after hearing the continued calls for “more mittens,” Ellis decided to pick up her needles again for a limited collection to help raise money for local charities in Vermont — Outright Vermont and Passion of Paws — as well as her daughter’s college fund:
I made 3 pairs of mittens yesterday. Here is how you can get them! I donated one pair to Passion 4 Paws Vermont
(Ebay). One pair to Outright Vermont, that one is at https://t.co/W8vns7xqPn. I will also be auctioning off a pair on Ebay for my daughter's college fund.
— Jen Ellis (@vtawesomeness) January 24, 2021
Meanwhile, the memes continue.
The senator popped up in a scene from “The Office,” as shared by @mufti_jesse on Twitter:
— 007 (@mufti_jesse) January 23, 2021
Even celebrities like Mark Hamill of “Star Wars” fame couldn’t resist getting in on the fun.
I only know one truth…
…TO END. pic.twitter.com/WvjsCVtviD
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) January 24, 2021
With all the attention she’s been receiving, NPR asked Ellis if she thought her students would see her differently due to her time in the spotlight. Her response was as practical as the senator’s Inauguration attire.
“I don’t think that they’ll view me any differently in the end,” she said. “I still was bundling them up in snow pants and their own mittens and sending them out into the snowy day for recess just like half an hour ago.”