Vermont Teacher Made Bernie Sanders’ Now-Famous Mittens

teacher used sweater to make mittens that became part of global meme phenomenon

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Senator Bernie Sanders attended the inauguration wearing attention-grabbing mittens. According to NBC Boston, they were made from an old sweater by a Vermont teacher who slipped them to the senator. Knitting has gained popularity in recent years.

Woman knitting on sofa
You can use one of several loop techniques to knit loops when knitting for relaxation and to create a gift for someone. Photo By fizkes / Shutterstock

When Senator Bernie Sanders attended the inauguration ceremony for incoming President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, many Americans who watched the event noted the pair of knit mittens that Senator Sanders was wearing. Since then, the image of Senator Sanders wearing his mittens has been photoshopped into historical photos, paintings, video games, and scenes from nearly 100 films and television shows, such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Clerks, and The Big Lebowski. The list goes on and on. NBC Boston located the Vermont woman who hand knit the mittens for him.

“Jen Ellis of Essex Junction [recalled] the moment she spotted on TV the mittens she’d made for Sen. Bernie Sanders,” the article said. “Ellis is a full-time elementary school teacher in Vermont’s Essex-Westford School District. She upcycles used wool clothes into mittens as a side business, to sell at craft fairs or to give as gifts.”

The article said that Ellis’ daughter attends a child care center that is owned by one of Senator Sanders’ relatives; when Ellis sought to give gifts to the staff of the center a few years ago, she knew she had an “in” to get the mittens to him. This heart- and hand-warming story hinges on the intricate world of knitting.

How Knitting Works

At its foundation, knitting is a series of loops formed in strands of yarn.

“You can actually follow a strand of yarn—it’s one continuous strand that just goes from loop to loop along the way—and then you would do that all the way around, making loops with two needles,” said Susan B. Anderson, author of six knitting books.

“That’s how you actually create the loops, and then you’re making a loop up on the next row—you’re putting another loop in that first loop that you made. It’s just a continuous series of loops.”

Anderson said that knitting was originally created as a means to make cloth for necessities. However, as the decades wore on, two types of knitters emerged. The first kind are process knitters, who find enjoyment and relaxation in the practice of knitting, regardless of the outcome. Anderson said they sit and knit and knit, never caring whether they finish a project or not.

The second kind are end-product knitters, whose goal is to complete a project like a scarf, a shawl, a sweater, and/or a hat to express themselves through the color patterns and their finished product.

Spinning a Yarn

“You’re going to learn that knitting is really all about the yarn,” Anderson said. “Everybody’s just crazy about picking out the right yarns for their projects.”

When it comes to fiber content, Anderson said there are many different options depending on your personal taste. She mentioned man-made fibers, wool fibers, and natural fibers. For beginners, acrylic yarn often comes first.

“Acrylic yarn is man-made, it’s washable, it’s inexpensive, and it’s come a long way,” she said. “It used to be a little bit more plasticky but now it’s become a lot softer, and you can find it at any big box store. It’s something you might want to think about if you just want to start with something that’s really simple and a little bit less expensive.”

With the right starting point, knitting can be a rewarding and relaxing hobby for anyone. The right knitter could even make a pair of mittens that show up on national television.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

This article contains material taught by Susan B. Anderson. Anderson is the author of six knitting books, including the best-selling Kids’ Knitting Workshop. In 2016, Susan and her son started a yarn and pattern company, Barrett Wool Co.