You’ve definitely seen them by now: the Bernie memes.
Wearing his signature winter coat, cozy mittens, a mask, and looking very put-upon sitting in a folding chair, Bernie Sanders is popping up in the most unlikely places.
You can find him transported to a park in New York City, watching pigeons. You can find him sitting in the Iron Throne.
There he is with Jay and Silent Bob. He shares a bench with Forrest Gump. And he is grumpily watching someone’s merch table.
Now, the woman who made Bernie’s mittens, a Vermont second-grade teacher, says she has been flooded with orders.
Slate caught up with Jen Ellis, who explained what it was like to see her mittens go viral. Ellis said that her Gmail had basically crashed with all of the order requests, but she has report cards due and needs to focus on that right now. Always keep a side hustle, folks. Just in case.
Ellis says that she was late to the party because she and her partner keep a “no-TV” household.
“I was totally delighted. I was actually a little late to the game because I was remote teaching for the whole morning. I go to my classroom and remote-teach from my classroom. I think it’s important to just turn off all media and focus on your students, but my phone happened to not be on mute and it started dinging in my coat pocket and I was like, someone’s really trying to reach me. Like, maybe my parents are in danger?”
“As soon as I walked in the door, my partner was like, ‘You’re not going to believe this.’ We don’t watch TV—we’re intentionally a non-TV family—but we had taken the TV out of the closet so that our daughter could watch the inauguration. We found our bunny ears and we found a local station that would allow us to watch the inauguration. People had sent me pictures of Bernie Sanders sitting there in his chair, looking a little grumpy. Then the camera zoomed right in on him and I was like, there he is.”
Ellis said that she saw some misinformation circulating on social media about the mittens, so she wanted to correct it.
“I went on Twitter and what I saw was some misinformation that bothered me. People were talking about how these mittens probably came from Bernie’s grandmother and they were a Christmas gift and they were knitted. There’s so much inaccuracy in that. Bernie’s Jewish. They were not a Christmas gift. So I put it out there that I made the mittens, they were a gift, and they’re not knitted, they’re sewn from repurposed and up-cycled sweaters.”
“At that time, I had 30 or 40 mittens for sale and being a little naïve about Twitter, I put my Gmail account on that, which someone picked up yesterday and retweeted it. People have been contacting me thinking that they can get mittens, and actually they can’t. I don’t have any more, and I don’t have much of a mitten business anymore because it really wasn’t worth it.”
Ellis said that she knows Bernie through his daughter-in-law, who owns and operates a preschool where Ellis sent her daughter.
She said she was making gifts for the preschool teachers, and knew that Liza was connected to Bernie, so she made an extra pair back in 2016.
Ellis also explained how she makes the mittens:
“The outer layer is made out of discarded wool sweaters, so wool sweaters that have moth holes or that someone sent through the washing machine or they were ripped or whatever, fallen out of fashion. I cut them up and I piece them together with other sweaters with complementary colors and I use the cuffs of the sweater to be the cuff of the mitten.
Then I line them with fleece, which is also a recycled material, made out of plastic bottles, shredded plastic. I bought some thread at thrift stores, I used all the thread from my grandmother’s old sewing basket after she died, and I find recyclable thread or reusable thread but usually I buy the thread.”
While Ellis is flattered that folks want her to start making more mittens, she says she’s pretty happy with her teaching career, which brings her “a tremendous amount of joy.”
However, she doesn’t count out making mittens for friends as gifts.
“Sometimes people approach me, and their mother just died and their mother knitted one precious sweater for their child that never was worn and never fit and they ask me if I’ll turn that into mittens because they want to keep it. So in that sense, I think I’ll definitely keep making mittens for people.”
Lead image: Twitter