When Senator Bernie Sanders’s cozy, oversize mittens became an overnight sensation last week at President Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony, the Vermont woman who made them for him was forced to deliver some disappointing news to fans desperate for a pair: she had no more on hand.
“Thanks for all the interest in Bernie’s mittens! It truly has been an amazing and historic day!,” Jen Ellis wrote on Twitter. “I’m so flattered that Bernie wore them to the inauguration. Sadly, I have no more mittens for sale.”
An elementary school teacher, Ellis told news outlets she had no immediate plans to take time away from her busy schedule to make more, despite all the fanfare.
But by the weekend, the Essex Junction, Vt., resident had a change of heart, capitalizing on the handcrafted mittens’ runaway popularity to give back to her community.
On Saturday, Ellis, said she made three new pairs of mittens similar to the ones Sanders was wearing when a picture of him sitting by himself in a folding chair — arms and legs crossed — took the Internet by storm, and would be auctioning them off to the highest bidder.
“I have heard your requests, and I am happy to tell you that I am making just a few more mittens today and tonight to be auctioned off for good causes,” Ellis wrote.
Ellis, who was not immediately available for an interview, told online followers who had been clamoring for the mittens to tune into MSNBC on Sunday morning to learn how they could procure a pair.
I have heard your requests, and I am happy to tell you that I am making just a few more mittens today and tonight to be auctioned off for good causes. Tune in to MSNBC tomorrow morning at 7:45a.m. EST to find out where you can bid for a pair! pic.twitter.com/O6Vr7llDLz— Jen Ellis (@vtawesomeness) January 23, 2021
Ellis later said that a pair of blue-striped mittens had been listed on eBay, with proceeds going to the dog rescue organization Passion 4 Paws Vermont. As of Monday afternoon, 80 people had bid on them, with a high offer of $1,901.
A second pair was donated to the LGBTQ+ youth service organization, Outright Vermont, and can be purchased through CharityAuctionsToday.com. On Monday, 16 people had bid for the winter garb, with the highest bid topping $2,800.
“We’re honored that Jen chose Outright Vermont as the recipient of these beloved mittens,” the organization wrote on the auction website. “You can be a part of social media history — bid on these mitties and make them yours! You’re building hope, equity, and power for LGBTQ+ youth — Heck Yeah!”
A third pair of rainbow-colored mittens was also put up for auction on eBay, with the money to go toward Ellis’s daughter’s college fund, she said.
The three auctions are slated to end Friday.
“Bernie Sanders called me earlier [Sunday] to tell me that the mitten frenzy has already raised an enormous amount of money for Vermont charities,” Ellis said in an update over the weekend. “Thank you!! Generosity brings joy.”
A lot of attention was paid to who was wearing what at Wednesday’s presidential inauguration. But it was Sanders’s practical winter outfit and homey-looking mittens that seemed to take center stage — even as Biden was sworn into the nation’s highest office.
Ellis said she was teaching remotely from her school when her phone started going off with messages from people who had spotted the mittens on television and online.
“As soon as I was done with my remote teaching, I hopped in my car and drove home,” Ellis told Slate in a lengthy interview last week. “As soon as I walked in the door, my partner was like, ‘You’re not going to believe this.’”
She added, “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, he’s wearing my mittens. I was completely surprised and delighted and flattered and good for him.”
In the ensuing days, Ellis was flooded with requests for the mittens, before finally relenting and creating a few for charity.
This isn’t the first time that the mittens, which are made from repurposed wool sweaters and recycled materials, have earned fame.
Ellis first gave the mittens to Sanders several years ago, according to NPR, while her daughter was attending a preschool owned-and-operated by Sanders’s daughter-in-law. While making holiday gifts for the teachers there, Ellis decided to slip in an extra pair for the longtime Vermont senator, she said.
When Sanders hit the campaign trail in 2020, as he vied for the Democratic presidential nomination, he brought the mittens with him and was seen wearing them during public appearances. Instantly, they became a hit.
“Wow! I am completely humbled by the huge support for Bernie and the mittens I made for him!!,” Ellis tweeted last year when the mittens first went viral. “What started out as a simple act of kindness more than 2 years ago has grown into something beyond my imagination!”
They even spawned a fan account on Twitter called @BerniesMittens.
With the so-called Bernie meme still pinballing across the Internet, Sanders’s campaign store has also jumped in, selling a sweatshirt featuring the iconic image. All proceeds for the $45 “Chairman Sanders Crewneck” shirt will benefit Meals on Wheels Vermont.
But like the mittens, getting your hands on one could be difficult: as of Monday morning, the website where the sweatshirt can be purchased said the item was currently sold out.