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In new book, ‘Bernie's Mitten Maker’ Jen Ellis reflects on internet fame, crafts and healing

A collage of memes based on the photo of Sen. Bernie Sanders' outfit and mittens from the 2021 presidential inauguration.
Matthew Smith
Jen Ellis, right, reflects on the year since her mittens first appeared in the much-memed photo of Bernie Sanders (and his mittens) at President Joe Biden's inauguration in January 2021.

Jen Ellis of Essex Junction accidentally found internet fame when Sen. Bernie Sanders wore her mittens to President Joe Biden's inauguration in 2021.

But her new book, Bernie's Mitten Maker, is about much more than the meme.

“It’s not just about the mittens," Ellis said in an interview on Vermont Edition. "I talk a lot about crafting and creativity and using those skills and those hobbies to heal from trauma and to build community and to build peace. It’s almost like a meditation.”

Throughout her life, creativity has been a way for Ellis to find healing, she said — from a childhood home economics class where she learned to sew to the experience of making the mittens she made for Sanders. The memoir touches on topics including child abuse and pregnancy loss.

When the mittens went viral, Ellis was thrust into the public eye. "It was scary," she said, adding that people called her house and the school where she worked as a second-grade teacher, mailed things to her and even tracked down her mother.

But the mittens also brought opportunity: Between Ellis' own mitten sales, in partnership with Vermont Teddy Bear, and a fundraiser that Sanders' campaign did, the mitten effort has raised about $2.2 million, she said.

“The story itself of internet fame was so unbelievable, to go from just living your ordinary life to being like somebody who people from all over the world are trying to contact all at once," Ellis said. "So I started writing pretty soon after the inauguration just to clear my head at night, but then I started asking myself, like how did I get here, you know? And what role has crafting played in my life? And that led to so many other stories."

Ellis has moved on from teaching and has just finished the first year of a counseling program at the University of Vermont. But before she continues that program, she is taking a year off to write another book.

This time, it will be fiction.

“I am done telling my truth. I’m just going to make stuff up now,” Ellis said, laughing.

Upcoming Jen Ellis appearances:

  • Book reading and signing on Thursday, June 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the Pierson Library in Shelburne
  • Essex Pride Festival, Saturday, June 3 at 12-5 p.m. at Maple Street Park

Broadcast at noon Wednesday, May 31, 2023; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

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Connor Cyrus was co-host and senior producer of Vermont Edition from 2021-2023.
Tedra worked on Vermont Edition as a producer and editor from 2022 to 2024.