A Conversation with Bernie´s Mitten Maker Author Jen Ellis


Jen Ellis and her book

Rachel Ledoux, Editor

In 2021, President Joe Biden’s inauguration sent Jen Ellis spiraling into relative fame when a photo of Senator Bernie Sanders wearing mittens she made became a viral meme. 

Ellis, a former Vermont teacher, has now published Bernie’s Mitten Maker, a memoir detailing the personal history that led to her making the mittens. Despite its title, however, Ellis explained that the focus of the memoir is not on Sanders.

The novel tells Ellis’s story in two parts: life before the inauguration and life after. Ellis explained that a large focus of the memoir is on her own experiences, detailing her childhood, coming out and various life events. 

She added that the story goes into some adult themes, so it may not be suitable for younger audiences – slightly ironic, she noted, given her teaching past.

“A big theme is using crafting and creating to heal from trauma,” Ellis said.

According to Ellis, the memoir has been in the works for years, with writing beginning just after the inauguration. After Ellis’s mittens led to her moment of fame, Ellis saw her operation blow up and began working with outside organizations like Vermont Teddy Bear to produce the mittens. 

As a result, Ellis explained that she mainly wrote to relieve the stress of her sudden fame. 

“I would just sit down and write, [to] empty out my brain,” Ellis said.

And because of that sudden fame, Ellis said, she felt that the memoir’s themes needed to be more appealing to a broader audience.

“We were steering the book in [a new] direction, to sell it to the masses,” Ellis said.

Ellis described trying to sell her memoir to publishers for a year, working with a New York City agent, before it was accepted by Green Writers Press, a Vermont publishing organization. 

Then came the editing and reworking.

“Asking ‘what is the story that I want to tell,’ not necessarily what would appeal to the masses,” Ellis said. She added, “We were trying to see what the book could be.”

Ellis worked to mold the memoir into its current shape before it was released to the public. And, while Ellis notes that she wrote the memoir for her own sake, and not to an audience, the feedback has been positive thus far.

For example, Alison Bechdel, the comic artist behind Dykes to Watch Out For and Fun Home, described Bernie’s Mitten Maker as, “an engrossing memoir about the healing power of handwork.”

When asked about connections with Sanders over the memoir, Ellis noted that she sent him an advance copy, but had yet to hear back. However, Ellis said that she feels that the publicity has been positive for them both.

“It definitely created a narrative that was very affable,” Ellis said. “It was good for me, good for Bernie, and good for Vermont.”