HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and his wool mittens took over the internet following last week’s presidential inauguration.
Since then, the countless memes resulting from the mittens’ popularity reportedly helped raise $1.8 million toward charity.
A Hilton Head Island resident who has made similar mittens since 2013 says the mittens’ newfound exposure is “amazing.”
Linda Whidden, who was born in Maine and has also lived in Massachusetts, tells WSAV NOW that she’s been sewing since her grandmothers taught her as a small child.
“It’s kind of fun for me, I can be creative,” Whidden said. “It’s something that I’ve just love to do.”
She says the now-popular mittens are called “smittens” because they’re made out of recycled wool sweaters.
“In the colder climates, you have the wool on the outside but you also have the wind-breaking fleece liner, and it’s great because if somebody is allergic to wool, the fleece liner keeps that wool away from your skin,” Whidden said.
Spread out on a dining table in her home around her sewing machine are cut-up sections of sweaters ranging in various patterns and colors.
Whidden’s a fan of converting men’s sweaters into smittens. “I can get more pairs out of them, they seem to be a little bit larger,” she said.
The former northerner prefers to get her sweaters from thrift and consignment shops, like Osprey Village Thrift located on Hilton Head Island.
“I don’t buy the ones that are 100%; if they have a moth hole or a tear in the sleeve or something, those are the ones that I buy,” Whidden explained.
“I align them with 100% blizzard fleece that’s made from recycled plastic bottles, and the buttons that I put on the cuffs, I try to take off old jackets and coats and things like that,” she said.
To make the mittens, she gathers up sweaters of similar colors and washes them with hot water, and then dries them in her machine to shrink them with the heat’s help.
“That’s called felting, I felt them,” Whidden said. Once they’ve dried, she lays the material out and cut it into smaller pieces to be sewn together.
“I do small, medium and large,” Whidden says. “The large generally is a typical man-size medium, about 90% of women wear the medium, and then the small would be like a very small lady or a young child.”
She’s not able to make baby smittens, she says, because she needs to be able to fit her hands inside them during her process.
When she lived in Massachusetts, she says she met a couple from the town of Byfield who fell in love with her mittens, and they began selling them in their shop.
“Honestly, they just took off like wildfire,” Whidden said. “The last year that they were in business before they retired, they sold six dozen pairs, so I just continued making them.”
She’s been able to sell the smittens to friends looking to give them to their loved ones around the holidays.
Up north, Whidden would sell her cozy hand warmers with the tagline, “Give the gift of warmth this year for Christmas!”
However, Whidden admits that business hasn’t been booming for the thick, warm gloves since she relocated to a hotter climate down south four years ago.
Last holiday season, she sold four pairs of mittens to locals who hailed from up north.
“My sales have dwindled, but at least there are still some people buying them,” Whidden said, adding, “But now I think Bernie Sanders [going viral] is going to help, so I will probably get back in business again.”
Whidden wants to start ramping up production of her smittens with the goal of eventually selling them on Etsy.com.
“I’m hoping to get back in the swing and start making more,” she said. “I have several pairs all cut out and ready to go.”
To contact Linda Whidden about her smittens, she can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.