How to knit your own Bernie mittens

Put on your mask, cross your legs, become a meme.

Knitting anything that is not a scarf or a beanie can be utterly intimidating, but I swear to you—mittens are not as hard as you think.

This project is fast and simple, though it does require some basic knowledge of knitting stitches and terms. What’s great about it is that no matter what kind of yarn you have or the size of your hands, you can adapt these instructions to fit your needs and supplies. You can also keep it basic by using one color and the simplest stitches in the book, or you can build on it—add different cables, intricate stitches, or a jacquard pattern to make all your senatorial-meme fantasies come true.

The sky’s the limit and winter’s long, so get your needles and get knitting.

Stats

Difficulty: moderate

Time: 10 hours

Material cost: $6 to $20 (depending on the yarn you get)

Materials and tools

Instructions

1. Make a gauge. Cast 20 stitches on one of your needles and knit in stockinette stitch for 15 rows. Measure the width of this rectangle and write it down—doing so helps you “gauge” how your yarn performs, and you’ll use this measurement to figure out how many stitches you’ll have to cast to make your mitten.

  • Note: You can keep your gauge for future reference, but if you don’t, you can unravel and use it.

2. Measure your hand. Put your four fingers together and extend them as if you were about to karate-chop something. Use your tape and measure the width of your hand at your knuckles. Multiply that by two—that’s the circumference of your mitten.

For example, the distance between the outer sides of my index and pinky fingers was 3 ½ inches (8.7 centimeters), so the total circumference of my mitten would be 7 inches (17.5 centimeters).

3. Calculate the number of stitches. Using the measurements from your gauge and your hand, calculate how many stitches you’ll need to cast.

With 20 stitches, my gauge was 5 inches long and I needed to cover 17. The equation here is: 20 stitches is to 5 inches what X stitches is to 17 inches. I multiplied 20 by 17 and divided the result by 5, resulting in a total of 30 stitches. If math is not your thing, don’t worry—there’s a handy online proportions calculator.

4. Set up your needles. You’ll be knitting your mittens in the round, meaning there’s no clear beginning or end to each row—you’ll work in a spiral going upward. For this, you’ll use three of your needles to hold the stitches and a fourth one to knit them. Once you have all your stitches on one needle, divide them into three equal groups and bring two more needles into play. When you’re done, each needle should be holding a third of your stitches.

Set up of needled for in the round knitting
Make sure your knitting is not twisted by putting your needles down and making sure the bottom of the stitches are all on the inside of your triangle. Sandra Gutierrez G.
  • Note: If you’re new to double-pointed needles, you can learn the basics here.
  • Pro tip: Place a stitch marker before you knit your first stitch, so you always can easily identify the start of your round. If you don’t like using markers, use the leftover yarn as a reference and follow that stitch upward until you reach your needle—that’s the beginning of your round.

5. Knit your cuff in a 1-by-1 rib stitch. This is one knit stitch, one purl stitch. Keep knitting in the round until you’re satisfied with the length of your cuff. You can make it long if you want your mittens to cover a part of your forearm, or you can make it short if you just want a simple cuff. I kept mine 2 ½ inches (5.5 centimeters) long.

6. Change to stockinette stitch. Knit for 1 ¼ inches (2.7 centimeters).

7. Start your thumb opening. For this, you’ll use the first stitch of your round as a reference and add one stitch on each side of it. You can do a yarn over or any other increasing technique you’re comfortable with. Place markers on each of your new stitches.

Increase for thumb opening
The marker is the first stitch of the round. When that is your next stitch, it’s time to increase one. Sandra Gutierrez G.

8. Knit another round without increases.

9. Make two more increases—one before the first marker and one after the second marker. To break it down, when you get to your first marker, increase one stitch. Then, knit three stitches and finish by increasing another one. Don’t forget to move your markers to signal where your new stitches are.

10. Knit another round without increases.

11. Repeat steps 9 and 10. You’ll notice you’re forming a V shape marked by the holes left by the increases you’ve made. Keep adding two stitches every other round until the space between your markers is 2 ½ inches (6 centimeters) long.

Opening of thumb in mittens
This is just a sample, but this is how the V shape of your thumb opening should look like. Sandra Gutierrez G.
  • Note: If you think 2 ½ inches might be too tight for your thumb, use your tape to measure its circumference. Keep increasing until you reach that width.
  • Pro tip: If you’re not using markers, keep in mind that the number of stitches between increases will always be an odd number. That way, you’ll always know where to make your second increase.

12. Put your thumb stitches on hold by using a safety pin. If you don’t have a safety pin at hand, you can also pull a piece of yarn through your stitches to get them out of the way.

Opening of thumb in mittens
When your thumb stitches are on hold, ignore them and just keep knitting. You’ll pick them up later. Sandra Gutierrez G.

13. Keep knitting in the round until your mitten reaches half an inch (1 centimeter) above the tip of your middle finger. Because your thumb stitches are now in a safety pin, skip them and continue with the stitch after that. Make sure to manage the tension of your yarn to close the gap neatly. That way, you won’t end up with a huge hole between your thumb and index finger. Keep knitting.

14. Once you’re done, measure 8 inches (20 centimeters) in the yarn you’re working with and cut.

15. Using a crochet hook, carefully pull your leftover yarn through your stitches. You do not want to cut your remaining yarn, so be gentle.

Yarn through stitches
Replace a needle with a crochet hook and pull your yarn through the stitches. Sandra Gutierrez G.

16. Turn your mitten inside out and finish knitting. Use a crochet hook to bring the leftover yarn to the inside of your mitten and use one of the purl bumps to secure it with a knot.

  • Pro tip: Moving diagonally, use the hook to weave your remaining yarn into the purl bumps. That way, no matter how much the mitten stretches with use, your knitting will remain secure.

17. Knit the mitten’s thumb. Take the stitches on your safety pin and distribute them evenly onto three needles. Knit them in the round until you’re half an inch (1 centimeter) past the tip of your thumb.

18. Using a crochet hook, carefully pull your leftover yarn through your stitches. You do not want to cut your remaining yarn, so be gentle.

Mitten closed
This is your closed thumb. You’re almost there. Sandra Gutierrez G.

19. Turn the thumb inside out and finish knitting. Use a crochet hook to bring the leftover yarn to the inside of the thumb and use one of the purl bumps to secure it with a knot.

  • Pro tip: Moving diagonally, use your hook to weave your remaining yarn into the purl bumps. That way, no matter how much the mitten stretches with use, your knitting will remain secure.

20. Do it all over again. If you’re lucky enough to have two hands, make sure you keep both of them warm. Take a deep breath and knit your second mitten.

How to make the Bernie Sanders mittens

If you want to be a part of the internet hype and rock your own Bernie mittens, you can add your own jacquard design to the instructions above. You can download one from the web, come up with your own secret message pattern or you look closely at the hundreds of memes featuring US Senator Bernie Sanders, and copy it.

Whatever way you choose, jacquard knitting is an advanced technique that requires you to knit with two different-colored yarns at the same time. If you want to dive into this challenge, get a pattern, fit it into the back of your mitten, and knit away.

Sandra Gutierrez G.
Sandra Gutierrez G.

is a Chilean journalist and the assistant DIY editor at PopSci. She has previously worked as an editor for MSN.cl, and a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine. When she's not putting baking soda on things, she's walking her 10-year-old beagle, Lucas. Contact the author here.