When the Packers play the Seahawks tomorrow, one observer will be watching the events with particularly keen interest. That’s Marge Switzer, the Pack’s seamstress. In this high-tech football era, Marge is almost too perfect to be true: a sweet, smiling lady bent over a sewing machine. She recently made time in her busy schedule to chat about her job.
Uni Watch: What exactly is your job title there?
Marge Switzer: I’m an independent contractor, not a team employee, but I’m considered the Packers’ seamstress.
UW: How and when did you start working for the Packers, and what were you doing before that?
MS: I owned a monogramming and embroidery company, called Threads. I started that in 1985 and closed it in 2001. Prior to that I was a professional seamstress, doing alterations for clothing stores. And I did some work for our local college here, St. Norbert’s, repairing their athletic apparel — football pants, jerseys, whatever. I was approached by the Packers’ equipment manager, Red Batty, to do some embroidery for them — primarily numbers, so clothing could be designated for a player.
UW: You mean as an internal identification system?
MS: Right. That would have been in 1996, when I still had Threads. And then closed Threads and came here full-time around 2001. To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t balance the two. You can’t run a business and do this job. And I have to tell you, I love this job.
UW: Are you the only seamstress there, or are you part of a sewing department, or what?
MS: I have an associate named Penny who’s been with me since 1985. We’ve been friends, actually, since second grade. So she knows my style, she knows what I need, and so on. She does all my prep work — if a pattern needs to be cut out, or a hem taken out, that’s her responsibility.
UW: Do you have your own office near the locker room?
MS: The Packers provide us with a sewing room, our own space, across from the locker room.
UW: What sorts of things do you typically have to do to a jersey?
MS: Primarily mend it.
UW: What sorts of things need to be mended?
MS: Like if there’s a rip or tear, I take care of that after a game. Once the jerseys have been prepped for the game — in other words, the threads have been clipped around the tackle twill and so forth — if anything needs to be shortened, they’re shortened, because players come in all different heights.
UW: Have there been players who’ve liked to have certain details custom-tailored?
MS: Not really.
UW: Nobody has said, “I want my hem a certain way,” or “I want my sleeves like this”?
MS: No. And even if they did, the player has to go through the equipment manager.
UW: So the players don’t approach you directly.
MS: No. I rely on the equipment manager to give me guidance.
UW: It gets pretty cold in Green Bay. Do you sew those little pockets into the jersey, which we sometimes see?
MS: No, because they wear the little pouches.
UW: Yeah, but I’ve seen Brett Favre wearing the pockets sewn into the belly of his jersey on lots of occasions.
MS: Oh, you mean when it’s actually part of the jersey — yes, I’ve done that.
UW: When you’re working on something like that, are you thinking, “God, I just wish he’d wear the little pouch instead so I would have to do this”?
MS: No. Being a seamstress is just like any other job: You enjoy the challenge.
UW: For those pockets, do you have to line them with some sort of special thermal fabric?
MS: No, just fleece, like you’d buy at any fabric store.
UW: Any other cold-weather provisions that you’ve had to work on, like maybe on the interior lining or something like that?
MS: No, because the players layer, or at least I assume they do. Frankly, I don’t dress ’em, Paul, so I don’t know what they’ve got under there!
UW: Now some players, like linemen, are, shall we say, robust individuals.
UW: So a player like Gilbert Brown, when he was with the Packers, he’s obviously a very large man. Did you have to do anything special for his jersey?
MS: No. The equipment manager orders the proper size from the manufacturer.
UW: Obviously, sure, but you’ve never had to make any special custom alterations to allow for this or that?
UW: What about when we sometime see elastic in a sleeve cuff or at the hemline? Is that something you do, or does Reebok do it?
MS: If it’s in the sleeve, it comes that way from the manufacturer. But if it’s in the hem, that’s something I do.
UW: Speaking of sleeves, what do you think of how sleeves have essentially vanished over the past decade or so?
MS: I guess that’s just a reflection of what the players like.
MS: That’s something I can’t really comment on, because we would have had Starter as our manufacturer, and then Nike, and now Reebok, so I’m not sure exactly when that happened.
UW: Actually, that brings up an interesting point regarding the different manufacturers. When the team switches suppliers, is there a substantive change that you can see and feel, or is it essentially the same garment with a different logo on the sleeve?
MS: I’ve never noticed a change. It’s the same garment.
UW: How beaten up or damaged does a jersey have to be before you or Red or whomever says, “Okay, this is beyond repair — we’ll just toss it out instead of fixing it.”
MS: We have never thrown away a jersey.
UW: Well, okay, but even if you don’t throw it away, how damaged does it have to be before it’s “retired”?
MS: That never happens.
MS: It will be retired at the end of the season. We will mend it, because that is the player’s personal jersey. The scuffs and dings mean something to them.
UW: So if a jersey had a big gash — not just a little nick, but a serious tear — that would just be stitched back up and put back into circulation?
UW: What about on game day — are you on hand for last-minute adjustments, and do you travel with the team for road games?
MS: I do not travel with the team, but I am here on game day for home games. Maybe a player would want his undershirt sleeve shortened a bit, or something like that, or a coach might need the hem repaired on his pant cuffs.
UW: Oh, so you work on the coaches’ apparel as well.
UW: And what about during the game — are you on hand to repair things during halftime?
MS: No. There’s always a back-up jersey they can switch to.
UW: So once the game starts, do you go home to watch it?
MS: I do.
UW: And while you’re watching the game, do you notice lots of little things that maybe the average fan would miss?
MS: I think the average fan misses about 90% of what I see.
UW: Can you give me an example?
MS: When you watch other teams, you can see where there’s a rip that wasn’t fixed, or where there are loose threads hanging out. You can tell when the jersey has been taped down to the pads — the jersey should fit, not be distorted.
UW: Do you ever spot something you could have done better and think, “Darn, if only I had…”? Not to imply that you make mistakes, of course.
MS: Well, we all make mistakes, and there have been times when I’m watching the game and I’ll go, “Uhhhhh [deep gasp of shock], we missed a thread there!” So I do see that sometimes, and the average person, I’m sure, wouldn’t have a clue.
UW: Do you think the players themselves care about these sorts of details?
MS: I think Green Bay, as an organization, has a tremendous amount of pride, and our players are fussy about their uniforms. I’ve never heard that a player complained about anything, but I think they expect that everything will look professional.
UW: Speaking of small details, I’m told that the uniform number on one of Brett Favre’s jerseys was slightly off-center earlier this season.
MS [softly]: Mm-hmm.
UW: So it came that way, from Reebok?
MS: It actually came that way, yes.
UW: Was it the front number or the back?
MS: I think it was the front.
UW: Was that something you noticed during the game?
MS: After the game, when the jersey came out of the laundry.
UW: So in that case, would that jersey be retired, because it was essentially defective?
MS: I think we probably would, yes.
UW: So that’s what happened?
MS: I brought it to the equipment manager’s attention, but I don’t actually know what happened to it after that.
UW: Does it ever bug you when you work to get Al Harris’s nameplate just right and then nobody can even see it because it’s covered up by his hair?
MS [laughing]: That doesn’t bother me at all! Because that’s just his look.
UW: But you could have “Smith” or “Jones” under there, instead of “Harris,” and nobody would know.
MS: I sure wouldn’t try it! That might be the day he had his hair pulled back.
UW: Al Harris is also one of the players who’ve been a little creative with their socks this year. Do you work on the hosiery, too?
MS: No, that’s not part of my job at all.
UW: I know some teams actually sew the socks into the cuffs of the pants — do you do that?
MS: I have heard about that, but I haven’t done that here.
UW: The Packers aren’t wearing those captaincy patches that most other NFL teams are wearing, so I guess that’s one job you didn’t have to do.
MS: Yes. Some teams have the same captains week after week, but the Packers select their captains before each game. The “C” patches did arrive in the sewing room at the start of the season, but then we were asked to return them to the equipment room.
UW: Speaking of patches, there was that one game where the team played in Dallas, and the Cowboys usually wear white at home, which means the Packers would have worn green, and I read that all the Lambeau Field anniversary patches on the green jerseys would have had to be removed for that game, and then restored for the next home game, because the patch can only be worn at home. But then the Cowboys ended up wearing blue throwback jerseys for that game, so the Packers wore white after all, and the patches didn’t have to be taken off and then put back on. So that saved you a lot of work too.
UW: So you — or maybe Penny — would have had to use a seam ripper to remove all those patches?
MS: Yes. And it would have been a joint effort, believe me.
UW: What sort of sewing machine do you use? Is it an industrial model, or is it pretty similar to what a home sewer would have?
MS: It’s just a basic sewing machine — not industrial.
UW: These fabrics you’re working with, they’re high-tech, high-performance textiles, which is obviously very different than normal apparel. Is that a challenge? Does the material react differently in your hands, or under the needle?
MS: No, it really doesn’t, as long as I use the right needle. In other words, you don’t use the same needle to mend a jersey that you would to hem a pair of jeans.
UW: But the fabric essentially behaves the same way?
UW: If you could change anything about football uniforms, what would it be?
MS: Hmmmm. If you had asked me that 10 years ago, I would have said get rid of the screened-on numbers. But now they’re tackle twill, which is so much better — it gives a sense of dimension, and they don’t crack or peel. It’s a much more professional look. Aside from that, I can’t think of anything.
UW: Any good stories to share, any anecdotes involving unusual situations or challenges?
MS: Unfortunately, I can’t take things out of here — it’s confidential. Mostly, I forget what goes on here. I can’t take stories home, I can’t take the risk that my husband will pass them on at his job. So I honest to God wish I had something I could tell you that would just be hilarious, but I can’t.
UW: Speaking of your husband, I assume he’s a big Packers fan?
MS: He is.
UW: So it must be exciting for him to have his wife working for the team.
MS: Well, it is. I mean, let’s look at the big picture, Paul: There are only so many teams in the NFL, and only so many people who sew for the NFL. That’s what makes it such a privilege.
Big thanks to Marge for her time and expertise, and to reader Jeff Ash, who’s Marge’s neighbor and lay the groundwork for this interview.
Raffle Reminder: Today’s the last day to enter the raffle for the $100 NFLshop.com gift card (or to get three bonus entries by joining the Uni Watch membership program). To enter, send an e-mail to uniraffle at earthlink dot net (not to the usual Uni Watch address) by 10 p.m. eastern tonight. One e-mail per person, plus all membership enrollees will automatically get three bonus entries. I’ll announce the winner on Monday. And in a special bonus development, look for another raffle next week.
Speaking of membership, there are some new cards up in the design gallery, including today’s showcase design, which is based on the 1926-27 Ottawa Sentators. Also, I mailed out about a dozen membership kits yesterday, so watch your mailboxes.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Lots of uni-related info in this PDF of Tony Romo’s locker (with thanks to Brian Thompson). … We all know about Pete Gray, Modecai Brown, Jim Abbott, and Tom Dempsey, but the latest news regarding Oscar Pistorius (the sprinter who wear prosthetics) led New York Times columnist George Vescey to recall the case of a disabled athlete I hadn’t previously been aware of: Bert Shepard, who lost a leg during World War II and later pitched one game for the Senators. Vescey’s column was accompanied by this photo, and I’ve been unable to find any others. If anyone has a shot of Shepard in action, I’d love to see it. … Odd coincidence spotted by birthday boy Marty Buccafusco, who first noticed an eBay auction for a Brett Favre Falcons jersey with what appears to be a slightly off-center nameplate and was then watching some 1999 NFL playoff footage and saw Favre exhibiting the same problem. Seems especially odd in light of the off-center number discussed above with Marge Switzer. … The latest installment of “Equipped with Joe Skiba” is available on the Giants’ home page. … FNOB alert from John English, who writes: “The ’83 Angels sported both Reggie Jackson and Ron Jackson at one point. Their solution? Reggie remained just ‘Jackson,’ while Ron wore his full name.” … We’ve discussed lots of occasions when umpires have been forced to wear makeshift gear because their luggage was lost. Turns out Michael James attended one such a game in 1991, and he just found some photos he took that afternoon. “The umps dressed in what appeared to be Brewers warm-up gear,” he says. … Nathan Evans says this reminds him of this. … While researching something else, I came across this shot of a less than full moon. … This week’s New Yorker includes this photo from a Rangers practice session. Forgive my ignorance here, but what is the purpose of having three separate uniform sets on the ice at one time?