A life in T-shirts

By Kris Ferrazza | Jul 19, 2019

It’s always a strange feeling when you get to cross something off your bucket list.

To date I’ve been blessed to have managed quite a few. Perhaps it means I’m getting older. Or maybe just luckier.

There’s no skydiving on my list. No bungee jumps, high dives or adrenaline-pumping adventure. Rather, my list is a collection of simple pleasures that make up who I am. There’s been a trip to Paris and a Roman holiday. A whale watch and a hot-air balloon ride (tethered, of course). Close encounters with Mel Gibson and my favorite soap stars from “The Guiding Light.” Live performances by Paul McCartney, Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli, Tony Bennett, Steve Martin and a few other favorites. I’ve visited New York and Hollywood, Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., and more.

Before kicking the bucket, I definitely wanted to know the identity of Watergate’s notorious Deep Throat, and I lived long enough to find that out, too. Many other simple dreams were realized, like keeping chickens in my backyard, having my own pony and owning collie dogs.

But one bucket list item had long eluded me, and I was starting to think it would never happen. I wanted to make a quilt using sentimental items worn by my one and only daughter. These garments, loved so well by the girl I love so well, had deep meaning to me, so I hoarded them like a squirrel. Over the years I tucked away T-shirts and pajamas, holiday dresses and tutus.

There was just one problem: I can’t sew a stitch. So I turned to the crafty ones in my life. My mother, who makes beautiful quilts, wanted no part of it. She said she would help me try to make my own, but I only had to recall simple projects from my past to decline her generous offer. I just don’t have the mad skills.

From time to time I’d meet talented seamstresses and ask them if they’d consider taking it on, but with no luck. They’d rail against the stretchiness and other challenges of using T-shirt material and refuse on the spot. A few said they could refer me to people who do it, but it costs many hundreds of dollars. Another suggested I simply scan the clothing images onto more cooperative fabric and use that. But I wanted to spotlight the real clothes -- the well-loved items that had been worn until they were worn out -- for posterity.

Well, there’s been a break in the case. I recently discovered a company that turns clothing into inexpensive quilts, and I’ve decided it’s my only hope. After 13 years of moving the “T-shirt bag” from closet to trunk, then from storage tote to hayloft, I finally decided it’s now or never. I’d nearly given up hope and tossed the bag the last time it was in my way. Then fate intervened and I came across the website. I read it with interest.

First, I had to locate the bag of clothes. Then I needed to cut up the shirts and ship them off, with a small sum of money. In about a month’s time, I’d have my quilt. This was really happening.

Finding the bag took some doing. The last I remembered, I had put it in the hayloft. Or at least considered it. You know how it goes when you decide to put something in a safe place.

So I went to my barn, which isn’t exactly a pristine place for family heirlooms. I climbed the stairs with trepidation. I’d already searched two closets and two trunks, which had been longtime storage locations for this bag in my house. I didn’t go to the barn alone. I took my husband for backup, because I suspected the bag was in one of many plastic storage totes in the loft, and he is the muscle behind most of these special missions.

For 20 minutes he hefted totes, lifted covers and held piles of stuff while I dug deep in the sweaters, ski gear, old aprons, sheets, pillowcases, hats and mittens. At the end of it all, I came up empty. It was discouraging, especially since it was about 90 degrees up there and we both were sweating. Scratching my head, I started to descend the stairs. I was halfway down when I spied on old purple tote bag within arm’s reach.

“Hey, what’s in this?” I asked randomly.

My husband rolled his eyes skyward as I opened the bag.

Jackpot!” I crowed, pumping my fist.

He shook his head and muttered a few indistinguishable words. It had been right there all along.

Back in the kitchen I emptied the bag, praying there were no mice or spiders inside. The coast was clear.

It was a treasure trove of memories. There was a well-worn pair of Carter’s footie pajamas with mermaids and sea life on them. A soft blue shirt was emblazoned with “Team Mermaid” on the front. Other tees commemorated a “Snow White”-themed summer ballet camp T-shirt. There were shirts from plays like “Aladdin Jr.” and “The Elves and the Shoemaker.” Another read “Unemployed Actor.” My mom had made this special shirt for Elizabeth to wear to a cast party after “The Music Man” closed at Watts Hall in Thomaston.

The handmade shirts are the best by far. One white V-neck was covered with handwritten messages my daughter had penned, such as “Be true to yourself” and “Be kind.” There was a “No Bullying Zone” logo, hearts, peace signs and her initials. Classic Lizzy.

One shirt was from her cheering squad in grammar school, signed by her coaches. Another was from her DARE classes in grade 5. Another featured the distinctive blocky red, blue, black and white style of artist Piet Mondrian. My daughter had chosen to paint a chair borrowing Mondrian’s technique in grade school. She spent weeks taping and painting the chair in art class, with help from her teacher. The chair later was exhibited in a local gallery and now resides at our place. I bought the clothing on a lark, and she wore it with pride.

Her love of the vintage lunch counters at Waltz Soda Fountain in Damariscotta and Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro both are preserved in T-shirt form, and will be proudly displayed on the quilt, along with a few other random favorites.

I’m eager to ship it all off and see what we get back. If they do it right, it will be a dream realized. And if not? Well, I’ve cut up the shirts, so we’ll just have to start again. I haven’t kicked the bucket yet. And she did just attend a tennis camp put on by Midcoast Recreation Center. Maybe that blue T-shirt will be the first in my new collection? Now where to store the bag? Hmm.

And the beat goes on.

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