Stitching together the green and gold: Marge Switzer
Marge Switzer doesn’t watch Green Bay Packers games the way the rest of us do. She isn’t necessarily hoping for a touchdown from a favorite receiver. And she isn’t cheering for a 90-yard run from a fantasy football player. She’s actually not really that focused on the players at all. Instead, she’s scrutinizing their jerseys. Stray threads ... post-tackle tears in fabric ... separating seams: Those are what keep Switzer perched on the edge of her couch during Packers games.
As the owner of Marge’s Pro Sewing, she and her staff are contracted by the Packers to construct the players’ nameplates,
affix them onto the jerseys and mend and fit uniforms throughout the year. Switzer, 73, and her staff of four fill a position that — to the best of her knowledge — is unique
to Green Bay among NFL teams.
Other teams employ dry cleaners or a pool of seamstresses. Here, Switzer and her fellow sewers work throughout the year on altering and cataloguing all of the game-day apparel
for the NFL team.
A CAREER CHANGE
Switzer’s is a niche role she kind of wandered into 24 years ago. Originally she operated an alterations shop that also offered embroidery and
monograms. The bridal alterations business was shifting as online gown sales increased. “Athletics is very different than bridal alterations,” Switzer said. “Women are picky. The players just want their jersey to fit. They don’t complain.”
She had been embroidering apparel for the Packers and about a year after the Packers hired equipment manager Gordon “Red” Batty, the now-legendary staffer came to Switzer with a suggestion.
“Red came to me and said, ‘Why don’t you close up your shop and just come work for us?” Switzer recalls. “To ask me to take over the uniform alterations was really taking a chance on me. I started on a cafeteria table.”
Today she is nearing a quarter decade as the head seamstress for the team and has moved from that temporary cafeteria table to a permanent sewing room in the basement of Lambeau Field across from the players’ locker room.
She and Batty are an institution by this point. They’ve worked together long enough to know precisely what to expect of each other
— and the players know the system, too: No one except Batty can request Switzer’s services.
“As long as I do my job and everybody else does their job, we’re going to be just fine on the football field,” Switzer said. “Some players want their jersey a little shorter or a little tighter. But they all know that all of those requests go through Red first.”
Switzer keeps a card full of sizing and tailoring details on each player. The thick stack of cards are bound together with a ring, kind of like a seamstress’s little black book. Each player receives a practice jersey with his last name and a Bellin patch sewn onto it as well as four game jerseys (two white, two green) with his nameplate, the NFL 100-year logo patch and Nike swooshes sewn onto them.
Prior to each game, Switzer’s tasks include comparing the jersey to her player card, making sure measurements match, checking that
the player’s last name is spelled correctly (it only happened once: In 1998 the Packers signed David Klingler and phoned Switzer to
build a nameplate for his practice jersey. Instead of receiving a written request as is now customary, she took it over the phone and
Klingler was inadvertently issued a practice jersey that read “Klinger”).
Once everything matches the player card, Switzer clips any loose threads from her sewing machine and hangs them in numerical order.
Two more seamstresses also complete the checks. So it isn’t often Switzer spies a dangling thread on the green-and-gold uniforms... but she notices them often among opponents.
“Once you’ve worked in the sewing room, you never watch a football game the same way,” Switzer said. “I’m very critical. How does our team look? How does the other team look?”
This season, the first three games feature three different uniform combinations, which means crunch time for Switzer and her staff as they ready uniforms for 53 roster players and about 10 more on the practice squad. But that’s nothing compared to preseason, when she needs to prepare 90 white game jerseys, 90 green game jerseys and 120 practice jerseys.
As summer dwindles, her hours increase. Sometimes she logs up to 65 hours in a week toward the beginning of the season. It’s a lot to juggle, but Switzer’s organization skills are up to the challenge. “I am completely organized, I am dedicated to guide my team and I follow
through every project to completion,” Switzer said.
At this point in her career, Switzer is an expert in the athletic tackle-twill technique, which is the ubiquitous zigzag stitch that appears around on all jerseys’ letters and numbers.
SAVING THE DAY
Despite her comfort level, there are definite high-stress moments. Sometimes Switzer needs to swoop in like a superhero with a sewing machine. In 2012, the now-retired referee Ed Hochuli arrived in Green Bay to realize he had left his referee jersey at home.
“It was 8 a.m. before a noon game,” Switzer recalls. “He called Red and said ‘I’m in trouble.’”
A fellow referee with a spare blank jersey rushed the striped shirt from Milwaukee to Green Bay. Meanwhile, Switzer poured over Getty images to figure out which font is used because NFL regulations state that referee uniforms must be identical.
“He’s number 85, so we had to find a match for those numbers and the referee’s R. It took us a while, but we did it,” Switzer said. “We still needed to get the sizes just right and fabric and thread were another problem: Our colors are green, gold and white. I just don’t have a lot of black in our sewing room.”
But nobody doubted Switzer would come through. And sure enough, after a quick heat-and-bond application and careful tackle-twill stitching, Hochuli’s jersey was ready for him at 11:15 — just in time to step out onto the field to officiate the game. “He is truly one of the kindest people,” Switzer said. “Last year his son Shawn was reffing his first game as head referee and it happened to be at Green Bay. Ed stopped in to my sewing room with Shawn to see me and tell him the story. He’s still appreciative of my help.”
NOT ALL WORK
This time of year, Switzer doesn’t make many to-do lists. “Projects are always delayed at this time of year by the football season,” she said. “I am on hold until February of 2020.”
After February, Switzer’s free time opens up considerably. She still works part-time in the off-season surveying the uniforms (they become
backup uniforms after serving a year as a game jersey), cataloguing them and applying nametags to nearly 12,000 items of game clothing from everyone from coach Matt LaFleur to the communications staff. But she also covets loads of family time.
“In August, if my husband wants to see me, he has to run errands with me,” Switzer laughs. But after football season, she and husband Richard try to load up on grandchild time. They have two daughters and four grandchildren. She and Richard enjoy gardening together
in their shady yard together.
Richard prefers to go golfing while Marge loves to travel, and she tries to incorporate that into time spent with her family. “Sometimes being opposite is OK,” Switzer said. “I’m independent and so is Richard. I think that gives us strength.”
The couple enjoys taking their grandchildren to the UW-Green Bay summer Grandparents’ University and Marge has even taken her oldest granddaughter to Hollywood where they sat in the gallery at the Oscars red carpet, thanks to one of Marge’s five siblings — her youngest sister is an associate director of membership programs for the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences.
And what would a grandparent be without sharing their talents with a new generation? Just as Marge learned to sew from her mother while growing up on a dairy farm in the town of Lawrence in rural Brown County, she now enjoys sitting with her grandchildren at a sewing machine. They seem to be mesmerized by the rhythmic beat of the needle puncturing and binding the fabrics together.
“I got the sewing machine all set up for my grandson Miles,” Switzer said. “As he guided the fabric, he turned to me and said ‘Grandma, this is magical!” w