Stacks of Utah State University football jerseys cover the surfaces of Melinda Garren’s kitchen from the counter to the chairs. The spaces not covered in jerseys are filled with a cutting mat and her sewing machine.
Garren moves methodically through the piles in front of her. She picks up a jersey, lays it down on the counter, smooths the fabric with her hands and pulls out old threads that used to secure a player's name to the material.
After double-checking a list with the players' names and numbers, she sets a new nameplate on the material and measures how it needs to fit. If the fabric is too long, she cuts it before spraying it with an adhesive and pinning it onto the fabric. Once the jersey is ready for her to sew, it goes into a new pile.
It’s been 10 years since Garren began the job of sewing names and patches to the USU football jerseys. At this point, she can’t quite remember how it came to be that she was offered the job, but she said it must have started with a conversation between her husband, Bill, the athletic department’s director of video services, and Mike Bair, who oversees the equipment.
When Garren accepted the responsibility of preparing the jerseys, she also accepted the challenge of learning how to sew.
“I’m game to try a lot of new things,” Garren said. “I figured I can learn to do this.”
To help her get started, Garren reached out to her mother who had years of sewing experience, which included making wedding dresses for Garren and her sisters. Her mom walked her through the process and helped her get the hang of it.
“A lot of it is knowing your machine,” Garren said. “Knowing what it can and cannot do. Getting comfortable with what you are doing and being able to do it a lot of times.”
Garren gets lots of opportunities to practice. Each year there are anywhere from 80 to over 100 players on the team and multiple jerseys for each player. Last year she said the team only used the white and blue jerseys. This year, they plan to use gray and black ones as well. This means names and patches will have to be added to four sets of jerseys.
Sometimes there isn’t much to change on a jersey. Other times, a player will switch their number if their favorite one becomes available, or a jersey will be so beat up it needs to be retired. When Garren first started, she had to sew all the conference patches on. Now the manufacturer takes care of most of those.
“The needs are constantly changing and evolving with how things are manufactured," Garren said. "But the names are constant."
Other times there are specialty patches she adds to the jerseys, like ones for bowl games or one this year for the 150th anniversary of college football.
When patches come loose during play, Garren is the one who fixes them up. She mostly focuses on football uniforms, but does help with ones from other sports as needed.
“Uniforms have got to look sharp,” Bair said. “They have got to look good for every game, so it is important that we have someone that we can rely on to make sure those uniforms look the best that they can.”
Garren isn’t quite sure how long it takes her to complete a batch of jerseys. As a working parent, she fits sewing in between her job as an elementary school librarian, running errands, and taking care of her kids.
Because the task is so repetitive, she said she usually throws in one of her favorite movies, like "Pride and Prejudice" or "Pirates of the Caribbean," and sews into the late evening.
She said she loves seeing the way the project looks when completed, from the stack in her kitchen to the players wearing them on the field.
“It’s like, ‘I did them all,’” Garren said.
Garren also said it is fun to see the changes in the uniforms each year and what the players will vote on.
“It’s fun to see the new designs they come out with,” Garren said. “They will do unveilings, but then I get to have them all in my house. Not many people can say that.”