Love Letters to Friends, As Well As Very Important Musings on Earth Shattering Matters:
Thread Count, Powerlifts, Quilting, Karaoke, Lemon Cookies, and Graphomania

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Hey Hey, Holy Mackeral, and Take Me Out To the (Volley)Ball Game: A Primer on Fandom

....being a reflection on the bonds of sports, and the irritating wiggliness of jersey.

It is unclear what enticed a band of strangers, who had been waiting for my volleyball game to end before theirs started, to recruit me to their team way back in the early 2000s.  Was it my my unabashed, uncontrolled yelling of "FUCK ME" every time I screwed up?  Was it the gracelessness with which I ran into the empty bleachers after shanked balls in the St Greg's parish gym?  Was it resounding thud of my hurtling mass hitting the floor for an attempted dig, while the ball bounced breezily past me?  The world may never know.  (Spoilers: they were short-handed and facing forfeit.)

But I'm glad they did, because it introduced me to a whole new sportsy crew, including the recipient of this T-shirt quilt, our setter, LP.  Her team ("Who's Evil?") was in the same league as my first team ("Better from Behind") and were, in fact, charter members of that league.  She had been playing for years before I showed up....and we know this, because she had proof in the form of EVERY SINGLE T-SHIRT from every season she played, from 1996 on.  And she rarely missed a season - in fact, as far as I know, she rarely missed a game at all, even if she might be a little late if, for instance, she were to drive out of a parking lot having left her wallet on her back bumper. Just, you know, hypothetically.

Luckily she had her wallet for Volleybowl night, circa...?  2004? Not sure, but for me that was like 70 lbs ago.

Those of you who have done these kinds of rec leagues know that you're getting an XXL t-shirt thrown at you every time you turn around. LP, bless her heart, kept 'em all, because even though she wore them infrequently, her OCD collection mentality, love of the league, and aversion to wastefulness, made it impossible for her to toss them - a potent brew of nostalgia, packrattery, and loyalty to the team.  And that, my friends, is what sports fanaticism is all about.

In the course of collecting these many (many, many) t-shirts, LP and I also discovered a strong common love outside of volleyball: the Chicago Cubs.  (Well, also, sausage Totino's Party Pizzas and Margie's ice cream, but those came later.)  As a season ticket holder, she has many times invited me to join her for a night of festivities at Wrigley....and, of course, in this most recent year, that invitation is increasingly gratifying, because these boys are so fun to watch, and so frickin' good, and so promising for the years to come.

That's some good looking future.  

 Linked from here: Jul 8, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant (17), first baseman Anthony Rizzo (44) and second baseman Addison Russell (22) against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field.
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Even when they are bad, though, you can't beat fun at the old ballpark - especially if the park is Wrigley, the wind is blowing out for the home team, your scorecard-keeping pencil is sharp, the Goose Island is cold, and the post-game tradition includes double fudge sundaes from Margie's. You remember Spaulding Grey's definition of a "Perfect Moment"?  One time I went with LP to a 4th of July game which we won - after which they shot fireworks off the top of the giant green hand-operated scoreboard, and then we biked home in the cooling summer air, stopping en route to ice cream to chat to a vball teammate whom we happened upon, also leaving the park. I felt like I was in some kind of feel-good movie about Chicago, about baseball, and about the weirdly strong bonds of affection we have for the people who root for the same professional sports teams we love.  Tribalism, yes, but the good kind - in the same way my apoplectic cursing (and availability to play) signified to Who's Evil that I was One Of Them, securing me another match that night, and some lifelong friendships to boot.

Seriously, is there some kind of sports-related oxytocin that makes you high-five total strangers in the streets?

(Side note: there is quite a body of work about the science of fanaticism - this guy explains that it goes beyond the dopamine hit; that associating with a favorite team blurs the distinction a fan feels between her self and her team, that team successes are our successes, and even that the elevated testosterone levels of a player are mirrored by elevated testosterone levels in some watchers - which is some pre-historical way of keeping track of social hierarchy. By chemical proxy, fans are the leaders of the social pack.  So in other words, there is a scientific reason for the intolerable smugness of a winning team's backers - St. Louis Cardinal fans, for instance.)

This year has heralded many changes for LP, including the birth of an obscenely cute and happy baby girl, and the loss of a beloved pooch; and the winningest record in baseball being pulled out of Theo Epstein's magic ballcap by the losingest franchise in the MLB.  A World Series run, and the nail-biting games thereof, are surely the final glorious twists on what has been a very topsy-turvy year for her. (On the other hand, some things never will change, like her curious obsession with/lust for, even now, noted headcase Carlos Zambrano; or her indifferent mastery of the baffling sorcery of statistics.)   In the midst of new-mom nesting and spring cleaning, LP thought maybe the best thing to do with all those volleyball league t-shirts was to quilt them into something useful, and I was delighted to give this a try. I'd never made a t-shirt quilt - but how hard could it be?

I really gotta stop asking that question.

First thing ya gotta know about t-shirt quilts - JERSEY MATERIAL SUCKS.  As someone who loves her quilt-weight cotton, I hadn't really realized how dang stretchy jersey really is. Conventional wisdom indicates that to sew jersey for quilts you stablize it with, uh, stabilizer - in this case, iron-on Pellon -  that limits the stretch of the jersey so the squares go together with relative ease.  After a few Pinterest sessions mulling over how to put the squares together (with sashing? Squares or hexagons? should I try to make them the same size? in what order?) I ended up with five rows of 15"-wide panels of varying heights that I put together in vertical rows, in chronological order of the representative seasons.  As you might expect in Chicago, the league year start with Winter.

Two columns, post- and pre-stabilizing.  Note wiggliness of the latter.

Many of the shirts had printed designs on the front and the back, so for the quilt top I used the ones that named the season ("Volleyball Spring 2000"). In deference to LB's thriftiness, I tried to use anything with writing, though; so the quilt back comprises a few extra squares that made two columns with one row across the top.  The whole middle is one piece of plain navy jersey, so it's not a wholly two-sided quilt, but I used at least one side of all of the unique shirts LP had (she also had doubles. I'm sending those back, even though I *should* do her the favor of throwing them away so she doesn't have to.  SHE'LL NEVER KNOW, MWAHAHA!)

In any case, after some routine worry about what the hell I was doing, the cutting out and stabilizing of the shirt panels turned out to be the longest part of the process by far: the assembly and quilting were a snap, comparatively. Quilting is a simple box grid, 3" apart, and binding is a chipper navy dot.  In fact, I was finishing up this binding during the NLCS games, which seemed entirely apt.  And it should be noted for the record that a hand-sewn binding might take about 5 regular season games' worth of couch-sitting to complete, but it only took like 3.5 post-season games.  So even quilters experience elevated testosterone levels, it appears - at least when that quilter has decades of dopamine-hit memories and self-identification wrapped up in team, too.

The finished front, all quilted, and bound...

But the reinforced squares on the front, coupled with the plastic-y stiffness of some of the ink on the printed designs, do make this all a bit stiff for a binkie. So I was determined to keep the back as soft as possible, for snuggling purposes, and did not stabilize all of the big navy back panel.  From a ease-of-work standpoint, this might have been a mistake. (Spoilers: it was.) But irritating as the stretchiness was, it did in fact prove to be more soft and snuggly than the rest of it.  In time, the printed parts will (I trust) start softening up too, just like any favorite t-shirt.

...and the back, with patented Super-Snuggl Core (TM).

And close as I got to making an even bottom edge with the disparately-sized panels on the front, I still ended up just cutting off a couple of those right in the middle of a line of sponsor bars, which makes for a less-than-professional finish.  But what the hell, LP has known me for going on two decades - she knew what she was in for.  And it was worth the effort alone just to have seen all those sponsor bar names again, some of which have been gone for years now.  This quilt is, thus, also a memorial to seasons' worth of alcoholic libations and bar food. Clark Bar, we hardly knew ye!

FUCK ME! Good thing Grizzlies no longer exists, or they might be mad about this.

The post-9/11 flag for the 2001 Fall league.....sponsored by Lite Beer.

So here's to you, LP, and your newest little Cubs fan, who has been to more games in her half-year of life than most adults will ever see.  I am grateful for the many games at which you have hosted me and the many MANY times you have made me cackle with glee regarding your work and dating ex-ploits.  May this t-shirt quilt warm you on the foulest of Chicago winter nights - with all of the aging competitive fire an adult rec league can muster, with the Cubs fever that has gripped us our whole lives, with the unrelenting burn of Montrose Beach sand underfoot on an impromptu summer day of hooky from work, and with the warm relief of a dollop of double fudge on top of an icy cold banana split - all the way to Spring Training.

She's actually famous now, that kid.  You can probably ask for her autograph, whenever she learns how to write.

This is the year!

Meet you by the Ernie! and besos to you and the KinderCub -


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