My Life As a Quilt

Something I’ve been wanting for years, something that’s even made its way onto my Life’s List, is to someday take some of my most important t-shirts I’ve collected over the years and turn them into a quilt.

My mom, who is pretty crafty and is good with these kinds of projects always said she’d make me a t-shirt quilt for me, but I think she was afraid of ruining my shirts (and therefore my memories?) so she put off the project for years. It actually got to the point that for the past few birthdays and Christmasses, I even told her I didn’t want anything else but my quilt to be finished.

I think she finally got up the confidence to put it all together, and for my birthday last weekend, she presented me with the most awesome quilt ever.


Because it’s hard to see, (and because someday I might want a record of all this), I thought I would tell a little bit about each square, from left to right, top to bottom.

Special Olympics of Western Illinois Volunteer – In high school and college, I started getting really into volunteering for a lot of one-time events, including the Special Olympics that was held every year at my college. This was one of the shirts that I got from volunteering. Although the Special Olympics didn’t have an especially important place in my volunteering history, I remember this being one of the first organizations that I found myself repeatedly volunteering for. And later in life I continued volunteering for various organizations – one of which ultimately turned into a job for me. Volunteering is an important part of my life.

ESA: Wish You Were Here – In college I was involved in Epsilon Sigma Alpha, a service sorority that focused on helping St. Jude Research Hospital and Easter Seals, as well as other service and social events throughout the year. This shirt was one of our group shirts that listed the names of all the ESA sisters that year.

Fall Color Run 5k @ Morton Arboretum – It’s funny to me that this is the one race shirt that made it into the quilt. The Fall Color Run of 2006 was only the second race I’d ever run (the first being the first annual Race to Wrigley, which I actually only signed up for because it was listed as a Run/Walk). The Fall Color Run was the first race I registered for with the intention of actually trying to run the whole thing. Ironically, it’s also one I signed up for as a “fun run” which opted me out of chip timing, so it’s the one race I don’t have results for on Athlinks or anywhere else for that matter. This shirt isn’t particularly special to me, but it represents the beginning of my running career, and serves as a reminder of how far I’ve come. It also kind of serves as a reminder for how far race shirts themselves have come since 2006!

The McGraw-Hill Companies – I worked for McGraw-Hill for 7 years. It was my second job out of college, and my first job I considered a “career”. I learned a lot during my time there, grew a lot, and my experience had a lasting impact on my life. Some of the best friends I have today are former coworkers from this time in my life.

Class of 1999 – My high school graduating class never got class shirts made, and it bugs me to this day. However, right before graduation my parents bought me this shirt, and its the one article of clothing that signifies that I was the last graduating class of the last millennium.

Breast Cancer 3-Day – I participated in the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer 3-Day twice: once as a crew member, and once as a walker. Signing up for the 3-Day was one of the first times I realized that if I committed to something crazy (like walking 60 miles in 3 days and raising $2300) I could actually accomplish far more than I expected. That’s a theme that has made an appearance quite a few times in my life since then.

ESA – Another shirt from Epsilon Sigma Alpha. Psi Theta was the name for our college chapter of the organziation.

Spectrum 2004 – The summer of 2004 I worked as a camp counselor at Northwestern’s Center for Talent Development summer program. It was undoubtedly the best summer of my life. Imagine being paid to be an RA in a dorm (but without the college classes), play kickball and do crafts with kids, and then take weekend field trips to places like Six Flags and White Sox games (for free.) That was my summer, and the friends I made that summer were so much fun. This was our staff shirt.

Augustana College Mardi Gras Dance Marathon – This was the shirt I got from participating in the Dance Marathon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association in college. The funny thing is, I seem to have more memories about the shirt itself than I do about the actual event. But the shirt is cool and it’s another reminder of the various service projects I got involved in while in college.

Center for Talent Development/Northwestern University – While the green Spectrum shirt was the staff shirt for our own section of the camp (Spectrum was for 7-9th grade students; there were other sections that covered other age groups), this purple shirt was for all the CTD groups.

Team CF: Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Great Strides Walk – My cousin’s wife was one of my favorite relatives growing up. We didn’t spend a lot of time together, but I remember her being so cool to me when I was a flower girl in one of my cousin’s weddings, and she was one of the few “grown ups” that I really just wanted to hang out with. She had Cystic Fibrosis. Because of this, I took a special interest in the disease, and even organized a walking team several years in a row. This event marks the first time I really started moving beyond just volunteering for random things and really starting to organize bigger groups and teams to join my cause.

Augustana – I went to undergrad at Augustana College in the Quad Cities. Many people haven’t heard of it, but it’s a great little school with a gorgeous campus on the bank of the Mighty Mississippi. This is the obligatory college t-shirt.

Spectacular – In middle school I was on our pom squad. I went to a small Catholic school so everyone who wanted to made the team. However, we still competed in competitions and sometimes won (when we competed against other small Catholic schools). This particular competition was held in Downers Grove against big, public schools that actually held tryouts. If I remember correctly, we didn’t fare as well at this one, but this one also had t-shirts for sale. I’m pretty sure this event was quite a wake up call to those of us who never knew anything besides the Catholic school system, but I was also pretty proud of competing in a “real” competition and not coming in last place.

Community Partners Global Volunteer Day – At my old job they hold an employee volunteer day every year. Employees are given the day off to volunteer for a local charity or nonprofit in the community. I participated in this just about every year I worked there, and for my last two years I also organized one of the volunteer events. In fact, it was through Global Volunteer Day that I actually made my initial contact with the organization I now call my employer.

The Sky is No Longer the Limit: Illinois Junior Academy of Science – This is the shirt I got the year I went to the state science fair. This is absolutely hilarious to me because I hated science, and my science project that year wasn’t even an experiment! I did a research project on SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and I’m pretty sure my teacher picked me as one of the two students to move on because I had such an organized and colorful board and display. (Seriously, it was awesome. All color-coded and neatly typed and full of information.) I did put a ton of effort into this project, and even had my mom record tons of news clips that had been airing about the topic. However, someone probably should have stopped me and explained the difference between a research project and a science project. At the State fair, I think the judges were probably asking themselves how I made it that far. But either way, making it there was something I was still proud of, because for once all the hard work I put into something finally paid off. And I got the shirt to prove it.

HDJ Color Guard – Despite being made fun of for being on the flag squad in high school, I actually really enjoyed it. I was on both the marching band squad for football season, and indoor guard during basketball/competition season. I was also the captain for a year. I think I might be one of the only people on the planet who can say she’s been to band camp, but can’t play an instrument to save her life.
Fear Experiment – Last year, I along with 20 of my now-closest friends, danced on stage at the Park West. We did this alongside 20 non-actors who performed improv scenes. This craziness was called Fear Experiment. You can read about it here.
St. Giles Soccer ’88 – This shirt was the one that made me want the t-shirt quilt to begin with. This is my most favorite shirt of all time. I got it in first grade when I was on my very first indoor soccer team. All the new players who were not good were put on the light blue team. (The best players were all on the green team – it was Mr. Patrick’s, the coach’, favorite color.) I remember the day I got this shirt it was so huge, I looked like I was playing soccer in a dress. However, this shirt stuck with me through the years, and in college it was my favorite sleeping shirt ever. It killed me to cut this shirt and no longer be able to wear it, but it deserved a spot in the history of my life, and I put it right in the center on purpose. I love this shirt.
Breast Cancer 3-Day – This is the front of my finisher shirt from the year I walked the 3-Day.
Make-a-Wish Foundation – For a few years after college, I was a Wish Granter for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. I granted a handful of wishes, including several Disney World Trips, a Toys R Us shopping spree, and sending a young boy to meet Bill Gates. Unfortunately I started moving around a lot, and being a Wish Granter got to be too difficult. I still try to volunteer for their bigger events like the Wish Ball when I can, and I hope someday to start granting wishes again.
You’ll Be Beggin’ For More – When I was a senior in high school, I tried out for my very first musical. I was involved with theatre for most of high school, but I do NOT sing, so this was kind of a big deal. I ended up getting a role as a boy in Oliver, and this is the cast list from the show. (Funny side note: I was interviewed for the local paper’s write-up of the show. The only one of my quotes that made it in was, “We’re boys.” Classy.)
DePaul Athletics – I got my Master’s Degree from DePaul University. This was the only shirt I had to represent that chapter of my life.
Oliver! – Senior high school musical. See above.
Augustana Poms –  My freshman year of college I was on the pom squad. It’s kind of a miracle that I made the team, but I only stuck with it for a year. Sophomore year practices conflicted with my schedule, and I’m not sure I would have made the cut anyway. Still, an amazing experience.
3-Day Finisher Shirt (back) – Millions of dollars raised; thousands of lives changed; new hope for a cure; All in 3 Days Work. I always liked this shirt, because it reminds me of the things you can accomplish if you set your mind to it. It also reminds me of the blisters I had and how tired I was when it was all over, yet it was still one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
Wild Rose Program Center – Wild Rose was one of the Girl Scout camps I attended growing up. I spent a few summers there, and I learned a lot. I think every child should have some memories from summer camp, and this is where I made mine. I’ve heard stories from other people whose camp experiences were far more intense than mine, but it was at Wild Rose that I made friends, sang camp songs, learned how to cook on a campfire, and was taught how to made friendship bracelets. (After a quick internet search, I learned that this campsite is no longer active, but I was happy to see that Blueberry Lodge is still listed on the website.)
Augustana College – This is the shirt that every single incoming freshman received upon entrance to Augustana. I can’t remember now if I got it at registration, or if it was from a visit day, but I remember everyone at school had this shirt. Just seeing it reminds me of being a freshman, and all the people I met that year. It’s funny how the people you think you’ll be friends with forever when you’re a freshman is so very different from what ends up happening by the time you graduate. Ahhh, freshman year…
2001: An ISRAA Odyssey –  I had to Google ISRRA because I couldn’t remember what it stood for (Illinois State Resident Assistant Association), but this is the shirt I got from our ResLife conference in college. My sophomore year, I was an RA – or a CA (Community Advisor) as we called them at Augie – for my dorm. I absolutely loved my experience as a CA in Andreen Hall, and traveling with some of my fellow CAs to the leadership conference in Chicago was an awesome time.
CA Staff Shirt – Speaking of CAs, this shirt lists each of the dorms from my college, and an 80s cartoon that represented each. My hall, Andreen, was Jem and the Holograms. I think this was because we were the all-girl dorm, and I guess who better to represent us than an all-girl cartoon band?
ESA Auguatana Great Strides Team – Remember when I said that the Cystic Fibrosis Great Strides Walk was my start of organizing team charity events? Well, this shirt was one I designed for the year I recruited ESA girls to walk the Chicago Great Strides along the lakefront. I think I picked lime green because I had a dream about it. (Ugly to wear, but great for t-shirt quilts!)
Hustle Up the Hancock – Before I started signing up for 5Ks and other races, I really latched onto stair climbs. I did Hustle Up the Hancock a few times, and the Sears Tower climb once. I really would like to do another stair climb soon.
Shrek CTD Shirt – This was the front of our staff Spectrum shirt from the Center for Talent Development. Apparently Shrek was big in 2004.
Blooming Like Roses – This was my ESA pledge class. The year I joined our president loved roses. All our names are on there.
3-Day Crew – This was our Crew shirts for the Breast Cancer 3-Day. In a lot of ways crewing the event was harder, more tiring, and more fun than walking it! Although you don’t have to raise the money if you crew, the experience is still immensely amazing, and I formed some really awesome bonds during the 4 days (yes four) that I spent with my 3-Day pit crew.
4 Floors, 74 Stairs, 211 Girls – This was the residence hall shirt from Andreen Hall. We were on a huge hill and there were 74 steps up from the main quad to our front door. Even more from the cafeteria, and at one time I knew exactly how many between the College Center and my 3rd floor room. This was the reason I LOST 10 lbs my first year of college, rather than gaining the freshman 15. This shirt also lists the names of all 211 girls who lived in my dorm.
What’s Missing?
There are a few other shirts or pieces of my life I wish were included here, but it just didn’t work out. So, I’d like to list a few honorary members here:
European Term 2002 – By far the most amazing experience of my life was my study abroad in college. The semester was split between London, Rome, and Paris, with a 10-day break in  between. This changed my perspective on the world, opened my eyes to new things, and really hit me with the travel bug. When asked about the best part of college, European Term is the answer without hesitation.
The Dundee Manor – My first job was as a waitress at a small family restaurant in a tiny suburb of Chicago. I started when I was 16, overcame an immense shyness, and worked there on and off through college. This job taught me the value of money, and helped me learn to save before I spend. I never had a Manor t-shirt, but if I did, it would most definitely have made it into the quilt.
St. Margaret Mary – This was my Catholic grade school from 5th through 8th grade. When we moved from the city to the suburbs, my classmates here were the first kids I met. There were only 28 of us in my graduating class, and we all went our separate ways when it came to high school. But I still see my classmates from SMM’s Class on 1995 at least once a year, and I am constantly amazed at the tight bond we still have to this day. Many people who went to larger or public schools don’t get our closeness, but it’s something I wouldn’t give up for the world. I wish they could have made it into the quilt.
The Disney Marathon – There’s no way I was going to cut up my Mickey Marathon shirt so soon, but I really do wish it was somehow captured in the quilt. I still consider finishing the marathon one of the greatest accomplishments of my life, and it deserves a spot in my memories.
Open Books – The most amazing literacy nonprofit I know of. As a volunteer, an Associate Board Member, Team Bookin’ It Runner, and staff member, Open Books has quickly taken a big seat in my life. It may be too early to tell but I think it will have a lasting role, and would be included in a later version of the quilt.

2 thoughts on “My Life As a Quilt

  1. This is so amazing! You can pass something like this down to your children. If your mom ever decided to do this as a side business – tell her to CALL ME! I have so many shirts, and i really don’t wear t-shirts a whole lot…

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