Photos by Melissa Cagan
If I remember correctly, the last badge I earned for my elementary Brownie vest was a triangular, iron-on emblem that commended my friendship bracelet weaving skills. At the end of second grade, both of my Brownie troop leaders quit, ceasing my career as a lowly decorated Girl Scout.
Now fast-forward almost 13 years and I felt it was time to re-initiate myself into the world of patchwork. I have always been a big fan of Nylon Magazine’s now retired Factory Girl column by Dani Stahl, where she would travel to fashion headquarters, factories and workshops around the globe to take a glimpse inside what really goes into making everything from Essie nail polish to Chanel pumps. STITCH’s Craft Issue seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring the series back in my own right. Embroidered denim has been on trend lately and while I easily could have found an embroidered or patch-embellished jean jacket at Zara, I wanted to create something completely original.
I decided to make my canvas an ivory denim Gap jacket I discovered in the depths of my mom’s closet, probably not worn since my Girl Scout days. I’m a DIY aficionado, but I was not about to embroider a jacket all on my own. After a fair share of cold calling Chicago embroidery shops and equally as many rejections—most embroidery shops do not do their own in-house stitching anymore—Marv Mazzucchelli at Midwest Swiss Embroidery saw my vision and accepted the challenge to help me make a completely custom jacket.
I arrived at the Mazzucchelli’s family-owned custom embroidery shop in Jefferson Park on a Friday afternoon. The building is extremely unassuming from the outside and it is even further from glamorous on the inside. I assume the inside of a typewriter would feel very similar to the interior of the industrial workshop that Mazzucchelli ushered me into. The long rows of embroidery machines all clicked in unison, cranking out custom names and logos on cotton polos and baseball caps. Right away Mazzucchelli gave my jacket a good look before popping it into a plastic hoop frame that he would insert into one of the idle machines. With decades of experience under his belt, the task seemed to be a mere motor skill for Mazzucchelli.
I had previously hand sewn a set of winking eye iron-ons from Wildflower + Co. onto the jacket, but I wanted to go even further by branding the back of the coat with some mantra that would not come off as too cliché. In all honesty, the saying that I ended up using was not completely original, but rather I got my inspiration from a famous mural in Miami that reads, “I’ll See It When I Believe It.” I asked Mazzucchelli if he could also stitch my nickname “Izzy” in script above the left breast pocket of the jacket, because that too seemed like the trendy thing to do.
And with the click of some buttons, the machine began to bedeck the jacket, letter by letter, at 700 stitches a minute. While we waited for the embroidery machine to complete the 24,000 stitch job in baby blue threading, Mazzucchelli showed me around the quaint workspace with brick walls and concrete floors. Midwest Swiss, a 67-year-old family business run by Mazzucchelli and his siblings, specializes in custom projects—anything from intricate badges for sheriff uniforms to colorful library patches for kids’ backpacks.
After a good 30 minutes of stitching, the jacket looked like it had been pulled straight out of a Wildfox lookbook and was ready to wear. I could hear Prince’s “Party like it’s 1999” anthem playing on the radio which oozed retro vibes as I slipped on the one-of-a-kind masterpiece. I looked down at my baby blue nickname above the pocket and felt instant satisfaction, like a bona fide Factory Girl. Forget about the polyester Girl Scout vest—I had my very own piece of patchwork made in heaven, all in the name of STITCH fashion.