[Editor’s Note: Today we have another guest entry from baseball jersey restorer extraordinaire Bill Henderson and his business, the Dream Shop. Enjoy. — PL]
By Bill Henderson
“It’s not worth saving. Just send it back to me and I’ll decide later what to do with it.”
That’s what Mark Fletcher, the owner of this jersey, had told me. At his instruction, we had just completed another project, “borrowing” the front crest from this 1972 White Sox road knit jersey to transplant onto and restore a more valuable 1971 road flannel. This jersey was like the bones of the donor. And clearly, it had had a hard life: From all appearances, after being issued to infielder Bill Melton for the 1972 season, it was renumbered to 60, a perfect spring training number for a prospect, and then used for multiple years in the team’s spring training camp. No roster player had been issued No. 60 in the following five years that this jersey would have seen duty (counting 1976 spring training).
“It will end up hanging in your closet for the next 30 years if we do that,” I cautioned. “Then someone will throw it away. Let me restore it. It won’t be cheap, but with proper documentation it will be worth something and you can sell it if you want.” I knew it would be worth it because so few of these 1972 White Sox jerseys remain. The only ones made were the ones the players on the team wore — there were none made for collectors or fans, and most of the originals were stripped of their front script and sent to the minors.
Mark agreed. And he specified that he wanted it restored to look old, with the lettering media-blasted and dyed to make it match the patina of the base garment. And so we began the process of restoring a jersey that otherwise would have been discarded and forgotten.
This was our starting point — a very dirty, badly stained jersey shell, naked and with shredded trim. Prior to my getting it, someone had removed the “60” and then, likely seeing how badly it was stained underneath, just gave up on it.
Close up, we could see what appeared to have been a washing machine disaster: The fabric was stained purple in many spots, then bleached by the sun (especially on the shoulder tops, as is common). Glue and thread remained showing the outlines of its history. The front zipper was also history, hanging like a spiny noodle from the placket:
I used my light table to lift the images of what was once sewn onto the jersey. After doing this for many years, I have amassed a fairly compete set of team patterns culled from handling and authenticating so many jerseys. But when a jersey is this worn out, the fabric has often shrunk and become distorted from use and hot-water washing. On top of that, most original lettering was hand-cut with scissors, so no two jerseys are exactly alike.I needed to be sure that the lettering I cut for the restoration would exactly cover the rather pronounced ghosts. Here you can see the outlines of the original 14 from the back, with some distortion in the fabric under the “4.” I do not cut lettering with distortion baked in — rather, I cut it to spec and then shrink it with steam to make it conform:
Mark had told me that he had washed the jersey before he sent it to me. Nevertheless, this is what my hand-washing in OxiClean generated:
I then hand-scrubbed the stained fabric with a mixture of OxiClean paste (powder barely dissolved in a little water) and a diluted solution of Clorox. (Caveat: I do this outdoors and wear a hazmat mask.)
After thoroughly rinsing the jersey multiple times in clean water to remove all traces of the detergent, I dried the fabric by laying it flat in a towel and then tightly rolling it up in the towel. Then I hung it to dry in the sunshine:
Meanwhile, I created all the necessary cutting patterns on my computer in Adobe Illustrator. For the red fabric, I decided to use is a slightly lighter color called University Red, not bright Crimson Red. I have found that when we age-distress the lighter shade, it looks more true to the aged patina we are seeking.
I laid the cut pattern images on top of the jersey photos to create a proof, which I sent to Mark for him to review and approve. Every job that goes through here gets a proof — it’s an important quality-control step and gives the client a chance to see what the final product will look like and request changes. No surprises, no mistakes, no rework. (I mistakenly put “#15” on the proof sheet, instead of “#14.” That was later fixed.)
The jersey needed a new zipper. Original 1972 zippers were made by Talon and had “Talon” lettering on the tab. Vintage Talon stock is available, but it takes a lot of searching and can be expensive, so instead I sourced a brass replacement that looked identical except for the tab lettering.
Trim needed to be reapplied. This 1972 jersey used the old-style flat-woven nylon uniform braid that was common during the flannel uniform era, not like the polyester trim that’s used today. Luckily, I have a collection of vintage trim made on the original machines and from the original supplier:
After cutting the lettering, I test-placed it on the garment to see if it covered the shadows. The small ”White Sox” lettering on the tail of the logo was hand-embroidered by my seamstress, Emily, who also sewed in the new zipper, the new trim, and all the lettering. We used off-color thread to make it look like it had been washed many times instead of brand-new:
The next step was media-blasting. The lettering was tacked firmly onto cardboard and then placed into my full-sized blast cabinet and strafed with a hand-mixed compound of abrasives to dull the sheen of the twill, soften the edges, and make it look like it’s been used and washed a bunch of times. Here are before and after photos — the photo at the right is after blasting:
See how some areas of the printed ink on the cardboard have been blasted away? That’s how I know when we have done it enough! I also blasted the trim to age it, prior to Emily sewing it on.
We want this lettering to look severely aged, but tackle twill is normally impervious to dyes and bleach. So I mixed up this concoction in my kitchen and boiled it on low for about 10 minutes on the stove. The trim was also boiled:
Once the dyeing was complete, I rinsed the lettering and left it wet. Working with the jersey on the light table, I aggressively steamed the lettering on the plate steamer to make it conform to the shapes of the ghosts on the jersey. Subtle tweaks in the shapes of the lettering can be made while the pieces are hot with steam. I also steamed the trim the same way to give it some age and pucker. (I wear gloves to do this, because steam is hot and dangerous.)
Emily stitched the trim in place. Look at the lining on the inner collar — it was yellowed in the earlier photos but now it’s bright and clean:
The final result! This jersey will never pass for new — nor should it. It is still discolored in spots, but the overall garment has been brightened considerably and the color evened out, thanks to our careful but aggressive washing:
The replacement trim looks just as it should — not jarring and new but slightly yellowed and harmonious with the base fabric. The aging of the twill is subtle — you don’t even notice it, and that’s the point. If left crisp and shiny, it would look out of place.
There is some intentional distortion of the rear-jersey “4,” to match the ghost beneath.
Notice that we did not touch the tagging. That’s because a jersey’s tagging is like the serial number on a car or a gun — it should never be tampered with, even if it’s missing or in bad shape. Sure, a jersey with original tagging in perfect condition is worth more, but tagging that’s been tampered with, even with all good intentions, makes the jersey all but worthless to serious collectors. Many auction houses will not even touch such an item.
The final step, as always, is to document the process with a letter of restoration:
A job like this is a lot of work and is not inexpensive, but the end result has preserved a relic and made it something worth displaying. The documentation of its restoration and its authentication as a piece of 1972 White Sox history cements its future value if and when it is sold, even if that time is many decades from now.
Here are composite photos of the front and back, showing how the jersey looked at the beginning and end of the restoration process:
I probably do about three restorations like this each month, though most are not this dramatic. I rarely take the time to photograph and write them up like this— it just takes too much time. In this case, spelling it all out, like the restoration process itself, was worth the effort.
Paul here. What a great story! Big thanks to Bill for sharing his wizardry with us.