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Look: Homemade Metra Tee

Mar 22 2018

I printed this fabric myself last fall during a fabric screenprinting class at Lillstreet Art Center. It was my first printing project and I decided to draw an icon of Chicago transportation – the Metra train engine.

I bet you're wondering why.

Well, I grew up with the Metra close to my heart. As a small child, I was fascinated by the enormity of these trains. My first home as a newborn faced a set of Metra tracks and I used to watch the trains go by. We called it "The M Train" then. Currently, my Granny lives only one block from another Metra station and she used to take me and Kim there just to watch the trains come and go. I remember going once with my Grandpa in the pouring rain, standing squished with commuters, trying to get a glimpse of the beast. I was too short then, maybe only six years old, but the memory is forever saved – not of the train but of that moment with him.

I recall another time where Granny took us for a train ride. We did this often, usually going to Joliet and back just for fun. It's hard to believe I found joy in that but I did. Once, Granny got us on the wrong train and we ended up going from Joliet to the Loop, completely bypassing our stop. Another flub, another great memory.

In 2005, the Metra took me from Elgin's National Street to Columbia College three times per week. Each ride was an hour or more long, and I wasn't a huge fan of riding with crabby suburban commuters. I'd take the 7am-ish train in, and sometimes the 10:40pm train home. The days were long but it was worth it because I was able to get a degree in Graphic Design which brought me to where I am right now in my career.

Metra was my friend yet again in 2014 when I took a job at Organizing for Action. This trip to the city was much shorter, considering I only had to ride two stops. I rode daily with my friend and co-worker, Nikole. We used this time to talk, bitch about work and to piss off seat mongers (those annoying people who sit on the edge of the seat so that no one sits with them).

I took it a step further, as I usually do. I noticed that a lone train engine would sit, detached from cars, on a small junction of track right outside of Ogilvy station. I also noticed that each train engine has a name – typically named after a suburb or village in the Chicagoland area but sometimes after men who I assume have something to do with Metra. Each day, I would log which engine was sitting alone. My friend Jonathan came in on a different line (and usually at a different time) and he would log which engine he saw. We collected tons of data for no real reason but we learned that the lonely engine is swapped out throughout the day. And, on rare occasions, three lonely engines could be there! Another notch in my Belt of Metra / Warped Things that I Do.

Actual screenshot of the spreadsheet

As you can see, my history with Metra is long and complicated, so it made sense to create a shirt dedicated to this omnipresent icon. I brought my printed fabric to Tampa, where my Mom pushed me to sew the shirt myself. It was scary because I haven't sewn in 16 years but I found that its one of those skills you remember really quick. I managed to sew together a cute tee shirt, complete with an engine pocket. I joked that I could start an entire line of train engine apparel based on your own metropolitan line (in SF it would be the Caltrain, lol!)

I had a blast creating this tee and I look forward to the odd stares and questions I'll get when I wear it out in public. It felt good to make something completely myself and its certainly opened the doors to other ideas I have in my head for apparel. Hrmmmm.....

Location: Tampa

Shorts: Topshop

Earrings: Nightbreed Creations

Belt: Target

Tee: Handmade!!!!

Photo credit: Kim