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0:00 - Learning to Sew During the Pandemic

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Partial Transcript: My mother was a seamstress. She she was she made everything. She made a lot of our clothes growing up . . .

Segment Synopsis: Margaret Sowards, an interviewee, recounts her journey in learning to sew during the pandemic. She speaks about how she and her sister learned to make masks when the pandemic caused a shortage of masks. Sowards' mother was a seamstress, but she had never been interested in learning to sew herself. Sowards and her sister used their mother's sewing machines and fabric to make masks for friends and family. As the demand for masks increased, they started selling them at cost. Sowards found she enjoyed sewing and started making baby quilts, doing clothing alterations, and making tote bags. She also mentions that she plans on making memory bears from clothing in the future.

Keywords: Alterations; Mask Making; Pandemic; Quilting; Sewing

Subjects: Alterations (Clothing); Mask-making; Pandemics; Quilting; Sewing

4:15 - Mask making and COVID

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Partial Transcript: . . . they shut the childcare center down. It was just like we moved and the world ended. It was crazy.

Segment Synopsis: Margaret Sowards, the narrator, talks about how she and her sister created a pattern for masks during the pandemic. The pattern was not found online, but it was created by her sister using posterboard paper, and altered it to fit their faces. They revised the pattern once to make it more sleek when the weather got warm. They also took out the filter pocket, and it became a two-layer cotton mask. Sowards also talks about how she learned about COVID-19, from the news and from her co-workers. Sowards' first job after moving to a new city was in a childcare center, which was closed down due to the pandemic.

Keywords: Childcare Centers; News Media; Patterns

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-; Mask making; Masks

8:40 - Early Adjustment to the pandemic

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Partial Transcript: Well, it was just scary. My husband and I both have health concerns. And my little boy has asthma. And there was just so much unknown at that time.

Segment Synopsis: Margaret Sowards describes her experience during the early days of the pandemic. Swoards' husband has health concerns and a son who has asthma, causing the couple to be scared and uncertain about the pandemic. They decided to quarantine themselves in their apartment for months because they were afraid to get sick. Sowards found ways to keep herself busy by making masks, which she initially made for friends and family using ad hoc materials such as hairbands. She sourced her supplies from Walmart and a quilt store, but eventually there was a shortage of fabric. Margaret found solace in sewing masks, as it kept her active and occupied during the uncertain times.

Keywords: Quarantine; Supply chain shortages

Subjects: Asthma; Health; Mask making; Masks

14:04 - Joining the COVID Quilt Facebook Group

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Partial Transcript: I felt really proud when they presented it, and it got to be displayed in the Capitol, I just felt really proud to be part of that.

Segment Synopsis: Margaret Sowards discusses how she sold her homemade masks during the pandemic. She used Facebook to sell her masks, which were offered in multiple sizes to suit different face sizes and shapes. She found the COVID Quilt community on Facebook as well, perhaps through her sister, and appreciated the support and exchange of information it brought. Sowards made three squares for the quilt that was presented to Governor Beshear, one of which was a unicorn square for his daughter.

Keywords: Community; COVID Quilt; Facebook; Governor Beshear; Mask Sizes; Quilting Group

Subjects: Facebook (Electronic resource); Mask making; Masks

22:10 - Sewing with her Sister / Mask making Timeline

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Partial Transcript: She would be at her house and I would be at my house and we would be on speaker phone. And so we would sew for hours. Especially at not time because we were both laid off work. We were not working. And so we would we would be sewing, two, three o'clock in the morning. You know, sewing for hours just talking on phone about whatever. So we did sew together, but we were not together.

Segment Synopsis: Margaret Sowards talks about how she and her sister made homemade masks during the pandemic. They would sew together while talking on speakerphone, and they had a process for making the two-layered, four paneled masks. They made a total of 2,500 masks before they stopped counting nine months into the Pandemic. The sisters quit making masks when schools stopped requiring children to wear them in school. Sowards would cut fabric one day, sew the next two or three days, and repeat the process. She stopped taking mask orders in the summer of 2021, when masks became more readily available in stores. Sowards misses the time spent sewing, but does not particularly miss the tedious process of making masks.

Keywords: Mask Design; Masks in Schools; Sewing; Sisterhood; Speakerphone

Subjects: Mask; Mask making; Sisters

27:15 - Other Materials sent to the Governor / Team Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: We were trying to do... the only thing we could do, when there was nothing to do. You know, there was we couldn't go anywhere. There was no way we could help the people that we knew that needed help. It wasn't like we could go out and go do shopping for them or, you know, things like that. So that that was something we could do. We could make a mask and we just stick it in the mail. And that's what we do.

Segment Synopsis: Margaret Sowards sent a mask and letter to Governor Beshear and his wife wore the mask Sowards sent when they voted during the pandemic. Sowards felt it was special that they used the mask and it was made with Kentucky fabric. She also notes that she wrote an encouraging letter to the governor, telling him that there were Kentuckians who supported him and appreciated the work he was doing. The governor responded with a letter thanking her for the mask and for her support. Sowards defines "Team Kentucky" as Kentuckians coming together to make it through a hard time.

Keywords: Andy Beshear; Britainy Beshear; Team Kentucky; Voting

Subjects: Frankfort (Ky.); Kentucky State Capitol (Frankfort, Ky.); Voting

31:30 - Reflecting on The Pandemic

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Partial Transcript: I feel good for me that we're we're okay, our family is okay in it. But I think if everybody just you know, uses, uses their noodle and does the right things that we're as past it is we're going to get.

Segment Synopsis: When asked to reflect on her experience, Sowards mentions that she found a new passion for sewing during the pandemic, and she has stored up a lot of fabric that she bought for mask making. She now plans to use that fabric to make lap quilts for a local nursing home. Sowards also mentions that she and her family had COVID-19 in October 2021, and they received antibody infusions. She feels that they were saved by the treatments and their ability to receive the vaccine before acquiring COVID-19. Sowards concludes that it was a difficult time for everyone and she is glad they are as "past it as we are going to get".

Keywords: Antibody Infusion; Lap Quilts

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 vaccines; Medicine; Quilts; Sewing


HIGGINS: It is Wednesday, June 29, 2022. We are at the Harlan County Public Library. Mandy Higgins, conducting an oral history interview with SOWARDS: for the Mask Makers' Quilt. Can you state your name for us?

SOWARDS: Margaret Sowards.

HIGGINS: Will you spell it as well please?

SOWARDS: The whole name?

HIGGINS: The whole name, yes

SOWARDS: M A R G A R E T, and then Sowards is S O W A R D S,

HIGGINS: Thank you. Can you tell me a little bit about when you began to sew or craft?

SOWARDS: Um, so my mother was a seamstress. She she was she made everything. She made a lot of our clothes growing up, she made all of my prom dresses. So I've always been around sewing. I never really, she always would try to teach me to sew and I never was interested in learning. And when the pandemic happened, and there was the mask shortage, people couldn't find masks. My sister and I were both just aghast at our our family and friends who had health problems or, you know, were really in danger from COVID, who needed masks who couldn't find them. And we just took it upon ourselves to learn to sew, so that we can make masks for the pandemic. And the way it started out. We just kind of looked up some different patterns online and my sister actually ended up hand-making our pattern that we used, we made a curved mask, we didn't make the accordion masks. And I think they call it a contour mask. And she she made our pattern and we had a-- we had an old tote full of fabric that had been our mother's that had been, you know, just tucked away and we had sewing machines that were her's. So we just drove all this stuff out and taught ourselves to sew and initially, we were given masks just to friends and family that we needed them. And the more we were putting it out there, the more demand there was people were like, Oh, can we order masks? Can you know can you make me five masks? And so it just went from there to we started selling the masks at cost, what it cost us what we had to buy in fabric and thread and, and we used hairband elastics, because you couldn't find-- there was elastic shortage, it was it was crazy, the things you couldn't find. And so we we sold them at cost $3 A mask the whole pandemic. And that that was that was how I learned to sew was making masks and then it's just kind of went from there. Now I do a little bit of everything on the sewing machine. I've really picked it up.

HIGGINS: Yeah. When you say everything, can you tell me a little bit more about what you were doing?

Unknown Speaker Well, I've done-- I've made some baby quilts. This got me into quilting when when they did the quilt squares for the quilt. I enjoyed doing it so much. I was like, 'well I want to do this', you know, so I've made some baby quilts. I do a lot of repair work for friends if they have something that needs sewn. Just clothing alterations. I've started altering clothes for my little boy, when they don't fit right. Making tote bags, I have a pattern to do the memory bears like where you take someone's clothing and make the memory bears but I haven't actually done it yet. But that's next on the list.

HIGGINS: That's incredible. So but before you started making masks you weren't doing any sort of

SOWARDS: No, I had never done any kind of sewing other than my mom when I was young trying to teach me and I was not interested. You know, I just I had no interest in it. So no, I completely was green-- new heart. I mean, I had to watch YouTube videos to thread the bobbin in the machine-- to learn how to use my machine because I had a machine but I didn't know how to use it I know anything about it.

HIGGINS: Can you tell me a little bit more about your sister and the pattern making? How you did that?

SOWARDS: So she she got online and she looked up just-- just different things of course YouTube tutorials and and printable things and we didn't like the patterns. You know, we were-- we are a large people. And we have a large face and the standard things didn't fit us. And that actually came to be something that I found was a big problem for a lot of people were the masks didn't fit properly. So she took a pattern that she found and she kind of altered it to fit our face. And what she did, she just took posterboard paper, and drew-- free drew it. And just played with it 'til she got it, right. And we there was a whole series of masks that were horrid. Because you know, just the practice of, of getting the sizing right and figuring out, you know how to do the seams properly. And, you know, making it match the front match the back. And you know, when you've never done anything like that, it's a lot of trial and error. But she just-- she ended up making us she made me set her set, and we use those. They were made out of poster board that she just cut out to, and we just traced it on our fabric and cut our pieces out.

HIGGINS: That's incredible. That's really-- So did you, once you had that template, that's what it was.

SOWARDS: That's what it was.


SOWARDS: We revised it one time to make it a little more sleek and not as-- because the the first masks kind of went from under your eyes to under your chin, they covered pretty much your whole face. And now we've revised it once to make it more sleek, so that it didn't-- wasn't as hot when the weather got warm, because when the weather started getting warm, those full face masks were really, really hot. So we made it a little more sleek, but it still had that coverage; it covered-- I wish that I brought one of my masks now it covered all the way across the nose, and then to the ear. And, and people really liked that. They-- we just had so many compliments on the comfort of being able to breathe in the mask,

HIGGINS: Did you... What was the-- when you put it together-- like how many layers was it, what were the..?

SOWARDS: The first-- the first versions were to layer with a pocket because when they first started telling everyone to wear masks that, you know, that filter pocket was the thing. And we had a little bit of that, but those were so hot and so bulky, that they were hard to wear. So we took out the filter pocket. And then it was just a two layer cotton mask. Just two layers.

HIGGINS: We'll come back to them after a minute. So we're gonna switch a little bit just to-- how did you learn about COVID itself?

SOWARDS: Watching, just watching the news, you know, I'm trying to think-- the first time I heard I was out. I had moved from Harlan County to Franklin County, to Frankfort, to be closer my sister. And we had been there maybe a month when COVID happened. And I had gotten a job in Georgetown at a childcare center. And I think the first time I heard the word COVID I was at work and we were at work and we were having lunch. And one of the ladies that I was working-- that worked in the room with me said that her husband had said that he'd heard that there was going to be shortages in the stores because of this virus that's supposedly going around. And nobody really-- everybody's like, ah, you know, it's not going to be a big deal. And that was really the first time, and then Governor Beshear started doing those, those news announcements every day. And that's when I really, you know, learned what was happening. But the first time was just at lunch talking to other ladies I worked with. And I worked there for about three weeks and they shut the childcare center down. It was just like we moved and the world ended. It was crazy.

HIGGINS: Yeah, so you worked in childcare, you're affected by the shutdown. Can you tell me a little bit about how you were feeling in March and April, that very early part of the pandemic?

SOWARDS: Well, it was just scary. My husband and I both have health concerns. And my little boy has asthma. And there was just so much unknown at that time. They didn't know who it was, you know, what was happening or how bad it was or who it was affecting. And they were telling people you know, to-- in the early parts, you weren't supposed to wear masks, and then you were supposed to wear a mask and there was just all this confusion. So it was really scary. And when they closed down the childcares, we decided-- my husband actually travels for work and he was working in Indianapolis at the time. So we would quarantine. me and my little boy would stay in our apartment the whole week. When my husband come home he would go do the shopping and you know all the necessity things that needed done. But we stayed in that apartment for months because we were afraid to leave. We were afraid to get sick. We didn't know what was gonna happen. So it was a lot of fear. Uncertainty.

HIGGINS: Yeah, so you're at home, because obviously childcare has shut down. Is that when you started to pull out the sewing and making the masks?

SOWARDS: Yeah, in quarantine, it really kept me sane, you know to be, you know, I was used to living here in Harlan, and having a-- I'd never really lived in an apartment before. So I was used to live in, in a house with a yard and you know, and then to be put, not only are we in an apartment where we, we don't have a yard or anything like that. But now we're quarantined to this apartment with a two and a half year old. So it was it was really-- I had to be creative. I had to find things; which I had worked in childcare for years and years. So I kind of made my house into a childcare center to keep my little boy busy and active and challenged. And then the sew-- when when we started the sewing, that kept me sane, and active, because then I had something to occupy my time, instead of just watching the news and wringing my hands.

HIGGINS: Yeah, can you tell me a little bit more about that, about sourcing your supplies and setting that up?

SOWARDS: So like I said, we initially, we had a tote full of fabric that we used, and that was just for, you know, given. Because when we first started, we were just doing it for friends and family people like that we knew who had-- I had a lot of friends who had breathing diseases or autoimmune diseases, and I would reach out to them, Hey, do you want some masks? And if that, you know, however many they wanted, I would make and mail to them. So, and then as and that just spread, because then people are like, Oh, could you make my grandma's some masks and you know, I've got a great uncle, they need some masks, you know, and it spread. And so I sent masks all over the country. And when we-- and my sister was also doing this, so when the fabric started to get low, we started to go to Walmart, or there was a quilt store. I think it's called Birdsong, quilting in Georgetown. We bought a lot of fabric there. They would do curbside. You could you could look at it online. And we did curbside at Joanne's and picked up fabric. But then there became the fabric shortage. And so you would go into Walmart-- because once we had masks then I stopped. Once we were in the fully masking, we started going into stores again limitedly. We didn't let our little boy go in, one of us would sit in the car with him. But I would go into look at fabric and I mean the aisles would be empty. there'd be nothing or there'd be just a handful of fat quarters and you know you just bought for a long time nobody could pick their pattern. You just made the masks and they got whatever fabric they got because there was such a shortage of fabric.

HIGGINS: And you said you use hair elastic-- hairband elastic? Can you tell me a little bit about that?

SOWARDS: So like just a plain ponytail holder hairband elastic, just one on each side to-- and because our masks the fabric come up so close to the ear, the ponytail holder was perfect because it didn't pull. It didn't pull on the ear. It was just loose and held it on there.

HIGGINS: So you didn't have to worry about trying to source like straight--

SOWARDS: No, we never use the straight elastic. Because by the time we were really doing heavy orders like having a lot of orders. That stuff was-- you couldn't find it. You couldn't get it online, anything. And then, I know some people used rubber bands, we did not. We just use the hair ties and it worked.

HIGGINS: How did you sell? Did you have an Etsy shop? Or is it just word of mouth?

SOWARDS: I did on Facebook. I was just, I would put usually I would sew exact-- like sample masks in what I had. And I put them on there and then people would just be like, they would pick out or they would say 'I want 10 masks' and and we had three different sizes. So we had an adult we called it a medium. It was our standard size and adult large which was more for large, you know big men who have big beards and you know, really, they really had trouble with finding masks and then we had a child size. So sometimes people would just be like, 'oh, I need 10'-- Especially when schools did go back in session. I did a lot of kid masks because people needed masks for schools. And they'd just get whatever pattern I had, you know, I'd maybe say, Well, would you rather florals or solids? And then I'd try to, you know, try to honor what they wanted. But mostly, I was just on Facebook with my masks.

HIGGINS: Did you find a mask community on Facebook? Did you find people, other people doing this sort of work?

SOWARDS: Um, I don't, I didn't join any mask groups. The only the only group like that I joined was the quilt group.

HIGGINS: Tell me about how you got involved in that.

SOWARDS: So I don't even know. I don't know if it was my sister found-- I think my sister actually found it. And she was like, 'hey, they're gonna make this quilt. Maybe we should be part of it.' And she sent me the link. And I was like, 'Sure, you know, we're doing this, why not?' And so it was nice to be part of that community because people would get on there and be like, 'I've made so many masks, I hit this, you know, I've made 500 masks now.' Or, you know, and it was neat to have that community of other people who were also sewing and doing.

HIGGINS: Yeah. Do you remember any sort of conversations around that? Or how you were supporting each other?

SOWARDS: Geez, it's been a while. I don't-- I don't really, nothing that stands out. I mean, just, you know, your general social media, you know, somebody posts something and you get on there and be like, 'Oh, that's a great job.' Or 'I like that fabric.' Or, you know, 'I like your-- because everybody had different styles of masks. You know, everybody, I don't know if a lot of people did what we did and made their own patterns, but it seemed like everybody's was a little different. And that was really neat to see everybody's variations.

HIGGINS: Tell me a little bit about the squares you eventually gave to the quilt.

SOWARDS: Okay, so I made three squares. And you just want to know, like me to describe the squares?


SOWARDS: So I made one square, and it actually didn't make it into the quilt. And it-- It was kind of a rustic... Now all of my squares were made from scraps. They were made from my scraps where I had cut out my panels. And, and I just took the parameters that they gave and tried to cut my pictures out so that I could make my little squares, but the first square I made was supposed to represent Harlan County, and it had a bear, and a deer, and a log cabin, and kind of for the mountains. And it actually didn't make it into the quilt. My two that made it into the quilt was a unicorn square, and I chose the unicorn square because I knew that the quilt was going to be presented to Governor Beshear, and I picked that square for his daughter because she's such a sweet look and little girl and you know, they would-- he always talks about his family so nice on his news broadcasts. And I had actually designed that square for her, that she would see it or you know-- I didn't know at the time we were making it, I think it was just supposed to be a gift for him and his family out of appreciation for the hard work that he was doing during the pandemic. And then my other square was just kind of to represent Kentucky and it had, you know, a barn and horses and cattle and it was kind of like a farm themed square. And so I just thought that was a good representation of the Bluegrass.

HIGGINS: Yeah. Do you remember sharing your square, do you remember how you got it to the organizers?

SOWARDS: They had, they had given us an address and we mailed them in. You were supposed to label them with your name, and what county you were representing. And so I think I put mine in Ziploc bags and labeled each one. And my sister did as well, and we mailed them in together.

HIGGINS: Did you mail anything else with them: a picture or a note?

SOWARDS: I do think that we both wrote a letter to-- because they made a scrapbook that went along with the quilt and I do think that we wrote some kind of letter or, or something explaining how we had taught ourselves to sew during the pandemic for the mask making. And I do think we did a kind of short little autobiography that we sent in with ours. And I do know that there were-- I don't know if it was these pictures that I brought today. But I do think we sent in pictures with our letters to go in that scrapbook.

HIGGINS: Yeah, the scrapbook is with the quilt. So I was gonna ask if you remembered what you put in that note.

SOWARDS: I think it was-- I think mine I'm not sure what my sister put in hers, but I think mine was just a general-- you know talking about my mother being a seamstress, and you know, just teaching myself to sew for for the... And I, there was one little woman in Florida, she was like 89 years old, who she was somebody's great grandmother that was on my Facebook. And they had reached out to me wanting masks for her. And when I sent her masks, she wrote me back the most beautiful letter and I do think I talked about her in my, in my letter, because it was just, it was such a sweet-- and I was like this-- She was the reason why we started. That was exactly why we started was for people like her. She was in Florida, and there were, she had no family that lived near her. So she had no one to help her. She had to go out and do her errands. And without a mask, that put her great risk. And it was just, it was such a sweet letter and actually kept. it I have it at home. Because I thought you know, she was the reason we we did that.

HIGGINS: And you wanted to share that with the governor, for him to get that?

SOWARDS: Yeah, just to know that. Well, the whole point, I think of a lot of people who started making masks, it was just we were just trying to do our part in a time when there was nothing else you could do to help.

HIGGINS: Yeah, yeah. So how did it feel to, to contribute to this quilt?

Unknown Speaker It was really nice, I felt really proud when they presented it, and it got to be displayed in the Capitol, I just felt really proud to be part of that, you know, and that all these people who had done all this work-- because selling is a lot of work-- It is a lot of work. It is hard work. And until you do it, I don't think you'd actually understand how tedious it is. And to think of all the-- you know that yeah, me and my sister did this here. But there were women all over the state all over the country even that were doing the same things. And that that felt, I don't know, I felt honored to be part of that. That Community.

HIGGINS: You've mentioned your sister a couple of times, did you sew together?

SOWARDS: We did, well, we did but we didn't. So she would be at her house and I would be at my house and we would be on speaker phone. And so we would sew for hours. Especially at not time because we were both laid off work. We were not working. And so we would we would be sewing, two, three o'clock in the morning. You know, sewing for hours just talking on phone about whatever. So we did sew together, but we were not together.

HIGGINS: Yeah. Sort of finding community without physical space.

SOWARDS: Yeah, so we would just be on speakerphone, or have our earbuds in and be sewing away and talking and going on.

HIGGINS: And what was your process for making the masks? How did you...

SOWARDS: So they're two-- they're two layer, but they actually are four parts. There's four panels. So I would sew two panels together. And I would I would usually have so many, you know, cut out stacked up. So I would do one step at a time. Sew all those two panels together, then go back and sew the, you know, to make the four, sew those together. And then go back and flip it, sew the seam around the edges. And then go back and attach the earpiece. So I would do it in sets. Like if I had 15 masks, I would do each step to completion then go to the next step with with the stack of masks.

HIGGINS: And you would do this just...

SOWARDS: Just, continuously and then when I ran out of masks that were cut out, then you would just cut fabric for a day. That that was usually-- I could usually cut fabric for a day and sew for two or three days, and then cut fabric for a day and that was just the process.

HIGGINS: Do you remember when you stopped making masks?

SOWARDS: I stopped making masks when the school system stopped requiring children to wear masks, so that's been... It was about mid of this school year. That's when I stopped.

HIGGINS: So not that long ago?

SOWARDS: Not that long ago, now I stopped taking mass orders last summer. I only did school kids, because when when masks become available in stores again... I only did orders for people who only wore my masks because there were people who were like 'I don't buy other masks. I only wear your masks,' I would make for them. I would make for the kids because my kid masks-- everybody liked the fit. They weren't loose, they were comfortable. I mean, my two year old wore masks so, I'm not not bragging on myself but our pattern was really good and people liked it. So I continued to make the kids masks for school but when adults could get throwaway masks and could get other masks, I stopped taking mass mask orders. I just cut it down to who still really needed it.

HIGGINS: Do you have an idea of how many you made?

SOWARDS: I stopped counting at 2500

HIGGINS: And when did you hit 2500?

SOWARDS: I hit 2500... Let me think... It was long time before I stopped taking orders. About Christmas maybe? If not, this past Christmas, but the Christmas before?

HIGGINS: So like nine months in?

SOWARDS: Yeah. All I did was sew I mean, that was all I did. And like I said, I even when, when things, you know, fabric got more available. I only charged what it cost to make the mask. I never made profit on my masks and I think that was another reason that I had so many orders because I was cheaper than they could get them other places too.

HIGGINS: Do you miss making masks?

SOWARDS: I miss sewing sometimes because I don't sew as much now. You know, life has gotten back to a norm and you know, busy and I don't get to sew. Do I miss making masks? No, I can't say that I do. I made so many. There was a point where I was so tired of making masks, that it was such a chore. But I kept doing it because it was needed. But I did get to a point where I was just like, oh I have to make one more mask. But no, I can't say I miss making the masks. But I do miss all that sewing time because I did I did enjoy just the craft of the sewing.

HIGGINS: Did you sew anything else that you sent to Governor Beshear or other officials?

SOWARDS: I did send him a mask and a letter, and he sent me a letter back and actually, his wife wore the mask that I sent when she voted-- when they had voting, the first voting. I can't remember when that was but the first time everybody voted during the pandemic, she actually wore the mask that I sent in.

HIGGINS: How did that feel?

SOWARDS: That was very special. I was looking at, you know, I follow their page on Facebook, of course and the picture came up with you know, her voting and I was like, 'Is that my mask?' So I zoom in, and I'm looking, and it was! It was the mask that I had made, and it was, I had bought a Kentucky fabric; it came from Joanne's and I had cut it-- It was like a map of Kentucky. the fabric was, so I had cut it particularly so that Kentucky was across this way and the other side had Frankfort so I had designed it you know, to send for a gift for him and it tickled me that his wife wore it, that they actually used it, you know.That was really special.

HIGGINS: Do you remember what you wrote to him when you sent it?

SOWARDS: I just, at the time he was getting a lot of negative, you know, comments about how he was handling the pandemic and things and it was just really an encouraging letter that there were Kentuckians out there that supported him and appreciated the work he was doing, and saw him you know. Because, yeah, everybody sees him, but you know, saw what I felt like he was trying to do for the people. Because I'm sure that when you're in that kind of position of power, you don't always feel seen for who you are. And that was kind of what my letter was, just you know, I kind of gave him a synopsis of the, you know, I had been making masks and a little bit of that and was like I hope you can enjoy this mask, but I remember most of it was just support. I wanted him to know that there were Kentuckians that were supporting him and thought that he was doing a good job.

HIGGINS: If you're willing, how did he respond?

SOWARDS: He wrote a letter back and just thanked me for the mask, that he really loved the Kentucky theme, and the fabric that I had chose and just thanked me for doing my part for Team Kentucky, you know. I'm not sure if it was a form letter because it did have a little bit of a personal-- about the mask, but part of it seemed like it was probably a form letter, and then they filled in the little part, but it was really nice. Yeah.

HIGGINS: You just mentioned Team Kentucky. Can you define Team Kentucky for me?

SOWARDS: Well, Team Kentucky. I don't know, in what retrospect--

HIGGINS: To you--

SOWARDS: To me what Team Kentucky is? To me, the idea of Team Kentucky is just Kentuckians coming together to make it through a hard time. You know, just pulling together as a community. That's really what it what it is to me. Yeah.

HIGGINS: How did the mask making and the quilt play into that definition of Team Kentucky?

SOWARDS: Well, I think it definitely played into it because, you know, the whole point was, we were trying to help our neighbor. For me and my sister anyway. I don't know. I know that there was a lot of money to be made in the mask making which we didn't do, we did at cost. But I just think that held that spirit that we were trying to help our neighbor, we were trying to do... The only thing we could do, when there was nothing to do. You know, there was we couldn't go anywhere. There was no way we could help the people that we knew that needed help. It wasn't like we could go out and go do shopping for them or, you know, things like that. So that that was something we could do. We could make a mask and we just stick it in the mail. And that's what we do.

HIGGINS: And so you did this until Christmas this year?

SOWARDS: Yeah, yeah

HIGGINS: Or 2021.


HIGGINS: And now in June, late June of 2022, how are you feeling about this work and about where we are?

SOWARDS: What do you mean?

HIGGINS: Particularly with COVID.

SOWARDS: I feel like we've-- We're as past it as we're going to get. I think that this is our new normal, they talked about the new normal, the whole pandemic. And I think we're there, I think you're just going to have to... Everybody has to be mindful that it's still out there. But we don't have to shut our lives down anymore. We can get back to a normal even though it's not the normal that we knew.

HIGGINS: And how are you personally feeling?

SOWARDS: I feel pretty good.


SOWARDS: I feel pretty good. Yeah, we survived it. We had COVID in October of 2021. Me and my little boy, my husband, and we had been vaccinated and we still got it, and we ended up getting the BAM infusions, the the antibody infusions, and I feel like we were still pretty sick. And I feel like those those measures saved us because I don't know what would have happened-- we were pretty sick and I imagine we would have been hospitalized had we not had those things. So we we survived it and I got my my final booster after that, not three months after. And I've been exposed a couple of times since and not recaught it. So I feel like I feel good for me that we're we're okay, our family is okay in it. But I think if everybody just you know, uses, uses their noodle and does does the right things that we're as past it is we're going to get

HIGGINS: And looking forward-- So you you found this new sort of passion for sewing, what are you hoping to do going forward with it?

SOWARDS: Well, I actually, I have all of this fabric that I stored up during the pandemic, you know, buying for mask making. So now I have all this fabric and I've actually, I want to start a project of making lap quilts for our local nursing home. That is my goal, is to use all of that fabric that was bought during the pandemic to make quilts to be given. So that's, that's where I am now, with the sewing.

HIGGINS: That's incredible.


HIGGINS: Is there anything else you would want us to know about that time, the pandemic time or about your experience?

SOWARDS: Just that it was a difficult time. I mean, it was for everybody. And I'm glad it's over and I hope we don't see another.

HIGGINS: Amen. Indeed. Thank you.