A Navy wife finds herself facing a very challenging situation. With grace and determination, our guest, LaQuita Herrin, not only survived, but turned her own hardship into advocacy for others. LaQuita is a brand new Sew Powerful purse maker and by witnessing her determination with making her first purse, we can easily imagine how she uses that same tenacity in her personal life. We also talk about our shared Indiana roots, discovering an improbable closeness we could not have predicted.
New Purse Maker puts Life in Perspective with LaQuita Herrin
IN THIS EPISODE
Indiana connection, sewing, early onset Alzheimer’s disease, retail, navy wife, widow, moving, advocate for care givers, first purse, sewing for charity
We are Sew Powerful, How a Global Community of Seamstresses Is Changing Zambia One Girl at A Time, 2nd edition. By Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, © 2016 & 2020 Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, all rights reserved.
Kings Bay Naval Base, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_Submarine_Base_Kings_Bay
Camden County Alzheimer’s Project, https://camdencountyalzheimersproject.org/
ABOUT THE SEW POWERFUL PODCAST
The Sew Powerful Podcast shines a light on the people behind the mission to keep girls in school and create purposeful products in Zambia. Join us every week for a new 30-minute episode to meet new people, hear inspiring stories, and learn how you can join us in this global movement. Whether you sew or not, make purses or not, you will find something to enjoy in every episode. Listen today.
Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: LaQuita Herrin
Jan Cancila, Host 00:04
Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. This is your host, Jan Cancila. You know the sound of my sewing machine means it's time for another episode. So, let's get started.
Hello, today I have the pleasure of speaking with a brand-new purse maker. Her name is LaQuita Herrin. And she came to us through the attention of Kathleen Broadfoot. And unbeknownst to me, LaQuita and I worked on a project together with Kathleen, and you're going to hear all about that. So good morning. How are you today?
LaQuita Herrin, Guest 00:42
Good morning. It's nice to be here.
Well, I'm so glad you are. So, we very coincidentally may have crossed paths, although I would have been much older and you would have been an infant, but I attended Hanover College in southern Indiana; it's right on the banks of the Ohio River. And it's a very teeny, teeny town next to the campus. But the next town over, if you needed anything, was a 10-minute car drive away, I think, in a town called Madison, Indiana. And why is Madison, Indiana important to you, LaQuita?
Well, Madison, Indiana is where I was born and where I grew up and lived there until I graduated high school.
Wow. And so, it's entirely possible that at some point, you and your parents were driving down the street and I was in a car and we passed in Madison, Indiana and never knew it.
Yes, it is.
Yeah. Yeah, that was that would be a weird thing. So, you grew up in this beautiful part of the United States. And, you know, we have many international listeners. Can you describe the southern Indiana area? What is the geography like in that part of the country?
Well, the area for Madison is very hilly. There are a lot of rock outcroppings. There's a state park that has a beautiful falls called Clifty Falls and several hiking trails. And then as you go out away from Madison, there are lots of farmlands. And we're on the Ohio River so you can also see the beautiful greens of Kentucky, if you look across the state line. We had a bridge, the Madison Milton bridge, that crossed between Kentucky and Indiana, so we were a good location for people traveling through the state to get into Kentucky. It's very beautiful.
And you know what, yeah, what I remembered was the convenience of the location. It was sort of midway between Cincinnati, Ohio, Indianapolis, Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky. So big cities not far away but yet it was just the most scenic, beautiful peaceful area I'd ever been in. It was just really lovely.
It was. Yeah, it was very beautiful. For Fourth of July, they usually had the hydroplane boat races in Madison. So they're even, there's a movie called Madison that was filmed there about the hydroplane boats.
Oh, cool. Well, and you know, I never got to see that because I would have been back home at my home during the summer. But anyway, okay. So, when you were, it sounds like in about Middle School, your father passed away, and your mom remarried a few years later, which then resulted in your family moving after you graduated from high school. Is that correct?
Yes, we moved from this beautiful hilly, tree-filled area of the country to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, all the way down on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, with the beautiful ocean and the palm trees. And they have these loblolly pine trees that are so not what I grew up with that I thought they had deformed trees, but my first thought driving into that area. But it was beautiful. It was just gorgeous there.
Now, when you were in Madison, you had some part-time jobs when you were in high school, working retail. And then when you got to Mississippi with your family after high school graduation, you used some of that experience, your retail experience, to get another job, right?
Yes, I worked in a store that was kind of like Kmart in Indiana called 3D Discount Store. And then in Mississippi, I got a job at JC Penney and enjoyed it.
And that was very fortuitous because you had a friend who did something very important. Tell us what your friend did.
My friend set me up on a blind date with what turned out to be my husband. He was in the Navy, and they have a drydock in Pascagoula, Mississippi. And so, he was just there for the ship to get worked on. And that's how we met.
And so you told me a rather, well I guess it wasn't amusing at the time; it's amusing now, but what was your first encounter with your husband? What happened?
I was on my way to work and I had stopped for gas, and these two men were following me with their vehicle. And they followed me all the way into the parking lot where I worked. So, I hurried quickly, in the back door of the store right past my husband and my friend and her boyfriend.
My husband-to-be, yes, this man I had not quite met yet. And he's trying to say, hello, it's nice to meet you. And I just said, yeah, it's great to meet you. Bye. And I kept going into the break room. And I stayed there for several minutes hoping those other two men would disappear. So yes, after we were married, my husband's favorite thing to tell people was that my wife blew me off. She didn't even want to go on that first date. So, he, but we did obviously have our first date was Top Gun, so, the movie.
So, for a Navy person that worked out well. He could tell me things about the military.
Oh, how fun.
And so, God had a plan for you because you met and you were married in a pretty short period of time, right?
Yes, we met, and we were engaged on our, our date was actually a couple of weeks later. So, we got engaged a week after our first date, which happened to be his birthday. And then we were married. That was in August of '86. We got married in October of '86. And then by December of '86, I was a new Navy wife living in Jacksonville, Florida and he was on a new ship, starting more time out to sea.
And so, because of his Navy career, the family moved several times. Is that right? Give it, give us sort of the Cliff Notes version of all the places that you lived.
Okay, from Jacksonville, Florida we went to North Chicago, Great Lakes, Illinois for his school. Then he got stationed at Kings Bay, Georgia for shore duty. Then he went to Mayport, Florida, then we went to Norfolk, Virginia, then we came back to Kings Bay. Then he went to Mayport again, then he went to Charleston, then he went to Virginia. Then he came back and finished in Mayport, I believe. There were two times at Kings Bay, but Mayport is an hour and 15 minutes away. So, by 1997 my daughter Jessica and I were staying put in Kingsland, Georgia, which is near the Kings Bay Navy base. So yes, but God let us meet some very interesting people. And it was great to see other parts of the country.
Wow. Well, that, I mean, that's amazing. And I guess that's the life of a military family is a lot of upheaval. But you you're you're settled now. Something, your husband retired from the Navy, when? What year?
He retired from the Navy in 2003.
In '03. And a couple of years later, he had a doctor's visit and what happened then?
Then we found out that he had been having some memory problems and it was diagnosed as early onset Alzheimer's disease, which is rare in people that young, but it can occur. He was 39 when he was diagnosed.
And so, his disease progressed and he did pass away. Is that right?
Yes, he passed away in June 2019. He was 54. So, we saw symptoms in '99. So roughly 20 years of first symptoms to the time that he passed.
And you were his caregiver for those 20 years, LaQuita?
Yes, he was able to work off and on until 2013. So, from 2013 to 2019 I was his person, 24/7, with a very active young dementia patient, yes.
And your your daughter, how is this affecting her?
She was a teenager when he was diagnosed. And so, she graduated high school. She was able to go on to college. She has has a degree in general studies, part of that is Business/Hospitality Management and, but she learned to be his caregiver. The, you know, the roles are reversed. She's a little more parent to him than just a child. But it grew a great deal of empathy for her. She's currently working in ministry, building a new church in Knoxville, doing administration and websites. And she said part of her ministry is reaching out to other kids who are having problems with their fathers, and encouraging them that, you know, God is there.
And because of your experience with your husband's illness, you've become an advocate for people who are caregivers for for family members with Alzheimer's. Tell us about that.
Yes, Doug was so young. There weren't really many resources in our area. He was too young for a senior center. He was too young for the Council on Aging. But I also found when I went to my first support group in September 2013, that first meeting, I didn't know that eight years later, I would have become part of a Board for, it's the Camden County Alzheimer's Project. It's a nonprofit and our goal is to bring those resources into our county, to have adult daycare, to have respite for the caregivers to get, you know, a few few hours during the week to go to the grocery store, to get a hair appointment, if you need to sleep. There were so many days that I just needed that, you know, that couple of extra hours would have made a huge difference, even to sew a purse. You can't sew a purse if you're chasing after someone making sure they stay safe. So, it made a difference.
Okay, well, and and I'm sure you're making a difference now. So, it's, I'm sorry that you had to go through it. But it's, wow, it's just so admirable that you're helping others so that they don't have the the same negative experiences that you did, to the extent that you did. Now you mentioned sewing. How long have you been sewing? What is your sewing story?
Well, my mom sewed when I was little. My sister was seven years older, and she made a dress in high school. And I thought well, it must be easy. So, I took my first Home Ec, and my first project was a simple little drawstring purse. And I became very frustrated with that. I just could not get it the way I wanted. And then when I was pregnant with Jessica, I wanted to sew her a quilt. And it ended up making me more frustrated trying to put a ruffle around the edge that my husband actually sat at my mom’s sewing machine and sewed our daughter's first blanket because I didn't have the patience for it. So as my daughter's first Christmas came, he bought me my own sewing machine and I gradually managed to make her some little dresses and we had a couple of matching outfits, and curtains. I like things with simple sewing seams, so so fast forward to now, he's passed away and I'm trying to re-learn things about myself. You know, what do I enjoy? So, I enjoy painting. That was something I could do while he was alive, and woodworking. But the sewing machine, yeah, I'm still have a love-hate relationship with ripping out seams. That is my frustration with the sewing machine but so I am determined that with this being my first Sew Powerful purse to mail in that I'm going to get this.
Okay, okay, what we're going to explore all that in just a moment but let's let's take a quick break here. And listeners when we come back, we're going to hear LaQuita's journey with her Sew Powerful purses, which is not a long journey, but it's a pretty interesting one. And it's very interesting to hear perspective from somebody who's new to making purses. So, stay tuned, we'll be back in one minute.
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Welcome back. We've been speaking with LaQuita Herrin, who has been sharing her very interesting life story. She and I may have crossed paths many, many years ago, when I attended college and she lived in a very nearby town. And she moved many times with the Navy when her husband was enlisted there. And then he did pass away and she's become an advocate for those caregivers, for family members with Alzheimer's. LaQuita, when did you first hear about Sew Powerful?
I think it was in November of last year. So, it hasn't even been a year yet.
2020, yes. We're in the middle of a pandemic and I'm trying to think of things I can give my nieces for Christmas and not have to go shopping. And I have some fabric and so I was looking for a simple purse pattern. And I came across the Sew Powerful beginner pattern, and it's free. And I thought, well, that's a wonderful idea. So, I printed out the pattern, and then started researching, Well, why did they have? Why is it Sew Powerful? Why, you know, why is that the name and then I read up on the ministry and started listening to podcasts and looking at the videos and then found the Facebook group with all the beautiful purses. And I was so excited that. So, I sewed my first purse and I put the photos in the Facebook group and I said, I will not be mailing this purse because first of all, I made it out of off-white duck cloth, which is not going to work in Africa. And secondly, I didn't get the box pleat [corner] right. My pocket that goes on the front was on the back, which apparently comes out often for people. And...
I did it seven times before I figured out what I was doing wrong. So okay.
Oh, well, I feel better then.
Oh, yeah. So, well. And I have to tell you, people told me it was the box pleat [corner]. And I said, That can't be it. That can't be it. I was so stubborn. And then finally I was like, oh yeah, it is the box pleat [corner].
Well so, yes, I wanted to give up, but Valentine's was coming. They did not get their purses for Christmas. But I persevered after watching more posts and more people saying the same thing. So, I managed to sew four purses for my nieces and got three out of four pockets correct.
And got those mailed for Valentine's Day. And since then, I made one purse for a friend, my dear friend Mary. She is 21, she has the sweetest spirit. And she has Downs Syndrome. But she's just one of my best friends. And so, I sewed her a Frozen purse and she was so excited. And I thought okay, I think I'm ready now. I'm gonna start sewing for Sew Powerful. So, as we speak, I'm ripping out more seams because I didn't line up the back placket and the front pocket just to get it started, but it is okay. I will get there and I will have it on Facebook. Probably before the podcast makes it out. But the idea, I grew up not rich. My Daddy died when I was actually nine. And when I started my monthly, I didn't know, we hadn't even had the class in school yet, what to do with those products. And so, when I saw that part of the mission is to teach these girls and to provide them with the things they need, that is a basic thing for going to school and feeling comfortable, and learning. So yes, that's exciting to me to be able to help with a mission that does that.
Okay and can, as a new as a new purse maker, you're challenged by the box pleats [corners] but there's also something else that you told me was a little difficult for you.
For me it's the several layers, because you've got the front pocket and the pocket has a lining. And then you have the front piece and then the front piece has interfacing, if you need interfacing. And then you're trying to connect that with the back piece that also should be reinforced. And they're just such thick pieces. And part of my issue that you pointed out to me is I started with duck cloth from drop cloth and denim. And those are both thick items and so you suggested switching to more of a, did you say a chambray, something thinner?
Yes. And so, if you use...
Still reinforcing so but not so thick.
Yeah, quilters cotton interface makes those layers easier to sew through. But sometimes I do use heavier fabrics, but when I do that, I make sure the other pieces are a little bit thinner so to overcome that, because there is a couple of places where you are sewing through multiple layers, but that's just the nature of putting together a purse so. You'll get there, you'll get there, I promise, and the fact that you've already made seven purses? Is that the right count?
Working on my sixth.
Your sixth, and the sixth one is one you're going to send in, the first one to send in.
So, it took a little practice for me to feel confident that someone would be able to use the purse after I made it.
Well, I, you know, I think everybody is their own worst critic. So, describe this purse so that when we hear the podcast and then we see the photo we'll know that this is the purse that we're talking about here.
Okay, it has a lot of blues and greens and teals and a vine print through it. And then the lining has a turquoise with some yellow and some purple dots.
I actually cut up an old purse that part of the vinyl had gone bad on and saved the fabric, so the inner lining is a bright blue. So, I'm re-upcycling I guess, recycling this fabric and that also was part of the challenge, was making the pieces come together to fit into the size for the purse. And, but so I don't have any money involved except for the strap. I have the webbing for the strap. So, it's a cost effective way for me because I'm on a, you know, fixed income now that I'm a widow, to to be able to give back but also use things that God's already provided for me. This is all fabric I had.
Absolutely. Well, and you know, I alluded to this earlier. Kathleen Broadfoot lives in Indiana, you grew up in Indiana, I went to college in Indiana. And Kathleen posted something in the Facebook group about a project, an Indiana-related project. Can you describe that and how you participated in that?
Sure. She said she was interested in other women from Indiana that had any tie. If they wanted to donate some fabric, she would take the varieties of fabric and make a purse. So, I contacted her and told her that I (she wanted blues and golds), so I had a, it looks like a white, a gold background white trellis fabric. And I had a separate fabric that's a gold background with bees on it. And my best friend Sheila Spencer, from Madison (we went to, all the way from elementary school through, she still comes and visits, our families are close) is a beekeeper and I've invited her and she's part of Sew Powerful now, too. She hasn't sent a purse in yet but she's part of it, so.
Okay, now say her name again so we'll give her another shout out.
Sheila Spencer from Madison, Indiana. Welcome to Sew Powerful.
She actually lives in Floyd Knobs now, but she grew up, her parents are still in Madison.
But, so the beekeeper or the bee fabric is in honor of Sheila, still in Madison. And Kathleen has used both of those fabrics, but she actually made more than one purse. So recently I was listening to Kathleen's podcast from 2020 and she said, I have some denim fabric, but I haven't ever sewn the denim into a purse yet; I will eventually. And when she made some of these Indiana purses, she had sewn denim into the purses. And I thought, How fun is that, to hear someone's journey, like to know when, you know, she didn't use denim yet. I have used denim, but then we both used denim and some of the same fabric to make a purse at the, you know, a similar time.
Well and you know she was asking for blue and gold fabric and I looked through my stash and I didn't see anything, but my Indiana tie is my college tie in that the colors were crimson and white, which I had some fabric--honestly, it looks like peppermint striped for Christmas--but I sent it I sent it to Kathleen anyway and she very cleverly incorporated it into at least two purses. So that was a really fun project and a way to engage people and make us feel like we're all connected even though we may not have known each other before.
Yes, that was fun. I really enjoyed that. And it would be really fun to at Georgia one, I don't know.
Oh, that would be great. Well, it was fun because Kathleen did all the work. I just mailed piece of fabric.
Right. That that also was encouraging to me, not to be the one ripping out any seams.
LaQuita, what would you say to somebody who's maybe not a very experienced sewer but wants to get started making purses for Sew Powerful? How would you encourage them?
I would encourage them to first of all, look through fabrics they already have, so that they're not investing in something that they'll feel bad if they cut it the wrong way, and have to cut the next piece of fabric. I cut the duck cloth on purpose, because I already had it, it was a large piece of fabric. So, starting with fabric you already have. I started my first purse without watching the video, I just tried to follow the printed-out directions. It helped me so much to go back and watch the video and have it where I could pause the video and look to make sure I'm lining up my fabric the way Cinnamon (I think it was Cinnamon on the, it was the 2018 video that I watched). Am I lining it up correctly? Am I understanding what the written-out says with what I'm seeing visually? I need to see things; it helps me learn. So those are my biggest things is and take your time. And I'm so glad I know that everyone rips out seams at some time.
Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, LaQuita, I have to say it's been a pleasure to to talk with you and to find our connections and find out that they go well beyond Sew Powerful, and your interesting life and the admirable work that you're doing in your community and the contributions that you're making to Sew Powerful. We thank you very much. It's been a pleasure speaking with you.
Thank you. I really enjoyed this. It was fun.
Well, good. And anybody else who might be reluctant to be on a podcast: it's just easy. We're just talking, right?
Yeah. And I'm excited too, because I'll be able to listen back to this in a few years and who knows how many purses I will have sent by then. And you know, the changes God will have performed through the schools in Zambia, the difference. So that's exciting. It's not about me, it's about what we're doing for them.
Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for your time. It's been a pleasure. We'll talk to you soon. Bye bye.
If what you've heard today inspires you to want to make a difference, I urge you to explore the Sew Powerful website at www.sewpowerful.org. That's SEW POWERFUL dot ORG. The website has great information about the organization. It's where you can download the free purse patterns or even make a donation. We hope you will join us again next week when we bring you another Sew Powerful story. Thanks for listening. Now, go out and have a Sew Powerful day.
ABOUT THE HOST
Jan Cancila has been making purses for Sew Powerful since 2014. She serves the organization as Director, Global Volunteerism, the Area Manager for Shows and Events-Mid/South USA and as the Houston Regional Coordinator. She was a public speaking major at Hanover College and holds an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University. Jan had a 25-year career with The Coca-Cola Company before owning and operating a linen and party rental business in Houston. She is married with two grown sons, a lovely daughter-in-law and two remarkable granddaughters. Jan’s published work includes more than 100 online articles for Examiner.com. Reach Jan with comments or suggestions at email@example.com.