By Emma Castleberry
Roberta Diggs started sewing when she was just 11 years old. “My grandmother initially thought I should learn to sew so I can make a living,” she says. Her grandmother was concerned about Roberta’s ability to join the workforce because Roberta is hard of hearing and wears a hearing aid. Roberta took to her grandmother’s sewing lessons quickly, making doll patterns out of newspaper and sewing clothes for her younger siblings’ dolls. “I’ve always loved to create or make things using my hands, and I loved making things for my mother and my siblings,” she says. Shortly after moving to North Carolina, Roberta attended a quilting class at A-B Tech. “Quilting has given me a new look at how to make designs,” she says. “Making a beautiful, 9-block quilt for my mother was my greatest inspiration.”
As an adult, she prefers to apply her hand stitching skills to leather, making small items like keychains, wallets and lighter holders. After graduating from A-B Tech with a degree in Fine Arts, Roberta started an Etsy store, Long Branch Leather. She’s recently changed the name to Long Branch Crafts to encompass a new facet of her craft: making face masks. “I got a Facebook message from my cousin in southern California, letting me know about her mom—my favorite aunt—having Stage 3 cancer,” says Roberta. “I just wanted to do something for her, but didn’t know what.” She decided to make a cancer cap and mask for her aunt’s next chemotherapy session.
This pattern and skill have obviously become even more valuable due to the recent lack of face masks as a result of the pandemic. Roberta’s sister and niece both work in hospitals in Washington, and they were told to wear bandanas to protect themselves. “At the onset of COVID-19, it was a very scary time for my family in the medical field,” says Roberta. She made and sent six masks to her sister and niece. Roberta’s sister, a phlebotomist, provided her with feedback so she could improve the mask pattern. Roberta has now made more than 200 masks since the onset of COVID-19, some of which have been donated and some of which have been sold on her Etsy store. “It wasn’t till the CDC announcement about wearing homemade face masks that my store sold out within three days,” she says. “It was exhausting, but I am contributing to saving families from being infected. I can help in a crisis like this. I have the skills and knowledge to go about getting things done.”