Jeanna Smiley was inspired to learn how to crochet after seeing it work wonders for the young women in a detention center where she volunteers. Jeanna herself was going through a period of transition, and she needed something in her life that could help her to move forward. Crochet proved to be that thing. Although the 48-year-old crafter is new to crochet, she has already found that it brings big benefits to her world.
She shares more about that in the interview:
What can you share about the mentoring program that you work with?
Steadfast Mentoring is a ministry for incarcerated youth. It launched in the Tampa, Florida area in 2014 and now has 10 different DJJ residential programs across Florida. The next step is to launch a program in Tennessee. The program provides encouragement and guidance to at-risk youth through mentoring. Part of the mentoring process can include encouraging the kids to develop their creative skills through arts and crafts. When the girls engage with their own creativity, it gives them a sense of accomplishment, which helps build their self-esteem.
And this helped inspire you to learn to crochet?
Yes. I started mentoring a young lady at a detention center last summer. She and several other girls were doing amazing crochet projects. My mentee told me that many of the girls have discovered that crochet can be a coping tool for them, in large part because it helps them to center themselves and get calm and grounded.
I had wanted to learn how to crochet when I was a Girl Scout. However, I was left-handed, and at the time, no one was able to show me how to crochet left-handed. I had given up on learning. However, I was so inspired to see these girls being so creative in their situation. I decided that if they could do it then so could I.
How did you go about learning? What were the easiest and most challenging parts?
My mentee is right-handed, so I didn’t really learn from her. Instead, I found YouTube videos that teach left-handed crocheting. I watched several of them until things started to click into place for me.
The easiest part of learning was finding teachers. There’s an old saying that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I was ready to learn, and I had access to a host of tutorials. It was just a matter of finding the teaching style that resonated with me.
The most challenging part of learning was moving past doing a chain and on to learning the differences between single, double, half-double, and triple crochet stitches. Getting used to the lingo of crochet is a challenge, but it’s also exciting.
It really is a whole language of its own. And hasn’t it been great to see how technology has leveled the playing field for left-handed crafters? What have you been crocheting?
I am still new to this craft. I’ve just been doing lap blankets so far. They provide the perfect opportunity to practice basic crochet stitches while making something beautiful and functional.
Do you have any favorite stitches, fibers, or patterns?
I love, love, love the granny stitch. Blanket yarn is so amazing! My favorite pattern so far is the hexagon. I’d like to try a circle one day.
How has crochet unlocked your creativity?
Crocheting allows me to create something that will bring comfort to someone. It stretches my mind to come up with colors that I’d like to combine and patterns to try. Once I get into the rhythm of working on a project, I enjoy the journey of creating something beautiful. It’s liberating, like I’m letting something that was locked up inside me flow out. It has been a very fulfilling experience.
What would you saw has been the number one benefit of crochet so far?
I’ve gained confidence that I can try new things and get better over time.
One of the things you mentioned was that you found it when you were going through a big transition in your own life. Can you tell us more about that?
For 30 years I followed the teachings of William Branham, a man who lived in the mid-20th century who claimed to be a prophet. While I was convinced that it was the only “truth” I struggled with its cultish aspects and deviance from Scripture. In 2015, I experienced an epiphany which liberated me from the deception. However, my husband, a pastor in this movement, was (and is) adamantly defending Branham’s “Message”. As a result, I stayed at the church until 2018.
By that point, I knew that I had to leave. I knew that if I did not leave, I was risking a nervous breakdown. I would risk losing my children’s hearts, too, because they saw through the lies as well. How could I teach them to stand for truth if I continued to subject them and myself to lies for political correctness?
I felt very suppressed under those teachings like I wasn’t being true to myself. I thought that was what God wanted me to do: lose myself for His sake. Give up my own mind; don’t question but only believe. Stay in the box; tow the line; conform. My mistaken belief was, “I’m enlightened while most of the world is in darkness.”
Therefore, leaving was challenging. However, I felt that I had to do it. I left that church in January 2018. My two younger sons and I started visiting another church that really felt like home for all of us. We have been attending there for about a year now. At a ladies’ ministry meeting, the pastor’s wife invited the attendants to sign up with Steadfast Mentoring. This was an opportunity to do something that was on my heart for many years: mentor young girls who need love. I didn’t know how to get involved, but then I saw this chance.
That’s how I came to meet my mentee during my own period of transition. I never considered myself to be a crafty person. In fact, I always told myself that I wasn’t creative. But one day a few years ago, something within me said, “Stop saying that you aren’t creative.” That was a shocking thought, so much so that I have held on to it, not knowing what that could possibly mean. I still felt like I wasn’t creative, but I knew there was a message there.
Crocheting is a new adventure for me. It’s so exciting, and I feel like something good is flowing from me when I do it. To me, it is one of many confirmations that I made the right decision to move forward even when doing so was difficult.
What is a day in your life like and how does crochet fit into that?
I’m a freelance writer and a home educator. My two teenage sons manage their schoolwork, so that doesn’t take too much time. I fit crocheting in between my work and chores. Sometimes, I may spend a little too much time crocheting, if there is such a thing. I just don’t want to stop.
Where do you do your crafting? What does it look like around you as you crochet?
I sit in my living room when I crochet. It doesn’t look that nice right now since there is stuff for renovations all over. Still, my little crochet corner is my happy place.
Who are some of your favorite crocheters that you’ve come across online?
Mikey with the Crochet Crowd is my #1 favorite crocheter. I enjoy Jayda in Stitches, even though she’s right-handed. I’m still able to pick up something from her, and I love her energy.
Do you do any other crafts or hobbies?
I enjoy cooking and reading, but crocheting is my new favorite hobby. It’s a brand new outlet for creativity that I can share with others.
What is something interesting that you are working on right now?
Some other moms in my homeschool support group are planning to donate blankets to a local hospice. Most of my current crochet projects are going toward that. I am so happy to be able to give in this way.
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