When creativity grows with you throughout the years of your life, it adds even more joy to your memories. Jean Leffler has been crafting and designing since she was a child.
Have you always been creative?
As a child, I played with paper dolls A LOT and I became a pro at cutting paper. Summers were spent in craft-programs at our neighborhood public school. I remember learning embroidery and sewing. I made a potholder for a favorite great-aunt who treasured it and would use it whenever I came to visit.
I never outgrew the satisfaction that came from making that potholder. This afternoon, while sitting with my 95-year-old cousin at her doctor’s appointment, I was knitting wrist warmers for Christmas. They will be sent to my Chicago family members.
In high school, art class was my favorite. We experimented with many mediums—pottery, silkscreen, charcoal and pastel drawing, hand-lettering. Home Economics was an HS requirement in Fla schools in those years and I flourished in that class. I wore the Duster I made in class for years!
If so, what memories of you being creative stand out the most?
I am left-handed and that can be a handicap when trying to learn a new craft. We left-handers must transpose many instructions and pictures before achieving our desired goal. An art teacher suggested I letter (done with a pen and fresh ink from a bottle) upside down and backwards so my left hand would not drag across my words and smear the wet ink. It takes a lot of concentration to do that. I still have a sample of the alphabet and an adage in Olde English—I’m still proud of it! (I could not duplicate it anymore-it was HARD work!)
I shared a love of crafts with my daughters and four grandchildren. It has truly been a lifelong OBSESSION to dabble in a wide variety of art and craft! I’ve taught individuals and group classes, including a few adult enrichment classes at what is now UACCM. I was part a team that developed and taught classes for activity directors at area nursing homes. At Christmas, family and friends gather at my home to make graham cracker cookie houses—that is a long-time tradition.
What and or who inspires you to create?
A patient right-handed person taught my sister, also a leftie, to crochet, then she taught me—back in 1973! I made afghans, sweaters, home décor items and toys. It wasn’t long before I began customizing patterns. That grew into designing my own patterns. That grew into selling my designs/patterns to magazines. That grew into a small (pre-home-computer) mail order business.
When my husband got a job with Union Pacific in 1992, of course I followed, and was hired as a technical writer in the knit and crochet department at the craft publisher, Leisure Arts. I was only there a few years because it took the fun out of my beloved craft. I laid the tools of my trade down for several years while I pursued another love and served as a certified Activity/Social Services Director in local long-term care facilities.
Who are some of your favorite creators?
Because I really enjoyed making soft toys, I was inspired by talented crochet artists like Sue Penrod, Cindy Harris and others. I haven’t seen current designs by them so I’m not sure if they are still relevant. I guess you could say that each new design I come up with inspires another.
Do you have a routine you do that helps inspire your creations?
No routines, but I am one of the charter members of A Close-Knit Faith Community. We are an interdenominational group of men and women who gather each Wednesday morning at St. Joseph Catholic Church to knit and crochet for charity while we support each other spiritually. We have been meeting for 16 years this month!
We make lap-robes for area nursing homes, hats for newborn babies, adult hats for local homeless ministries, baby coverlets for Life Choices pregnancy resource center. This year we are adding The Call (which supports foster home parents) and Cradle Care (supporting student single-moms continuing their education). We provide handmade Prayer Shawls for anyone who requests one—which provide physical and spiritual comfort to those in need of prayer. In addition, each baby baptized at St. Joseph receives one of our coverlets.
You crochet and design, what has changed in this industry before and after the internet?
It would have been much easier to begin and expand my mail-order business if computers had come along 15 years earlier!
In “my day,” I would hand write my design/pattern, then type it on a manual typewriter, take the finished original to a print shop for copies. I made my own line-drawings of the finished design. I advertised in the classifieds of national craft magazines via-snail mail.
When the orders came to my PO Box, I recorded the address on ‘old-timey’ Rolodex cards, filled the order and mailed the pattern. Periodically, I would send out a home-made catalog of new designs. I was a one-woman operation. Looking back, it was labor intensive. Computers would have made the whole process so much easier!
What was it like having your designs shared in local and national magazines?
It is fun to see your name in print in a magazine sold in someplace like Walmart or Hobby Lobby! It is even exciting to find one of my old–er…past – designs in a flea market or at a garage sale!
Please list the names of the magazines.
Many of the magazines my designs were in are no longer on the Market. Print has gotten so expensive for the publishers, I expect. Crafts ‘n Things, Annie’s Attic, Needlecraft For Today, Country Woman, Leisure Arts, Country Handcrafts, Crochet World. I have a file cabinet drawer full of my patterns’ originals and at least one copy of each magazine/book!
Tell us about your books and what inspired you to write your books?
The Crocheted Pillow Buddies book results from several years of on and off work. I made a pillow, wrote the pattern, put the hook and yarn down for a long while. When I didn’t have any other project going, I picked up another color yarn and made another animal pillow. Sometimes I made several but didn’t have a plan until one day I had a menagerie and felt I should do something with them.
Other of Jean’s books:
What’s a quote or saying that keeps you inspired?
I have self-published two memoirs and the inscription I write in Spirituality at Sunrise is my favorite reminder to myself and others, “Every sunrise promises a new beginning.” I believe it–I live it. I will be 75 in March. I still love to make toys. I love to write. I hope I inspire someone to play and create.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start crocheting, designing, and or writing?
I have recently encountered a left-handed young woman (high school Junior) who is trying to learn to crochet. I have offered to help in any way I can. Learning on YouTube is easy to do today so I’m not too sure she will need me–but I am ready, willing and able to tutor!
I carry my knitting bag everyplace I go. My handwork often draws interest of others waiting and I have had many delightful conversations with very nice strangers. Knitting or crocheting is a great way to pass the time in boring situations–plane and long car rides and doctor waiting rooms. Here’s a tip – I have flown commercially and have never been denied access to an airline with my knitting needles!
How do you spend your free time when you aren’t creative?
Hmmm…I’m not too sure I do that. This school year I am team-teaching a weekly religion class to a group of 3rd and 4th graders. It takes creativity to bring those Old Testament stories to life! I also plan the Scripture lesson for our Close-Knit Faith Community each week.
Up until a few months ago, I wrote for several Little Rock neighborhood magazines, like our 501. Those magazines had been produced locally, but the corporate office recently took them over and I have been ‘retired’ from that. I miss it, but my focus has changed to taking care of my 95-year-old cousin’s needs.
AND happily, our grandson and his wife have just taken on three foster children. The eldest wants to learn to knit! And HE is left-handed! I think I see a new generation of crafters!
Jean’s love of crafting has taken many forms.
She said that knitting is a great way to pass time. “My handwork often draws interest of others waiting and I have had many delightful conversations with very nice strangers,” Jean said. As she reflects on the future of crafting, she is inspired by and delighted to see what other generations do to express their creativity.
Brittany Reese is a communications professional and freelance writer. She is a proud graduate of Conway High School and Arkansas State University. Go Wampus Cats and Red Wolves!
When she’s not writing for Conway Scene or working with clients, she loves graphic t-shirts and adds to her collection every chance she gets.