Hand-crafted slippers, knotted Rosaries and Izzy Dolls. Can these change our harsh and difficult world?

My German grandmother raised a pack of kids through the Great Depression and World War II, in a tiny two-bedroom Chicago bungalow built by her father. She carved a sewing room out of a closet just large enough to hold a sewing machine, chair, and walls of “notions” stacked in cigar boxes. There, she stitched vivid cotton slippers for lonely nursing home residents and knitted ones for the grandkids. I still cherish an emerald green slipper edged with rainbow colors (the mate is lost) four decades later.

Grandma's hand-knit slipper and my nearly-completed cord Rosary. Grandma's hand-knit slipper and my nearly-completed cord Rosary.

Cord Rosaries? I learned to make these four years ago at the parish in my native town. I usually have at least one stuffed in my purse or pocket, to knot and fashion in spare moments. My Dad died with a soft cord Rosary in his hand. The St. Isaac Jogues Rosary Makers Group I attend has shared Rosaries with prisoners, Eucharistic adorers, First Communicants, and sick and elderly across the U.S., and sent thousands of Rosaries to missions overseas.

As for Izzy dolls? It’s a touching story. These are palm-sized, hand-knitted dolls first created by the mother of Canadian Forces Master Corporal Mark Isfeld. Corporal Isfeld asked his mom to create dolls that he could put into his soldier’s uniform pocket and distribute as he came across suffering kids in war torn nations.

The dolls are sweet and easy to knit. Each one is personalized as to skin tone, shirt pattern, hair color and style. They’re called Izzy Dolls after the nickname given to Isfeld by his friends.

One lady online was happy to report that her mom had knitted hundreds of these dolls. You can find a pattern online by typing in “Izzy Doll pattern for knitters.”

It’s amazing how this soldier’s concern for kids has exploded into aiding literally 100,000s of children in war-torn areas. Humanitarian medical kits in Canada that are brought overseas by medical volunteers, are packed with 12 Izzy Dolls, replacing packing foam.

A bittersweet note is that Mark Isfeld died in 1994 when he stepped on a land mine in Croatia. Mark’s buddies in the 1 Combat Engineer Regiment asked Mark’s mother to continue knitting dolls for them to distribute. The mother, Carol, has now also died, but others have taken up her work.

The work of motherhood is precious, but sometimes we might feel isolated or helpless to impact global issues – maintaining peace and order in our homes can seem a tough enough assignment, especially in times of illness, unemployment, or other stress.

But pairing prayer with a handcraft can be a great antidote to the blues and have powerful impact. Some even elevate their craft, stitching altar linens for their home parish or overseas missions. My article for Catholic News Agency and my Finer Fields blog describes how sewing sacred linens is a “Sign of New Springtime” for the Church.

Whether we fashion altar linens, Izzy Dolls, slippers or Rosaries, we can make a powerful difference in others' lives through our handcrafts.

The Izzy dolls poured sweet healing into areas of combat. My Grandma’s knit slipper still lives in my top drawer, offering vibrant, comforting memories. Knotting my cord Rosaries provides instant stress-release. When I lived alone in Chicago in my early 20’s, I tried my hand at stitching altar linens for St. Peter’s Church in the Loop. I succeeded with a few, then broke my sewing machine! When my daughter was a pre-teen and teen, we joined other moms and their daughters in homes and in parks, knitting and stitching. We even tried stitching up the train of my Bridal gown into a veil for a Pilgrim Virgin statue. Maybe someday my now 20-something daughter and I will finish the project. For now, I continue the crafting, with my Rosaries.

That’s a sign of the Holy Spirit at work in us, when we take up a handiwork that heals amidst political, social and world-wide stress. It’s a tough world. May God bless us all, with healing, creative hands.

Copyright 2016 Marianna Bartholomew
Photo copyright 2016 Marianna Bartholomew. All rights reserved.