A Saint Peg Doll Exchange – Des Moines Style


Saint Peg Doll Exchange – Des Moines (1)If you follow the popular Catholic-crafty blogs such as Catholic Icing, you’ve probably seen Lacy’s posts on how to paint saint peg dolls and take part in a peg doll exchange. Those posts certainly inspired several gals (some husbands, too!) here in Des Moines to get out our brushes, call on the intercession of some holy men and women, and start painting. So let’s get one thing straight right out of the gates. Everything I needed to know about painting saint dolls I learned from Lacy. Journey over to her site for the A-Z tutorial, but then come back on over here, if only to appreciate and be inspired by me, a non-crafty-blogger, who participated in a peg doll exchange, blogged AND lived to tell about it. Bottom line: these exchanges are a terrific way to acquire a large quantity of saint peg dolls with a minimal amount of work within a reasonable budget. YOU CAN DO IT! Below I share a few pearls of wisdom I gleaned through this experience and include a cool slide show showcasing the 29 saints I received in return.

1. Aye aye, Captain!

28 women participated in our exchange — one woman painted two dolls — for a total of 29 saint dolls. That’s a myriad of opinions, desires, and ideas. Someone must stand in as the leader to get the ball rolling, facilitate communication, structure the process, etc., while the rest of the pack respectfully follows. This is probably a no-brainer, but I wanted to spell it out because our leader rocked. She took care of the decision-making, purchased the wooden peg dolls in bulk, collected input, kept track of who had which saint, and informed us all along the way. Having said that, everything didn’t fall on her shoulders. Another woman opened her home and hosted the exchange. Yet another woman shared her graphic design skills and created a book to go with our pack of saints.

2. Not a painter? Nor a crafter? Get over thyself!

I’ve heard and read about these exchanges for a few months now, and I really wanted to join one. I was a little hesitant, though, because while there are things I do well, very well in fact, crafting and painting wooden peg dolls is not at the top of that list. I was nearly paralyzed into non-action, but here’s the thing. The others who participated in the exchange … well, they signed up knowing that they might be trading for dolls not as nice as the ones they paint. End of story. And you know what? The painted saints I received really are like a microcosm of humanity — each of us brought our gifts to the table and shared as able. Our saint dolls are a beautiful, eclectic reflection of those myriad of gifts and talents.

3. Know where to put your effort.

My two-cents here: put your effort into the most important details, the ones that will make your saint most identifiable, and then let go of the others. For example, we (yes, we — more about that below!) painted Scandinavian-inspired St. Lucy dolls, and for us, the candle wreath on her head and red sash around her waist were more important than say, a dish of eyeballs in her hand. Dare I suggest that you run the risk of having a “too busy” looking saint if you force too many details onto the doll? Some of my favorite peg dolls from my exchange are those with the most simple, yet elegant, faces and details.

A Scandinavian-inspired St. Lucy with a wreath of candles on her head and red sash around her waist.

A Scandinavian-inspired St. Lucy with a wreath of candles on her head and red sash around her waist.

4. Pray for the children and families who will receive your saint dolls as you paint each one.

It’s easy to get bogged down while painting each one and it can feel like FOREVER before your saints will be finished. It was helpful to keep in mind that every saint we painted was for another family, so offering up prayer intentions for those people while painting each saint helped pass the time.

5. It’s all about that brush, ‘bout that brush.

Your paintbrushes don’t have to be the most expensive ones available, but I think it’s wise to invest in quality ones. Oh, and you might want to have a second set on hand because do you really want to make a Wal-Mart run at 2:00AM the night before the exchange just because the brushes wore out their welcome before the last saint was finished?

6. All hands on deck.

We. I keep writing how “we” painted these dolls. While I might not be the best peg doll painter around, my husband is rather good with a paintbrush. He helped out with most of the small details on our dolls, and it was great to see his creative side shine. Truly, all the credit goes to Joel for the inspiration behind our St. Lucy dolls. I also allowed our six-year-old to paint on the Mod Podge finish. But a caution here: please be careful with the spray Mod Podge. The photo over here says it all!)

7. Boys can play with dolls, too!

We had a few moms in our exchange who have several boys, and they mentioned it was nice to have masculine saints with swords, shields, rocks, martyrs’ blood, etc. to give to their boys. Food for thought as you consider which saints to draft onto your next peg doll team.

And finally …

8. Paint saints, will travel.

Don’t let state lines or even parish boundaries limit your participation in an exchange. Catherine, a good friend from Nebraska, who just happens to also contribute here at CatholicMom.com, joined our Iowa party and simply shipped her saints to Des Moines before the exchange. Also, probably half of the people in our exchange were women I had never met before. I’m grateful to now know them. Use social media to get the word out about the exchange and let the Holy Spirit sort out the rest.

* * *

So now what? One curious mom who wasn’t part of the exchange asked me, “So what do you do with the dolls now? Do your kids play with them?” And that’s the million-dollar question because I don’t know yet! I’m putting the peg dolls in my kids’ Easter baskets, and given my deadline to submit this post was Holy Thursday, my kids don’t have them yet. I’ve heard some moms plan to donate some peg dolls to pregnancy crisis centers or Catholic Charities shelters. Other moms plan to give them as presents to godchildren, nieces, and nephews. All great ideas. Have you painted saint peg dolls and/or participated in an exchange? What pearls of wisdom can you share with us? Thanks for reading; please enjoy the slides how of the saints completed in the Des Moines exchange. And if you would like to see other angles of any of these saints, just drop me a note. I’m happy to help!

A Scandinavian-inspired St. Lucy with a wreath of candles on her head and red sash around her waist. I think boys especially will love this St. George peg doll with his sword and armor. Such awesome details on this St. Kateri Tekawitha doll. She is shown with an evergreen tree because the Tree of Peace was a very important symbol to her tribe. Isn't St. Kateri's braid beautiful? Given she's my confirmation patron, I was elated to see St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in our exchange. The little details are very well done, aren't they? You are so pretty, St. Gemma! While the details on her body are stunning, I think I like her rosy cheeks the best. A nice touch! St. Stephen, a martyr, was also a deacon in the early Christian Church. Notice the deacon's cross on his shoulder. The woman who painted St. Juan Diego used the printable templates over at CatholicIcing.com. Just paint the head and decoupage the rest. How beautiful is St. Maria Goretti? Another example of simple elegance here, and the lilies are a great symbol of her purity. Blessed Mother Teresa looking lovely in white and blue. Nice touch with a cross in her hands. I love the bird sitting on St. Francis Assisi's belt. Such a creative, simple touch. Might be hard to see, but the mouse sitting at St. Martin de Porres' feet rocks! If you don't know the story, google it now! I bet it'll make you smile. The early Church saints can be difficult to paint because we don't know much about them. But for St. Peter here, the keys in his hands say it all! How can you not love this St. Anthony of Padua doll with that beautiful babe. His tonsure is pretty cool, too! St. Padre Pio makes a statement with his details, doesn't he? The stigmata and rosary are very well done! St. James, an apostle and one of the first martyrs of the Church, holds a scroll in one hand and a walking stick in the other. Lovely St. Rose of Lima with a crown of roses on her head and cross in her hands. Awesome touch to have St. Damien of Molokai  wearing a Hawaiian lei! I love the vibrant blue on this St. Cecilia doll, and the harp in her hands reminds us that she is the patron of music. St. Michael the Archangel is often portrayed with a sword and shield, ready for battle. He represents all that is virtuous in spiritual battle – the conflict with evil within ourselves. Saints Cosmas and Damian were twin brother physicians, often portrayed with medicine spoons and medicine boxes. Here's St. Luke with his Gospel in hand. His unique perspective on Jesus can be seen in the 6 miracles and 18 parables not found in the other Gospels. The painter of this St. Matthew peg doll did an awesome job because there is so much unknown or disputed about his life. What we do know is represented well here – a pen in one hand, his Gospel in the other. What's a saint peg doll exchange without one representation of the Blessed Mother? Here's Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas.  St. Clare of Assisi looking holy and peaceful with the Blessed Sacrament in her hands. St. Brigid of Kildare's dress includes the simple clothes of a poor girl covered by a cloak of green as a symbol of Ireland. This St. Thomas the Apostle doll shows how with just a few colors and minor details you can paint a doll that really stands out. Really cool scroll there. St. John Paul II, we love you! And I love that he has a HUGE smile on his face because his compassionate smile always drew me in. Isn't the image of Jesus on St. Veronica's cloth really well done?
The painter of this St. Matthew peg doll did an awesome job because there is so much unknown or disputed about his life. What we do know is represented well here – a pen in one hand, his Gospel in the other.

About Author

Lisa Schmidt writes at ThePracticingCatholic.com with her husband Joel. A proud Iowan, the Schmidts reside in Des Moines where Lisa is a full-time at-home mom. She also supports her husband in his deacon ministries for the Diocese of Des Moines. At The Practicing Catholic, Lisa enjoys writing about the things that bring her great joy: the Catholic faith, her family, fine arts, and good food.


  1. Lisa I’m finally finding time to comment on this! Did any of your group not have young children? I love them and would have a blast doing this but I might feel silly with no young ones to play with them. Is it goofy to want to have them just for me?

    • Awesome question, Lisa! There was one woman, a grandmother, who painted some to have in her home for when kids come by, I think. Maybe she’ll enjoy them when the kids aren’t there, too. I don’t think it’s goofy at all! In fact, my first encounter with these saint dolls was from St. Luke’s Brush. I bought two for myself to have as inspiration around the house. Maybe just start with your patron saint and see where it goes from there?

Leave A Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.