I’m very thankful for all the good things that have happened to me this year. One of them was meeting a Forest Park entrepreneur, whose hand-knit creations give us the chance to buy gifts made in Forest Park, not China.
Jsabelle Herdeg learned her craft growing up in Switzerland. (If you’re Swiss, you’re allowed to spell Isabelle with a “j”). Her claim to fame is knitting exquisite outfits for dolls. She creates these tiny dresses and coats in her Forest Park home, along with a line of children’s clothes.
Jsabelle and her husband Peter have a long history in the town they love. They sing with the Harlem Manner und Damenchor, of which Peter is president. Before coming to the U.S. in 1966, Jsabelle learned knitting from her seamstress mother, Ernastine. Her lessons continued in school, where home economics became her favorite class. Her teacher, Mrs. Weibel, taught her knitting, sewing and other crafts. Jsabelle was so proficient; she helped her classmates with their projects. She also spent evenings secretly fixing their mistakes.
Knitting continued to be Jsabelle’s passion when the Herdegs were raising their children, Andrea and Stefan in Forest Park. She knitted dresses for her daughter and little outfits for her son. She further delighted Andrea by making dresses for her doll. She described her daughter as being a “little mommy” to her doll. Jsabelle believes that dolls help boys and girls to become good parents because they’re, “caring for something besides themselves.”
After their kids were raised, Jsabelle had more time to devote to her passion. She started making doll clothes fifteen years ago and selling them at small craft shows. A few years later, she began selling the outfits at the Oak Park Women’s Exchange at 839 S. Oak Park Ave. in Oak Park.
Now, she is marketing her creations at large craft shows. Peter is a huge help. He comes to every show and puts in long hours setting up and taking down Jsabelle’s displays. Their hard work is paying off, as Jsabelle is receiving orders from the Chicago area and beyond.
Many of her customers are grandparents, purchasing outfits for American Girl dolls, Bitty Babies, Cabbage Patch dolls and Build-A-Bears. Some are German-Americans, who have seen Jsabelle’s handiwork at a German social event, or read about her in “Eintracht,” a German language newspaper which claims 300,000 German-American readers.
These customers are especially taken with her traditional Dirndl dresses, which have that classic Swiss maid look. (She also makes children’s clothes up to age six and beaded scarves for adults.) Sometimes girls come to her shows wearing one of her outfits and carrying their doll decked out in a Dirndl.
All of her doll clothes are one-of-a-kind and more affordable than the American Girl line of clothing. Some girls enjoy dolls even into their teens. Jsabelle sees it as a wholesome and healthy activity. She has a personal preference for “baby dolls” the kind you can snuggle with.
Just for the record, I snuggled with a teddy bear, Mr. Soaker. Happy Thanksgiving Mr. S. — wherever you are.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.