Share the Love

For sometime now I’ve been playing with the idea of leaving handmade toys for strangers to find.

It all started when I was on the bus, actually not one bus journey, but several journeys watching kids get on with nothing to do except sit still. Wouldn’t it be magical if I could hand each child I saw a hand made doll or toy?

Hmm, magical in a Disney movie perhaps, but on the South Leeds bus into town rather creepy.

I then started thinking, what about if I left the dolls somewhere they could be found. Still creepy?

If I left a little toy with a luggage label attached, maybe saying “hey, you found me” and linking them to my blog. What if I also put a page on this blog, of the toys I leave and let people admit to finding them?

Would it really be creepy?

I’ve been pondering these thoughts for so long and it’s about time I did something about them.

Then I found out that this idea isn’t new.

The Urban Threads blog ( have been leaving little embroidered bunnies around the world for some years now, these tiny and easy to make bunnies are made by people all over the world and left for people to find.

I especially love the little labels they come with, bright and noticeable. You might not notice the White bunny in some places, but you’d notice the label and feel a need to read.

On the down side, making several of the same thing might become tedious after a while, but the pattern is free and really is easy to make, you can use safety eyes and simpler stitching if you’re not too confident.

Then I found another blog, A message for you! (

Handwritten notes left for people to find with words of encouragement.

Imagine finding this one while shopping for a new butter dish. On the other side of the message is the blog address where the blog has updates from people who found a note.

Another amazing idea is less for strangers you might never meet but for people you might know of.

Started by mother of two, Caroline Macrory, started by finding a struggling single mother, she bought a bag of goodies and did a knock and run on the strangers doorstep. (#DoorstepChallenge)

The rules are simple:

1. Pick someone who has had a tough time or would simply benefit from some festive goodwill. It doesn’t have to be someone you know well.

2. Choose them a gift – big or small.

3. Write them an anonymous note, some kind words about why you were thinking of them.

4. Leave it all at their doorstep.

5. Knock on the door and leg it – make sure they don’t see you!

6. Feel happy knowing that you have spread some Christmas cheer with no expectations of anything in return.

She leaves notes with the bags saying things like, “Have a great Christmas, from someone who thinks you’re doing an amazing job” the great thing about the message is there is no discrimination, no guilt about struggling. It’s a tough job you’ve got, but you’re doing brilliant.

Looking into ideas for this brought me back to something I’ve not thought about for a long time, my dad has been doing stuff like this for years. The rumour is that he started the idea of the Salvation Army giving toys at Christmas. He says my eldest brother came home upset one year, when asked why he was crying he said his friend at school didn’t get any presents for Christmas.

The following year my dad (now a retired Salvation Army officer) approached the headmaster of the school and asked for a list of any families that were struggling. He then asked the local Salvation Army churches to do a toy service and donate toys to give away.

His own upbringing had been harsh, he remembers living in a workhouse as a child and having to steal food to survive. This upbringing helped him with his plan. He knew that in homes where a parent had an alcohol or gambling problem toys given before Christmas Day would be sold for money making his idea pointless. So, one Christmas morning, back in the 70s he got up early, put his Army uniform on and started driving around delivering packages of toys. He believed it was important that no one (especially the children) felt they were getting charity, so he came up with a story that he repeated at every house.

He explained that Santa had made a mistake and delivered their presents to his home by accident, he figured he’d best bring them round quickly in case they thought Santa had forgotten them.

Delivering the presents on Christmas Day not only meant the parents couldn’t sell the toys (he often waited for the kids to open the presents) but he often explained that nosiness was one of the most important tools of a minister, so while there he noticed as much as he could.

No electricity, he’d sort that out. No smell of food cooking, he’d return with some.

The thing is, few people knew, even my mum often didn’t know who he’d helped.

Giving to strangers works two-fold, a stranger gets that buzzy feeling that something good has happened to them, and you get a similar buzzy feeling, even when you’re not around to watch who gets the surprise.

Book Crossing is a website that encourages people to release their books into the wild. Each book is labeled with a unique ID number then let lose, either for a stranger to find or at an OBCZ (Official Book Crossing Zone) where several books are located. These books are tracked with the number allowing you to track where your book goes on its travels.

Huddersfield bus station has a small shelf where people can exchange books to read on their journeys, imagine if every bus station, train station and airport had book exchange shelves.

So, my idea isn’t unique, people have been passing goodies to strangers for years. The buzzy feelings that people get from finding or giving gifts might have helped in stopping the world spiralling into a black hole of despair (well, you never know!).

Then my search for all things left brought me to the (secret) toy society ( handmade toys are put in a sealed bag with a label saying, “take me, I’m yours” and left for people to find. Anyone can become a toy dropper and with almost 2,000 drops made it seems to be making an impact.

After spending the past week sorting through lots of boxes of craft stuff and I’ve found some dolls ready to be left. I’m off to London this weekend, so a perfect time to let lose some of my dolls.

Here are my suggested rules:

1. Label the doll, so people know it’s not a lost doll but a gift, and let people know where to find this blog

2. Leave them in places people will find them (not too hidden)

3. Don’t leave them in shops – that’d be confusing

4. Avoid being a security risk, yep, some people might worry.

5. Don’t stay to watch (well, maybe the first one)

6. Set up a page on the blog for people to record if they find the doll.

Buzzy feeling starting already.

Published by bettyvirago

Betty Virago is an award winning textile designer. Based in Yorkshire, England, and known for her Northern Folk dolls and the Quilts of Hope project.

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