Al­ice in Won­der­land hide­away for dolls of hope

Nelson Mail - - National News - Mad­di­son North­cott

Step­ping into Hi­lary Jean Tap­per’s work­shop is like dis­cov­er­ing Al­ice in Won­der­land’s se­cret Christchurch hide­away.

Tacked to the walls of her Beck­en­ham stu­dio are wa­ter­colour il­lus­tra­tions with mes­sages of hope, sup­port and strength. Hand­made dolls sewn from fab­rics in muted shades of mint, pale yel­low and peach line the shelves and an an­tique sewing ma­chine and wooden box brim­ming with threads are basked in mid-morn­ing sun­light.

Flo­ral scraps lit­ter the work­bench and a but­ter-yel­low doll­house is dis­played.

Tap­per, a for­mer film­maker, grew up in Auck­land and stud­ied art, film, the­atre and dance be­fore mov­ing to Bel­gium to study Hindu the­ol­ogy.

She worked as a cin­e­matog­ra­pher and ed­i­tor, re­ceiv­ing nu­mer­ous awards for her films on mind­ful­ness and self-dis­cov­ery; moved to In­dia, where her hus­band worked in tem­ple restora­tion; and be­gan to strug­gle with anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion.

She de­cided to step back from tech­nol­ogy and ‘‘the noise of life’’, and tried us­ing her hands for more cre­ative projects.

‘‘I woke up one morn­ing and de­cided to make a doll ... she gave me so much life, and hope.

‘‘She was just beau­ti­ful, it was a cre­ative resur­gence in my life.’’

Made from an old dress stained with ayurvedic In­dian medicine to darken the skin, the doll was stuffed with cot­ton balls from nearby cot­ton fields and dressed in an out­fit made from hand-pressed fab­rics.

Tap­per vis­ited Women Weave, a loom­ing busi­ness sup­port­ing im­pov­er­ished women, and bought khadi fab­ric – a hand­spun, hand-wo­ven nat­u­ral fi­bre. Three years later, her doll­mak­ing busi­ness, Khadil Dolls, has grown to in­clude dozens of ‘‘courage dolls’’, and fam­ily doll por­traits, but the hand­made, nat­u­ral el­e­ment re­mains.

The dolls’ skin is al­ways made from khadi, the same fab­ric brought back in a suit­case from In­dia, and stained with fair­trade tea and cof­fee and set with vine­gar. Cus­tomers can per­son­alise their doll by pick­ing the skin and hair colours, out­fit and special traits. Wire glasses, dragon spikes, pinafores and flower crowns are ad­di­tional add-ons.

Inside each doll is a small mes­sage of love.

‘‘Each doll is to­tally all my heart ... ev­ery face has a lit­tle per­son­al­ity and turns out re­ally special.

‘‘It’s like peo­ple, ev­ery one looks so dif­fer­ent.’’

They are sold at the Lyt­tel­ton Mar­ket, craft fairs and on­line.

Tap­per said women had cried with hap­pi­ness at her stall from the joy the dolls’ brought.

See­ing lit­tle girls re­ceive their cus­tom or­ders on Christ­mas Day had also been a high­light as they of­fered respite from the world of plas­tic toys and dig­i­tal games, she said.

Tap­per, who is study­ing for a Masters in Art Ther­apy, said she dreamed of il­lus­trat­ing chil­dren’s books with sto­ries of self­em­pow­er­ment and teach­ing work­shops, and hoped to re­alise a doll-mak­ing kit to en­cour­age oth­ers to try sewing.


Hi­lary Jean Tap­per’s dolls sym­bol­ise courage, and nat­u­ral in­ner beauty and wom­an­hood, and are all made from cot­ton and wool and other nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als.GE­ORGE

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