Alice in Wonderland’s secret hideaway
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 bathed in midmorning sunlight.
Floral scraps litter the workbench, and a butteryellow dollhouse is displayed. In the corner is a curious display of knickknacks, candles and frames collected over five years in India.
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 in 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.’’ Tapper visited Women Weave, a looming businesses supporting impoverished women, and bought khadi fabric – a handspun, handwoven natural fibre made famous by Mahatma Gandhi.
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. Customers can personalise their doll by picking the skin and hair colours, outfit and special traits.
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.’’
They are sold at the Lyttelton Market, craft fairs and online.
Tapper, who is studying for a Masters in Art Therapy, said she dreamed of illustrating children’s books with stories of selfempowerment, teaching workshops, and releasing a doll-making kit. Free guided tours of Christchurch Art Gallery’s collection highlights run every Wednesday evening. Expect to see all the gallery’s best bits, including a snippet of artist Gordon Walters’ modernist abstract paintings. If driving, the first hour of parking is free in the underground car park off Gloucester St. There’s no booking required, just meet at the front desk on the ground floor.
Hilary Jean Tapper says her dolls symbolise courage, inner beauty and womanhood. They are made from cotton, wool and other natural materials.