Al­ice in Won­der­land’s se­cret hide­away

The Press - - 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 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.

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