Mindful making: the Christchurch woman whose handmade dolls inspire inner strength

Hilary Tapper-Zakheim creates her inspiring, eco-friendly Khadil dolls with a hand-powered sewing machine in her Christchurch workroom. She uses handwoven cotton, woven by empowered village women in India, and other natural materials to create dolls that celebrate natural beauty, wholesomeness, inner strength, and handmade, conscious living.

khadil front page blog

What do you make?
Dolls to inspire inner strength.

How did you get into your craft?
My mum taught me to sew when I was little, and I’ve always loved cuddly friends.

Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
Handwoven cotton ‘khadi’ fabric (made by empowered women weavers), coffee and medicinal herbs to dye the khadi a variety of skin tones, local New Zealand wool for stuffing, my hand-powered sewing machine, coconut shell buttons for attaching the body parts, and hand-spun thread for the hair.

What inspires you?
Feeling guided from within and feeling in harmony with my surroundings.

Is there a philosophy behind your work?
Khadil (pronounced ‘cuddle’) comes from the word ‘khadi’, meaning handspun, handwoven cloth which was a vital aspect of Gandhi’s freedom movement – it symbolises self-sufficiency, non-violence and truth. I use khadi handwoven by a women’s empowerment group in India, and feel that the love and happiness of these women is woven into every fibre of the cloth.

khadil 1 blog

khadil 13 blog

khadil 23 blog

Conscious living and non-violence are very important to this project both in regards to the materials I use, but also the purpose of the dolls. These dolls are designed with the intention of simplicity and self-love, inner strength and wholesomeness. I want that every girl know that she is perfect and beautiful just the way she is, that her power and magnificence lies within her, and she need not seek her value outside of herself. These dolls are not just for young ones, but also all of us ‘big kids’ who still need reminders now and again that we are loved and never alone in our lives.

These dolls are designed with the intention of simplicity and self-love, inner strength and wholesomeness.

Describe your creative process:
I see an idea in my mind and try to unpack it on sketch paper. Sometimes it takes me a while to finally see all the details and then I create it – or I hear a song, smell a childhood scent, a memory returns, or I feel great affection for a friend, and I try to embody that feeling/sound/scent into a form.

Describe your workspace:
Lots of beautiful fabrics, a big wooden table, calming music, my watercolour paints and paintings, lots of bits of scrap papers, ideas, sketches and lists.

khadil construction blog

khadil at work blog

Your favourite feedback from a customer:
“She sits on my desk at work and keeps me centered, a friend to remind me that I’m never alone.”

What are you currently listening to? Miriam Stockley, Perfect Day.

Recommend an album: Jahnavi Harrison, Like a River to the Sea

What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter – I love the magic of the little mice coming in the night and finishing the tailor’s coat.

What are you reading now?
The Lord is My Shepherd by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner.

khadil illustrations

khadil dolls blog


Who is your hero/heroine? Why?
My husband, an embodiment of creativity, infinite possibility and ready any hour of the day for bouncing ideas, problem solving, and hugs. He makes special tools to suit whatever function I need – he made all the stuffing and turning-inside-out tools I use for my dolls.

A favourite quote:
“…at the still point, there the dance is.” T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets.

What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Read The Artist’s Way, seek your inner guide within your heart, and do your craft everyday with confidence.

What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
A felted sleeping fox, quiet and enchanting.

What’s in store for the rest of 2016?
I have an unending list of doll designs to create, and I hope to do more of my watercolour illustrations and start printing them.

dollcompetition blog

Hilary has very generously offered a prize for one lucky Felt reader of a custom Khadil doll! The winner will get to get to choose their own hair colour, skin tone and dress fabric for their very own doll, which will also come with a woollen cardigan and handwoven scarf. To be in to win, simply leave a comment telling us what you like about Hilary’s philosophy and dolls. The draw will be made on Friday 17 June and is open to New Zealand residents only.


See more Khadil dolls on Felt ยป


khadil bunny blog

22 thoughts on “Mindful making: the Christchurch woman whose handmade dolls inspire inner strength

  1. I love the idea of having a unique doll for my daughter who is like a dear friend that she can grow with; one with stories, simplicity and beauty.

  2. Love your story. Heartwarming, there is nothing like following your gut instinct when producing work from the heart. I would love to pass this on to my granddaughter.

  3. These dolls are gorgeous, but even more so is the philosophy behind them. Hand made with love and integrity, using natural products (right down to the dye!) is something that resonates with me. Beautiful!

  4. Oh what a beautiful, kind way to craft! I’m in awe of your sweet thoughtfulness. Well done for bring such a lovely project to life. I have a lovely friend who gives me strength and support and I would pass this on to her as a thanks for her unwavering kindness to me.

  5. This is such an amazing and inspiring story. What a gift you have! I loved what you said: “I want that every girl know that she is perfect and beautiful just the way she is, that her power and magnificence lies within her, and she need not seek her value outside of herself.” This is what I want for my daughters and for every girl too. Thank you for what you do.

  6. These are beautiful and so peaceful. Very inspiring and reminder to not only be a creative but to have a generous and other minded heart behind it.

  7. I have seen and admired your work in Lyttelton. I love your natural fabrics and colour choices. .. so much detail and thoughtful impression in those dolls. Great work! Keep going! Kia kaha!

  8. These khadil dolls are simply beautiful and the heart and substance you’re chanelling resonate in the delicate fibres and stitches which with they’re crafted. They remind me of dolls from 18th century America, which were made by hand, long before there was synthetic cookie-cutter toys filling children’s toyboxes. Thank you so much for taking inspiration and the effort to make such handcrafted heirloom quality treasures. I would love to have one for myself to share with my young daughter.

  9. I just love her lifestyle. She seems so calm and relaxed, (plus she has a hubby like mine who supports her wholeheartedly.) I would love one of her dolls as I am sure the calmness and serenity that she with would rub off onto her dolls and come through them to her clients. Also she makes such beautiful work.

  10. The fact you inspire girls and women to love and cherish what they have and who they are. The dolls are a keepsaker and a go to when you are in need of some comfort.

  11. Wow! What an inspiring business and a great philosophy to pass onto our daughters. So much love poured into each individual doll. From the careful selection of sustainable materials.
    Thank you for introducing me to Hilary’s work.

  12. The message behind these beautiful little dolls is so wonderful, the fact they are hand made and each of them different and unique makes them so very special! Love the idea and thought put into these.

  13. An inredible vision realised by hard-work and determination. Hilary knows what she wants to create and is successful at achieving her designs. Her humility and strength will empower women and children alike with the dolls appealing to all, educating along with the reward of a beautifully hand-crafted figure.

  14. These creations are so gentle and inspiring. They remind us that we can be the change in the world and that there are so many varied opportunities to do this and support the growth and work of others.

  15. I like how she is working in a ways that fits with her values. She seems like someone with a sensitive heart who is doing her part to make this world a kinder place. I also just love the dolls. And how she is from my home town ๐Ÿ™‚

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