A Beautiful & Meaningful Product Inspired by a Fond Childhood Memory

Ātaahua Dolls

By Penny Short  

My story begins years ago and on my 7th birthday. I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday.  

My mother asked me to sit on the couch and close my eyes. I felt something placed in my lap and my mother invited me to open my eyes. A brown paper parcel, wrapped in string, sat in my lap. It had arrived from England and was a gift from my grandparents. I can recall clearly my name on the parcel and all the stamps used for postage. I even remember the smell.

I tentatively untied the string and unstuck the paper. Beneath the brown paper were layers of tissue and cocooned inside was the most glorious golden teddy bear. That moment began a love affair with soft toys, tissue, brown paper and string. 

Fast forward 51 years to February 2020 – The world catches a virus and New Zealand faces an uncertain period of LOCKDOWN. 

Lockdown, and all its connotations, felt too heavy to take onboard, however as an alternative I found “whakahou”: “renew”. As soon as I gave myself permission to think of this time as an opportunity to renew me, an overwhelming sense of peace allowed me to relax.

Whakahou (meaning renew) was such a gift of time for me and I began to reconnect with my heart and rediscover my creativity. 

A gift of time for me turned into a gift for others.  

Sewing had always been my happy place and creating brought balance to my life and centred me. Lately, I had become so busy with “life” that I had lost that balance. 

So, I connected once more with my sewing machine and began to create.  

It’s amazing how things find you when you open yourself up to receive. Doll making found me and I tried my hand. I posted an image on my Facebook page and enquiries began to flood in.  

I joined a Facebook group of other doll makers and found my tribe. Women from around the world posted beautiful images of their creations and I was inspired to create something not only beautiful, but also meaningful. 

I thought about how much joy a doll could bring to any child, or adult. I explored using fabrics from someone dear to that person. Be it to remember someone who has passed, mark a special occasion, or just because. 

As I shared my heart, people responded and my first commissioned doll was for Miller-Grace, 4 years old, Gold Coast, Australia. Miller’s parents were about to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary and just as a wedding dress is kept for sentimental reasons, so had the shirt Miller’s daddy had worn on their wedding day.  

We discussed how dolly and Miller could have matching dresses made from daddy’s shirt and mum Ashleigh was thrilled. It was kept a complete surprise and the message I received was “you have no idea what this means to our family”.  

Watching the video, I focused on Miller’s face. As she untied the string to her plain brown box and rummaged through the many layers of tissue to reveal her dolly, I was transported back to my 7-year-old self, opening my new teddy. I knew that I wanted to recreate that special moment over and over for young and old alike.

There are probably thousands of options for dolls you can purchase for a child, or an adult, so what makes Ātaahua Dolls different? 

An Ātaahua Doll is a labour of love of its creator, with each one being completely personalised for you. No two dolls will ever be the same because your story, your reason for adopting an Ātaahua Doll, is unique to you. 

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