Tucked away down a lane in the village of Titchfield near Fareham, it’s easy to miss the pink sign reading Tinkerbell Creations. Go past it and you enter what seems like a normal doll shop, with collectables in glass cabinets, dolls propped up on stands and pretty dresses in the corner.
But then you see the ‘nursery’, a separate section where ‘reborn’ dolls are displayed. Lying in their own cots and prams, they look amazingly realistic.
There are tiny veins in their skin, they have downy hair on their heads and they can even be fitted with mechanisms that enable their chests to rise and fall as if breathing.
What began as a hobby for collectors in America in the early 1990s has now spread across the globe – and Jayne Seddon has responded to demand by making her own ‘reborns’.
People buy them for a variety of reasons. They may just be keen collectors, or want a reminder of what their child was like when he or she was a baby.
Some may have lost a child and seek comfort in having a doll made in their likeness.
Other dolls may be bought for children to play with, or to help Alzheimer’s patients.
Jayne, 53, runs Tinkerbell Creations and makes the ‘reborns’ with her daughter, Melanie.
She’s been creating them for the past 10 years, and other types of dolls for more than 20.
She says: ‘I made porcelain dolls before, which were very much in demand at the time.
‘But that kind of trailed off because there were lots of foreign imports.
‘One of my suppliers said to me: “Have you heard about ‘reborns’, dolls that are reborn from dolls to look like real babies?’’
‘I hadn’t, but soon I started making them.’
The name ‘reborn’ is used because artists who made the early ones would take other dolls and strip off the paint to start again, making them more realistic.
Jayne explains: ‘It sparked a lot more interest. These dolls are really special.
‘The fact you can actually make a doll and cuddle it in a way people think is real until they touch it is amazing.
‘I find it really fascinating and I think that’s the thing people love about them.’
Creating these dolls isn’t an easy task. On average Jayne makes one or two a month, with a price tag of around £650-£700 each.
It takes roughly three days to paint one and around 40 hours to weave the hair.
She says: ‘There’s only myself and my daughter who make them here. We probably make around 12 to 15 a year each. It’s a long process and sometimes we have other commitments, so it can be hard.’
Jayne adds: ‘With some of them it’s difficult to let them go.
‘For instance, when you’re making one for somebody who’s ordered one that’s a bit different.
‘Sometimes I’m like ‘‘oh I’d like to keep this one now!’’’
As well as making ‘reborns’, Jayne was also the first manufacturer in the UK to make reborn kits and is now the biggest supplier in Europe.
A bag containing various body parts can be bought, along with dozens of paintbrushes designed for nails and eyebrows, plus sponges and sculpting tools and even imitation hospital tags.
Jayne says: ‘It costs a lot of money to make a doll. If you’re making them yourself, you can keep the ones you want or you can sell them to finance your hobby.
‘That’s how most people see it, as a hobby.’
Jayne even holds classes so people can learn how to make their very own ‘reborn’.
As most of her customers come via the internet, she has also produced a film that shows how to make one.
It may be a niche market, but there is an International Reborn Doll Artists group (IRDA), which was created to educate artists in the art of ‘reborn’ doll making.
Anyone can join the association, but there are certain ethical guidelines which must be followed.
‘Reborns’ have been in the news recently after several women appeared on ITV’s Daybreak show with their dolls.
Jayne says she has had customers who have bought ‘reborns’ after losing their own child.
She explains: ‘When you’ve lost a baby you can get something called Empty Arm Syndrome.
‘All the maternal instinct is there, but there is no baby. Years ago people would cuddle a teddy or pillow to quell that need.
‘If you’ve only had a few moments with a child, it’s very difficult to let go.
‘People want to remember what they look like. Before people would take photos of the baby, but now some people would like a doll.
‘It’s a little bit controversial, but it’s a tiny percentage of those who buy the dolls. And if it helps them...’
Jayne says she doesn’t know anyone who treats a ‘reborn’ as if it was a real baby – even though some buyers have been known to proudly push their ‘reborns’ around in prams.
She explains: ‘The media want to sensationalise it and make it about something that’s ridiculous and focus on the people who have lost children, which I think is cruel.
‘It’s not about replacing a real baby. It couldn’t possibly do that.
‘In all of the time I’ve made dolls, I’ve only had two or three people ask me for a baby that looks like their child.’
But Jayne has known women whose dolls have caused alarm. One of her friends left her ‘reborn’ in her car in a child’s seat while she nipped into the supermarket.
She came back to find her windows smashed because people believed she’d left a real baby on its own.
Jayne herself admits that she left one in the boot of her car once as she was transferring her belongings over to a new car and had to explain that it was a doll.
The vast majority of customers are collectors, but Jayne says she has sold ‘reborns’ to be given to Alzheimer’s patients.
She says: ‘I’ve sold a couple of dolls to people that wanted them for that reason. I believe it helps them to bring out their nurturing side.’
Her own grandchildren love dolls and Jayne has her own collection of about 60 different ones, not just ‘reborns’ but also more traditional types.
She adds: ‘I think its a natural maternal instinct, there from birth. Young girls are interested and my grandchildren are interested in them because they’re more than just dolls.
‘Children are very interested because the ‘reborns’ are so lifelike.’
Jayne’s own interest in dolls started when she was a child. Growing up with four brothers, she rarely had dolls to play with because money was tight in her family.
But now she couldn’t be happier, creating ‘reborns’ for others to enjoy and regularly attending specialist shows for doll collectors.
Jayne says: ‘People want to create the special side of having a child.
‘I just love the artistic part of it. If someone thinks that a doll is a real baby, then I’ve done my job well.’
· For more information on Tinkerbell Creations, go to tinkerbellcreations.co.uk