Interview with Ukrainian Designer Tatiana Popova
17th June 2022
This week we have a very special World of Needlework article for you that we’ve been working on for a little while now.
In recent months, many of you have written to us expressing concern about the conflict in Ukraine, asking if we knew of any initiatives the needlework community are engaged in to render assistance and specifically enquiring about the welfare of embroidery designer Tatiana Popova.
Thanks to the collective effort of many, we have managed to make contact with Tatiana and this week we can share with you that, in light of the continuing conflict in Ukraine, Tatiana has managed to leave her home country and is currently safe in Australia.
Secondly, Tatiana graciously agreed for the All Stitched Up! team to interview her so we can share her story with you all.
For anyone unfamiliar with her work, Tatiana is a Ukrainian needlework artist who is best known for her colourful and beautiful crewel embroidery.
We began our interview by asking how it was she first started stitching, to which she explained that she fell in love with it when she was a little girl. With both her grandmother and mother sewing and knitting, it was as a young child that Tatiana really developed the passion for needlework that she has carried throughout her life.
Scarlet Sails by Tatiana
Tatiana also credits a very special handicraft teacher she was fortunate enough to encounter at school who taught her a great deal:
‘My teacher looked just like Mary Poppins – slim, elegant, graceful, clever, skilful. It was impossible not to love her and best of all, she embroidered! She taught me silk shading when I was 12. It was a simplified version with only two or three colours used for shading. But she insisted that the right and the wrong side of embroidery should look the same. It was difficult to do, but we managed, although my Dad made jokes about it, saying that it was no good because one couldn’t tell which was the right side of the fabric!’
Getting her hands on the materials for needlework was always difficult as when Tatiana was a child, Ukraine was a part of the USSR, meaning there was a distinct lack of books and resources.
Yet she made do and kept stitching, learning all kinds of surface embroidery stitches. As she got older, she learned her two favourite techniques, silk ribbon embroidery and crewel embroidery.
We asked Tatiana where the inspiration for her designs comes from, and she most enthusiastically pointed us to her love of flowers.
‘I believe they are very special inhabitants of our planet. And I totally agree with what Sherlock Holmes once said: ‘Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it.’
Tatiana teaching in Australia
Tatiana’s first visit to Australia was just two years ago, right before the COVID pandemic. She was immediately captivated by the beautiful city of Brisbane when she arrived. She loved the people who were so friendly, as well as the city and the landscape. The reason for her trip was to teach in Australia, and when it was time to return home to Ukraine, Tatiana said the country had become firmly lodged in her heart.
When the conflict in Ukraine began early this year, Tatiana and her family made the difficult decision to relocate from her home to Western Ukraine, which was considered to be a safer region. She then received an incredibly gracious invitation from Simon and Maureen Laughlin of Needlework Tours to leave and join them in Australia.
So she packed up the few possessions she had and, with her daughter-in-law, made the long journey.
This required a move to Poland in the first instance, as no airports were operating in Ukraine. They finally got on a flight and were met by Simon and Maureen (who have been incredibly supportive) at Melbourne airport. Tatiana is now living in Melbourne, safe and doing what she can to work and support herself and her family back in Ukraine.
Crewel Waltz by Tatiana
As we have all been moved by the terrible events unfolding in Ukraine, we asked Tatiana what can be done to help those in need, including herself as she now has become a refugee – something unthinkable just two short years ago when she was last in Australia.
‘For anyone who would like to help with my own personal situation, I have been directing them to my website, www.owl-crafts.com. It still needs some work, but I hope it will become a place for all people who are passionate about embroidery to enjoy. I also have a Facebook page HERE and my daughter-in-law Marina Popova, who has fled to Australia with me, is also an artist and you can see her work on Facebook HERE.’
In terms of helping Ukraine in general, Tatiana’s advice was this:
‘My only idea is to try to reach out to Ukrainians personally. It may be via social media or online platforms like Etsy. So many kind people turn first to Ukrainian organisations to help, but in my experience, it can take a very long time for the help to get to the people who need it most, so it is far better to try to help people directly.’
Finally, we asked Tatiana about her plans for the future and what her hopes and expectations are. She concluded our interview by letting us know:
‘My immediate plans are to live and to stay alive. I hope to withstand all the troubles, difficulties and uncertainties of the moment and to finally give a hug to my husband and my dearest twin boys.’
‘I would like to remain permanently in Australia and start working on my embroidery with classes, books and more designs to come. But overall, I hope for better times to come and that the conflict and troubles will finally stop.’
Elisa by Tatiana
It was a great pleasure to talk to Tatiana, to hear her story and have the privilege of sharing it with our needlework community. Tatiana’s own experience helps to remind us that our passion for stitching is transcendent – whatever we face, needlework is always there as a comfort, a distraction, an expression and for some, even the means for a livelihood.
Once again we find ourselves forever grateful for our needle and thread and our amazing global needlework community.
We all wish Tatiana the very best in her endeavours and are looking forward to seeing more of her beautiful work.