Name: Tatiana Kononova
Location: Moscow, Russia
Website: Mrs. Chaplin’s Shop
What was your first exposure to embroidery, and what did you think of it?
I think I was about 7 years old when my mother bought me a small embroidery kit – that was a red plastic hoop and some easy cross-stitch design – some floral pattern, probably. It was fun for a while but quite soon I switched to other hobbies. Just for about 25 years.
What was your first embroidered piece, and what motivated you to undertake it?
In my ‘conscious’ embroidery experience (I mean when I was already 30, not 7) that was a Russian edition of ‘The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My’ by Tove Jansson. For some strange reason it was translated to Russian as ‘What’s Next?’ which was the best description of my mental state at that moment. For a while I had been making plans to open a curry place in Moscow with my friend but soon I found out I was pregnant with my second baby. I got scared I wouldn’t be able to balance it all so we dropped the idea of a café. And so there I was, with literally no idea ‘what’s next’, what I was going to do and whether I would be able to survive two kids.
Describe your connection to books. Have you always been a reader?
As long as I remember myself I was always with a book. It’s a shame I don’t have that much time for reading now. When I was a kid I used to spend all summer at my grandmother’s country village. I was the only girl among about 10 boys (my brother, my many cousins and also neighbor boys). Hanging out with them was fun. Sometimes. But usually I was left out of the ‘boys only’ games. And that’s when books became my best friends. I remember once when the boys were fishing I was sitting ashore drawing genealogy trees for ‘The Silmarillion’. I guess I was somewhat 12 and kept forgetting who was who to whom (it was exactly that confusing).
What made you want to pursue handmade embroidered-book clutches?
One day I came across an Olympia Le Tan clutch in some fashion magazine. My budget refused even to discuss this so I became obsessed with an idea how to make a book clutch myself. I’ve spent several sleepless nights looking through years of OLT’s blog to find out more about her process and supplies she used. I started practicing embroidery. Lots of wasted thread and countless needle pricks later I finished my first clutch. It wasn’t perfect but it still left all my friends speechless. The idea of earning money by doing something I really enjoyed was very tempting. And just like that ‘Mrs.Chaplin’ was born.
How did you develop your process for making book clutches?
I started with googling DIYs for book clutches. Most of the tutorials used real books as the base for a clutch but straight away I knew that option wasn’t for me. I managed to pick up a couple of good ideas from other ones but after that it was mostly trial and error. E.g. I started out with metallic tape covered frames to resemble the look of OLT clutches but later I switched to genuine leather and I think that the frames of my clutches have a more luxurious feel and look now.
I guess I inherited my father’s handyman genes so coming up with the whole clutch construction process was quite fun. It might seem strange for a woman but I love digging into technical details. (A couple of days ago I completely disassembled and fixed my vacuum cleaner that had stopped working exactly one month after the warranty had expired.)
Do you sell your work locally as well as on Etsy?
No, I don’t sell locally for now. I’m afraid that the handmade movement in Russia isn’t that strong yet. For many people here handmade would be a synonym to ‘amateur’ and ‘unprofessional’. Often customers are more likely to spend their money on a well-known fashion label rather than a small handmade brand.
Is there a country or region where your clutches are most popular?
That would be the USA and Southeast Asia. A good few of my customers are from Hong Kong, Indonesia and Singapore.
Is there a book that’s been most popular?
Well, again that would a Moomin book, just a different one – it’s a German title “Eine Drollige Gesellschaft”. Maybe it’s the fact that a book name in a foreign language makes its owner look more mysterious, I’m not sue. But it definitely looks like Tove Jansson has played a great role in my embroidery career.
Is Mrs. Chaplin your full-time job, or do you do something else, as well?
My full-time job is being a mother to two very active boys (2 and 4y.o.) who run around me during the day demanding my undivided attention. It’s when the sun comes down that I change into an embroiderer and spend a good share of my nights with a needle. I’m struggling to rearrange my schedule somehow that I could get more than a 6- or 7-hour sleep at night but I keep failing here.
What plans do you have for Mrs. Chaplin’s Shop?
I would want it to be a reliable source of income for me and I’m working hard on this. First thing on my agenda is to order custom locks for my clutches to give them a more polished and professional look. I have already designed them but still need to raise some money. Also I consider introducing embroidered patches to my shop.
What would you like to be doing 5 years from now? Ten years from now?
In 5 years both of my kids should be going to school so I hope I will finally be able to dedicate much more time to my business. It’d be great to use the 5 to 10 years period to develop more interesting products, build up wholesale contacts and probably increase the turnover enough to rent a studio and hire some help.
Should we look for your work someplace other than Etsy?
You can check my Instagram.
Rapid-fire Round: (Don’t think too hard about these.)
Favorite tool in your arsenal: I was never into using traditional embroidery hoops but recently I came across a Q-Snap frame and couldn’t be happier with it.
You must stitch a purse using materials you find in nature. What do you use? I think moss-covered bark would look gorgeous.
You’re making dinner for a famous author, dead or alive. Who is the author, and what are you making for dinner? That would be Ernest Hemingway and it doesn’t really matter what I cook because we will have enough of good wine.
Do you listen to anything while you work on your clutches? If so, what do you listen to? I don’t listen to any music during my work but I watch TV shows. Some of my favorite ones are Shameless, Outlander and of course Game of Thrones.
You must stitch a clutch for an animal. What is the animal, and what book cover do you use? I would make a Lolita clutch for a pink flamingo.
I’m sure you have many favorites, but name titles of two favorite books: Lord of the Rings and Brothers Karamazov
If you weren’t an embroidery artist, what would you be? I think I would still be looking for a fashion-related career because this area interests me the most.
What stitchable motif would you choose to represent you and your life? I would use Kandinsky’s ‘Squares with Concentric’ because my life is just like that: each day is the same stuff but a little bit different and always kind of hectic.
You’re writing a book about an embroiderer. What is the plot of this story? Something about a girl who found a box of old thread in the attic and anything she embroiders with it comes to life (she realizes this after having stitched a dinosaur).
Someone famous commissions a purse. Who is it, and what book cover does s/he want? Olympia Le Tan once made a clutch for Kim Kardashian so I’m afraid Kanye might feel a bit left out. A perfect choice for him would be ‘My Book About Me by ME, Myself’
Jen Funk Weber is Queen of Funk & Weber Designs, a cross stitch and counted-thread embroidery designer and teacher dedicated to stitchy explorations and adventures.