Summer of Inspiration | Penguin & Fish

Today we are sitting down to chat with Alyssa of Penguin & Fish, an awesome company that offers embroidery and sewing patterns, books, fabrics, and plush toys. Alyssa is the brains behind the operation and designs everything that I just listed!

I always like to start with the basics, things like how one gets started and when they first started sewing can sometimes surprise you! Usually it’s a tradition passed down from mothers or grandfathers, but Alyssa was inspired by her babysitter as a child:

I got my crafty start with embroidery. Cross stitch, in particular, was the first craft I ever picked up. A babysitter came over and brought a cross stitch with her. I was glued to her while she stitched each little “X”. I just loved how all those “X’s” turned into a picture. I was hooked after that, and my mom got me a cross stitch kit the next day. I started sewing later in my junior high “home ec” class. We made placemats out of a couple pieces of fabric. I came home and made more on my mom’s sewing machine (the sewing machine I still use today).

How Did You Get Your Start?

Alyssa has a background in graphic design, so I wondered how that education entered into her business. She told me that Graphic Design has helped her a ton!  She went on to say, “For me, my graphic design education was learning how objects affect each other. Like how large an element appears when it’s next to something small, or how one color can look different when it’s next to a different color.” These sort of elements are crucial when designing her animal characters as well as her packaging design.

I’m always curious about why people choose the paths that they did, so I asked Alyssa why she chose this route, rather than designing for other people or just opening a graphic design studio.

Ever since I was little, I knew I wanted to have my own business. My brothers, neighbor kids, and I were always making something and then trying to sell it at the farmers market or to our parents. We set up “trading posts” outside our bedroom doors. This followed through when I grew up with the additional discovery that I didn’t like having a boss. I want to make all the decisions.

A background in graphic design and a love for embroidery…it only was a matter of time until Alyssa started her own company, now lovingly named Penguin & Fish.

I’m a sucker for a cute business name, so I had to ask Alyssa where the inspiration was or what this story is behind her Penguin & Fish brand. Alyssa giggles and tells me the story,”It’s based on an animation that I did in art school. It’s about a penguin and a fish who fall in love. Then the fish has to migrate away, so they have to keep up their long-distance relationship via email. Basically the autobiography of my husband and me. I never actually finished the animation, and technology has changed a ton since 1999.” She even has shared the video with her on Youtube! You have to check it out! I definitely suggest it—it’s just too cute!

Alyssa opened her doors around 2006 on Etsy. She sold crocheted teddy bears and stuffed animal kitties. Alyssa recalls, “I loved making the stuffed animals but I missed drawing and wanted to work on projects that involved both drawing and crafting. That’s when I decided to start making embroidery patterns and kits. Embroidery was the perfect combo of drawing and crafting for me and it stuck.”

I wanted to hear a bit more about Alyssa’s theory on design and embroidery (I have a love affair with the craft myself) and asked for some more details. Alyssa shared that she always wants embroidery to be the star and not just an embellishment. She tries to find ways to make embroidery front and center. “My favorite thing to do is to enlarge an embroidery and stitch it big with yarn. Then I’ll sew it into something like a quilt or a bag as the main feature.” You can see a great example of this in her Facebook Live videos. The Hedgehog wall hanging that you see behind her is made using that technique.

Facebook is not my strong suit, so now she had me curious about her Facebook Live videos. I questioned, “Talk to me about your Facebook Live streams each evening? What inspired you to do these? What do you talk about?”

I do a Facebook Live every weeknight where I craft for an hour and chit-chat. We pick a project and work through it from beginning to end, and I share the whole process. I started the Facebook Lives over three years ago as a way to get crafting again. Even though I was running a crafty business, I rarely made anything. I was always “too busy” to craft because I was always working on the businessy stuff. I thought that was totally ridiculous, so I started the Facebook Lives as a commitment to myself to craft every evening. And I stuck with it! And filming my Facebook Lives have had the lovely side effect that I get to hang out with amazing and lovely fellow crafters every night. I love it so much!

I love it! You should check out her videos on Facebook and join her any evening of the week!

Favorite Picks!

“Now, I know we aren’t supposed to have favorites, but if you had to pick a favorite product of yours, what would it be?”

Right now Alyssa is loving the Llama embroidery kit, one of her new embroidery kits this year. It’s such a happy Llama and so fun to stitch! (She also may have mentioned that she’s a fan of my Building Blocks Baby Quilt but you didn’t hear it from me!)

I have to say that my personal favorite is her Drinks for Two pattern…you can’t get much more adorable than tea cups and birds (unless you add sugar cubes, which she did…of course!)

Tell Me About your Community

Alyssa loves her crafty community and loves to write about creativity and how we can maximize our crafty lives. She wants to answer the question of how we can we minimize all the barriers that get in the way of taking restorative time for ourselves through crafting. She talks a lot about those topics in her newsletter (Sign up here to get the newsletter AND a free embroidery pattern) and also on the Penguin & Fish blog. She goes on to say, “If any of your readers struggle with finding time or energy to craft, getting organized, getting through creative blocks, or have had any crafty breakthroughs, I’d love to hear their story.”

I just love it! I so appreciate that Alyssa is so connected with her community and is helping them unwind and find their creative spark whether it’s through the blog, her kits, or videos…it’s just all so lovely! You can check out her adorable embroidery kits by clicking here or join in on the Facebook fun here. I’d like to give a big thank you to Alyssa for visiting with us today and to you for joining in! I’d love to hear your comments below and what inspired you the most.

Make sure to join us next week for an interview with Nestlings by Robin!

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