Chain stitching in embroidery and crochet - My block for the Splendid Sampler #thesplendidsampler

There’s a reason that the chain stitch is one of my favorite embroidery stitches.

It reminds me of my grandma.

My grandma and the hundreds of doilies she crocheted out of an endless number of tiny chain stitches. Her crocheted chain stitches look almost identical to the embroidery chain stitch.

I absolutely loved visiting my grandma’s house. When you walked in the door you could see her doilies right away. There’d be one under every plant and lamp. Doily table runners on the side tables. And at Easter there would be pretty yellow and pink and purple ones out. She had a little “stitching station” beside her chair in the living room, so when she was relaxing and watching tv, she would be crocheting. No idle hands for Grandma.

Grandma and Grandpa. Check out all those doilies in the background.

A little over a year ago, while organizing my craft supplies, I came across a bin full of grandma’s thread that she used to make her doilies. About 20 opened spools, some full and some with just a bit of thread left. I had stored them away because I wanted them to stay just as they were when my grandma passed away. But now, years later, I decided the best way for me to honor my grandma was to use her thread.

So I started making her doilies. Stitching the same pattern she used, with her thread, and her tiny crochet hook.

“DOILY: Starting at center, chain 16. Join with sl st to form ring.”

16 chain stitches made, thousands more to go.

My first doily using grandma's floss. The green is from a tiny ball of thread I found hiding in the center of a larger spool.

I was a couple rows into my 4th doily when I was asked by Pat and Jane to design a quilt block for The Splendid Sampler. I knew immediately that I wanted to continue to honor my grandma and her doilies by combining her main craft of crochet with my main craft of embroidery, and my mom’s main craft of quilting. I wanted my block to represent our 3 generations of crafting.

My quilt block is of a “crocheted” doily being stitched with a tiny metal hook.

I love that I finally got to design an embroidery using the chain stitch with what the chain stitch always reminded me of. Grandma’s doilies.

"Crocheted Thoughts" My Splendid Sampler quilt block.

You can get the free pattern for the embroidered quilt block on the Splendid Sampler homepage by clicking the link below.

Get the free pattern here:

Let’s make the quilt block together! 

Over the next couple of days, I’ll be sewing and embroidering my Splendid Sampler block LIVE on Periscope.

You’ll be able to sew and stitch the block right along with me, and ask any questions you have along the way LIVE and I’ll answer them during the Periscope. We’ll hang out and craft together!

So first, go download the pattern at the Splendid Sampler by clicking here.

Then download the free Periscope app to your device from the App Store for Apple products or Play store for Android (if you're using an iPad, look in the iPhone only apps).

In the app, click the person icon and then the magnifying glass icon, and search for my user name, penguinandfish. Click follow. I will Periscope LIVE at 9:30pm central time, starting tonight, March 20, 2016, so tune in (Periscope should notify you when I’m live). Then grab your crafting supplies and we’ll make the block together.

Note: You do need a Twitter account to use Periscope. If you don't have or want an account, you can still view my Periscopes live (but not participate in comments) at

Can't watch LIVE?

If you missed any of the Periscopes live, you can watch all of the replays at:

I'm making EVERY SINGLE BLOCK of The Splendid Sampler LIVE on Periscope and you can watch them all by clicking the Katch link above.

You can also check out my blocks so far on my Instagram at: (I'd love if you followed me there)

Need some help with embroidery?

I did a few embroidery lessons leading up to the release of my block for The Splendid Sampler. If you're new to embroidery, need some help transferring your design, want a stitch refresher, or want some fun tips and tricks, then check out the replay videos.

To watch, click the link then click the "collections" tab on the website. Click "Embroidery Lessons" to watch.

I’m excited to work on the block together with you.

Happy stitching! And good luck with all the rest of The Splendid Sampler blocks.


Comment below, or feel free to contact me (Alyssa) at emails [at] penguinandfish [dot] com (type out using the “@” and “.” symbols with no spaces).


If you found this post interesting, I hope you'll join me to get weekly emails on how to craft a happy life - and make something cute in the process. For signing up you’ll also get a FREE hand embroidery pattern.

Click here or the button below to join (it's FREE too!)

The cutest Foundation Paper Pieced hexie pattern by Tiny Toffee Designs

When I started quilting about 15 years ago I had a question, and it lingered in my head for years.

“How do you make a quilt with all sorts of different intricate pieces and angles?”

I had my eyes set on designing a quilt with cute animals on it. Animals that were actually sewn pieces in the quilt, and not appliqu├ęd or stitched on top of the quilt. I wanted all the pieces to fit together perfectly like a puzzle.

I never asked my question out loud. I assumed that only master quilters with ninja math skills could make quilts like that.

Then I stumbled across “foundation paper piecing” and the stars aligned. This is how quilters were making the intricately pieced quilts!

Foundation paper piecing is almost like quilting-by-number. The design is printed onto paper with each piece labeled with letters and numbers like A1, A2, A3, B1, B2. You first cut the paper into the different sections like the A section and B sections. Then you sew your fabric directly to the paper in the order of the numbers for each section. Finally, you sew the finished sections together completing the design.

By following the lines on the paper, all of your fabrics line up perfectly to each other and form the intricate patterns that I absolutely love.

It looks difficult, like Sudoku for quilting, but it’s actually very easy and enormously satisfying.

I gave foundation paper piecing a try. Of course, like a crazy person, I decided to make a design myself having never done it before, and for a magazine deadline. I made a simple elephant head design and fell in love with the foundation paper piece sewing process.

My first adventure in Foundation Paper Piecing. Designed by me for Quiltmaker's magazine, 100 blocks vol. 5

After that project, life got in the way and I never did foundation paper piecing again. I wasn’t doing much personal crafting at the time (BOO!!!) so foundation paper piecing went, with lots of other things, to the wayside.

However, over the past year I’ve changed a few daily habits, and now I craft every day! (During my nightly 9:30pm central live streaming Periscopes)

After making the commitment to get on Periscope every evening and craft, I’ve made and tried more projects in the past couple months, than I have for the past 4 years. It’s amazing what a tiny amount of time every day can yield.

So when I got the opportunity to try paper piecing again, I knew I could commit, and jumped at the chance.

I met Susi Bellingham of Tiny Toffee Designs on Instagram (@lillaluise) and instantly fell in love with her foundation paper pieced patterns.

There were three immediate things about her foundation paper pieced designs that set off the “squee” meter for me.

1: The paper piecing was TEENSY TINY.

2: The designs were of super cute animals like foxes and narwhals.

3: The finished designs were hexies for English Paper Piecing.

Cute times 3!

Image from the Tiny Toffee Designs Instagram account (@lillaluise)

We got chatting and I was super excited when she asked me to be in her blog hop for some new little hexie designs.

I was asked to try her “Shine like a Star” pattern.

I cut the pattern into its A,B, and C sections and was ready to go.

I was going to do the background in one color and the star in another (I had the fabric out and ready to go), but when I was about to get started I had 3 mini charm packs of fabric within arm’s length. They were stacked up on a pile of fabric on it’s way to a “fabric stash” bin.

I opened up the charm packs and used them instead. The 2 ½ inch pieces of fabric weren’t large enough to do the background or the star pieces in all the same color, so I had to mix and match, creating a patchwork look.

A stack of mini charm pack fabric cuts. I used one charm for each paper pieced segment.

3 little patchwork stars.

I couldn’t be more happy with the result. I ended up with three little patchwork stars. And they are SO CUTE!

I ultimately sewed the 3 finished hexagon stars together using English Paper Piecing techniques and glued them to a leather journal with contact cement. I punched holes in the cover of the journal and stitched on the work “Reach”.

Reach for the stars!

Decided where to place holes then punched the holes into the leather sketchbook cover.

My finished leather sketchbook. Reach for the stars!

What do you think?

I’m so happy with how the turned out.

To check out Susi’s totally cute new foundation pieced hexie patterns, check out her etsy shop, blog and instagram:

Tiny Toffee Designs ETSY shop

Tiny Toffee Designs blog

Tiny Toffee Designs on Instagram (@lillaluise)

If you want to watch a replay of my live Periscope of me making this entire project from start to finish, click the link below.

Click here to watch replays of penguinandfish Periscopes.

And to join me in my nightly LIVE Periscopes, download the free Periscope app to your device. In the app, click the person icon then the magnifying glass, then search for penguinandfish and click follow. My Periscopes are at 9:30pm central every evening. Your device should notify you when I'm live.

Happy stitching!


Feel free to contact me (Alyssa) at emails [at] penguinandfish [dot] com (type out using the “@” and “.” symbols with no spaces), or leave a comment below.


If you found this post interesting, I hope you'll join me to get weekly emails on how to craft a happy life - and make something cute in the process. For signing up you’ll also get a FREE hand embroidery pattern.

Click here or the button below to join (it's FREE too!)

How to choose what craft project to work on - 4 super quick steps

Yay, it's craft time!

Ok, let’s go. Grab one of your projects.

I’m waiting.


Oh, I see the problem. You don’t know which project to pick!

You have so many projects, both new and unfinished, and now when you finally have time to craft you don't know which one to work on.

Having too many choices can end up being a barrier to crafting.

And any barrier that gets in between the decision to craft and the actual crafting is a huge problem, because even the tiniest barrier can be all that it takes to kill your motivation.

You need a plan so the act of choosing a project doesn’t lead to no crafting at all.

Here are my 4 super quick steps on how to narrow down the choices so the decision becomes easy.

1. Assess your location.

Start to narrow down your projects by assessing your location limitations.

You can probably eliminate many projects in less than 5 seconds.

For example, if you’re headed to a doctor’s appointment and you want to craft in the waiting room, you’re probably not going to drag a sewing machine with you, or a box full of card making supplies. So those projects are easily nixed.

However, an easy crochet project could be perfect. Maybe you like English paper piecing or coloring books. They're all compact with minimal supplies needed, great for the doctor office location (or in my case above, the Apple store).

Assess your location and eliminate the projects that aren’t an ideal fit.

2. Estimate the time you have available for crafting.

Do you have a lot of time to craft or only a little?

Will you likely have lots of interruptions or one uninterrupted block of time?

If you have a limited amount of time, it’s probably best to work on a project where you don’t have to get a bunch of supplies out which sucks up a lot of time.

If you expect interruption, it may be a good idea choose a craft that’s easy to stop quickly and is easy to remember where you left off. I love embroidery for this.

On the other end, if you have a large amount of time, break out that king sized quilt top that you’ve been piecing together for the last seven years (my situation), put on a good podcast and get sewing for the next few hours.

Eliminate the projects that don’t fit the time you have available, or the amount of interruptions you expect.

3. Determine your mood.

Craft time should be a good experience. The BEST experience. So if you try and force yourself to work on a project that you’re just not “feeling” right this moment, then you’re not going to have a great time. And even worse, you might start to resent the project.

Here are questions to ask yourself to determine if a project fits your current mood.

Do I just want to relax and not think?

After a long day I want to work on a craft that hypnotizes me into total relaxation and lets the stress melt away. For me that means choosing a craft with repetitive counting and minimal decision making required. A simple crochet, knitting, or cross-stitch project does the trick.

Always make sure to have a “relaxation only” project in progress so it’s there when you need it.

Do I have a project idea that I can’t stop thinking about?

If this is the case, it’s almost always a good idea to work on this project. If an idea needs to come out then you should let it. Allow yourself the grace and creative freedom to go for it. There is always something to learn and gain by exploring your ideas.

Exploring your ideas is what makes you an artist. But only if you get them out of your head!

Am I feeling ambitious?

Are you pumped and up for anything? It might be time to break out that large project that you’ve slowly been making progress on and now really forge ahead with it. Or maybe it’s time to give that new craft a try that you never started because you were too scared.

When you’re feeling ambitious it’s time to use all that strong creative willpower to do something scary, big, and exciting.

Do I want to finish all of the things?

Occasionally I get in the mood where I can’t stand all the projects piling up and I feel compelled to “finish all of the things!” Do you ever feel this way? When I’m in this mood I go with it. Look at your unfinished projects. There are probably a few in there that can be finished quickly or get to the next step quickly.

Wanting to “finish all of the things” often means your brain needs an “easy win.” Pick an unfinished project that you can complete in the time you have available. Get that win!

Determining what mood you’re in can often narrow your project choices to just one or two.

4. Go with your gut.

Ultimately this is one of the best ways to make a decision. You can do this right away, even before you go through the other steps. If you feel strongly about working on something, you’ll figure out how to make everything else work.

Look at your remaining projects. Touch them.

Which one is pulling you towards it the most?

That’s the one to work on.

It takes practice to go with your gut instead of doing what your brain says you “should” be working on. The trick is to give yourself permission to choose your gut over your brain without guilt. When it comes to crafting, you’ll almost always feel more fulfilled when you go with your gut. Remember, that “should” project will still be there later, and next craft time your gut might tell you to work on that one.

Trust your gut. It’s is pretty smart.

I encourage you to try using these 4 steps to pick which craft to work. The goal is to get as much out of craft time as you can, both physically and emotionally. Your craft time is precious. Follow these steps and you’ll be crafting in no time.

Now that you’ve picked a project, I invite you to come craft with me.

At 9:30 pm central time every evening I LIVE craft on Periscope.

It’s a time to relax, work on a project, hear some tips and tricks, and chit chat. I love hanging out with viewers and we have the best conversations. Periscope allows you to type into a chat box, and I can see what you say LIVE and can respond. It’s so much fun!

To chat and participate in a LIVE Periscope with me, download the free Periscope app from the itunes store or google play store, then search for and follow “penguinandfish”. Your device will notify you when I’m LIVE.

You can also watch without downloading the Periscope app by going to at 9:30 pm central time. You can still watch LIVE online, however you won’t be able to comment. For that reason, I recommend using the Periscope app.

I hope you join me for nightly #RelaxAndCraft time. I’ll see you on Periscope!

I'd love to hear how you choose what project to work on. Do you have lots of unfinished projects? Lots of new project ideas? Do you use Periscope?

Lemme know.

Comment below, or feel free to contact me (Alyssa) at emails [at] penguinandfish [dot] com (type out using the “@” and “.” symbols with no spaces).


If you found this post interesting, I hope you'll join me to get weekly emails on how to craft a happy life - and make something cute in the process. For signing up you’ll also get a FREE Picnic Pals minis hand embroidery pattern.

Click here or the button below to join (it's FREE too!)

My number 1 organization tip - Don't clean your craft space. Do this instead.

I have “drifts” in my craft room

Like snowdrifts that get bigger and bigger during a snowstorm. Except my drifts are accumulated piles of fabric, embroidery hoops, magazines, books, sewing thread, loose papers and all sorts things that build up around the edges of the room.

Not pretty.

One of many "drifts" in my craft room.

What about you? Any drifts in your craft space? Those drifts can really mess up your craft time. If you’re anything like me, it might go something like this:

You get super motivated to craft and, amazingly, have time right this moment to dedicate to crafting.

The stars have aligned!

You go into your craft space. You see the “drifts” and get a little stressed. But you’re not discouraged. You have just enough willpower to get past the “drifts” and get working on your craft project. But where is your scissors? Where did you leave the floss you needed? Where’s the pattern?

Then Bam! Motivation is gone.

It’s too stressful to find everything you need, you’ve wasted your time looking through the drifts, and you don’t even feel like crafting anymore. You could clean up your craft space. But that would take forever and sounds like the least fun thing to do right now.

You give up and check your Instagram feed instead.

Any of this sound familiar?

Our crafting time and motivation are precious. 

And our lack of organization is getting in the way.

So how can we be organized enough to capitalize on our time and motivation, but not have to clean our entire craft space to get started? Here’s a solution that might work for you:

My number 1 organization tip:

Don’t organize your craft space, instead organize your projects.

So what does that mean?

It could mean the difference between crafting or giving up. Seriously.

Ideally an organized project consists of a container that holds everything you need to work on a single project. This includes all materials, supplies, tools, patterns, inspiration, notes and other reference materials.

Everything is right at your fingertips while your motivation is still at it’s peak. And you can ignore your unorganized craft space all together.

Your project container doesn’t need to be anything fancy, however it should have a lid or the ability to close. I use everything from small plastic sandwich containers, to spare handbags, to large plastic storage bins depending on the size of the project.

Here’s an example of what an embroidery project container might look like.

    •    A gallon sized Ziploc bag to use as your project container
    •    embroidery hoop
    •    fabric
    •    pattern
    •    needle (slid in the corner of the fabric so it’s easy to find)
    •    embroidery floss (in a small sandwich bag to protect it from getting caught on things)
    •    small scissors with cover
    •    additional small sandwich bag to use for trash like embroidery floss discards
    •    piece of paper to jot down notes (notes could include a list of supplies to still purchase, a link to a good youtube video on a new technique to try, where you left off last time and what you want to do next, tricks learned along the way that you don’t want to forget, etc.)
    •    pen or pencil to jot down notes

It’s everything you need to work on the embroidery project. You only need to grab the project container and you’re ready to craft.

Project container with all the needed supplies, materials and tools.

Do this for all of your projects, or at least the most current ones you’re working on, and you’ll be surprised at how easy it will be to start crafting, no matter how messy your craft room is.


However, you may be thinking: I don’t have tons of scissors to put one in every project container.

Here’s a solution if you don’t have tools to spare for each project. This also applies if you’re working on a project that needs large rulers, liquids like paint, cutting boards or common specialty tools like a rotary cutter or fabric scissors.

Gather like items and give them a highly visible place of honor in your craft space.

For example. Find all of your scissors (whether they’re large, small, for fabric, or paper) and place them in a jar with a pretty ribbon. Put the jar in a place of prominence in your craft space. It could be the centerpiece to your cutting table, or it could sit right next to your sewing machine. Make sure the jar is in a place where it doesn’t have to move often and is highly visible at all times.

Then when it’s craft time, just grab your project container and a scissors from the jar.

another idea…

make a grab-and-go tool kit.

A grab-and-go tool kit is a small container that has all the general supplies you might need for any project that comes up.

My grab-and-go tool kit is simply a plastic sandwich container with a lid and contains:

    •    small embroidery scissors
    •    piece of felt holding a variety of needles
    •    neutral colored sewing thread
    •    measuring tape
    •    pen
    •    pencil
    •    water soluble pen
    •    a couple of crochet hooks
    •    thimble
    •    a few random buttons
    •    piece of paper for notes
    •    small crocheted chain stitch piece of yarn that my husband stitched that makes me smile when I see it

With my project container supplemented by my grab-and-go tool kit, I know I’ll have everything I need to craft.

Nothing, not even a craft room full of “drifts” can get in my way.

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What about you?

Do you have a special container for your projects or tools? How clean is your craft space? Does an unorganized space keep you from crafting?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Comment below, or feel free to contact me (Alyssa) at emails [at] penguinandfish [dot] com (type out using the “@” and “.” symbols with no spaces).


If you found this post interesting, I hope you'll join me to get weekly emails on how to craft a happy life - and make something cute in the process. For signing up you’ll also get a FREE Picnic Pals minis hand embroidery pattern.

Click here or the button below to join our email list (it's FREE too!)

The best diagram ever - from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

I’m only 6 pages into this book and I know I have to buy it (and return this one to the library so someone else can read it).

Here’s why.

Page 6 has the best diagram ever! A diagram that should be painted on my wall so I can see it all the time.

Good, right?

The diagram shows all the effort we expend working on things.

On the left, it shows us working on multiple things, and not getting very far on any of them. As quoted in the book: “a millimeter of progress in a million directions.”


However, on the right the diagram shows if we focus the same amount of energy to less things we can make real progress on them.

What if those few things we give our energy to can leap us ahead at our job, or are things we really love doing. Things that matter.

Think about how effective and happy we would be.

The book, btw, is:

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
by Greg McKeown

I needed to see this diagram today and thought you might too.

It’s timely for me because yesterday I was feeling super anxious. All of the projects, emails and things I “needed” to do were swirling in a storm above my head, all vying for my time. I’d grab onto one, and another would try and push its way in.

The left diagram perfectly illustrates how I was feeling. Doing too many things and not getting anywhere.

Currently, when I start to feel like I’m doing too much, I find it helpful to make a giant list of all the “to dos” swirling in my brain.

This helps right away because things aren’t buzzing in my head anymore, they’re stuck on paper. Kind of like flies on flypaper. (Gross)

Then I take that list and try to isolate the things the REALLY matter.

I work on only those things and let the rest slide.

Like maybe I should call that store that wanted to sell Penguin & Fish products instead of making a fun Facebook graphic.

Or maybe I should finish designing my current fabric collection instead of cleaning up my email inbox.

Or even, maybe I should take that long walk on this beautiful afternoon instead of vacuuming the kitchen.

Working on what matters calms me down and gives me a sense of accomplishment. I know I’m getting farther on the right things.

When I finished my list yesterday, I could see right away a few things that stood out as most important. I worked on those items and I’m happy to report that yesterday was the most productive day I’ve had in weeks. I even got in that long walk.

I need to isolate the things that matter more often!

I look forward to reading the rest of the Essentialism (like I said, I’m only on page 6) and see what new directives I can apply to get me to the right side of the diagram.

As I’m writing this, in my office that’s filled with craft supplies and projects, I’m realizing the diagram also applies to my unfinished craft projects. Or UFOs (UnFinished Objects) as the crafty blogs say.

Just in my direct line of sight I can see 8 UFOs. Oof, counting them even triggered my anxiety a bit.

None of them are getting very far because I don’t know which one to focus on. Actually, not knowing which one to work on is keeping me from working on any of them. That’s a big 0% progress.

I wonder what would happen if I categorized my UFOs by how much they matter to me. And then work on those ones.

I think I would be much happier in craft land. Not only would I be working and finishing projects that I love, I’d be working on them period.

I’m going to give it a try.

I’ll be sure to report back on my UFO progress, and also relay the juicy tips I learn (and apply) from Essentialism.

Click this link to sign up to my newsletter to receive updates.

What do you think?

Would prioritizing your unfinished craft projects by which ones matter most help you finish them? Does the diagram from Essentialism ring true to you like it did for me? What tricks do you currently use to get things done?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Comment below, or feel free to contact me (Alyssa) at emails [at] penguinandfish [dot] com (type out using the “@” and “.” symbols with no spaces).

All links in this post are affiliate links. That means if you click on the link and purchase the book, Amazon will send me a couple of cents for referring you. Or you could go to your local library and check it out like I did. I’m on my way to actually purchase the book right now. This one needs to be in my “at home” library.

On a side note. Essentialism is beautifully designed. Check out the Contents page below. My “Typography 1” professor would approve.

If you found this post interesting, I hope you'll join me to get weekly emails on how to craft a happy life - and make something cute in the process. For signing up you’ll also get a FREE Picnic Pals minis hand embroidery pattern.

Click here or the button below to join our email list (it's FREE too!)

Learn how to make toys from a pro - book review: Stuffed Animals by Abby Glassenberg

I love solving mysteries.

Specifically, crafting mysteries.

Each mystery solved adds another super power to my crafting arsenal.

My biggest crafting mystery to date:

How to make professional looking stuffed animals.

My first stuffed animal was a bunny made out of 2 circles of white felt, purple felt ears, an embroidered face and a pom-pom tail. I think I was about 11 years old.

The 2 circles stitched together for the bunny’s body made a flat, disc-like shape.

It was nothing like the commercially manufactured toys that could stand on their own and had 3 dimensional bodies and heads.

How did they do it?

It was a mystery that I needed to solve.

Since then, I’ve spent years experimenting, sewing, researching patterns, and looking at commercially manufactured toys in an attempt to decode the secret of stuffed animal making.

My education was a disjointed struggle of trial and error.

Why wasn’t there one place with all the information I needed to make my own stuffed animals?

Then a few months ago I heard that toy maker, pattern designer, and teacher, Abby Glassenberg (of While She Naps fame), wrote a book about everything you need to know to design and construct your own stuffed animals.


The book I wish I had when I started my toy making quest was here.

I am so happy to share Abby's book with you today and the cute project I made from it.

The book is:

Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction

by Abby Glassenberg.

Stuffed Animals is not just a book with some projects to sew.

Stuffed Animals is a complete education in toy making.

It contains 16 projects and 52 lessons.

By following the lessons in Stuffed Animals, you won’t have to go through the years of struggle that I did.

You’re so lucky!

Part 1: Getting Started shares the tools and materials of the trade, as well as the process of designing and making stuffed animals.

Even though I’ve made a lot of stuffed animals before, I still had an “Ah Hah” moment in almost every paragraph.

The real heart of Stuffed Animals, however, is in the lessons which are in Part 2: Projects.

There are 52 lessons that cover everything from making basic shapes, through advanced construction with specialty materials.

You get a chance to practice the lessons as you make the 16 adorable projects included in Stuffed Animals.

I decided to make the the Ram because it tackled one of the biggest mysteries I had when I was learning to make stuffed animals before this book.

The head gusset.

A head gusset is what gives the head of a toy its fullness and shape.

The Ram is project 3 in Stuffed Animals and contains

Lesson 12: Head Gussets (Abby clearly explains the “what, why, and how” of making head gussets),

Lesson 13: Safety Eyes,

Lesson 14: Increasing Your Success with Long, Narrow Parts,

and Lesson 15: Embroidering a Nose and Mouth with Long Straight Stitches.

It also answers the question: How much stuffing is enough?

Since I wanted to focus on the head gusset, I decided to skip making the Ram’s body all together and instead make my Ram into a faux taxidermy (which Abby actually shares how to do later in the book).

I traced the pattern for the Ram and extended the neck a little bit (as suggested).

I used fuzzy fleece for the Ram’s neck and back of the ears, and felted woven wool for its face. Both fabrics I already had in my studio. I didn’t have any white wool for the face, so I used a light grey herringbone instead.

I also already had safety eyes. Stuffed Animals has a resource list on where to purchase safety eyes and other toy making materials and tools.

The sewing instructions for the Ram were easy to follow and included helpful step-by-step photos.

Below is an image of the two sides of my Ram’s head and the head gusset so you can see what the head gusset looks like before it’s sewn.

If you were to just sew the two sides of the head together without the head gusset, you’d get a very flat head (like the bunny I made when I was 11).

By adding a head gusset, you’re widening the space between the two sides of the head, giving the head a 3 dimensional shape.

The below image shows the two sides of my Ram’s head and the head gusset all sewn, turned right side out, and stuffed.

Stuffed Animals has instructions to make the horns for the Ram extra cute by adding a machine stitched, striped surface texture. I decided to skip adding the extra surface texture and used fabric that had big stripes already on it.

Instead of mounting my Ram faux taxidermy onto a wooden plaque (which I didn’t already have in my studio), I mounted it in an embroidery hoop (which I have tons of).

I stitched the Ram to a piece of dark fabric, then placed the fabric into the embroidery hoop.

With a couple of stitches, I attached a circular piece of cardboard to the back of the fabric in the embroidery hoop to help counter-balance the weight of the Ram.

Below is a pic of my finished Ram.

I can’t begin to tell you how much I love it!

I named it “Ally” because I watched a season of Ally McBeal while making it.

Also, I figured the Ram could be “Ally from the Alps.”

I stitched her name onto a little golden plaque made out of felt, then glued it to the fabric in the embroidery hoop.

It’s cold up there in the Alps so I knit Ally a scarf and hat.

What do you think of Ally?

I’m over-the-moon happy with her.

There were several techniques used in the making of Ally that improved on my current knowledge, and even looking at the pattern for the Ram was informative.

I can’t wait to try another project and learn more.

Here are a few other lessons from Stuffed Animals that I wish I knew a long time ago:

Lesson 4: Sewing a Sphere

Lesson 11: Eyelids

Lesson 19: Dressing and Accessorizing Your Softie

Lesson 31: How to Design a Jointed Animal

I can tell that Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction is going to be one of the most used resource books on my craft shelf.

Click here to order and take a peek inside Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction.

Also be sure to check out Abby’s wonderful blog, While She Naps, where Abby talks toys, sewing and business. Listen to her podcast and sign up for her newsletter (you’ll love it).

Click here to check out Abby’s blog, While She Naps, and pattern shop, Abby Glassenberg Design.

Have you already made a project from Abby’s book, Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction?

Have you had any struggles or “Ah hah” moments in your own toy making quest?

I’d love to hear about it.

Leave a comment below to share.

And good luck solving your next crafting mystery.

If you found this post interesting, I hope you'll join me to get weekly emails on how to craft a happy life - and make something cute in the process. For signing up you’ll also get a FREE Picnic Pals minis hand embroidery pattern.

Click here or the button below to join our email list (it's FREE too!)

How to make a fabric collection - a designer’s perspective.

When I talk to artists and crafters, I often get asked,

“How do you make a fabric collection?”

Today I want to share, from a designer’s point of view, the behind-the-scenes process of making a fabric collection.

Every designer, manufacturer, and industry is different.

My goal with this post is to share one perspective.

From coming up with an idea, to soon receiving finished bolts of fabric, this is my experience of making my new fabric collection, Sweet Tweets.

First off, let me give you some background.

Sweet Tweets is my fifth fabric collection designed for the quilting industry.

I license my designs to Clothworks, a Seattle based manufacturer of premium quality quilt-weight cotton fabric sold to independent quilt shops all over the world.

Licensing means that I give Clothworks permission to use my designs on certain products, in a certain industry, for a certain period of time, over a certain location (territory), in exchange I receive a percentage of what’s sold (called a "royalty"). I get to keep the copyright and ownership of the designs.

Phew. There’s licensing in a nutshell for you.

The intended audience are quilters and crafters making items for baby. However, it’s important to me to include designs that can be used for other items not exclusively “baby.”

I like to think that my audience is people who want to “enjoy some cute.”

OK, now that we’re up to speed, let’s get to the process.


Making Sweet Tweets did not start from “being inspired.”

I think a lot of people want to feel inspired before beginning a project. But sometimes you have to start a project, then inspiration will come after you’re already working on it.

It sounds backwards, but that’s the biggest advice I could give anyone who wants to be a working artist.

It’s pretty much my daily mantra.

Just start. Inspiration (and motivation) will come after.

Sweet Tweets began by having a deadline. And a deadline is a great excuse for getting started.

I had about 2 1/2 months to deliver final files to Clothworks so they in turn could get them to the factory to reach their own deadline.

Time to get started.


Usually I start a new collection with the content. (Basically, what cute animals do I want to draw.)

This time I thought I'd explore a style and color palette.

I’ve had an idea for a while to make a collection with a “drawn” look to it. Like little doodles. I thought that might be an interesting direction to go in.

For the color palette, I wanted to try a mostly black, white and grey collection with pops of colors. Like a coloring book being filled in with an 8-pack of crayons.

I wanted a collection that felt sophisticated yet still worked for “baby.”

I proposed the “Animal Coloring Book” idea as well as a second unrelated concept, “Sleepy Bears,” to Clothworks.

Below are the initial concept boards. They're made with my sketches along with other art, patterns, and trends to give an overall feel of the collection.

Since I’ve worked with Clothworks before, and they know what to expect from me, quick concept boards were fine to get the ball rolling.

Usually at this point Clothworks will pick a direction. This time, however, the Clothworks team was split between the ideas, so they asked me to develop both a little more.


As I started to develop the animal coloring book idea, I realized that “doodles,” and “pops of color” weren’t enough to hold the collection together. I was having trouble figuring out what to draw with only “animals” as a guide.

I needed a theme.

I have two bird feeders outside my studio window, and I love watching the flock of sparrows, the tiny chickadee, the family of cardinals, and the squawking bluejay come to eat. I call them my “outside pets.” I’ve been wanting to do a project that was inspired by them, and I thought maybe this collection was it.

So I got rid of the “lots of animals” idea, and decided to focus on one animal.


Birds are also a popular animal in the “baby” and “quilting” markets, so the idea made sense.

With “birds” as the theme, all the designs could relate to birds in some way, making the whole collection more cohesive.

After deciding on a theme. Coming up with ideas immediately became easier.


When designing anything, I start developing ideas in my sketchbook.

Always always always.

I make super rough drawings to get ideas down before I forget them. This process is much faster than doing anything on the computer.

After I had initial sketches and some ideas worked out, I switched to the computer.

I took a quick iPhone photo of the sketches then emailed them to myself (nothing fancy). Then I opened the sketches in Adobe Photoshop.

In Photoshop I started to trace the sketches, made new sketches, and honed them into actual drawings I liked. This meant cleaning up lines, drawing additional pieces, adjusting proportions, etc.

I draw in Photoshop with a pen and tablet made for illustrating on the computer.

I use a Yinova MSP19U tablet. It doesn’t have all the features that a Wacom Cintiq has, but it does the job for me right now.

I also started playing with the layout of the design. Are the elements close together? Are they in one direction or turned in all different directions (tossed)?

Typically each design has 3 different color versions (colorways). So I start to play with that as well.

I worked on this “tossed bird” design in the above pic, made a couple other designs, then did the same process for the other proposed collection, “Sleepy Bears.”

At this point I had a good sense of how both collections would look, and was excited to work on either one.

Here are the revised ideas I sent to Clothworks.

Clothworks decided to go with the Bird collection.

Yay. Sweet Tweets was a go.

The next step was to continue to build the collection.

Building the collection

For the final collection I would need to have 6 different designs, each with 3 different colorways.

I continued sketching and developing designs, all the while asking myself the following questions:

• Will the designs appeal to my audience?

• Does each design stand on it’s own as well as within the collection?

• Do the colors work as a collection and in the individual designs?

• How well do the sizes of the elements in the designs relate to those in the other designs? Are any designs too big or small?

• How well will the size of the elements work on a sewn quilt block? On baby clothes?

• Do I have a good variety of “main theme” designs vs. “supporting” designs?

• How does the collection feel overall? Do I need to add a design to the collection to make it more fun? More sophisticated?

• Does the collection feel like me?

As I was building the collection I made a bunch of printouts (mostly black and white) so I could check sizes of elements and how one design works with another.

Having a printout gives me a more “physical” look at a design. It feels different than just looking on the computer monitor.


I started to put the designs into repeat once I had a good idea of how a design would look.

I made the designs repeatable (connected each edge of the design so it seamlessly repeats) in Photoshop. I do this by duplicating an element on one edge of the design, then placing the copy along the opposite edge. Then I fill in the center area with other elements.

I have second large window open in Photoshop to test the repeat as I work on the designs.

I can see if I have mistakes in the repeat or if any spacing of the elements are weird. It’s also a chance to see if the overall feel of the design is what I was intending it to be.

At the factory, the printing screens that they use to print the designs to fabric are 24 inches wide. So all my designs have to be made to repeat at some multiple of 24 inches. So when they’re repeated on the screen, they end up at 24 inches.

So I can make my designs 24 inches wide, 12 inches, 8 inches, 6 inches, 4 inches, etc.

Finished designs
Once I had a finished collection that I was happy with, I sent it off to Clothworks again. If they had any changes at that point I'd go back and make them.

For Sweet Tweets they thought everything was good as is (yay), so it was time to prepare the files for the production process.

Here is the final Sweet Tweets collection.

Preparing designs for production

Preparing the designs for production was a 2 part process for me.

First I edited every Photoshop file so each color was on it’s own Photoshop layer. Those color layers also had to be in the same order as the other colorways of the same design.

This was a hugely tedious process but doing it right helps ensure that the design and it’s colors would be printed properly.

The second part of preparing the designs for production was to create something physical that the factory could match their ink colors too.

For me this involved printing out every design on my nice Epson printer and making any adjustments to the colors. The colors on my monitor are often not quite the same when printed.

Once the colors were how I liked them I made a new document that had numbered swatches of the colors. I also labeled the colors in the printed designs so that they corresponded with the numbers on my swatches printout.

That way Clothworks and the factory could easily see what colors go where and on what design.

Now everything was complete and I emailed (dropboxed) the files to Clothworks, and sent them the color print-outs in the mail. They in turn sent it off to the factory.

And that’s it!

The files are off to where they need to go.


Now I wait.

For months.

Actually, I started working on ideas for the next collection after Sweet Tweets.

Strike offs

A couple of months after sending off the files, Clothworks let me know that strike offs arrived from the factory, and they would send them my way.

Strike offs are test prints on fabric from the factory.

Strike offs are used to see if there are any errors in the design or the colors before the factory prints yards and yards of fabric.

Clothworks and I compared the strike off colors to the colors in the original swatch and design print-outs that I sent to Clothworks.

If anything is wrong, like the red is too orange, or the blue is too dull, then it gets communicated to the factory and they make changes and send new strike offs. After everything is correct and approved, then the factory starts printing the actual fabric.

For Sweet Tweets, the strike offs were good (surprisingly) the first time around.

Woo hoo, let's get printing!


After approving strike offs my part of the design process is complete.

Now I wait about 6 or 7 months before I see the final fabric.

During this time I designed embroidery and sewing patterns to sell through Penguin & Fish that feature the collection. I also worked on marketing the new patterns and fabric, and prepared to market the collection at the International Quilt Market Trade show.

Below is the Nest & Tweet quilt pattern that I designed to go with the collection, hanging in my trade show booth. It was made with the bits of strike offs that I received during the strike off stage. No real fabric yet.

The quilt was partially designed based on how much strike off fabric I had of each design.


When the fabric is complete Clothworks will receive it from the factory on huge bolts or rolls.

Clothworks will do the final processing of the fabric, like rolling it onto smaller bolts of fabric. Then it will be ready to ship to stores.

We’re not quite at that point yet for Sweet Tweets, but it will be here soon in mid-October.

I haven’t seen it yet, and will get my hands on it the same time as everyone else.

Oh the suspense!

Interesting facts

To give you a sense of how long this entire process took, I sent my initial concept boards to Clothworks on September 20th, 2013. And the finished fabric will ship mid-October, 2014.

That’s over a year in the making.

During that time, I already completed the collection that comes after Sweet Tweets, and am currently working on the collection that follows that.

That’s 2 more collections before I even get to see the final Sweet Tweets fabric.

Pretty crazy.

But also really fun. I love that I have several collections going all at once. If I get burnt out on making marketing materials for one collection, I can jump to drawing designs for another collection.

Also I think it’s worth mentioning (especially for artists interested in designing fabric or licensing their designs), I don’t get any royalties until a month after the fabric starts shipping. So I won’t receive any payment for work done in September 2013, until November or December 2014.

There you have it.

My process of making a fabric collection from a designer’s point of view.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and any questions you have. Leave a comment below.

Are you a fabric designer? I’d love to hear a bit about your process. What’s the same? What’s different? Share your comments below.

Also be sure to check out the Penguin & Fish website after October 5th to pre-order fabric bundles of Sweet Tweets.

If you'd like to place your order before then, click here to sign up to my email list. All email subscribers will have first dibs in the Penguin & Fish fat quarter fabric bundle sale starting on October 1st. They will also be able to pre-order Sweet Tweets then.

UPDATE - The Penguin & Fish fat quarter fabric bundle sale is now over. Thanks so much to everyone who participated.

If you found this post interesting, I hope you join me to get my weekly emails on how to craft a happy life - and make something cute in the process. For signing up you’ll also get a FREE Picnic Pals minis hand embroidery pattern.

Click here or the button below to join our email list (it's FREE too!)

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