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).


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The “no instructions” experiment - RESULTS!

Two weeks ago we started our “no instructions” experiment blog tour. For the experiment we asked several embroiderers to stitch our new Crafty Cat and Knitty Kitty embroidery patterns, except that we gave them no instructions, no reference on what embroidery stitches to use, no color suggestions, no transfer instructions, and no photo of the finished embroidery. We only gave them the basic line art design to use. 

Check our our “Path to creativity: Don’t follow instructions” post here to read more about the experiment.

Well, the results are in!
I’m overwhelmed by the amazing stitching of our experimenters. And if you’ve been following the tour I hope you were just as blown away. There were so many ideas. So many techniques. So much cuteness. Not to mention attempts at posing real kitties. 

I LOVE everyone’s creativity!

Below are direct links to the embroidery experimenters and their posts. Click the links to hear their full story about stitching the Crafty Cat and Knitty Kitty embroidery patterns with no instructions.

Abby from While She Naps 

Nicole from Follow the White Bunny

Mollie from Wild Olive

Olisa and Leigh from Mr. X Stitch

Floresita, Gabi, Kristen, Jo, and Pam from Feeling Stitchy

Wendi from Shiny Happy World

I had so many creativity "ah ha" moments while I was looking at everyone's pics and reading their stories. Below are some of their pics and the experimenting tips I learned through this project.

Nicole stitched the kitty above. I love how she filled in the kitty with all the little stitches, and how she used different floss colors for the fur. Look at how well the fur colors blend together. The texture created from all of the little stitches and different colors is amazing. And that little heart in the quilt block is just too cute. Also really love the idea of stitching on a patterned fabric.

• Experiment: Try filling in shapes with different colored floss to create blended color. Stitch on a patterned fabric.
I'm absolutely drooling over the colors that Kristen used in her Crafty Cat mug rug in the above pic. I love that mustard yellow. This is a palette that I definitely would like to try.

• Experiment: Play with color! Try colors that you don't use often.

Speaking of floss colors I don't use often, check out Pam's embroidery above. I almost never use variegated color floss. But after looking at this cute kitty, it's going on my list of things to experiment with.

• Experiment: Play with different ways to use variegated floss.
First off, love the blue fabric that Floresita used for the background in the above pic. Also love the textured kitty. But check out that ball of yarn and the knit square! The ball of yarn looks just like a 3 dimensional ball of yarn. And the knit square was actually knit with tiny needles then attached to the background afterwards. How fun.

• Experiment: Combine different crafts together in the same project.

These kitty embroideries by Gabi were stitched onto cork fabric! I've never heard of cork fabric before. I think the textures created by the embroidery stitches and the cork are pretty amazing.

• Experiment: Use a material you've never used before.

Abby's kitty above is another great use of variegated floss and a type of floss I don't use all that often; metallic floss. Isn't that silver scissors just the cutest! I also love that she thought about how to use the embroidery in a finished project.

• Experiment: How can you make embroidery the STAR of your project?

Check out Mollie's awesome knitting bag in the above pic. I love how dark the background fabric is, and I'd love to try stitching on a bold fabric color like this in the future. I tend to stick to my plain unbleached muslin, so doing something like this is out of my comfort zone for sure.

• Experiment: Stitch onto bold colored fabrics.

Now this is an experiment in color, texture and materials! Olisa's kitty above is stitched onto watercolor paper that she first painted, then stitched the scale pattern, then transferred and stitched the kitty. Love the combination of all these ideas together in one piece.

• Experiment: Be bold!

Leigh's kitties in the three pics above were stitched using a technique I've never used before and now absolutely have to try: free hand machine embroidery. That means she used a sewing machine to make all the stitches but instead of having the machine move the fabric, she moved it herself to basically "draw" with the sewing machine. The third image is a process pic. Look how she layersd colors!

• Experiment: Try a new technique.
I think Wendi's kitty above is just darling! Again, really excited about the bold background fabric color. Wendi used a "whipped back stitch" to stitch the yarn to make it look like actual twisted yarn. What a great idea. I love how she changed the knitting needles to a crochet hook.

• Experiment: Make a pattern your own!
And now...

the posing kitties!

Path to creativity: Don't follow instructions.

I love buying patterns.

I purchase patterns for sewing, embroidery, knitting, and other crafts, typically because I want to learn a new technique (or the design is so cute that it’s irresistible). However...

I have a confession to make about my pattern purchases.

I rarely stick to the instructions.

I almost always adjust the pattern to put my own spin on it. In fact, unless it’s a craft that I’ve never touched before, I don’t think I’ve ever followed a pattern’s instructions 100 percent from beginning to end.

What about you? Do you follow instructions exactly or do you veer?

Following instructions is wonderful when you want to try a new craft or technique. Pattern writers work hard to share their techniques and there’s a lot to learn from good instructions. Even if a pattern uses a technique you already know how to do, the pattern writer may do the technique differently, so there’s always something new to learn.

But what about the instructions after that? What about color or stitch choices? Do you follow those too?

When I stray from instructions, sometimes little fear bubbles float the surface. What if I mess up? What if I do it wrong? What if I don’t follow the rules?

These are all questions that hinder creativity.

It can be difficult to actively step away from instructions to do your own thing, however taking that step allows for creativity to happen. It’s the magic of taking a “spark” from your brain and making it real. That’s my definition of “art”.

Ask yourself these questions:

What would happen if you had a project and didn’t have any instructions?

What would happen if you were free from doing something in the right or wrong way?

What would happen if you had permission to just make art?

I decided to run a “no instructions” experiment.

We recruited some awesome embroiders for the experiment. We gave each of them only the line art template for our two new Here Kitty Kitty embroidery patterns, Knitty Kitty and Crafty Cat. We gave the embroiderers no instructions, no reference on what embroidery stitches to use, no color suggestions, no transfer instructions, and no photo of the finished embroidery. We asked each embroiderer to pick one of the designs then stitch it however they wanted. They had a blank slate. No limitations. No pressure. No right or wrong. Just play.

Below is an image of the covers for the two embroideries. Our embroiderers did not see this image before they started stitching.

Today, our embroiderers are ready to share their results!

We put together a blog tour for this week and next week where the embroiderers will share their finished embroideries and process. I’m so excited to see what they came up with and what decisions they made along the way. I know I’m going to be blown away by all the creativity!

Below is the list of embroiderers and the dates they’ll be sharing with links.

Wednesday, April 30 

Abby from While She Naps

Thursday, May 1
Nicole from Follow the White Bunny

Monday, May 5
Mollie from Wild Olive

Tuesday, May 6
Olisa and Leigh from Mr. X Stitch

Wednesday, May 7
Floresita from Feeling Stitchy

Thursday, May 8
Wendi from Shiny Happy World

Please check them out. It’s going to be awesome!

We’ll have our Wrap Up here on the Penguin & Fish blog on Friday, May 9th.

Would you like to participate too?

Click here for the “Knitty Kitty” embroidery pattern.

And click here for the “Crafty Cat” embroidery pattern.

I’d love to see how you experiment and veer away from the instructions! Email your pics to me (alyssa) at info (at) penguinandfish (dot) com, and tell us what you did. We’ll share your pics on our facebook page.


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Here's why I make things and craft. What about you?

Why do you craft?
For me, making things and crafting have always been a part of my life. Crafting is a place for joy. A comfort. A best friend.

I craft because...
it's how I can experiment and learn. One thing I really love doing is looking at a traditional craft and then thinking "What if I tried _____?" or "What would happen if I changed _____?".

There's a great thrill in giving an idea permission to come out of your head and be real.

It's just a bonus if a crafty hypothesis works out how I wanted it to. Even if it doesn't, I know I'm going to learn a ton from what did and didn't work.

I craft because...
it grounds me. Whenever I get stressed out or anxious, the inherent repetitiveness of crafting helps me calm the nerves. It's amazing what a hundred knit 2, purl 1's can do to gather some perspective.

I craft because...
it's awesome to create something that didn't exist before. So much fun fun fun!

The best is creating something new out of something that was going to be thrown out. Then I get the "Woo Hoo, I'm recycling!" feeling too. One of my favorite craft projects was when I "recycled" several sweaters from the thrift store by unraveling them, washing all the "yarn", then crocheting it into an afghan.

We did something similar in our Sew & Stitch Embroidery book where we made a "fake knit" scarf that was made from thrift store sweaters.

And right now I'm crocheting a doily out of all my embroidery floss scraps. It's the same pattern that my grandma used to make all of her doilies. You can see a little detail of it in the "I craft because ____." graphic above.

photo by Sarah Hebenstreit
Now it's your turn.
I would love to hear from you!
Why do you craft?

Email me (Alyssa) at info [at] penguinandfish [dot] com with your answer to:

I craft because _______.

Me being crafty at 1 1/2 years old! Love this pic!

Want more tips, tutorials, fun updates from Penguin & Fish, and a FREE embroidery pattern?
Click here or the button below to join our newsletter (it's FREE too!)


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