Half way finished with The Splendid Sampler quilt along.

The last 6 months for me have been defined by one big crafty project.

The Splendid Sampler quilt along.

If you haven’t yet joined the 21,000+ people working on a Splendid Sampler quilt of their own, here’s a little background on the project.

Started by quilting stars, Pat Sloan and Jane Davidson, The Splendid Sampler is a 100 block mystery quilt along running from Feb 2016 - Feb 2017. Each week, on Thursdays and Sundays, a new mystery 6 ½ inch quilt block is released as a digital pattern.

Each block pattern is written by a different designer and uses a technique they’re known for. I’ve been fortunate enough to be the designer for block 11.

So far we’ve seen everything from traditional piecing to embroidery. And also raw edge appliqué, needle turn appliqué, foundation paper piecing, English paper piecing, and combinations of all these techniques.

Right now The Splendid Sampler quilt along is totally FREE.

That means every pattern with a bunch of bonus patterns, all beautifully crafted by some of your favorite designers, is all at your fingertips. Not to mention an incredibly helpful, kind, and inspiring Facebook group of over 21,000 quilters. Some quilting for 50+ years and others making their first ever quilt. All the patterns are free for the duration of the project and then they will be taken offline and turned into a book.

My versions of The Splendid Sampler blocks (clockwise from top left) 32, 31, 15, 18

I love that there may be 21,000+ Splendid Sampler quilts being made right now. Pretty amazing, huh!

Tomorrow marks the halfway point of The Splendid Sampler.


Block 50!

I’m making myself a Splendid Sampler quilt and I’m so proud I made it this far. My craftiness temperament doesn’t usually want me to take on large projects (it likes small “quick win” projects), so it was a big leap for me to choose to do The Splendid Sampler.

I’m so happy I did! I realized that breaking the quilt down into blocks, turned the project into a whole series of “quick wins”.

My mom decided to do the Splendid Sampler too, and it’s been so great to have the shared experience of working on the blocks with her.

Mom's "Flip Flopping Challenge" bonus block.

I decided to keep myself accountable by broadcasting Live the process of making every block in the streaming app, Periscope. Every night at 9:30pm central time I broadcast Live and work on the most current Splendid Sampler block. Viewers can comment and ask questions in real time.

At minimum I thought the Live broadcasting would keep me on track by giving me a dedicated time to sew, and I’d be able to help people with the embroidery on the block I designed, block 11.

The block I designed! Block 11.

What I found through Live broadcasting on Periscope was community of new friends, all helping each other to become better quilters. And a group of wonderful people to hang out with every night.

It’s because of my Periscope community, that I’ve gone from a “faking it” quilter that knew just enough to get by, to a confident quilter that could stand up tall in any room of experienced quilters.

One of the biggest rewards for me has been the comments and emails from quilters who’ve watched the Live broadcasts or the replays on YouTube, who’ve said that the videos have helped them make their blocks.

And it’s especially exciting when they decided to try a technique they thought they’d never tackle because they could watch me do it, and it didn’t seem so hard anymore.

That makes me so happy!

The more people trying new things and gaining confidence through crafting the better! Yay us!

To celebrate the 50 block halfway point of The Splendid Sampler quilt along, I’ll be having a special Periscope at my parent’s house. I’ll be laying out all of my blocks like a quilt. The last time I did that was when I finished block 25. The quilt has doubled in size since then!

And even better, my mom is going to lay out all of her quilt blocks as well. You’ll get to see both of our quilts side by side. It’s amazing how different fabrics can totally change the look of a quilt.

After “show and tell” I’ll be starting block 50 Live on Periscope.

I’d love for you to join me in tomorrow’s (Thursday August 4th) 9:30pm Central Live Periscope broadcast “show and tell” to celebrate block 50.

To watch and chat LIVE:

1. Download the Periscope app to your device (IPad users may have to look in the Iphone only apps)
2. Sign in using your Twitter account.
3. Click the Person icon, then click the magnifying glass
4. Search for penguinandfish, and when you see me, Alyssa Thomas, click the plus sign or follow button
You'll be notified when I go live. Click the notification or the title of my "scope" in Periscope to join.

You can also watch online at http://periscope.tv/penguinandfish at 9:30pm central time.

Replays of the Live Periscope broadcasts are on YouTube on my channel, Penguin & Fish Movies: http://youtube.com/penguinandfishmovies. If you want to learn a new technique or need some help making it through a block, that’s the place to be.

You don’t have to wait until tomorrow to join me on Periscope either. I’m there every night! So pop on in tonight while I finish up block 49. I’ll be stitching at my parent’s house and sewing it on my mom’s machine.

The best part of stitching at my parent’s house is that you’ll get to hear the frogs outside!


For more info on The Splendid Sampler and access all the free blocks, check out http://thesplendidsampler.com

And click here to join The Splendid Sampler Facebook group.

If you’re nervous about starting such a big project, start off by stitching my Splendid Sampler freebie bonus project. My BEE BRAVE quilting bee. It will help you muster up the confidence to “BEE BRAVE”!

Click here to get your FREE Bee Brave embroidery.

I’ll see you on Periscope!

Happy halfway point!



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

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: thesplendidsampler.com

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 periscope.tv/penguinandfish.

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:

instagram.com/penguinandfish (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 katch.me/penguinandfish 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 appliquéd 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 periscope.tv/penguinandfish 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 Amazon.com 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.

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

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