I have been a HUGE fan ofPenguin and Fish for over a year now. Her plushies, quilts, and embroidery designs are adorable! Plus, she’s successfully turned her artwork into fabric designs. How cool is that? I think you’re really going to enjoy the interview today! Alyssa has some very encouraging words and great advice for crafters.
Just in case some people haven’t seen your amazing fabric art, would you share a little bit about yourself and your work?
I am the owner and designer for Penguin & Fish, where we create lovely and quirky hand embroidery patterns and hand embroidery kits. My first fabric collection, Safari Sweet, came out a couple months ago and my next one, Picnic Pals, will be on it’s way to stores in July (I’m so excited!). I also design and make plush stuffed animals and have a children’s book, No Monster Here.
I know that in addition to your Etsy shop and website you attend a lot of craft and trade shows. What have you gained from this additional exposure and would you recommend trade shows to other fabric artists?
My business as a whole focuses more on trade shows then craft shows. For me trade shows are serious business. At trade shows you’re usually selling directly to the trade at wholesale prices. You get to meet and sell your products to shop owners and distributors. It’s also a chance to see what’s happening in your industry, talk to the media in your industry, and be seen as a professional in your industry…all of which have been extremely important in growing Penguin & Fish. The main trade show that I exhibit at is the International Quilt Market, and because of it I now have Penguin & Fish products in stores internationally, had work featured in industry magazines, licensed my designs to a fabric company, and have a few other fun secret things in the works. Exhibiting at a trade show takes a ton of planning and a good chunk of change, but if you’re ready for it, I would definitely recommend it. My advice would be to do your research and make sure the show is right for you, and to have the mission to learn as much as you can and network like crazy! Craft shows for me are more for fun. I get to hang out with my fellow crafters and sell my items at retail prices which is great. It’s also a wonderful chance to meet and chat with customers directly. I’ll be at the No Coast Craft-o-Rama in Minneapolis Dec 2-3 if anyone wanted to stop by!
What made you decide to start turning your illustrations into fabric patterns? And then those fabric patterns into stuffed creations?
I started Penguin & Fish with my plush stuffed animals. I love making them but after a while I was feeling like I wasn’t drawing as much anymore. That’s when I decided to design my Alphabet Animals hand embroidery patterns as an opportunity to make a series of drawings. When I finished all the embroideries I wanted to make a quilt out of all of them. I wanted to use my own fabric for the quilt, so I designed a collection of patterns out of the animals and printed the them onto fabric through spoonflower.com. I made the quilt and displayed it at the International Quilt Market to show off the embroider patterns and the fabric collection designs were picked up by Clothworks Textiles. I now work with them to make fabric designs for their 100% GOTS certified organic cotton fabric. With fabric in hand, it was natural for me to go back to my plush stuffed animal making roots and start making plush sewing patterns. The alligator plush animal is my first sewing pattern and I’m super excited to design more.
Was there ever a time when you thought your business dreams might not be possible? What did you do to overcome that obstacle?
Yes, Everyday. It is hard running a business. There are always setbacks and the tiny voice in the back of my head telling me that this whole business thing won’t work, but I just try to push ahead keep busy learning more about business and focusing on improving every part of it.
Your embroidery patterns and stuffed creatures have evolved over time to be more for parents of young children. How did you discover/decide that that was your real target market?
I believe that there’s a market out there for anything. For me, I wanted to design things that I liked, which happens to mostly be cute (but not too cute) little animals, no matter what the medium. That fit easily into the children’s category, and the parents who want to make something special for their child. There is also a large audience of DIYers who are interested in crafting and design.
Anything else you’d like to share?
In addition to running Penguin & Fish I am the co-founder of Studio Collective, INC, a digital design company that is run by my husband Jon. You can check out my website atpenguinandfish.com and blog at penguinandfish.blogspot.com. If you’d like to read our fun children’s book, check out NoMonsterHere.com.