Alyssa Thomas, designer and owner of Penguin & Fish creates cute, modern embroidery patterns, kits, sewing patterns, and plush characters. You may recognize her name from feverish searchings for embroidery books on Amazon. (What? You don’t do that?) Her new book is called Sew and Stitch Embroidery. I’m thrilled that Alyssa could spend some time with us.
When did you start embroidering and why?
I started embroidering in the form of cross stitch when I was around 6 or 7 years old. A babysitter had brought over a cross stitch that she was working on and I was mesmerized by her stitching. I started my own cross stitching immediately the next day. I crossed stitched for a few years but then moved on to other crafts like knitting and crochet. After going art school (at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design) I wanted a way to bring my illustrated characters back into the craft world. That’s when I picked up embroidery. It seemed like the perfect way to interpret my little drawings into something tangible and fun to make.
Name three things that inspire you…
Kitties, patterns, crafting
What was the last great book you read and why did you love it?
Tarzan: The Mark of the Red Hyena. It was recent find at an estate sale. The format is amazing. It’s hardcover about 3 inches wide by 4 inches tall. It reads like a novel on the left side of the page, then on the right of every page is a comic book drawing. I think it was meant for young boys in the late 1960’s, to get them into reading.
Where do you do your work (in a sewing room, on your patio, in front of the TV, etc.)?
I usually work in my studio. I have a computer station there as well as a sewing station. However, for the last few days I’ve been out on the patio. It’s been so beautiful out and I get to watch and listen to the birds at the feeder.
Ok, you’re stranded on a desert island. Which five items do you hope to have with you?
Water purifier, matches, fishing rod, knife (yes, all pretty practical, which probably says a lot about me), and also the husband. This all assumes I’ll be carving myself some knitting needles and crochet hook, and crafting myself up some clothing and shelter out of the native grasses. Heh heh.
What is your favorite kind of item to stitch?
I don’t know if I really have any particular item that I prefer to stitch. For me it’s more about making embroidery the “star” of whatever item you’re making. That’s also the premise of our new book, Sew & Stitch Embroidery.
How do you come up with the designs for your pieces?
I’m super inspired by animals, so most of the designs start there. I sketch until I think the character looks how I’d like it, then I start the process of turning the sketch into a pattern on the computer.
Tell us about how Penguin and Fish got started. Is there a special meaning behind the name?
I started Penguin & Fish as a way to sell my stuffed animals that I was making. The company developed a bit more when I decided to start drawing more and turning those drawings into embroidery patterns. The name of Penguin & Fish comes from an animation that I made out of cut paper in college. It was about a Penguin and a Fish that bump into each other and fall in love. Eventually the Fish tells the Penguin that it has to migrate away. They’re both sad, but in the end it turns out alright because they keep in touch via email. The story was loosely based on me and my husband.
Anything else you’d like to add:
All of our products are available at penguinandfish.com. Our new book, Sew & Stitch Embroidery is available at bookstores, quilt/craft stores, and on amazon.com at: amzn.to/1bWNTqB