PlanetJune Craft Blog

Latest news and updates from June

February update

Changing Plans

I’ve spent most of January working on a beautiful new plant-in-a-pot design, which I’d intended to release by today. It’s a big pattern, with lots of options and tips, but when I looked at everything together, although the pattern was great, the design itself wasn’t quite as perfect as I’d like…

I try to spot these things before I’ve completed a 16-page pattern so I don’t have to redo too much work, but that just didn’t happen in this case. The design is very close, but it’ll take a lot of crocheting and re-writing to make the small tweak the design needs to be really special.

Rather than hurry to get the pattern finished, I decided to postpone the release date by 2 weeks, to take the pressure off myself and make sure I’m 100% satisfied with the design before it goes public and am making decisions about what’s best for the final pattern, not what I can manage in the available time.

It’s disappointing to have to change plans, but now I’ve had time to adjust I’m glad I made this decision. As I enter my 10th year(!) of crochet design, it’s becoming even clearer that each new design I add to my pattern catalogue has to be my best work. One standout new design adds far more value to my business in the course of time than I’d get from producing ten mediocre patterns – and there are no shortcuts if you want to end up with something extra-special.

PlanetJune on Instagram

For 2016, I’ve finally joined Instagram!

PlanetJune on Instagram

If you’re on Instagram too:

  • See behind-the-scenes snippets of my work and life (like my first IG pics, above!) by following me @PlanetJune
  • Show off your pics of the lovely things you’ve made from my patterns by tagging them with the hashtag #planetjune

Hearts & Flowers CAL

Postponing my new pattern release has left us with time to enjoy a quick pre-Valentine’s Day crochet-along – I hope you’ll join in by making beautiful hearts and roses from my free (donationware) patterns…

Hearts & Flowers CAL from PlanetJune

Love Hearts and Basic Rose are both fast to work up so I hope you’ll have time to join in – even if it’s just to make one tiny Love Heart (5 mins start to finish!)

Both the CAL patterns are available for free, but donations are always very much appreciated (and you’ll get the nicely-formatted PDF file as a thank you for your donation of any size).

Sounds good? Crochet-along with us between now and Feb 14th in the PlanetJune Ravelry group :)

Review and Win contest

You’re automatically entered in the next monthly draw every time you write a review for a PlanetJune pattern you’ve enjoyed – and you’ll also be helping future customers make an informed decision about patterns they are considering buying.

It’s time for a big catch-up today, as I didn’t post monthly updates in December or January, so I have 3 winners to draw!

Sea Otter amigurumi crochet pattern by PlanetJune

November’s winner is Linda S‘s review of my Sea Otter pattern:

This is the sweetest little guy, and he was fun to make. Before I buying, I compared it to similar patterns and he came out way on top. I recommend this pattern.

crocheted cactus collections 1 and 2 by planetjune

December’s winner is Elizabeth L‘s review of my Cactus Collection 1 & 2 patterns:

Everything a pattern should be! Simple and easy to follow with beautiful results! I always had problems with French knots but June’s explanation took care of that.

AmiCats amigurumi cat crochet patterns by PlanetJune

And finally, January’s winner is Josh C‘s review of my AmiCats Tuxedo pattern (far right in the above pic):

All of June’s pattern’s I’ve tried so far have been well written and they all produce a realistic result, but this cat really impressed me. I’m not sure what amazed me more – the fact that the finished cat body actually includes contours and curves exactly where you’d expect them to be on a real cat (like the hind legs, or the arch in its back), or the method for joining the front legs to the body (no sewing required, you crochet them straight onto the body…and the tops of the legs just disappear into the body, leaving literally no seam at all)

It took me a while to complete but the finished product was 100% worth it.

Congratulations, Linda, Elizabeth and Josh – I’ve emailed you all to find out which pattern you’d each like as your prize!

What’s Next?

Full steam ahead with perfecting my new plant pattern and preparing the Promise of Spring CAL to begin on Feb 15th. After that, I’ll be able to make a start on my last fully-pledged commission – yay!

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Failure: Part of Success

I’ve been thinking about the ‘perfect’ craft world that we usually see online – endless photos of beautiful finished projects – and how they rarely, if ever, show the whole story. I’m as guilty as anyone else: unless I’m planning a tutorial, I almost never take photos until I finish a project, so you never get to see how many times I re-knit and adjust until I end up with the sweater I had in mind (or something close to it, at least).

And yet, with everything I make, whether that’s a new crochet design or a personal craft project, nothing ever goes entirely to plan! I enjoy the process of making at least as much as I enjoy the finished item, so I don’t see spending some extra time with each project as a problem. But it’s important to remember that failure is a part of learning and growing, and you shouldn’t be upset when something creative doesn’t go as expected – just learn from it and move on.

Burnt Buttons

I thought I’d share a pretty hilarious example of one of my failures with you – remember this purple cardigan I finished knitting a few months ago?

purple cardigan

The handmade polymer clay buttons were supposed to be the finishing touch, and I spent ages perfecting a set of 8 lovely 4-hole buttons. Then I put them in the toaster oven and waited. I have no idea what happened – I’ve baked polymer clay dozens of times before, I use an oven thermometer, and I monitor the temperature regularly, so I don’t know what could have gone so badly wrong. And yet, my poor buttons grew and swelled and darkened and turned into…

burnt polymer clay buttons that look like chocolate brownies!

Chocolate brownies?! With their bubbled glossy surface and rich brown colouring, I seem to have accidentally discovered the formula for perfect replica brownies – but definitely not the formula for perfect buttons for my cardigan!

After this disaster, I almost gave up and abandoned polymer clay forever, but I thought I’d have one quick last try before making such a drastic decision. I quickly cut a new set of buttons, simplified to thinner circles (one sheet of clay, straight out of the pasta machine) with just 2 holes per button, and popped them in the toaster oven. And, this time, they baked exactly as expected:

replacement polymer clay button with burnt first attempt

It’s hard to believe that these two buttons were made from exactly the same materials – the only differences before going in the oven were the thickness (although the ‘brownie’ buttons were much thinner before they were baked/burnt!) and the number of holes. I still don’t know what I did to make such a difference between the two batches of buttons (although I have several theories as to what may have gone wrong the first time), but, luckily, the new buttons are fine, so I just quit while I was ahead and sewed them onto my cardigan!

Unexpected Inspiration

Failure can even be a good thing, provided you don’t let it defeat you. When it comes to my crochet designs, interesting discoveries often come from my failures in the form of techniques or shapes I can adapt for a future design…

planetjune meerkat head prototypes

One of my failed prototypes for my Meerkat‘s head (above, right) gave me the inspiration for what became my Aliens pattern (below)! I love my cute little alien, but that design would never have happened if I hadn’t seen the potential in the meerkat failure.

Aliens amigurumi crochet pattern by PlanetJune

Fear of Failure

The fear of failure can be even worse when you’re trying something new. I’ve been wanting to take up painting again for a long time, and I’ve stocked up on paints, brushes, and canvases, but I’ve been too afraid of messing up to even make a start!

I think it’s time to take my own advice: it’s okay to fail. I know I won’t be any good at first – or maybe ever – but I should just paint something and see what happens, shouldn’t I?

Final Thoughts

It’s rare for anyone to show their failures, but we all have them. There’s no chance of success if you don’t even try – and then keep trying, and learning, and improving, until you end up with something you’re happy with.

Nobody is perfect, and (despite what you may think from viewing craft blogs, Pinterest boards and Instagram feeds) many projects don’t go as planned! Some things are beyond our control, but you should never let a crafting mishap stop you from having another go. :)

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South Africa wildlife IX: Ceres and Sutherland

Just before Christmas, Dave spent a week working at one of the big telescopes at Sutherland, 400km from Cape Town. I decided to take a road trip to meet him out there and bring him home for Christmas. I thought you might like to see more of the South African landscape and wildlife, so I documented what I could for you to enjoy too!

The drive was lovely and I saw some amazing animals along the way – baboons, pelicans, blue cranes, lizards, and various birds of prey and brightly-coloured songbirds – but it’s not easy to take photos of moving targets while driving! By the time I’d stopped the car (when I could), the wildlife had run or flown away. In fact, the only animal I managed to photograph en route was a slow-moving baby tortoise…  But the scenery is pretty spectacular too, and I did get some nice wildlife pics once I reached the observatory.

Sutherland, Ceres and Cape Town

This doesn’t look like a massive road trip on the scale of the size of the whole country, but it goes through farmland, mountains, and semi-desert, and both the scenery and weather change completely as you go.

Leaving Cape Town and heading east takes you into the Cape Winelands region (if you’ve enjoyed any South African wine, it probably hails from here!) Nestled between mountains in the middle of the winelands, the Ceres valley has the perfect climate for fruit-growing, and I decided to make a pit-stop there. Although it added another hour or so to my journey, it was well worth it: there’s a short but wonderful cherry season here in December, and going cherry picking has become one of my favourite annual traditions.

Continuing north-east, the Cape Winelands gives way to the Karoo – a vast, harsh, semi-desert landscape, and the largest ecosystem in South Africa. The trees disappear and are replaced by low scrubby bushes and aloes that can survive the hot, dry climate. It’s huge and empty and you can drive for an hour without seeing another car.

The astronomical observatory is located on a hilltop in the middle of a nature reserve near the small town of Sutherland. It has spectacular views of the landscape (as well as the night sky!) and it was wonderfully peaceful to wander around with my camera while the astronomers slept – they work all night and sleep all morning – and try to capture the surrounding wildlife.

Okay, enough talking, let’s look at my photos:

I hope the peace and tranquility of my trip has come across in my photos – having all this stunning natural beauty on my doorstep is the absolute best thing about living in Africa.

PS – I’m now enjoying the last week of our relaxing summer staycation. We’ve been visiting national parks and nature reserves, so I may just have another wildlife photoblog post for you soon, before I get back to the crochet posts…

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2015: year in review

Writing this review post each year gives me perspective on my year in business – and life – and helps me to appreciate my accomplishments. My main goal for 2015 was to get healthy so I can enjoy life, nature, and creating new designs. At the time I wrote that I had no idea that I’d be getting serious knee surgery in February and be spending the majority of the year working on rehabilitating my knee and getting my strength back – still a work in progress – so ‘getting healthy’ was a much more difficult and time-consuming goal than I’d imagined it would be!

Although this meant I haven’t exactly been prolific, I’m very happy with the range and quality of my new crochet designs: the AmiCats (of course!), 5 new commissioned animal patterns, a new baby animal set, a donationware pattern, an expansion pack, two shawls, and an innovative Christmas design:

2015 crochet pattern designs by PlanetJune
PlanetJune 2015 crochet patterns

(Wow, seeing them all together like this, I must have subconsciously followed a strong colour palette with my designs this year – isn’t that interesting to see?!)

I didn’t waste my time while I was stuck on the sofa resting my knee; it turns out that knitting is a great distraction from pain, and my wardrobe has benefitted from 4 new sweaters (the final one isn’t photographed yet – I can’t face the thought of modelling alpaca in summer…):

2015 knitting projects by PlanetJune
(Most of) my 2015 knitting projects

And I made quite a few other craft projects, in punchneedle embroidery, papercraft, cross stitch, and block printing:

2015 craft projects by PlanetJune
My 2015 craft projects

Personal Report

‘Wasting’ the whole year convalescing has been extremely frustrating, but I like to look for the silver lining in any situation, and the fact that I’ve only been able to work part-time hours for the entire year and not only keep my business afloat but actually increase my sales proves that all the systems I’ve been building in previous years are working! My business, to an extent, runs itself, which leaves me with more time to do more interesting things.

In 2015, ‘more interesting things’ turned out to be going to knee rehab, being too exhausted to work, and dealing with ongoing criminal activity. Obviously, that’s not the ideal situation and didn’t leave much time or energy for new designs, tutorials, etc, but it proves that I can keep my business going without working myself into the ground. That means, once I don’t have as much other stuff to deal with, I really should have time to enjoy life and enjoy creating again!

It’s been a long, hard struggle to reach this point, and I still have months of rehab ahead, but I feel more positive, going forward. I’ve learnt to accept that my life – at the moment, at least – is full of unexpected twists and delays, and setting time-based business goals is a surefire way to make myself miserable when I’m unable to meet them.

No matter how much buffer time I build in, I still constantly fail to meet any deadline I set. But, you know what? That’s okay. I don’t need to set deadlines as motivation to get things done – completing a project and putting it out into the world is its own reward.

I’m finding that keeping my plans fluid and accepting that sometimes I’ll lose working time to factors beyond my control leads to a much less stressful life. Thankfully, my business can still function this way, and supports me well enough to give me the time I need to make things the way I want them to be made.

It’s still frustrating to be able to accomplish so much less than I want to, but I’ve realised that if there’s something you don’t like about your situation, you have a choice: find a way to change it, or accept it. I choose to accept it: it may mean less quantity of new work, but I’ll never ever sacrifice quality. I feel like this is a healthier mental outlook: it helps me to be at peace with my situation and concentrate on enjoying my successes.

Business Report

In 2014’s review, I said:

I’ve been working ridiculously hard on [building self-sustaining systems] for the past three years, to get the ever-expanding PlanetJune to the point where I can run the business instead of it running me. And, fingers crossed, I may now be at that point!

I think I can now call that a resounding success – as I said above, 2015 has actually been my most profitable year to date, by a significant margin, despite my only being able to work part-time hours. That’s an amazing feeling, and it owes a lot to the fact that I published my unique AmiCats designs in January. They have proven to be as popular as I’d hoped they would during the 3-year journey it took to bring them to reality.

(That’s the nature of a business like mine – you put in the work on faith and have to hope the financial rewards will eventually repay you! It’s taken me 9 years of constant pattern-designing and lots of system-building to reach this place of relative financial security – although, even now, there are no guarantees…)

This relative financial freedom has also allowed me to accomplish several big projects that haven’t contributed significantly to my income, but have contributed to improving the PlanetJune experience for my customers:

  • I scrambled in the first half of the year when Google announced it would be penalising sites that aren’t mobile-friendly, and taught myself responsive web design so I could redesign my entire website.
  • I figured out a mechanism to process my Etsy/ArtFire orders through PlanetJune, so all my customers get the same service, experience, and permanent access to their patterns, and repeat customers will be more likely to shop directly in future.
  • I reacquired the rights to my out-of-print papercraft book, Paper Chains & Garlands, and edited and self-published it as an e-book.
  • I finally closed down my old papercraft website, Folding Trees, and re-launched my best paper tutorials as PlanetJune Papercraft.
  • I’ve upgraded my newsletter software and redesigned my monthly newsletter (first new issue coming later this month!) to look more professional and in line with my brand.

Constantly improving and streamlining operations is definitely paying off, and, with hindsight, I’m delighted that Google forced my hand into dropping everything and making PlanetJune mobile-friendly – that was definitely a blessing in disguise, as my website is now so much more functional and enjoyable to use.

What’s next?

My overall goal for 2016 is to live by David Allen‘s quote “You can do anything, but not everything”: to make the most of the time I have by choosing projects wisely, to not overwork, and to continue to strive for innovative, unique designs so I can be proud of what I accomplish – no matter how much (or little) that proves to be.

For the third year in a row, my personal goals are to enjoy life and nature and to get healthy. I now have a new knee specialist and my new rehab/exercise program seems to be making a real difference already, so I’m feeling positive that 2016 will be the year to finally realise those goals!

As for the business, I’ll follow the same plan as last year: leaving my goals flexible and seeing where life takes me. Broadly:

  • I have one more big technical project to complete to bring PlanetJune fully up-to-date and easier to maintain, going forward.
  • There’s also just one more commissioned design to complete, and then I plan to revise the commissions system to make it more stable and sustainable.
  • And I aim to give myself time to explore and experiment with my craft so I can create exciting new crochet designs and technique tutorials.

My wish for 2016 is to have a peaceful, satisfying year, full of inspiration and creativity, with minimal stress and guilt. I hope 2016 will be positive and peaceful for you too. Thank you so much for your support on my continuing journey with PlanetJune, and I wish you a very Happy New Year!

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classic Tetris in cross stitch

tetris cross stitch embroideries

I like to have a relaxing craft project to work on over the holidays, to give me a complete break from work and designing. In December 2011, I’d hoped to do some knitting, but you have to learn to keep plans flexible when you live in Africa: the knitting needles I ordered from my local shop in November didn’t arrive until the following March(!), so I had to change my plans. Instead, I returned to one of my oldest crafty pleasures: cross stitch.

Long before I taught myself to crochet, my crafts of choice were polymer clay, candlemaking, and counted cross-stitch. I used to buy cross stitch kits, and then, later, bought software that let me design my own charts. Now I know my way around Illustrator, I can design my own charts, from scratch – much more satisfying :)

I like the idea of 8-bit art – basing a design on pixelated video game graphics makes it so easy to replicate the original – but I wanted to give it my own twist. So, I came up with a Tetris design to stitch in 4 shades of green to mimic the original classic 2-bit black and white (actually light green and dark green – or ‘pea soup’ colours according to Wikipedia!) Game Boy version.

And here’s the result: 10,000 perfect little stitches of geeky relaxation.

tetris cross stitch embroidery

To give this design a very small amount of meaning, the falling block has a little built-in life metaphor: do you take the easy road by dropping the block straight down and completing two lines, or do you hold out for the big rewards by shifting it one space to the left first, and hoping a straight piece comes along soon so you can complete a tetris? (I’d hold out for the tetris every time!)

The original Game Boy Tetris is still the best version of the game (although I may be biased – it was my only game for months, until I could afford to buy Super Mario Land too – and I’ve probably logged hundreds of hours of gameplay on it). I have a Tetris game for my DS, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the classic music and Russian dancing men from the original.

I considered making a companion piece showing the full band and all the dancing men, but that would need the full height of the Game Boy screen (144 pixels) – almost half as many stitches again as the first piece! I decided that’d be too much work, but, when the holidays next rolled around, guess what I started designing..?

tetris cross stitch embroidery
Can you hear the music?

I’d figured out how to draw symbol-coded cross-stitch charts in Illustrator and charted each piece fully before I started to work on it:

tetris cross stitch chart (partial) by June Gilbank

Doesn’t my chart look great? I’d hoped to eventually release both patterns as Donationware, but the issues of trademark infringement and unlicensed patterns made that idea too difficult to pursue further, so I guess my charts will never see the light of day. But at least I know how to create perfect professional-quality cross stitch charts now – you never know when that’ll come in handy!

This turned into a really long-term project. During my second Christmas of working on the second piece, I posted this wip photo (rotated so as not to give the game away):

tetris cross stitch work in progress

I was still working on it last Christmas, and it’s taken until now to complete, wash, press and mount both pieces.

tetris cross stitch - back
The back of the second piece – I love how the back of cross stitch embroideries look almost as good as the front, and have their own patterns that you don’t see from the front.

And finally, 4 years of holiday crafting and 24,800 stitches after I embarked on this project, they’re ready to hang in my office/studio! It took a lot of patience to reach this point, but I think it was worth it:

tetris cross stitch embroideries

They’re a perfect fit for the narrow wall space to the right of the window. The only question left is which should hang above the other: like this…

tetris cross stitch embroideries

…or like this…

tetris cross stitch embroideries

I really can’t decide! Which do you prefer?

Either way, I love them. And now I’ll get to see my Tetris wall hangings every day, and have a moment of happy nostalgia every time I look at them. :)

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    June Gilbank

    Hi, I'm June. Welcome to my world of nature-inspired crochet and crafting. I hope you enjoy your visit!

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