PlanetJune Craft Blog

Latest news and updates from June

Archive for My Craft Business

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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Improved Charts & Graphics

While working on my Paper Chains & Garlands ebook, I discovered a better way to import my illustrations into the finished document which allows for the ultra-high resolution of today’s tablets and smartphones. This technique will also make my stitch diagrams and illustrations look much cleaner in my future crochet patterns.

Of course, once I realised this was possible, I couldn’t just leave my back catalogue of patterns as-is, with the less-good charts and diagrams, knowing they could be better… So, I’ve just released new versions of all my patterns that contain a charted stitch diagram, illustration or diagram (see the list of patterns below).

(By the way, there’s nothing wrong with the old versions; they’ve always looked fine to view or print, but if you zoom in on a chart/illustration on your tablet now, the new diagrams will stay perfectly sharp, no matter how much you zoom.)

improved PlanetJune quality: charts, diagrams and illustrations

I doubt you’ll ever need to view my charts at this size, but now you have the option :)

Your pattern licence entitles you to free updates to any PlanetJune pattern you’ve purchased, so, if you’ve previously bought any of the following patterns, just log back into your PlanetJune account and you can save the updated version!

Tip: Go to this link to see an alphabetised list of all your pattern purchases, so you can jump straight to the right order(s) without hunting :)

PlanetJune Accessories patterns:

  • Banded Lace Wrap
  • Cascading Clusters Shawl
  • Chunky Elegance Rug Trio
  • Chunky Moebius Cowl
  • Climbing Eyelets Triangular Shawl
  • Diamond Flowers Scarf Wrap
  • Diamond Lattice Neckwarmer
  • Eyelet Ripple Scarf Sweater
  • Frosty Windows Scarf
  • Gossamer Lace Wrap
  • Lacy Bobbles Cowl
  • Rippled Lace Rectangular Shawl
  • Scalloped Scarf
  • Tunisian Stripe Purse

Amigurumi (and misc) patterns:

  • Aliens
  • AmiCats Calico
  • AmiCats Single-Coloured
  • AmiCats Tabby
  • AmiCats Tuxedo
  • Armadillo
  • Baby Cephalopods Set 1
  • Baby Cephalopods Set 2
  • Cuboctahedron
  • Dimorphodon (Dinosaur)
  • Frilled Lizard
  • Fruit Bat
  • Fuzzy Bear
  • Fuzzy Bunny and Chick
  • Fuzzy Lamb
  • Gaming Dice
  • Iguana
  • Koala
  • Polyhedral Balls
  • Primroses
  • Shamrocks
  • Sloth
  • Water Lily
  • Yeti and Bigfoot

Comments

AmiCats: a design evolution study

In January 2015, I released my AmiCats Collection, and their reception has blown me away – in well under a year, they’re already within my top 20 bestselling patterns of all time!

Sometimes you strike gold with a design, and this was definitely one of those times, but it wasn’t just a lucky break; it was the result of an unprecedented amount of work, and my most difficult challenge to date.

AmiCats amigurumi cat crochet patterns by PlanetJune

I mentioned at the time of release that it took me more than a dozen prototypes over a period of three years to complete these designs to my satisfaction. Let’s look back at some of the development stages, so you can appreciate the process that finally got me to the AmiCats you see today, and see how far removed they are from my first (terrible) attempts at making a cat!

This is a story of dogged persistence and refusal to admit defeat, even though there were moments where I thought I’d set myself an impossible task…

Initial Research & Prototyping

Although I’ve always been a cat person and have loved cats my whole life, I’d never really examined their overall shape that closely. I started out, as always, with research, and sketched some basic cat studies to give me a better idea of cat poses and movement.

amicats prototypes
A few of my initial quick sketches

I narrowed the position down to a sitting-up pose, as I felt this was a typically feline pose – like the way a cat sits when it’s watching something out of a window.

After 3 or 4 prototypes, I felt I had a good clever cat design. The body had a strong kidney shape to allow the legs to sit directly beneath the chest instead of splaying out in front of the body, and the muzzle – unlike a dog’s – was tiny and triangular. I completed assembly of my design, taking all the step-by-step photos that would go into the pattern as I went, and thought it was pretty much finished.

amicats prototypes
Not one of these photos appears in the final patterns!

Then I showed a photo of my prototype to a trusted friend, and she said ‘it’s nice, but it looks kind of like a wolf cub’. And she was right, of course! Try not to laugh too hard, now:

amicats prototypes
Woof?

Somehow, despite my efforts at clever design, the essence of ‘feline’ was missing, and I was so close to the design I hadn’t noticed how terribly wrong it had gone until I stepped back and took a proper look at the result.

I decided that my design was missing the fluidity of a cat – you don’t see a cat’s haunches and muzzle as defined shapes, and crocheting them separately lost the smooth lines that are so distinctly ‘cat’.

And there was another problem niggling at me: the front legs had proven fairly difficult to attach smoothly to avoid an awkward crease where they joined the chest. If this gave me problems, with my years of experience of stitching pieces together as smoothly as possible, would it be fair to inflict that on my customers? Of course not.

Major Redesign

With all this in mind, I set myself the challenge of going back to the drawing board to solve these problems. My goal was to reproduce the exact shape of my cat prototype, using completely different shapes and techniques that would give a seamless feline appearance without needing amazing sewing skills…

amicats prototypes

  1. The muzzle shaping is now built into the face
  2. The front legs and body are crocheted together smoothly
  3. The haunches are built into the body shape

I truly thought I’d nailed it with this prototype – the overall shape was very similar to the previous prototype, but it looked so much better and smoother than my previous attempt! And this cat (nicknamed Proto Kitty) was the basis for the final AmiCats, but of course the story doesn’t end there…

Design Refinement

I began to crochet the ‘final’ cats, developing the colourways and marking patterns as I went. I also spent hours watching my cat Maui, feeling his bone structure and trying to analyse his shape more closely, as I still had that nagging feeling I was missing something.

I’d started all the cats, and completed the two below, before I began to have doubts about the shape of them (although these cats were pretty cute!)

amicats prototypes

  1. The eyes stuck out too much from the head
  2. The chest was underdeveloped
  3. The front legs were too long and chunky and splayed forwards more than I’d like
  4. The front paws were overly-large, giving the cats too much of a kittenish look
  5. The straight back didn’t have that unquestionably feline curve

These niggles didn’t all present themselves at once, so I made many more prototypes as I refined and further refined my design to tweak the shaping to create subtle eye sockets, reduce the size of the paws and the length and thickness of the front legs while bulking out the chest, add that magical cat curve to the back, and create a completely new innovative leg-joining technique that keeps the legs sitting correctly beneath the cat.

With each of these changes, the cat shape grew slowly closer to what I’d hoped for when I began this project, and I started to think that my impossible task may just work out after all….

Resting Period

Finally, finally, I couldn’t find anything else I was unhappy with, and I left each cat sitting next to the TV as I finished it and continued to work on the rest, so I’d see them all the time and let any remaining niggles come to the front of my mind.

I had thought, once again, that they were finished, but this resting period wasn’t wasted: although even I thought I was crazy by this point, I remade the entire Calico cat so I could modify the markings slightly. In doing that I changed it from my least favourite cat to (possibly) the cutest of all – that last tweak is always worth it!

And, when all 4 were truly finished, I decided this was really it, and it was time to take a deep breath and bring my beautifully-shaped AmiCats into the world…

AmiCats amigurumi cat crochet patterns by PlanetJune

This was the scariest release date of my life, as these designs represented so much love and care, and I was terrified that everyone would be disappointed or critical of them. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, and I’m as delighted as I am relieved to see people appreciating all the little details that took years to get just right and that make these patterns so unique.

The End?

Not necessarily! Even now, the collection isn’t complete the way I’d originally planned: AmiCats was originally conceived as an ebook, including 6 cat designs. In addition to the 4 standard-body-type designs you see in the AmiCats Collection, I’d intended to make one design each of the two other major body types: the shorter, wider, flat-faced exotic (e.g. a Persian) and the elongated, elegant, long-nosed oriental (e.g. a Siamese). The ebook was also to contain additional bonus supporting matter with embellishment options and examples (different eyes, whiskers, expressions, etc).

I devoted weeks to the prototypes for the other body types, but I still haven’t completed them to my satisfaction, so I made the executive decision that 4 perfect cats now are better than 6 perfect cats in another year or more, and I scrapped the ebook. Although that was a difficult decision, the work I’ve already invested in the remaining designs hasn’t necessarily been wasted: there’s always the possibility of my designing a second AmiCats Collection at some point in the future. (If there’s a particular type or breed of cat that you’d like me to consider for a possible new collection, please do let me know, so I can add it to my Ideas List.)

But, for now, I’m content to leave the AmiCats Collection as this set of four very special and meticulously-developed designs…

AmiCats amigurumi cat crochet patterns by PlanetJune


I hope you’ve found this 3-year design journey interesting! This project was an extreme example of my design process, partly because cats are so difficult to capture realistically, and partly because I was so invested in the result.

Although my designs usually take a few months (instead of a few years) to go from concept to completion, I always bring this tenacity to my work – whether I want to or not! – exploring alternatives until I’m satisfied that I’ve found the best balance between instructions that are easy to follow and results that are cute, realistic, and unmistakeably PlanetJune. :)

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September plans

This September, Dave and I will be taking a trip to the UK and Europe for a long-overdue visit to see our families – yay! We’ll be packing 5 cities in 3 countries into just over 2 weeks, and travelling by air, sea, and road. (I’m just hoping that my knee will hold up, and that there’ll be time for a little relaxation in between all that travelling…)

Unlike last year, I can’t afford to take an offline break for a whole month this year – there’s just too much to do! – but, for safety reasons, I will be going on minimal operations throughout September so it won’t be too obvious exactly when I’m travelling. Here’s your advance warning of how this will affect PlanetJune:

  • I’m closing the Crochet Tools section of my shop for the entire month of September, so please place any orders for kits, stuffing tools and stitch markers before the end of August! (You may still order during September, but I won’t ship anything until the first week of October.)
  • For everything else, I’ll be around, but not as often as usual. If you need help with a PlanetJune pattern, I recommend you follow my support triage steps before you email me, so you can hopefully find the answer you need more quickly than waiting for my reply!
  • I will be checking in while I’m travelling, so, for urgent problems only I can help you with (e.g. technical support), you’ll never be more than a couple of days away from my help.
    Note: I’ll only be checking Twitter, Ravelry and Facebook occasionally, and I won’t be able to reply to any non-essential emails until I’m back home.

I’ve pre-written and scheduled some interesting blog posts for September, and I’ll have my new commissioned AmiDogs patterns ready to release soon (next week!), so you probably won’t even notice a change unless you’re ordering a kit, or waiting for an email from me. Thanks for your understanding, and I hope you have a great month! :)

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new mobile-friendly website

It was only 9 months ago that I launched my new updated website, and I’d never have imagined that I’d be changing things so soon after all the work I put into developing a single unified look and feel for my entire site. But Google had other plans, and I’ve been back in web developer mode again for the past 6 weeks so I could learn how to meet the new Google requirements for a mobile-friendly website by their deadline of April 21st.

Here’s how Google saw PlanetJune before today:

pjwebsite_nonmobile
Old site: not mobile friendly :(

It’s been a huge task but I’ve finished with 5 whole days to spare(!) and I’ve just launched the new, responsive, PlanetJune website. (If you’re reading this by email or in a feed reader, please do click through to see the site!)

If you’re using a desktop, laptop, or large-screened tablet, you may not notice any difference in the site – I’ve tried to keep everything as consistent as possible while making it easier to use for those of you using smaller screens. If you previously had to zoom into the pages to read and navigate my site, you should now find that everything loads in a clean, clear format so you can read everything without needing to zoom.

Here’s how Google sees PlanetJune now:

pjwebsite_mobile
New site: I’m mobile friendly!

The screenshots above are from Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test page – as you can see, PlanetJune.com is now Google-approved for phone and tablet users! (If you need help finding out how to make your site mobile-friendly too, I recommend you check out Google’s Mobile-Friendly Websites guide as a starting point.)

Although I wasn’t delighted to have to to take on such a steep learning curve and large project with only 6 weeks notice, I’m pleased to have done it. Acquiring new skills is always fun and useful, and the more new pages I tested on my phone, the more I appreciated the simplified design for smaller screens. It’s hard to show this in a screenshot, but in case you’d like to get a better idea for how it works, here (below) are 3 side-by-side snapshots of the new homepage at 3 different screen widths (separated by black bars for clarity).

This is called responsive design – instead of you deciding between seeing a full ‘desktop’ version and a pared-down ‘mobile’ version, my page will detect how wide your screen is, and modify the page layout to fit your screen, so the text is always large enough for you to read without zooming in. If you rotate your phone or tablet from portrait to landscape, you may notice that the layout changes as your screen becomes wider!

new PlanetJune responsive website
L-R: instead of shrinking the page to fit the full site onto a narrower screen, now the elements automatically move around to fit your screen at a readable size.

Of course, you don’t need to worry about how it works – the end result for you should just be a seamless and enjoyable browsing experience, whether you use a desktop or laptop computer or any size of smartphone or tablet.

I’d like to thank the many helpful volunteers in the PlanetJune Ravelry group who’ve spent the past few weeks helping me test the functionality and layout of the new site on every device, operating system and browser we could find, to try to ensure it’ll work smoothly for everyone! This rigorous testing hopefully means that I’ve ironed out all the bugs before launching this new site. However, there’s always a chance that something won’t work for you, and I’d be very grateful if you could email me immediately if you find anything that looks strange, wrong, broken or unusable, so I can fix it.

I do hope you enjoy the new PlanetJune mobile-device experience – please let me know if you like it!

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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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