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a new Chunky Moebius Cowl

Trendgarne kindly sent me some of their ONline Linie 346 Arona yarn, and I decided to try it out with my free Chunky Moebius Cowl pattern. Isn’t it lovely?

PlanetJune Chunky Moebius Cowl

Arona is a 100% cotton ribbon yarn that comes in a 100g ball, which provides a generous 230m of (roughly) worsted weight yarn.

Linie 346 Arona yarn

As you can see, it comes in a beautiful range of variegated shades with slowly-changing colours. I really love all these colourways – aren’t they gorgeous?

Linie 346 Arona yarn

This yarn has an unusual flat ribbon construction, and there’s no recommended crochet hook size given on the ball band, but the recommended knitting needle size is 5-5.5mm. (A good rule of thumb in these cases is to go up a couple of hook sizes from the recommended needle size, as crochet tends to need a larger size so the piece drapes nicely and isn’t too stiff.)

Linie 346 Arona yarn

I swatched with a few different hooks and decided I like the fabric I got with a K (6.5mm) hook. As this yarn is finer than my pattern calls for, I started with a 76 stitch foundation to make a 22″ circumference cowl.

The moebius construction means that the cowl is worked outwards from the middle, and I enjoyed watching the colours change as my cowl grew, from the blue-purple foundation, through light purple and then on to pink and beyond…

Linie 346 Arona yarn

The yarn is easy to work with and the stitch definition is amazing. Even a simple stitch pattern like this stands out clearly and looks so good with the colour-changing yarn.

I worked 10 rows of my pattern until my cowl was 5″ tall. It was finished in no time, and took less than half a ball of yarn (making it a real bargain!)

Planetune Chunky Moebius Cowl

The finished cowl is smooth and cool in the cotton yarn. It feels lovely against my skin and would be perfect for the first chill of breezy autumn days.

As you can see from my selfie at the top of the page, my new worsted weight yarn cowl looks just as good as the chunkier versions, and it sits beautifully against my neck under a light jacket without excess bulk while still keeping my neck warm (useful now I have such short hair…)


chunky moebius cowl crochet pattern by planetjune

If you’d like to make a Chunky Moebius Cowl too, my pattern is free here – it’s a fast and fun stashbusting pattern, and a great choice if you’re making a start on your Christmas gifts!

As this is a donationware pattern, if you donate a dollar or more you can get the PDF version, which includes bonus content, including a fully illustrated explanation of how the Moebius construction works, standard measurements for man, woman, and child, and additional step by step photos.


I’m looking forward to coming up with the perfect pattern to use my other balls of the Arona yarn! I really enjoyed its smoothness, stitch definition, and, of course, the wonderful colourways. If you’d like to try this yarn too, here’s the Arona Ravelry listing (it includes some links to online stockists, in case you can’t find it locally).

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Review: Fauxchet

I’m always interested to see and try new innovations in yarncrafting, so when I heard about Fauxchet, I was intrigued. Billed as ‘a new way to crochet’, fauxcheting uses a special tool in place of a crochet hook. Just as knooking is the process of forming actual knit stitches with a modified crochet hook (see my review of The Knook here), the Fauxchet easyloop tool forms actual crochet stitches using a completely different method.

Fauxchet Easyloop Yarn Tool review
(If you have a knitting machine you may recognise the special tool as a stitch transfer tool for making cables etc, but this is a clever repurposing.)

Now, as a crocheter, you may be wondering why on earth you’d want to do this! I wondered the same, which is why I was eager to test out this tool for myself and see if it offers anything new and different from standard crochet.

After trying it out, the main benefits I see are that:

  1. It’s very easy to learn, as there’s just one movement: pushing the tool into the work, grabbing the loop with your other hand, then pulling the tool back out. I think this would make it a fun entry into yarncrafting for children and non-crocheters.
  2. It uses completely different muscles and movements from crochet. If you have problems with mobility or pain in your hands or wrists, Fauxchet could be a good solution. You don’t need to tension the yarn, as the stitch size is controlled by the size of the loops you form by pushing the tool into the fabric – the further you push the tool, the larger your stitch. You don’t need to rotate the tool at all, and the only motions are pushing/pulling with your dominant hand, and pinching/releasing with the thumb and forefinger of your other hand.
  3. As you’ll see below, I love the fabric that it forms!

My Experience

I started out by trying all the basic stitches (chain, slip stitch in back and both loops, single crochet in back and both loops). Although there is a slight learning curve, I found that I could form nice even stitches within a couple of rows of my sample:

Fauxchet Easyloop Yarn Tool review

Prior crochet experience is not at all necessary, as Fauxchet is worked completely differently. The back of the fabric faces you while you crochet, and you work left-to-right across your fabric (right-to-left for left-handers!), so it doesn’t feel at all like crocheting.

You thread the end of the yarn through the eye at the front of the tool before you begin:

Fauxchet Easyloop Yarn Tool review

Then, instead of building up loops on your hook as you form each stitch, you grip the loops with the thumb and forefinger of your non-dominant hand. This sounds like it may be a bit tricky, but is very simple once you’ve practiced for a few minutes.

The basic Fauxchet motion is very simple: your dominant hand pushes the tip of the tool into a stitch, then pulls it back out again, while your other hand pinches the loop that’s formed between thumb and forefinger. Those are the only motions involved! Take a look:

Insert the tool into a stitch:
Fauxchet Easyloop Yarn Tool review

Grip the loop with your other hand, then withdraw the tool:
Fauxchet Easyloop Yarn Tool review

Note: I’m left-handed, and these photos are not intended as a tutorial – just to give you a basic idea of the very simple technique.

I highly recommend you watch the video demos on the Fauxchet site to see how easy the stitches are in practice, with the instruction book to hand as well. Although the instruction book does explain the stitches step-by-step, it makes them sound more complicated than they actually are (e.g. inserting your hook into the next stitch and through the loop you’re holding is accomplished in one easy movement, but it’s split into two steps in the instructions).

My experience was also complicated by the fact that there are no left-handed instructions (in the books or the videos) so I had to constantly reverse all the directions. But as the stitches are so simple – as you’ll see if you watch the videos – it wasn’t too difficult to swap every ‘left’ and ‘right’ in the instructions.

My Fauxchet tip is to make the starting chain extremely loosely. In fact, if you’re fairly new to fauxchet, I recommend you make the first few rows (or a swatch) to get your tension even, then unravel it all and start again with the same yarn once you’ve got into the rhythm.

I found the process of ‘fauxcheting’ very soothing once I got into the rhythm. It made a nice change from crocheting and knitting, and the fabric formed is so loose and drapey that it looks very pretty, even with using only the simplest crochet stitches.

Fauxchet vs Crochet

Although Fauxchet does produce actual crochet stitches, it’s far more limited than a crochet hook. As there’s no mechanism for a yarn over, you can only use it to make short stitches: chain, slip stitch, single crochet, and loop stitch (although, by working into back, front or both loops, that still allows for a range of results). And, just as with crochet, you can make combination stitches from the basic stitches (sc clusters, picots, etc).

I compared a swatch of normal crochet with my Fauxcheted swatch and learnt a few things:

  1. Working with worsted weight yarn, the Fauxchet tool gave me the same gauge as crocheting with a size M (9mm) crochet hook. That’s a lot larger than you’d usually use with ww yarn!
  2. The fauxchet stitches are twisted compared with standard single crochet stitches (see photo comparison, below) – possibly why the stitch is called ‘single Fauxchet’ instead of ‘single crochet’ in the instructions, as they aren’t exactly the same stitch.
  3. Fauxcheted fabric is both drapier and less gappy than the equivalent crocheted fabric made with the same yarn to the same gauge. With my M hook, the crochet feels more like knots and spaces, while Fauxchet stitches feel looser and give more even coverage. I have a theory for this: I suspect that using an extra-large hook forces big holes into your fabric, thus pulling the previous stitches into knots, whereas the slim Fauxchet needle doesn’t disturb the previous stitches, keeping the fabric more regular.

Fauxchet Easyloop Yarn Tool review
Fauxchet vs crochet – look at the blue ‘V’ shapes and youll see the fauxchet Vs are twisted at the bottom compared with the crochet Vs.

While the large size of the Fauxchet stitches means that it’s unsuitable for making amigurumi (where the whole point is to make small stitches so you produce a stiff, well-shaped fabric), it is ideally suited for making wearable accessories, as the gauge is so loose that your stitches will have beautiful drape with no effort on your part!

Fauxchet In Practice

My favourite stitch from my swatch was the ‘ridged single Fauxchet’, which is the equivalent of front loop only twisted single crochet (but much easier than that name makes it sound!)

I love the look of the fabric this stitch makes, so I thought I’d try making a quick ridged single Fauxchet scarf in a bulky chainette bamboo yarn I had in my stash. The yarn is lovely and soft, but although it’s labelled DK it’s on the heavy end of bulky, and it’s been too heavy for me to crochet with (giant chunky stitches aren’t my style). Here’s the resulting scarf:

Fauxchet Easyloop Yarn Tool review

The fabric is even and not at all stiff. I’m very impressed with how it looks:

Fauxchet Easyloop Yarn Tool review

Fauxchet on Canvas

I was excited to see that you can also use Fauxchet to make rugs. It’s much faster than latch hooking, because you make loop stitches into the rug canvas directly from the ball of yarn, instead of tying on individual strands of yarn. The end result is a loopy rug, or you can cut the loops if you’d like a more conventional shag rug.

I did have a little play with the loop stitches, but I didn’t quite get the hang of it – I won’t even show you my swatch, because it’s too embarrassing. Every time I pulled a knot tight to lock a loop in place, I shrank the loop at the same time… I think my problem is that the motion uses your non-dominant hand, and I’m not very skilled with my right hand!

I can see from the videos that it’s possible to do it correctly and consistently, so I’d just need some more practice before attempting a rug. While there definitely is a learning curve to this technique, if you persevered and got the hang of it, it’d be a lot faster and less fiddly than conventional latch hooking.

Fauxchet: My Verdict

Pros:

  • Easy to learn
  • Different (and small) movements may be useful for those suffering from hand and wrist problems
  • Makes fabric with beautiful drape

Cons:

  • Limited range of stitches (chain, slip stitch, twisted single crochet, loop stitch)
  • The Fauxchet tool is only intended for use with worsted and bulky weight yarn
  • As the yarn is threaded through the tool, the tool is locked into the project until you finish an entire ball of yarn or cut the yarn
  • Working backwards and using such a different gauge means you can’t easily follow a standard crochet pattern

So, is Fauxchet a replacement for crochet? No, definitely not – and nobody is claiming that it is. But it does have its own advantages, and I’ll definitely be keeping my Fauxchet tool in my craft collection.

I think that making a fauxcheted blanket would be a good relaxing long-term project that’d give me a nice soothing break from the other crafts I enjoy. From my experience with my swatches and scarf, I already know that the end result will have beautiful drape and no excess bulk or holes, which are perfect properties for a blanket, so I’m looking forward to the slow meditative process of push/pull, grip/release and watching the rows slowly grow.

Where to Buy

If you’d like to try the Fauxchet tool, you can buy it from Amazon (it’s very inexpensive!), and I recommend you watch the free videos and try some of the free patterns from the Fauxchet site. If you enjoy fauxcheting, you can buy downloadable patterns and ebooks from LeisureArts.

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book reviews: Tunisian Crochet Beginner’s Guide & Stitch Guide

Let’s get this out of the way first: I received a digital copy of these books to review. But I’m not being compensated for this review in any other way, and the following is based on my honest opinions!

Overview

I have two books to review today! Both are Tunisian crochet books by Kim Guzman, and I really see them as a complementary set, so I thought I’d review them together. Both are published by LeisureArts, and they are:

tunisianreview1

Let’s start off with a look at each:

Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Tunisian Crochet

In this book, Kim walks you step by step through all the basic techniques for Tunisian crochet, with clear step-by-step photo illustrations. The first section packs a lot of valuable information into 10 pages: Tunisian hook info, all the common basic stitches, increasing and decreasing, changing colour and changing yarn, and seaming.

tunisianreview2

The remainder of the book is devoted to a selection of patterns to help you apply and practice your new knowledge and skills. This section includes 9 patterns, ranging from a very basic hat, through a blanket, fingerless mitts, and wearables (all for ladies: a ruana and two vests). The Drop Stitch Cowl (pictured above) and the Felted Duffel bag are my favourites of the included patterns. All the patterns include full written instructions (with the exception of the blanket, which is charted) and include schematics, where appropriate, for sizing.

Tunisian Crochet Stitch Guide

With this book, Kim has developed more stitch patterns than I imagined existed for Tunisian Crochet! The book includes 61 stitch patterns split over 4 chapters: Learning Charts (14 basic stitches), Typical Stitches (17 patterns), Color Stitches (12 patterns), and Lace Stitches (18 patterns).

tunisianreview3

Each stitch pattern is charted, with a helpful key given on the same page as each chart. No prior knowledge of Tunisian crochet charts is needed, as the first chapter walks you through each stitch with both the chart and full accompanying text instructions (as pictured in Stitch 1 and Stitch 2, above). The book ends with a brief reference section for all the included basic stitches.

My Experience

The Stitch Guide is a crochet stitch dictionary, but purely for Tunisian crochet stitch patterns. The best way to test a stitch dictionary is to test a variety of the stitch patterns, so I bought some co-ordinating yarns and starting working through the book from the beginning, making a swatch for each stitch pattern. I’d only ever used the basic Tunisian stitches before, so this was new ground for me. And I haven’t done any Tunisian crochet since 2010, so the Beginner’s Guide came in very handy as a refresher for the basic techniques.

Kim is a true expert in Tunisian crochet and I was looking forward to expanding my skills in this form of crochet. Working through the Stitch Guide (with the Beginner’s Guide as a backup) was a great way to learn more about Tunisian crochet: I discovered that some Tunisian stitches bias heavily (I ended up with a very slanted parallelogram instead of a square with some of the stitches) and others curl, a little or a lot. Some stitches were easy and enjoyable to work, and others I found awkward and had to grit my teeth and force myself to complete the square. Some gave me a thick, dense fabric (as I had expected), others were pretty and lacy, but my favourites were thin and relatively solid, with nice drape – I can definitely imagine using some of these for a future project.

tunisiancushion1
A selection of my swatches – some biased, some curled, some neither, some both!

All this is such valuable information to have before starting a project! Designing is so much more than choosing a pretty stitch pattern from a book – you have to know how the fabric will behave and whether it’s a good fit for the project you have in mind. A wonderful stitch for a thick afghan would probably be disastrous in a sweater. So, if you’re planning to use this (or any other) stitch dictionary, I definitely recommend you make a swatch before you embark on the full project – even if you don’t care about gauge, you still need it to discover the characteristics of the fabric you’re about to create!

I made 32 different 3.75″ squares while testing out these books. I wasn’t sure at first what I was going to do with them, but I decided to make a sampler cushion cover. I only have one Tunisian hook and I was making very small squares, so I couldn’t vary the gauge. Instead, I modified some of the larger stitch patterns so I could create the same size of square each time. Once I had enough squares, I pinned them all to the same dimensions and steam blocked them to reduce the curling and biasing. This made it much easier to crochet all the squares together to form the two sides of the cushion cover.

tunisiancushion2
I kept a key of the stitch patterns I used, so I can use my cushion as a reference 🙂

I made a cushion pad to fit the cover, using fabric from an old (clean) bed sheet and some stuffing. I tufted the cushion to keep the stuffing from sinking to one side of the cushion and to keep it from puffing up in the middle, to better show off my squares.

tunisiancushion3

And then I crocheted the front and back of the cushion together around their edges, inserting the cushion before I crocheted the final edge. Here’s the result – a lovely Tunisian crochet sampler cushion – isn’t it yummy? It’s like a chocolate box of Tunisian crochet!

tunisiancushion4
Yes, those twisted swatches I showed you above turned into these gorgeous squares once they were blocked and edged.

And my cushion is completely reversible, with all different stitch patterns on the back – I think I may like this side even more:

tunisiancushion5
In case you’re trying to match these with the ‘key’ picture above, I accidentally photographed my cushion upside down in both these photos…

I found it fascinating to try such a variety of Tunisian crochet stitch patterns, and I only tried just over half the included patterns (32 out of 61)! Colourwork adds another unique dimension to Tunisian crochet, and there are 12 two- or three-colour patterns, plus 16 more lace patterns and the heart motif pattern (#27) that was too large for me to include in my cushion, so there’s still plenty left to explore in the Stitch Guide.

Peeves

  • I would have appreciated some additional guidance in both books on how to make the last stitch of each row; the Beginner’s Guide explains how to make the last stitch differently for a tss, but doesn’t explain how that translates into the other stitches, and I had to consult Kim’s YouTube videos for additional help. The Stitch Guide doesn’t make any mention of the last stitch of the row being any different. I would have loved it if the instructions for each stitch explained the way to form the final stitch of each row, and that was also reflected in the chart (for example, in Kim’s video, she shows that the last stitch of the row in twisted simple stitch is not twisted, but the chart and instructions in the guide don’t explain that). I now think that the final stitch is always made in one of two ways: knitwise (from the front) or purlwise (from the back), but I’m not 100% sure on that, as neither book explained it, and none of the charts show the last stitches worked differently.
  • After I completed Chapter 1 of the Stitch Guide, I was surprised to find that the remaining stitch patterns are all only charted, with no text instructions. This makes sense, as the later patterns are more complex and would take a lot of space to write out, but I haven’t seen this mentioned anywhere else, and it’s important: Tunisian charts look very different to standard crochet charts. After trying every stitch pattern in Chapter 1, I understood the charts by the time I no longer had the text for backup, but if you bought the book and wanted to jump in with a Chapter 2 pattern, you’d have to learn how to read the chart first! (The book does include a page on how to read charts, and a master list of all the symbols used.)
  • I also noticed a couple of errors regarding the swatch photos: the swatch for Stitch 23 shows a different pattern to the chart (there’s a 2-row repeat in the swatch and a 1-row repeat in the instructions and chart – I believe they are missing a row of tss that separates each pattern row in the swatch); and the swatch for Stitch 26 has been photographed turned both sideways and back to front! But I highly recommend you make your own swatch before jumping into a project using any of these stitches anyway, as the results are often much more beautiful in reality than you can tell from the swatch photo.
  • The stitch instructions in the Stitch Guide are all in a section at the end of the book. This makes sense given the amount of repetition that would be needed otherwise, and it keeps the book nice and compact. As I have the ebook version, though, I found this a bit unwieldy in practice – I can tell you that flipping to the back of a paper book for a reminder of a stitch is far easier than trying to ‘flip about’ within a PDF ebook! It’d be nice to see future ebooks using internal hyperlinks (and a ‘back’ button) for this sort of thing; paper books still do some things better at the moment.

Final Thoughts

If you’re new to Tunisian crochet, I’d recommend the Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Tunisian Crochet as a good way to learn the basics, and a handy reference to keep around. You can practice your stitches and gain confidence by following the included patterns, and build your skills while you crochet a variety of projects such as a hat, a cowl, fingerless mitts or a baby blanket. Although I probably won’t be making any of the included patterns myself, the 10-page reference section at the start of the book still makes it a must-have for my collection.

If you already have some experience with the basic Tunisian stitches and are looking for a bit of variety, the Tunisian Crochet Stitch Guide is an excellent resource to add to your collection. While it does include instructions for each of the basic stitches used to form the various stitch patterns, they are brief reminders, not step-by-step instructions, so I wouldn’t recommend this as your first beginner’s book. Also, don’t buy this book if you’re looking for interesting project patterns, as it’s solely a stitch dictionary (although Kim does mention that you can make a scarf using any of the stitch patterns). But the stitches are varied and some are very unusual – I’ve learnt a huge amount about Tunisian crochet through this book, and discovered some lovely stitches!

These two books complement each other perfectly, as, once you’ve thoroughly learnt the basics from the Beginner’s Guide, you’ll be ready to try out the exciting new stitch patterns in the Stitch Guide. I’ll definitely be keeping both books in my library.

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book review: Stuffed Animals

As always, I was not compensated for this review, and the following is based on my honest opinions!

I’ve known Abby through craft blogging circles for years – you may also know her from her blog, While She Naps – and I’ve been eagerly anticipating this book since the day she first announced she’d be writing it! Abby and I are kindred spirits in the sense that we’re both passionate about the techniques used to create our stuffed animal designs – in my case amigurumi, and in hers sewn toys.

You’ve probably already heard good things about this book (with everything going on here, it’s taken me far longer than I’d anticipated to prepare this review) but I don’t think you could test a book much more thoroughly than I have! And (spoiler alert) I’m so excited to show you the results of my testing process! Read on to see what I’ve been able to make, thanks to Stuffed Animals

Overview

Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction by Abigail Patner Glassenberg is “a comprehensive reference that teaches you how to sew heirloom-quality stuffed animals, from four-legged friends that actually stand to a classic, poseable Teddy bear.”

Stuffed Animals by Abby Glassenberg

Stuffed Animals begins with a very useful introductory section, covering tools and materials, design considerations (research, pattern drafting, fabric selection, etc), and how to actually make soft toys (sewing, turning, stuffing, etc). This is a really solid basic instructional section, and, if you’re new to toymaking, I’d recommend that you read these chapters thoroughly before you do anything else.

Stuffed Animals by Abby Glassenberg

The remainder of the book takes the form of a pattern followed by 3-4 lessons on techniques that were used/demonstrated in the pattern. The patterns are child-friendly and designed to make toys that will be played with and treasured. My favourites are the cute puppy, the hilarious zipper-mouthed dinosaur, and the classic teddy bear (just to satisfy my curiosity on how these are made).

Stuffed Animals by Abby Glassenberg

All the pattern pieces are printed at full-size (except the dinosaur, which is just too big) so you can copy them directly without resizing. But, even better than that, all the pattern pieces are also available to download from Lark Crafts. This is an excellent bonus feature – it’s so much easier to print the relevant pages directly than to try to hold the book open to scan/copy the pattern pages, and, in the PDF version, the pattern pieces aren’t overlapped (they have to be in the book, to save space), so it’s much easier to see what’s going on. Thumbs up to Lark for offering this.

Stuffed Animals by Abby Glassenberg

The pattern instructions are detailed, and numbered points guide you through each stage of the toy assembly, together with in-progress photos of all the interim stages. (Although I didn’t try making one of the included patterns, I read through several from start to finish in preparation for my own design, and I used the step-by-step instructions to help me figure out my toy assembly – I just used my own pattern pieces instead of Abby’s – so I can verify that the instructions are clear and easy to follow.)

Stuffed Animals by Abby Glassenberg

After you’ve made each pattern, Abby follows with some theory on the techniques used in the pattern that you can use when designing your own toys, and additional related tips. For example, the Elephant pattern also serves as a demonstration of very useful design features: an underbody gusset, setting legs on darts, cutting a slit to insert a detail (ears, in this case), and making eyelids. (I ended up using 3 of these techniques in my design!)

Stuffed Animals by Abby Glassenberg

It’s a big book, both in size and number of pages, with lots of content covered (16 patterns and 52 lessons), so there’s plenty of value for money here.

My Experience

I decided to try creating a sewn version of one of my amigurumi designs, and I thought my aardvark would be a good example, with only one colour and a very distinctive shape to replicate. Plus, who’s ever seen a soft toy aardvark?! Mine could be the first ever created!

Aardvark amigurumi crochet pattern by PlanetJune
The inspiration: my amigurumi aardvark design

I have happy memories of sitting on my bed as a teenager, listening to the Friday Rock Show on the radio, and hand-sewing toys from kits. So I’m no newcomer to sewing toys, but how the strangely-shaped pattern pieces combine into a perfect animal shape always remained a magical mystery to me.

soft toys made from kits
Toys I sewed from kits, over 20 years ago(!)

Designing for crochet (where you create the shape in 3D as you go) is nothing like designing for sewing (where you create the shape from multiple 2D fabric pieces) so I knew going in that this would be a huge challenge for me, and an excellent test of Abby’s teaching. You may have noticed that I like to jump in at the deep end in my crafting adventures, and this is no exception…

I read through all the lessons and skimmed all the project instructions to see each technique in action before deciding which would make good starting points for the design I wanted to create. I wrote myself a list so I could refer back to these lessons when I needed them (lessons 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 17, 29, 39 and 50 and the elephant, dinosaur, kangaroo and hippo patterns) and then I was ready to start!

I took some measurements from my crocheted aardvark, and drafted my first pattern, building in all Abby’s advice about underbody gussets and darts so the legs wouldn’t splay. I got some scrap fabric and whipped up my first prototype on the sewing machine:

prototype aardvark toy - version 1

Hahaha! Oh dear – I’m embarrassed to even show you this. I didn’t have a real grasp of the way to create a fully rounded shape, so my poor aardvark v1 was skinny with a giant humpback. Note, though, that the legs are nice and straight! I went back to the drawing board (and the book) and used the information on sewing a ball to refine my design with an additional top gusset piece, to create my second pattern and prototype:

prototype aardvark toy - version 2

Definitely better, but still not right. I didn’t bother sewing on the footpads or snout or figuring out the ears at this stage – no point working on details if the main body still looks awful. So I went back for another round of prototyping:

prototype aardvark toy - version 3

It was starting to look like an aardvark by this stage, although I have no idea what was going on in the chin area! I marked the eye position, and, using Abby’s elephant design for instruction on how to insert the ears, I also used this prototype to test 2 different ear positions, so I could get an idea of the best way to do it. (Don’t look at the legs too closely – I got a little scissor-happy when trimming these seams, so some of them came undone when I turned it! All good learning experiences…)

I could have made another prototype, but by this stage I was running out of time (I have my own book to write, you know!) and had no more scrap fabric, so I decided to be bold and make the next version, with a few final tweaks, in my real fabric, and keep my fingers crossed I’d got it right this time…

I’m what I’d call a straight-line sewist: I can whip up a basic skirt or bag on my sewing machine, but these small pieces, exact lines and tight curves are a little beyond my skill level – just the thought of stitching the tiny circles for the feet and the snout with my machine makes me shiver. To give me the best chance of success, I decided to go back to what I know, and hand-sew the final aardvark. Much, much slower, but very relaxing, and it’s much easier for me to get a smooth finish when I place each stitch individually!

When it came to inserting the safety eyes, I had a big surprise – I thought there was no way my awl (bought on Abby’s recommendation) would create a hole large enough for the shaft of the eye to slip through, but it did! Not snipping the fabric for the eyes was a revelation. This is the kind of expert tip that makes Stuffed Animals such a treasure.

Finally, finally, it was time to turn and stuff my aardvark, and see what I’d created… In my quest for the perfect aardvark, after turning and stuffing, I unstuffed and unturned and tweaked a couple of my seams by less than 1mm to subtly alter a curve here and there – it made a big difference. Then all I had to do was re-turn, re-stuff, and sew up the final seam (I came up with a little tip of my own at this stage to make my ladder stitches perfect – I’ll mention it here, in case it helps anyone else: as my fabric is stretchy, I couldn’t press a seam line as shown in Abby’s examples, so I basted a row of running stitches along each edge as a guide for my ladder stitches.)

basting lines for ladder stitching
Basting lines in burgundy so I could accurately place my ladder stitches

And the end result is:

PlanetJune plush aardvark toy

Fatty Aardvark! I love him so much, and I can’t really explain why.. I don’t think his charm really comes across in the photo: he’s big and soft and unbelievably cuddly. I love how solid and fat he is, but he’s still recognisably a PlanetJune design. And he’s irresistably huggable!

PlanetJune plush aardvark toy

He’s most definitely an aardvark, isn’t he? And look at those perfectly straight legs: not a hint of splay there. If I were going into the soft toy pattern design business (which I’m not – at least for the forseeable future!) I’d probably do one more iteration to tweak the angles on the neck and tail a teeny bit, but Fatty Aardvark is perfect just the way he is.

I’ve learnt so much from this project; I feel like Abby has given me the skills to design lots of animal toys (if only I had the time, and could master my sewing machine so I can actually sew samples on it instead of hand-sewing!)

PlanetJune plush and amigurumi aardvark toys
Ami and Fatty Aardvarks

As shaping is so important to me in my designs, now I’ve seen how much difference 1mm in your sewing line makes to the shape of the finished toy, I think I’m more comfortable sticking with designing crochet patterns; they give you much more precise control over the shape you end up with. Follow my crochet pattern stitch by stitch and you will end up with the same shape as me, even if you’re a beginner. Cut and sew my sewing pattern template and you’d probably end up with a similar, but not identical, shape – by the time you’ve eyeballed a 1/4″ seam to add to the pattern piece and then eyeballed it away again to get back to the stitching lines, it’s highly unlikely you’ll end up with exactly the same shape, even if you’re a master of your sewing machine.

the evolution of the PlanetJune plush aardvark design
Aardvark evolution, or how I went from embarrassing ignoramus to plush designer in 4 stages – and all thanks to Stuffed Animals!

Peeves

These are all small niggles that I’m including for the sake of completeness. As I’ve used this book as a technique reference, not as a project instructional book, some of my peeves relate to that: if I’d made Abby’s projects before attempting one of my own, I’d have a better grasp of which techniques are illustrated by which project.

  • A visual contents page of all the projects in the book would have been very useful; to decide which project would be the closest starting point for each element of my design (e.g. do the closest legs belong to the elephant, or the lion, or the dinosaur, or something else?) I found myself flicking through the book over and over, making lists of every technique I thought might be useful for my design.
  • The index is brief and alphabetized not by subject, but by lesson title. I’ll give you a couple of examples of why this is a problem: I wanted to look up Abby’s advice on stretchy fabrics, but Stretch isn’t in the index, and neither is Fabric! The fabric selection advice is actually listed under C in the index, for Choosing Fabric – would you have thought to look there? And then I tried looking up Joints (there are 5 jointing lessons that I can see, spread over 3 projects) but there’s no mention of any of these on the index page. I’d advise you ignore the index and skim through the contents instead – it’s just as easy to find information there, and it’s far more complete.
  • Abby is clearly 100% a sewing machine user – there is no mention anywhere of the fact it’s possible to sew toys completely by hand. There is a page on hand stitches, but it only shows how to make various stitches for closing and embellishing, with no mention of which stitch would be best to use for hand-sewing a toy. (I just made one up to sew my aardvark – a faster variant of backstitch – but it would be nice to have some expert advice on that topic.)
  • I did spot a couple of minor text errors in my flick-through; the hippo’s underbody pattern piece is labelled ‘upperbody’, the footpads say to cut 2, not 4, and there’s no mention of attaching the hippo’s footpads to the legs. I’ve notified Abby so these can be added to the book’s errata page – unfortunately, errors are a fact of life in printed books, so I always recommend you consult the errata if something confuses you in any craft book.

Final Thoughts

This is a one-of-a-kind book and I think it really fills a gap in the marketplace. I’ve decided that this is really three books in one, and different people will use it in very different ways:

It’s a soft toy pattern book: If you’re looking for a book of toy patterns, this is a varied collection of animal patterns to suit a range of skill levels. If you want to make a toy as a gift, you’ll probably find a design to suit every child. While there’s no difficulty level indicated on the patterns, the complexity increases throughout the book as new techniques are introduced.

It’s a course on soft toy technique and construction: Abby’s background as a teacher really shows through here; this book is structured as a step-by-step course, with each project as a demonstration piece for the lessons in that chapter. If you work through every project in the book, learning the lessons as you go, you’ll have a solid grasp of soft toy design techniques that you could bring to your future projects.

It’s a soft toy design reference book: And then there are people like me, who want the book solely as a reference book and will create our own designs. The included patterns are still useful as demonstrations of the lessons, which, for me, are the real gold. The lack of an alphabetised index is a real blow here – this is the only place where the book falls down for me. Everything I need to know is here, somewhere, but I found I had to flip through the book over and over again to hunt for the gems I needed. But it was always worth it – the content in Stuffed Animals is worth digging for, and my copy has definitely earned its place on my permanent reference shelf.

Overall: highly recommended! (Well done, Abby!)

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MOO cards: review and giveaway

MOO logoNote: Don’t miss the giveaway at the end of this post!

You’ve probably heard of MOO before – the company that turns your Flickr images into mini business cards – but they now offer a lot more: full size business cards, greeting cards and postcards, stickers and labels, and more. And you don’t need a Flickr account to use them – you can upload your photos directly to MOO.

MOO asked me if I’d like to test out their service, and I was happy to oblige – I’d wanted to order some minicards anyway, but had no idea that they’d be able to ship to me in South Africa! It turns out that MOO have two websites (US and UK) but they ship worldwide from both those locations (if you’re international, compare shipping prices to your country from each site before you order, to get the best deal).

My Experience

I decided the most useful products for me would be lots of PlanetJune MiniCards and StickerBooks. (I also ordered a high quality dot grid notebook, because I love large notebooks when I’m designing, and the grid of dots makes it easy for me to draw crochet stitch patterns, write without sloping down the page, and sketch without lines getting in the way.)

The process for creating any size of cards or stickers is really simple – just browse your computer for some suitable photos, and upload them. The unique thing about MOO’s service is that you don’t need to have the same image on each of your cards: for no extra cost, you can upload as many images as you want, to the point where every card in your pack can have a different photo, if you want! (You can also use MOO’s design templates if you don’t want to start from scratch with your card design.)

creating MOO minicards

Once you’ve uploaded your images, you can resize and crop each one to fill the frame nicely before approving the project. You can also delete any images that don’t look good, add extra pics, or save your project to edit later. A little tip: If you have several designs uploaded to one pack of cards/stickers, you’ll receive an equal number of each design. As my Baby Bunnies photo is so perfect for the MiniCard size and shape, I added that same photo several times, so I’d end up with lots of bunny cards and a few of each of my other choices.

Here’s what arrived:

PlanetJune MOO order

Lots of pretties! Let’s look at the MiniCards first:

PlanetJune MOO order

They look great: bright and colourful, and the photos are crisp and high-res. MiniCards are the same width as a standard business card, but half the height. Each card is printed in full colour on both sides of the high quality cardstock, so, for the first time ever, I have my logo and colour printing on the back of my business cards:

PlanetJune MOO order

I want to address price before I move on. Although MOO’s prices may not look competitive compared with cheaper services like Vistaprint which I’ve used in the past, there are no hidden extras with MOO. When I used Vistaprint, by the time I’d added the glossy upgrade fee, the image upload fee, and the print on reverse side fee, the cards ended up being many times more expensive than they initially appeared to be, and only worked out to be cost-effective if I bulk-ordered 500 or 1000 cards at a time. And looking at both cards together, the print quality is much better on the MOO cards:

PlanetJune MOO order
MOO (left) vs Vistaprint (right). Any fuzziness is from the extreme close-up, but you can see the clear grain pattern visible on the VP cards only.

Okay, now back to my order! I put together the most adorable StickerBooks:

PlanetJune MOO order

Each sticker is just under an inch (22mm) in size. The stickers have rounded edges and look completely professional. My only problem with them is that they look so cute as a sticker collection, I’m going to have a hard time using any of the stickers!

As you can see from my earlier photo, MiniCards come packaged in a very nice classy white cardboard box, but as they are an unusual shape, I also bought a MiniCard holder to keep my cards looking pristine when I’m out and about:

PlanetJune MOO order

I chose this hot pink shade so I’ll quickly be able to find it in my bag when needed, but you can also get sensible black and white versions. And this is, for me, the genius part of MOO cards. Now when I meet someone and they ask what I do, I can whip out my pink card holder and say “I design the patterns for these”:

PlanetJune MOO order
Pick a card; any card…

I’ve already tried it and it’s a great icebreaker – nobody can resist taking the cards and looking through them all. Then I can casually say “keep your favourite, if you like” and they look thrilled as they try to choose the one they like best. The result is that I’ve handed out my business card (and my details are on the back, so I may get a new customer as a result), but my new friend feels like they’ve been given a gift instead of having contact details forced on them. Win-win 🙂

Giveaway Time!

MOO have very generously offered to give three PlanetJune readers their choice of either 50 Classic Business Cards or 100 MiniCards. (Classic Business Cards are exactly the same as MiniCards in terms of quality etc; the only difference is that they’re standard business card size).

The prizes includes standard worldwide shipping, so this contest is open to everyone – yay!

To enter:

  • Just leave a comment on this post saying what you’d use your MOO cards for if you win!
  • One entry per person, please.
  • Make sure the email address you leave with your comment is valid, so I can contact you if you win (don’t worry, that field is private, so only I will see it).
  • You may enter until 6pm (EST) 11.59pm (PST) on Tuesday January 22nd 2013. I’ll draw the 3 random winners from all the entries after that time.

Good luck!

UPDATE 24 Jan: Thanks to everyone who entered! Just to keep you in the loop, I’ll be drawing the winners in the next few days (when I have time to set up the random drawing) and I’ll update this post with the winners’ names once I’ve done that 🙂

Comments (101)

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    June Gilbank

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