Archive for Sewing

finger protector for crocheters (or knitters)

When I was writing my new book, I had a lot of project samples to crochet in a short period of time, and that’s pretty hard on the hands.

my crocheting style
This is how I crochet (and this is my meerkat amigurumi, not a book project!)

When I’ve been crocheting for a while, the yarn starts to wear a groove in my forefinger as it rubs over it, and, if I keep going, my finger gets red and sore, and my skin condition gets aggravated. A chafed finger really isn’t something you want to see in close-up book tutorial photos, so I needed a solution to protect my finger.

chafed finger
Groovy (and not in a good way) – this is after just a few minutes of fast amigurumi crocheting

First I tried crocheting a finger sleeve, which worked really well for comfort and maintaining tension, but it looked clunky, and after a few minutes of use it began to spin around on my finger and wouldn’t hold in place. I also tried using plastic and metal yarn guides (meant for stranding multiple colours of yarn) which stopped the rubbing, but I found they messed with my tension.

Other suggestions from my ever-helpful Ravelry group members included finger cots, taping the finger, or wrapping paper towel around the finger and then taping over that.

In the end I found a very simple solution that works for me: I sewed a very basic finger sleeve from a smooth, stretchy, spandex-blend fabric. This fabric doesn’t fray, so all I needed was one row of stitching to turn a small rectangle of fabric into a tube that fits tightly over my finger.

finger sleeve
It’s not pretty, but it works

When I wear it, my yarn runs smoothly over the fabric and it doesn’t affect my crocheting tension. The tube did stretch a bit after a few days of hard use and became too loose to be effective, but I just stitched another seam slightly further in (thanks to Kris for that suggestion) and it hasn’t stretched further since. The best part is it only takes a tiny scrap of a smooth stretch fabric, and you can customise it to exactly fit whichever part of your finger gets rubbed or irritated by your yarn.

I keep the seam on the outside so it doesn’t dig into my finger, but rotate the sleeve on my finger so the seam doesn’t touch the yarn. Sometimes a simple solution is best: this little tube took mere minutes to make but has already saved me a lot of discomfort as I worked on all my book projects.

I still use my finger sleeve when I have a heavy crocheting session or use yarn that chafes, and I think I’ll whip up another half dozen or so – the biggest problem with finger sleeves is that they seem as prone as yarn needles to being mislaid! If I have a few handy, I’ll be able to keep one in every project bag.

finger sleeve
Problem solved!

If you’d like to try making a finger sleeve, look for a smooth fabric with spandex/lycra so it’s nice and stretchy. Or, if you don’t want to spend money when you only need a tiny scrap of fabric, I bet a piece snipped from an old swimsuit would work perfectly…

My starting fabric rectangle was 4cm long by 6cm around (about 1½ by 2⅜”) but I have small fingers, so you may want a longer and/or wider tube. Just measure your finger and remember to add a little extra width for the seam allowance (but not too much, as you need a tight fit so it won’t slip). If it’s too loose, just sew another seam to make the tube slightly narrower, as I did.

Do you have problems with yarn chafing your finger when you crochet or knit? Please share what works for you in the comments!

Comments (20)

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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review: Mend It Better

I won this book through its blog tour, so I decided to review it for you. The following, as always, is based on my honest opinions!

Overview

Mend It Better: Creative Patching, Darning, and Stitching by Kristin M Roach, who you may know from her blog Craft Leftovers, is a combination book consisting of basic mending advice and project tutorials for creative mending.

'mend it better' review

The tutorials, mostly contributed by other crafters, show a variety of mending options to cover tears, holes and stains by crafting embellishments or making a feature of the damaged area, and upcycling projects to improve badly-fitting clothing or thrift store finds. Kristen also provides a tutorial for making a cute zippered mending kit.

'mend it better' review
Colourful creative mending projects (e.g. this page is from the Mola Applique Patch tutorial by Carina Envoldsen-Harris)

The bulk of the book is reference material: it includes a lot of excellent mending information: repairing various fabrics; fixing damaged seams and buttonholes; repairing or replacing damaged zips and pockets, and much more. But calling it just a ‘mending book’ doesn’t really do it justice (and I haven’t seen this mentioned in any other reviews) – it also includes instructions for alterations you can make to your clothing: taking in a seam, adding hidden pockets, taking up a hem, adding bead or stitched embellishments, etc.

'mend it better' review
Detailed information, e.g. how to mend pile (left) and stretch (right) fabrics

The information starts from absolute basics – no prior knowledge of sewing equipment or techniques is assumed. The written instructions and accompanying photos are clear and comprehensive. Although I’m not in love with the narrow 3-column page layout, it’s efficient – there’s lots of information on each page but it doesn’t feel cramped. All project steps are clearly numbered, so it’s easy to follow the instructions.

'mend it better' review
Mending information starting from the basics

My Experience

I skimmed through the whole book to give me a basic idea of techniques I could use at the moment and then decided to fix a backpack where the fabric had frayed along the seam allowance and left a big hole along the seam. I used my sewing machine and sewed a patch onto the back of the frayed fabric, then unpicked the original seam and re-sewed it to include the patch. I didn’t think to take a ‘before’ picture, but, as you can see, the result is pretty much invisible:

mended backpack
The fabric had frayed along the seam, leaving a big hole between the arrows.

Next I consulted the section on fixing leather. I had assumed my office chair was real leather until it started to wear through and rip, and I could see the sad pleathery truth. Months ago, I tried to mend it with Speed Sew fabric repair glue, but it didn’t hold, and the rip worsened every time I sat down until it reached this sorry situation:

mending my chair

The rest of the chair is fine, though, so I really needed to fix it somehow before the exposed foam started to disintegrate and made the chair unusable.

As my ‘fabric’ is cheap faux leather, I wasn’t sure if the leather-mending instructions would work, so I started with this tiny hole on the other side of the chair front, to test the method. I tried the ‘mending a tear in leather’ instructions but, although the instructions were fine, it quickly became apparent that it wouldn’t work in my case – the pleather tore with any stress on it, so I ended up having to make large whipstitches over the top of the hole to keep it together. Result: a mended hole, but not a pretty one.

mending my chair
Tiny hole, before and after stitching

By this point, I could tell that fixing the giant rip neatly was not an option, so I decided to go for a functionally creative mend, using patching and gluing techniques from the book in addition to trying to sew the hole so it would stay closed.

mending my chair

I cut some black webbing to fit inside the gaps, and then slowly glued a section of the seat cover to the webbing, and stitched the hole closed. The rip was so large that pulling the sides together was extremely difficult, especially as the seat fabric ripped if the stitches were too close to the ripped edge. I found that making large stitches through the fabric and into the webbing was the best bet – the stitches kept the fabric in place against the webbing while the glue dried, and added support for the glue.

mending my chair

It was a long, hard job – stitching through thick webbing with a thin curved upholstery needle is hard work, but a thicker needle would have damaged the pleather even more, so I persevered. And here’s the result:

mending my chair

No, it’s certainly not pretty, but it all holds together: my frankenstitches feel very stable with the glued webbing to back them up, and I think I’ve succeeded in saving the chair – the foam shouldn’t degrade any more now it’s safely hidden away. Now I just need to crochet a seat cover to hide the frankenstitches, and my chair will be as good as new :)

I’d ignored these problem for months, but having a book of mending techniques at my disposal makes me feel like I can tackle these things. Next I’m going to try fixing a too-loose zip that keeps falling down!

Peeves

  • There’s a lot of information contained in the 200+ pages of this book, and some of the chapter headings are a bit broad and unclear (e.g. the Surface Fixes chapter includes fixes for snags and pulls, how to fix a patch pocket, 2 different project examples of adding new patch pockets, and instructions for re-pleating a skirt, while the Getting Fancy chapter includes lace, leather and stretch fabric repair). A one-sentence summary of each chapter on the Contents page would have been very helpful – I’d never have thought to look in ‘Getting Fancy’ to find the leather repair instructions! – so I definitely recommend consulting the index if you’re looking for something in particular.
  • I have a very understated taste in clothing and I can’t imagine using any of the project ideas on my own clothes. They’d definitely be a fun way to extend the life of children’s clothing – which are much more likely to need mending anyway – or if you have a less conservative dress sense than me. Having said that, if I look at the projects as embellishment tutorials instead of mending tutorials, I could adapt them for decorating cushions, bags, etc, so they still have some value to me.

Final Thoughts

Mend It Better: Creative Patching, Darning, and Stitching has plenty of eye candy and project ideas for creative mending, upcycling and embellishing. For me, though, the real value of this book is in the well-explained techniques that will let you fix and mend common problems and make alterations to get more mileage out of your clothing (and also luggage and even upholstered furniture: although the book focuses on clothing, the techniques can obviously apply to any repairs of fabric, zips, buttons etc).

The techniques explained here are absolutely worth the purchase price, even if none of the projects appeal to you, so I recommend Mend It Better as a solid reference for a variety of sewing and mending techniques. I’ll be keeping my copy in my reference library, so I’ll have more confidence in attempting fixes and alterations for my clothes, and I’ll be well prepared next time I have a mending emergency!

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beanbag smartphone stand

I’m so busy these days that I rarely have any time for non-business-related crafting. In fact, I haven’t made anything just for fun since Christmas (and I haven’t yet had a chance to show you that project either!)

We took two much-needed days off at the end of last week, and I finally had a chance to make something just for me. I first saw this idea on Pinterest 40(!) weeks ago and it’s taken me until now to find the time to make it: a little beanbag stand for my BlackBerry so I can prop it up at my desk. It’s a really simple, neat design, and quick to sew.

beanbag phone stand

My pin linked to a finished handmade item for sale on Etsy. Now, copying someone else’s design is one of those grey areas, and as I’ve talked about it before (from the point of view of the designer being copied) I thought I’d address that aspect quickly: this is a one-off stand for my personal use (not for profit), and a quick Etsy search for “iPhone stand” revealed that at least 4 other sellers are making stands made using the same design (so it’s a non-exclusive design).

The shape is very simple and it’s obvious from a glance how to make one: it’s just a pyramid beanbag with a little ledge at the front to support the phone, so I’m comfortable that it was fair for me to make this one for myself. Still, it’s not my design, and I didn’t refine the concept or invent any special techniques to make this, so please don’t ask me for a tutorial or any tips on how I made mine – I’m not going to profit from someone else’s idea!

beanbag phone stand

In South Africa, many craft supplies are difficult (or impossible) to find, so I’m reusing and upcycling wherever I can – I’ll be showing you more of those projects as and when I finish them! I’m hoarding my supply of plastic stuffing pellets for future amigurumi designs, so I didn’t want to use them up on this project. Instead, I went to a thrift store and found this poor sad little toy dog. I could feel that the body was stuffed with plastic pellets, so R3 (less than 50c) later, I had a carefully unpicked seam and a big bowl of plastic pellets. Despite my justifications and my careful toy surgery, I still feel like a soft toy murderer, but I really don’t think anyone would have bought this dog for a child to play with as it’s so stained and dirty, so at least I’ve given it some kind of new use.

recycling plastic pellet stuffing from an old stained toy

It took forever to stuff it pellet by pellet (I only left a small opening, but the larger pellets kept getting stuck in the funnel I’d planned to use for the stuffing…) and I probably should have used a heavier-weight fabric too, but I love the result. I used some of the leftover fabric from my One Yard Wonders designs and it’s so nice to finally get to see the adorable Japanese fabric in use on a project!

beanbag phone stand

It’s a shame the print doesn’t really show when the phone is in the stand, but now the little hedgehogs and squirrels can make me smile every time I pick up the phone and see the print that was hidden beneath it.

I definitely need to make time for more non-work projects. This was so much fun – I’d almost forgotten how much I enjoy just making stuff. Now I feel refreshed and ready for another busy week :)

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The Handmade Clothing Project

Before our inter-continental move, I pared down my wardrobe by about half, getting rid of anything worn out, badly fitting, or no longer my style. That’s left me with a very minimal wardrobe, and now I really need to replace some of the items I purged.

Shopping catastrophe

I went clothes shopping for the first time last weekend and it was an absolute disaster… Everything is far more expensive here than in Canada. I have a gut feeling about how much I’d be willing to pay for something that’s okay (not bad looking, functional, plain, fits well enough or can be easily modified, a good basic piece) vs something that’s perfect (I love it and know I’ll enjoy wearing for years, great style and/or detailing, the perfect fit) and these prices were far, far higher than my range. There’s no way I’m ever going to be able to justify paying more than my perfect piece price for a merely okay item.

I spent 2 hours browsing and getting more and more despondent. The only thing I even liked enough to consider was a t-shirt in a sale rack, but then I saw the price tag: reduced from $45 equivalent to $30 equivalent! I’ve paid $30 for a t-shirt once, but it’s my favourite top and has loads of detailing (fitted bodice, lace, pleats, gathered neckline) that, for me, justified the price. This was just a plain striped t-shirt… Um, no.

I left the shirt on the rack and gave up on the whole clothes shopping idea. On my way out, I stopped at the craft store and bought some beads, and then I went home to cheer myself up by making something…

Making is fun

sewing books
(Please excuse my translucently pale skin – being sick for 6 months does takes a toll on a girl’s complexion…)
sewing books

Two bracelets and a necklace for under $2 – now that’s my kind of shopping! And because I chose all the supplies myself, I could make sure that the necklace is subtle and will go with all my pink and purple tops, and that the bracelets are bolder and will look perfect next to indigo denim. Being crafty is so much more fun than buying mass-produced, over-priced stuff.

When life gives you lemons…

And that gave me the idea to try turning this disappointment into an opportunity: maybe I can make my own clothes in future..? I can take the time that I used to spend wandering malls looking for the elusive piece that has a June-approved style, colour, fit, and price, and use it to learn to stitch garments that I’m guaranteed to like. And so the idea for the Handmade Clothing Project was born.

This will be a huge challenge for me: I’m by no means an expert at sewing, and very inexperienced at making garments from scratch – shortening or modifying existing clothes to fit is more my level at the moment. But I have designed and stitched up bags, a skirt and a t-shirt from scratch in the past, so I think I should be able to do this, if I start with very simple items.

a-line skirt
I made this simple skirt in 2008 and it’s still one of my favourites – plus I get the bonus “yay, I made this!” feeling every time I put it on.

Gearing up

I can begin the Handmade Clothing Project with almost no costs: I already have a moderate fabric stash (acquired over the years from remnant bins – I can’t resist a bargain), a wonderful sewing machine, and a small library of books to help me on my way:

sewing books

Now all I need is to buy a voltage converter so I can plug my 110V sewing machine into a 240V socket, and I’ll be ready to go! This will obviously be a time-consuming process for me, and I’m still busy trying to get my business back up to speed, so don’t expect new clothing posts every week. But I will share my Handmade Clothing Project successes (and failures) here as they occur – maybe it’ll inspire you to try making clothing too.

Do you make any of your own clothes, or have you ever considered trying it? If so, feel free to join in with the Handmade Clothing Project. (You can still buy clothes too – this isn’t a hardcore “I will never buy clothing again” pledge!) There are no time limits or deadlines, and the only Clothing Project rules are to make stuff you can wear and have fun with it. Crocheting and knitting clothes counts too – you don’t have to sew. Just think how good it’ll feel every time you put on a handmade item – I’m pretty sure you won’t ever get that feeling from anything you bought at the mall…

Who’s with me?

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cutting down and cutting up

This is the first post I’ve written using my new BlackBerry (although the photos were taken back in Canada a few weeks ago)! I hope this works, as I won’t have internet access for my laptop until our furniture arrives in a couple of months and we can move out of this temporary accommodation. Here goes…

Cutting Down (aka downsizing my wardrobe)

As part of our move preparations, I sorted through all my clothes and donated any that didn’t fit or suit me any more. We gave away over 8 garbage bags full of clothing (mostly mine) and I reduced my wardrobe by about half! In case this makes me sound like a clothes junkie, I should probably clarify that most of these clothes had UK labels, which makes them at least 8 years old(!) – I really don’t like to get rid of anything that I may find a use for some day…

I do feel the occasional twinge of regret about all the stuff I’ve donated, but, on the whole, it’s liberating to have reduced my wardrobe by so much. If you have the time, I recommend you refresh your wardrobe too. This is how I did it:

How to refresh your wardrobe

  1. Try on every single item of clothing you own
  2. Look at yourself in a mirror (full-length if possible) and pretend you’re in a shop fitting room
  3. Ask yourself ‘Would I pay to buy this right now?’

If the answer is ‘no’, it’s time to repair/refashion/donate/toss it, and reclaim some space in your closet!

Cutting Up (aka mending and refashioning)

My plan was to pack only wearable clothes for the move, so I donated the larger ‘project’ items (like sweaters I’d had vague plans to felt and make into something at some point – i.e. I’d probably never actually do anything with), and concentrated on the simpler alterations I needed to bring everything else into wearable condition:

Exhibit A: Mending. New buttons attached, belt loop stitched back on, strap stitched back down. Quick and easy when you actually sit down and do it, and now I’ve rescued 3 pairs of pants and a top from the mending pile.

mending: new buttons, fixed belt loop, fixed strap
Mending: new buttons, fixed belt loop, fixed strap

Exhibit B: Extra-long pants. Oh look! I’ve been Americanised! I used to say ‘trousers’ – I wonder when that changed… It’s ridiculously easy to take up pants neatly, although I can never remember how to do it. Luckily, I wrote a really good tutorial for it in 2007 – it saves me from having to figure the method out each time! How embarrassing that I had 2 pairs I’ve never worn because they’ve been sitting, with the tags still attached, waiting for me to take up the excess length. 2 brand-new pairs of pants to add to my wardrobe – very nice.

alteration: shortened pants
Shortening: I cut 3″ off the bottom of these pants and re-hemmed them

Exhibit C: Too-short pants. As I’m 5’2″, I’ve made the mistake of buying “short” length trousers in the past, and worn them for far too long before I realised they were that awkward ankle length. I’ve donated almost all of these faux pas pairs, but I have these linen-mix jeans that I really love (apart from the length). What to do with them? I’ve seen tutorials for adding a decorative ribbon or strip of fabric at the bottom, but that’s really not a look I’d like to wear. So, I used my handy taking up trousers tutorial again, and converted them into capris! Same method, different result.

alteration: too-short pants to capris
New capris: cropped pants from embarrassing ankle-length jeans

Exhibit D: Too-long skirt. I’m not going to subject you to a ‘before’ photo – let’s just say that this ankle-length skirt, circa early 90s, was not at all flattering on my short pear-shaped frame. But it fits nicely, I like the print, and you’d never guess how old it is (apart from the dated style). It’s a stretch fabric – always a challenge to work with – but I got brave with my scissors and cut it off at knee length, zig-zag stitched around the raw edge to stop it from fraying (I don’t have a serger), then turned up the bottom edge and stitched a new hem. I only folded the hem over once in this case to reduce bulk and weight. I skeptically tried the straight stretch stitch on my sewing machine for the first time – it really works! I now have a really cute knee-length skirt, and, added bonus, I have a sizeable piece of leftover fabric (which I packed with my fabric stash).

alteration: ankle-length to knee-length skirt
Swishy knee-length skirt from ankle-length horror (it was too cold to model it for you but, trust me, it looks good)

That’s the last I’ll see of my trusty sewing machine for a couple of months; it’s packed in our shipping container and (I hope) on its way to us! My efforts rescued 8 items of clothing – not bad for a couple of hours’ work. I’m particularly happy with Exhibits C and D: my new capri pants and knee-length skirt will be perfect for the warmer climate here in South Africa!

Mend, refashion, donate and/or toss – wouldn’t your wardrobe benefit from a little spring cleaning too?

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felt poinsettia tutorial

I somehow stumbled into a personal holiday tradition of crafting a different poinsettia every year. With the exception of my first poinsettia (because I was a novice blogger back then and the idea hadn’t occurred to me, so I only have a quick guide that I wrote in the comments of that post) I have a full (free) pattern available for each of my holiday poinsettias – see the links below the pics if you’d like to make your own!

tsumami kanzashi poinsettia by planetjunecrocheted poinsettia by planetjune
polymer clay poinsettia by planetjunepunchneedle poinsettia by planetjune

Top (L-R): 2006 kanzashi poinsettia; 2007 crocheted poinsettia 
Bottom (L-R) 2008 polymer clay poinsettia; 2009 punchneedle poinsettia

So similar, and yet each has its own style. I love this tradition I created! I wonder how long I can keep thinking of new poinsettias to add to the collection…

The 2010 PlanetJune Poinsettia is almost a return to that very first kanzashi poinsettia, but with a twist: to keep it fast and simple, it’s made from felt. It would make a beautiful gift topper or table decoration, and you can increase the size to make it as big as you want – just cut the green squares slightly larger than the red, and you’ll be fine!

felt poinsettia by planetjune

I had intended to make a fancy-schmancy version too, in purple and white, with embroidered petals and leaves, but you’ll have to imagine how lovely that would have been (in my head, at least, it’s stunningly beautiful) – sadly, it’s already too close to Christmas and I just don’t have any more time to spare. Maybe that can be my next year’s holiday poinsettia :)

Anyway, I hope you’ll enjoy my 2010 poinsettia design!

Go to the Felt Poinsettia tutorial >>

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refashioning an unflattering top

I bought a cute summer top last week. It was very inexpensive, the colour was lovely, the fabric had a nice texture, and it looked like it would be a cool, pretty, summer top.

And then I tried it on. Um…

the original baggy top
Please excuse the bathroom fixtures in these photos – it’s the only place I have to take photos of myself in the mirror!

I don’t know which body types the ‘potato sack’ look would flatter, but it’s certainly not mine. Is it a maternity top? No it’s not – I did check after seeing the fit, or lack thereof! Do I need a smaller size? No – it’s a size XS. Ridiculous.

I thought of returning the top, but then I decided to try a little refashioning instead to see if I could improve it. The fabric doesn’t stretch, so I had to take care not to make it too fitted – I need to be able to get it on and off!

Step 1: Measure for new side seams. I turned the top inside out, tried it on, and pinned new seamlines down each side. I took in about an inch and a half on each side, tapering out a bit at the bottom because I didn’t want it to get too tight around my hips. (Turning the top inside out first lets you pin the new shape while you wear the top, and means that you can stitch directly along your pin lines once you take it off.)

Step 2: Sew new side seams and cut off excess fabric. I stitched along my pinned lines with a straight stitch, and then cut off the excess fabric 1/4″ outside my new seams. A serger would be helpful here, but I don’t have one, so I used a zig zag stitch to overcast the new raw edges so they wouldn’t unravel after cutting the fabric.

taking in the side seams
L: pinning the new seams; R: the top after sewing the new seams

Already a little improvement, but I think we can do more…

Step 3: Add an elastic empire waist at the front. I tried on the top and pinned an empire waistline under the bust, from one side seam to the other. Next, I measured myself along that line and cut a piece of 1/4″ elastic to the same length. I pinned the ends of the elastic to the side seams at the front along the empire waistline. To keep the resulting gathers in the fabric even, I stretched the elastic so that the fabric was flat, and pinned the two together at several points along the elastic.

elastic pinned in place

Step 4: Stitch elastic in place. I picked a pretty stretch stitch that happened to match the texture of my fabric, and stitched the elastic to the front of the top, stretching the elastic as I went so that the fabric lay flat as I sewed.

right side of empire waist

Now the front looked good, but the back was still bulging with excess fabric.

Step 5: Make ribbon ties. I salvaged the strips of fabric I had cut from each side and unpicked the original seams so I had 2 strips of fabric from each side of the top. I ironed them flat and trimmed each pieces into a 1″ wide strip. Then I stitched each pair together to make two longer strips, and ironed the long edges into the middle (using my 1/2″ bias tape maker to keep the strips straight). I couldn’t hide the raw edges because I didn’t have enough fabric width to fold the strip in half again, so I just zigzag stitched down the middle of each strip, catching both raw edges as I went. I ended up with two 24″ ribbons to tie together at the back of the top.

ribbon tie

Step 6: Attach ribbon ties. I unpicked enough of each side seam just underneath the elastic to insert the unfinished end of the tie to the inside. I then turned the top inside out and re-stitched the side seams, trapping each tie in place as I sewed.

Turn it back the right way out and… Ta-da!

refashioned top

Still loose and floaty, but it has enough shape to not make me look horribly dumpy – which, as I’m only 5’2″ tall, is a prime consideration for me! Potato sack into cute summer top in 6 easy steps :)

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cute plush hamster

It just occurred to me that I haven’t really shown you this hamster yet. You may have spotted him (in progress) in the demo video for my Detail Stuffing Tool:

I wanted to make a stitched project to use in the demo video, to show people that my tool has uses beyond stuffing amigurumi. Coincidentally, only a couple of days earlier, I’d saved the link to an adorable hamster pattern at Nuno Life, even though I had no plans at the time to make one. And then the perfect excuse came along: a cute hamster toy and the prop I needed for my video, all in one!

plush hamster by planetjune

When I was clearing out my old bedroom at my parents’ house last year, I brought back all my old craft supplies from when I was a kid: rubber stamps, spirograph, cross stitch supplies, and a small stash of fur fabric and felt from my pre-teen toymaking endeavours. It seems strange that I’ve had these materials for around 20 years (let’s not think about how old that makes me sound!) – is that old enough to call them ‘vintage’ craft supplies? Ha!

I found that I had the perfect golden hamster-coloured fur fabric and pink felt in my rediscovered treasures. I’ve always hoarded supplies, to the extent that I used to not use anything in fear of making a mistake and ‘wasting’ it, so it’s especially satisfying to finally be able to use some of my precious, carefully guarded materials.

The pattern was easy to follow (just remember that, as with most Japanese sewing patterns, the pattern shapes don’t include a seam allowance, so cut outside the lines to add your seam allowance) and the minimal instruction was enough to piece it all together. I snipped two tiny eyeholes in the fur before stuffing so that I could use safety eyes with backs. The nose (made by the pattern seams) seemed too low to me, so I cut a tiny piece of felt and made a higher nose. Finally, I trimmed the fur around the eyes so they weren’t obscured.

plush hamster by planetjune

It was a small and satisfying hand sewing project, and look how cute my hamster is – especially those little ears!

plush hamster by planetjune

If you’d like to make one too, check out Runo’s free hamster pattern :)

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Detail Stuffing Tool reviews

A little ‘newsy’ post today. The Detail Stuffing Tools are back in stock, and I aim to keep them in stock permanently from now on. Thanks to everyone who ordered one already; I mailed out all the backorders yesterday (unless you also ordered out of stock eyes in which case they’ll be on their way tomorrow; I just didn’t anticipate getting so many orders over the past couple of weeks!) This is what my poor Post Office lady had to deal with yesterday:


Eek! If only I could print postage online, I’d save hours waiting at the Post Office and writing out customs labels, but Canada Post in their infinite wisdom have decided that the ‘Light Packet’ rate can only be obtained in person at the Post Office…

Detail Stuffing Tool by planetjune

And the reviews of the stuffing tool have started to come in! I know my tool is now indispensible to me – I keep one with every in-progress crochet project – but it’s great to hear that other people like it too. Firstly, a review by Jessica (aka Plushroom Soup), a plush artist and one of the first people to snap up my new tool on launch day. She says:

This little number may not look like much, but boy is it handy! I’ve used everything in the book trying to more efficiently stuff tiny plush parts (tiny fingers and toes are the worst!)—chopsticks, knitting needles, wooden dowels, doll stuffing forks, the Stuff It tool, etc. But nothing had good enough grip for the stuffing; the tools would just slide right through. Wooden dowels were the closest to providing what I needed, but I still struggled. Especially because tiny dowels have a tendency to snap in half while I’m stuffing.

Enter the Detail Stuffing Tool! This neat tool makes quick work of stuffing tiny parts. It’s extremely easy to use and has excellent grip for the stuffing. No more slipping, and stuffing right where I need it.

You can read the rest of her Detail Stuffing Tool review at Plushroom Soup!

And secondly, did you know that March is National Crochet Month? It’s nice to see crochet getting more recognition, although I’d like to see an International Crochet Month next time… Silverlotus, a cross-stitcher and knitter, and novice crocheter (although you wouldn’t guess that from her work!) has written a lovely post about a certain crochet designer for National Crochet Month, including this little snippet about my Stuffing Tool:

Just this month June introduced her new detail stuffing tool, which helps make stuffing little amigurumi creations so much easier. And, my dear cross stitching readers, I know it would make stuffing biscornus and ornaments much, much easier too. I recommend it highly.

See her full review of me (*blush*) on her blog, Reflections in the Pond.

Yay, thanks so much, ladies! If you’ve bought my Detail Stuffing Tool, I’d love to know what you think of it too!

And if you’re still saying “huh? stuffing tool?” here’s my demo video so you can see what all the fuss is about:

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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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