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Glinting Eyes for Amigurumi

Today I’d like to show you a technique that’ll bring your amigurumi to life when you don’t use shiny plastic eyes. This is particularly useful when you’re making baby-safe or pet toys, where plastic eyes may be a choking hazard.

example of embroidered catchlight on crocheted amigurumi eyes

The Power of the Catchlight

A catchlight is the highlight or glint of a light source reflected in an eye. Compare these kestrel photos I took a few months ago, and you’ll see how appealing a glint in the eye can be:

kestrel with glinting eye (by June Gilbank)
Where the eye has the magic glint, it brings a spark of life to the photo that makes it irresistible.

kestrel without glinting eye (by June Gilbank)
The same bird, only a couple of seconds later, but the angle is slightly different, and I didn’t catch a glint in the eye. Although the kestrel is still lovely, do you see how this photo looks dull and lifeless compared with the first?

Now, this principle doesn’t just apply to wildlife photography – the same concept applies in amigurumi! Two-part plastic animal (‘safety’) eyes are the ideal eyes for most amigurumi, because the shiny plastic replicates the shine of real animals’ eyes, giving a glint in the eye which helps to bring your amigurumi to life.

But plastic eyes aren’t always the best solution, especially if you’re making toys for very young children or pets, where plastic eyes may be a choking hazard and should be avoided. Non-plastic eyes can look dull and make your amigurumi feel lifeless, but there’s a simple way to add that spark of life back again.

Adding a Catchlight

If you crochet eyes for your amigurumi or make them from felt or embroidery, I highly recommend that you add a small white dot with white embroidery floss in the upper right quadrant of each eye, to simulate the glint. It makes the eye look more realistic and gives your toy that spark of life. All you need is a tapestry needle and a short length of white embroidery floss per eye.

Compare these two gingerbread men. Even before they have any features added beyond the eyes, there’s a huge difference in appeal:

Gingerbread Man (crochet pattern by PlanetJune) with and without a glint in the eye

Without a glint, the eyes have a dull vacant stare. With the glint, they have a sparkle of personality!

How to Add the Glint:

  • If you’re embroidering the eye directly onto your piece, you can stitch the catchlight on top of your other stitches.
  • If you’re attaching a felt or crocheted circle for the eye, you may find it easier to embroider the catchlight before attaching the eye, as you can then hide the thread ends beneath the eye. (If you plan to glue the eye in place, it’s essential to embroider the catchlight before you apply the glue, as it’s very difficult to embroider onto fabric that’s been hardened with glue!)
  • You can also add a catchlight with a dot of white fabric paint, but please do practice on a spare crocheted eye before adding paint directly to your amigurumi, to make sure you’re happy with the result.

illustration of good and bad glint positions for amigurumi eyes

Glint Size and Shape
The size and shape of the catchlights aren’t critical. A single stitch can be enough, or, if you prefer a more rounded/square shape, you can make a larger catchlight by making two or three stitches right next to each other. Whatever you decide, try to keep the glint the same size and shape on each eye.

Glint Position
You don’t have to use the upper right corner of the eye, but it’s very important that you add the glint in the same position on each eye – this is one situation where symmetry is definitely wrong! The idea of the catchlight is to suggest that the amigurumi is being lit from one side, and the side with the lamp/sun is the side that reflects that light as a glint. Light typically comes from above, so add the glint above the middle of the eye, but you can choose between the upper right or upper left side for both eyes.

Get Glinting!

This simple technique makes such a difference to any eyes made from fabric, yarn or embroidery floss. I hope you’ll use it every time you make crocheted, felt or embroidered eyes in future, to add an extra spark of life to your amigurumi!

Gingerbread Man crochet pattern by PlanetJune

Note: The samples used for this demo are made from my Gingerbread Family crochet patterns.

Comments (4)

A Colour Changing Crochet Investigation

managing yarns when changing colours tutorial

Spoiler alert: in doing this colour changing investigation, I’ve come up with recommendations for how best to manage your yarns when you make multiple-colour amigurumi.

If you’re not interested in my experiments and how I reached my conclusions, you can skip the rest of this post, and jump straight to the Changing Colour: Managing the Yarns tutorial 🙂


I’m often asked how to deal with the other yarn when changing colour in my amigurumi patterns. If there’s a specific technique I recommend for a specific pattern – one that makes the colour changes much neater or faster than any alternative – I give you that information in the pattern itself.

But, in general, I don’t give specific details within a pattern for every colour change, because a) there’s no one ‘right’ way to deal with yarn ends and carrying colours, and b) it’s up to you which method(s) you find to be the best combination of fast, easy, and with a good end result.

In fact, I tend to intuitively use a combination of several options, but how do you know what to use when? Time for another crochet experiment, so we can see the the advantages and disadvantages of each technique, and I can give you a better recommendation…

Note: Not interested in the investigation and just want my recommendations for how to deal with the other yarn when you’re changing colours? Go straight to my page Changing Colour: Managing the Yarns!

Method

I crocheted the same amigurumi-style sample piece 4 times, using the same pattern each time but changing the method for dealing with the other yarn in each sample, as a basis for comparison.

colour_changing_investigation

The pattern was a two-colour cylinder worked in a continuous spiral in the round, changing colour every five stitches on one side and every two stitches on the other side, so we can see any differences between short and long blocks of stitches between colour changes.

The techniques I used were:

  • 1. Cut-and-tie: Cut the yarn at every colour change and tie each resulting pair of ends together.
  • 2. Stranding: Carry a float of yarn behind the work, and pick it back up when you resume crocheting with that colour.
  • 3. Tapestry crochet (yarn on top): Lay the unused yarn across the top of the stitches, and crochet around it with every stitch.
  • 4. Tapestry crochet (yarn behind): I don’t think there’s a real name for this technique: crocheting around the other yarn with each stitch, but holding it behind the back loop, instead of across the top, of the stitch below. (But does that really make a difference? Let’s find out…)

Results

The overview picture below shows the results of the four different methods.
L-R for each method:

  • Wide blocks of colour, right side
  • Wide blocks of colour, wrong side
  • Narrow blocks of colour, right side
  • Narrow blocks of colour, wrong side

colour changing experiment by PlanetJune - 4 methods to deal with yarn ends when changing colour in amigurumi

(You may be wondering why I’m looking at the wrong sides too, when the inside will never be seen in an amigurumi piece. It’s important for the experiment to see what’s going on behind the scenes as well as comparing the look of the finished outside.)

By comparing each of these samples, I could see the advantages and disadvantages of each method, which will let me figure out which is best to use when, and why…

Cut-and-tie vs Stranding

Stranding is much faster than stopping to cut the yarn and tie knots at every colour change, but the quality of the stranded result depends on the width of the yarn that’s floated on the back of the piece:

colour changing experiment by PlanetJune - cutting vs stranding

For long stretches between colour changes, the floated yarn on the back of the piece can distort the shape of your work (if too tight), or cause the stitch before and after to work loose (if too loose). Cut-and-tie leaves yarn ends, but gives a consistent result.

However, for frequent colour changes of only a stitch or two, cut-and-tie is fiddly and leaves a big mess of ends on the inside of the piece. Stranding works very well for these shorter colour changes, provided you tension the stranded yarn so it sits snugly along the inside of the piece.

Conclusion: Stranding the yarn behind your stitches saves time and yarn vs cutting and tying at each colour change, but it works best when you’re only carrying the yarn for a short length before swapping back.


Tapestry crochet vs Normal crochet (cut or stranded)

There’s a big problem with using tapestry crochet for amigurumi – unless, of course, the pattern was designed to be worked this way! Let’s compare the stitches formed with standard crochet vs those with tapestry crochet:

colour changing experiment by PlanetJune - stitch bias difference between normal and tapestry crochet

Working in the round without turning always introduces a bias to your stitches – a stacked colour change will travel by approximately 1 stitch per 5 rounds (above, right). But with tapestry crochet (above, left), that bias is intensified, so a stacked colour changed will travel by approximately 1 stitch per 2 rounds. So, if you use the tapestry technique where it’s not intended (or, use non-tapestry for a pattern designed for tapestry), the colour pattern will become skewed.

The tapestry stitches are also slightly taller than standard stitches, but I’m not sure there’s enough of a difference there to skew the overall shaping significantly on the scale of an amigurumi piece. The colour shifting is a much more obvious problem, and a good enough reason to abandon this method for amigurumi colour changes without further investigation.

Conclusion: Don’t use tapestry crochet (working over the carried yarn with every stitch) for amigurumi with colour changes, unless the pattern specifies it.

Tapestry crochet (yarn on top vs yarn behind)

The modified tapestry crochet technique, where you carry the yarn just behind the back loop of the stitch instead of across the top, does make a difference: looking at the green stitches in the samples below, you can see that the carried (pink) yarn is less visible on the front of the piece, and more visible on the back (where it doesn’t matter for amigurumi).

colour changing experiment by PlanetJune - comparison of tapestry crochet with the yarn held on top or behind the stitches

Conclusion: If you’re going to work over yarn (to carry a yarn, to catch a floated yarn, or to work over a yarn end), for amigurumi it’s better to hold the yarn behind the back loop of your stitch instead of across the top of the stitch.

(This modification doesn’t help with the bias effect, so I still wouldn’t use it for amigurumi colourwork, unless the pattern was designed to be worked in tapestry crochet. But I have incorporated this technique into my recommendations in a specific scenario, as you’ll see…)

Verdict & Recommendations

managing yarns when changing colours tutorial

Putting it all together, we can see which techniques may be most effective when a pattern has frequent/infrequent colour changes that span few/many stitches, and I now have solid reasons for recommending different yarn-wrangling methods in different situations.

You always have a choice of how to deal with the other yarn(s) when you change colour, but I’ll give you my recommendations – together with some case studies so you can see how these methods work in practice for amigurumi – in my tutorial page:

Continue to ‘Changing Colour: Managing the Yarns’ >>

Comments (4)

tutorial: better BLO stitches for amigurumi

Link easily to this tutorial in your patterns: www.planetjune.com/blo

I always like to experiment and see if there are ways to improve amigurumi techniques to give better results, and today I have a new one to share with you.

Back loop only (BLO) stitches are often used to add detail in amigurumi designs, particularly for turning sharp corners. For example, look at the bottom of a crocheted plant pot (where you turn a sharp corner from the base of the pot to begin the sides) or the bottom of a foot (where you turn from the flat base to the side of the foot).

better BLO tutorial - examples of uses of back loops only at the edge of the base of feet or plant pots
Stegosaurus and Succulent plants both have a round of BLO around the bottom edge (of their feet and pot, respectively)

But BLO stitches are looser and more open than standard stitches worked in both loops, so the corner round will lose the solid, firm fabric of the rest of your amigurumi. My new modified BLO technique solves this problem!

better BLO tutorial - the holes above the unworked front loops are eliminated with my technique
The holes above the unworked front loops are eliminated with my technique

Now, before we get started, I should explain what this technique is not: this is not a new method for patterns that are worked in BLO throughout. Using it in that way would change the shape of the finished pieces (more about that later).

This technique is best used to replace occasional BLO details in a piece worked in both loops, e.g. the round of BLO stitches used for turning sharp corners in amigurumi patterns. Just as you can replace a “ch 2” start with a magic ring, and an “sc2tog” with an invisible decrease, you can replace that round of BLO with my modified BLO (in any amigurumi pattern) and it’ll give your amigurumi a much nicer result.

What’s wrong with BLO?

The problem with BLO stitches compared with stitches worked in both loops is that they can easily stretch open. When you’re making amigurumi, where the stitches are stretched by the stuffing, this results in taller stitches with larger gaps between each round.

better BLO tutorial - comparison of samples worked in normal sc and sc in back loops only
L-R: sc worked in both loops, sc in back loops only

(I discussed this in more detail in my tutorial Front Loops, Back Loops, Both Loops.)

Why Use BLO?

But BLO has several uses as an accent in amigurumi designs, for example:

  • to add textural detail with the unworked front loops
  • to add anchor points for additional stitches worked back into in the unworked front loops
  • to turn sharper corners than you can achieve with regular single crochet stitches

This last one is the main use of BLO in amigurumi, and the situation that you can most improve with my new technique! Although BLO makes a nice corner, it does leave the fabric looser and more floppy around that round, because the stitches can stretch open.

A Better BLO

When you look at a single crochet stitch, you usually work into both the front loop and the back loop at the top of the stitch:

better BLO tutorial - step 1

But, if you rotate your work forwards a bit, you can see that there’s another horizontal bar just beneath the back loop, at the back of the stitch (below, left).

To improve the appearance of your BLO, work each stitch into both the back loop and this back bar (below, right).

better BLO tutorial - step 2

Are you left-handed? Here’s how it’ll look for you:

better BLO tutorial - step 2 (left-handed)

You can see the stitch in action in the videos below:

Video Tutorial (right-handed)

Video Tutorial (left-handed)

Note: The videos may look a little small embedded in the blog: if so, you can fullscreen them or click through to YouTube (links: right-handed; left-handed) to watch them full-sized 🙂

Stitch Comparison

So you can see the difference this technique makes, let’s compare the modified BLO stitch with a standard single crochet (worked in both loops) and a standard BLO single crochet.

I’ve crocheted the same sample 3 times, once using each stitch.

better BLO tutorial - comparison of samples worked in normal sc, modified scBL, and standard scBL
#1: single crochet in both loops
#2: modified BLO single crochet
#3: BLO single crochet

As you can see, the modified BLO does not stretch out like a BLO stitch; the stitches are much closer in size to a standard single crochet (although very slightly smaller still, as the stitches are tighter).

Comparing the BLO and modified BLO in close-up:

better BLO tutorial - comparison of stitches worked in standard scBL and modified scBL
Left: BLO; right: modified BLO

You can see that the gaps that result from standard BLO stitches are eliminated with this technique, and the stuffing doesn’t show through between the stitches.

So this modified stitch is a much better match for a standard single crochet, as it keeps the tight, solid appearance of a regular amigurumi, and doesn’t leave any unwanted gaps.

Caveats

  • Do not use this technique for a piece designed to be worked in back loops only. As you can see, using the modified BLO stitch with a pattern designed to be worked entirely in BLO would give the same problem as working the pattern in both loops – the shape would be compressed vertically.
  • I recommend you use this technique only as an accent stitch for pieces crocheted predominantly in both loops. (The only reason I crocheted the above sample piece entirely in modified BLO is to give you a clear way to compare the differences between the size and shape of the stitches.) This stitch is more difficult to work than either standard or BLO single crochet, because the back bar is tighter, so I don’t suggest you ever crochet an entire piece using this technique!

In Practice

better BLO tutorial - sample piece with sharp corner made by modified BLO round at edge of base

I crocheted this little amigurumi-style pot as a sample to demonstrate this technique. The corner formed by the modified BLO round is neat and firm, and it’s actually a little sharper than the corner you get from a standard BLO stitch.

Conclusion

You can safely use the modified BLO to replace a single round of stitches (or any number of individual stitches) worked in back loops only in any amigurumi pattern.

It prevents the gap from forming below each BLO stitch as the fabric stretches, and it maintains the firm solidity of the amigurumi fabric throughout your piece.

While this isn’t an essential technique, it’s another ‘upgrade’ you can use with any pattern (like my invisible increase) to improve the look of your amigurumi.

I know I’ll be using it for all my BLO details in future, and I hope you’ll enjoy it too!

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Origami Poinsettia papercraft tutorial

In celebration of my new PlanetJune Papercraft ebook and donationware tutorials, I decided to design a papercraft poinsettia to add to my collection…

origami poinsettia by planetjune

The ‘petals’ of this Poinsettia are made with origami techniques, and the ‘flower’ is assembled with wire (with an option for sewing thread) – that can also be used to create a stem or hanging loop – and beads for the centre.

Did you know that the red ‘petals’ of a poinsettia are actually bracts – modified leaves – and only the central yellow parts are the flowers? So, while this isn’t actually a ‘flower’ in the case of a poinsettia, you can also make this design as a pretty flower at any time of year!

If you don’t have origami paper, inexpensive gift wrapping paper is the perfect thickness for paper folding. You only need to cut 3 squares to make a flower, and you’re bound to have some leftover wrapping paper before Christmas, so don’t throw it away! My origami poinsettia measures 3″ (7.5cm) in diameter, but it can be easily scaled to any size by starting with larger or smaller squares of paper. Beads or a button add the finishing touch to this lovely easy decoration.

The origami techniques in this design are very simple – this would be a fun introduction to paper folding if you haven’t tried it before – and once you’ve learnt how to fold a leaf you’ll be able to whip up a poinsettia (or several!) very quickly. If you’d like to give it a go, the link to the free tutorial is below, and, as always, if you choose to thank me with a donation, you’ll get the handy printable PDF version 🙂

Go to the Origami Poinsettia tutorial >>

The Poinsettia Collection

I only had one year off before I felt compelled to return to my tradition of crafting a new Poinsettia ornament every year. This new design brings the total up to 9! Here are all the previous PlanetJune Poinsettias:

tsumami kanzashi poinsettia by planetjunecrocheted poinsettia by planetjune
polymer clay poinsettia by planetjunepunchneedle poinsettia by planetjune
felt poinsettia by planetjunebeaded poinsettia by planetjune
thread crochet poinsettia by planetjuneknitted poinsettia by planetjune

Top (L-R): 2006 kanzashi poinsettia (no tutorial); 2007 crocheted poinsettia
2nd Row (L-R): 2008 polymer clay poinsettia; 2009 punchneedle poinsettia
3rd Row (L-R): 2010 felt poinsettia; 2011 beaded poinsettia
Bottom Row: 2012 thread crochet poinsettia; 2013 knitted poinsettia

(You can find all my Poinsettia designs as PDFs in my shop, or use the links above for the free online versions.)

Happy seasonal crafting!

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How to Fold a Triangular Shawl

how to fold a triangular shawl by planetjune

If you’ve been bitten by the shawl-crocheting bug, it can be easy to build up quite a collection! As part of the Accessories CAL (in the PlanetJune Ravelry group), I thought now would be a good time to discuss how you store your shawls. I used to hang mine in my closet, but I quickly ran out of hanging space, and now I prefer to keep them all neatly folded in a plastic storage box.

Triangular shawls, in particular, can be a bit tricky to fold for storage, so here’s my method to turn any size and style of triangular shawl into a tidy rectangle.

Step 1: Hold your shawl with the point facing down:

how to fold a triangular shawl by planetjune

Step 2: Bring the top left corner across to the top right corner:

how to fold a triangular shawl by planetjune

Step 3: Bring the bottom point up to the top left corner:

how to fold a triangular shawl by planetjune

Step 4: Bring the top right point across to the top left corner:

how to fold a triangular shawl by planetjune

And that’s it: a perfect rectangle. If your shawl is large, you may want to fold it in half again before you store it (but I think you can figure out how to do that without a photo…)

So now you can go from this:

Cozy Mesh and Palm Leaves shawl crochet patterns by planetjune

to this tidy little stack of crocheted loveliness!

Cozy Mesh and Palm Leaves shawl crochet patterns by planetjune

And – in case you’d like to make a few more shawls so you can practice your folding technique – you can find all my shawl patterns here 😉

Comments (2)

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    June Gilbank

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