PlanetJune Craft Blog

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knitted poinsettia

Before we go any further: don’t panic! This is not the start of a shift away from crochet and into knitting patterns – it’s just that my Poinsettia ornament happens to be knitted this year. As with my other Poinsettia designs, I’m making it available as a donationware pattern. Although I’m not ruling out the possibility of publishing other knitting patterns in future, it’s not part of my current plan :)

As you may remember, I have a little Christmas tradition of crafting a new Poinsettia ornament every year, and, although I’ve been madly busy this year, I’ve managed to squeeze in another poinsettia design so I can keep up the tradition. Now I’ve been doing this for 8 years, I have enough poinsettias to decorate a small tree! And that’s exactly what I’ve done for my Christmas decorating this year:

poinsettia christmas tree by planetjune
My poinsettia tabletop tree! Can you spot the new addition?

Here’s a closer look at the PlanetJune Poinsettia Collection to date:

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

Top (L-R): 2006 kanzashi poinsettia; 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 …?

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

And now for the 2013 PlanetJune Poinsettia: the knitted poinsettia!

knitted poinsettia by planetjune

As I’ve been teaching myself to knit over the past couple of years, a knitted poinsettia seemed appropriate for 2013. This is a very simple pattern, provided you know how to cast on, make knit and purl stitches, and increase and decrease. If you don’t already know how, this is a nice small project for learning those skills! (And, although teaching you to knit is not something I can take on, there are many good books and tutorials, and I’ve linked to my favourite online tutorials in the pattern.)

I know we’re only a week away from Christmas, but this really is a speedy pattern, so I hope you’d like to try knitting one of your own – the link to the free pattern 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 Knitted Poinsettia pattern >>

* * *
PS – I’ve just finished my book – yay! – and I’m going to take a much-needed break for the next few weeks. I’ll just be popping in for minimal maintenance on PlanetJune stuff, so please be patient if I don’t respond promptly to your emails etc. I’ll be back with exciting new things once I’m completely rested. In the meantime, I hope you have a wonderful festive season!

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open zip files on your Android device

This is a companion post to the iDownloads+ tutorial I wrote for iPad users.

Note: Now that tablets are so popular, I intend to convert my shop to use straight PDF files instead of zip files. It’s a big job to figure out how to do that for my 150+ (without losing your old orders from your account), and one I won’t even have a chance to start until well into next year, so zip files it is for the time being!

My patterns are instantly downloadable after purchase, as zip files. Unfortunately, Android tablets and smartphones have no native way to handle zip files, so you need to either download your patterns to your computer first, and then transfer them to your tablet/phone, or use an app that can open zip files for you and extract the PDFs.

There are many app options for Android and they all work in a similar way. I’ll give you a brief tutorial on one I’ve tested that’s free and easy to use, called ZArchiver. This is one (free) way you can download and open zip files from your PlanetJune account directly on your Android device.

(Please note: I can’t provide support for apps, so please don’t ask me if you have questions about this – I’m just providing this information as a service to Android users.)

To view your PlanetJune patterns on your Android device

  1. Download ZArchiver from Google Play.
  2. In your browser (e.g. Chrome), go to your PlanetJune account and tap the download link for your pattern. Your zip file will be saved into your Download folder.
  3. Open ZArchiver and browse to the Download folder. You’ll see your zip file in the list of files in that folder.
    open zip files on your Android device
  4. Tap the file name (XXX.zip). A menu will pop up.open zip files on your Android device
  5. Tap Extract here and the contents of the zip file will be extracted and saved into your Download folder. You’ll see the pattern PDF.
    open zip files on your Android device
  6. From here, you can open the PDF by tapping it in ZArchiver, or however you usually open PDF files. It’ll still be saved in your Download folder when you need to view it again, or you can move it using your usual file management app.

If you’re an Android user, I hope you find this information helpful :)

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Chains and Slip Stitches in Amigurumi

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

With all crochet, to keep your stitches even, you keep the yarn under tension, so a controlled amount of yarn forms each stitch and all the resulting stitches will be the same size. This is particularly true for amigurumi; if your stitches aren’t consistently tight, it’s very obvious.

tension on yarn when crocheting amigurumi
Tension is created by balancing the forward pull on the yarn from the hook (right) with the backward pull of your other hand on the yarn (left). Consistent tension keeps all your stitches the same size (middle).

Chains and slip stitches are different, though, because each stitch consists of only one loop. If you maintain the same tension as you use for single crocheting amigurumi, as well as tightening the stitch you’re forming, you’ll pull on the previous stitch and make that stitch much smaller and very difficult to work back into.

If you learnt to crochet the traditional way (working in rows to make scarves, afghans, etc) and then progressed to amigurumi, you’ll be familiar with making your starting chain loosely so you can easily work back into it (you can also achieve this by using a larger crochet hook, just for the foundation). But if you began your crocheting adventures with amigurumi, you may never have even made a starting chain foundation!

Problem: Too-Tight Stitches

In the examples of chains and slip stitches below, the ‘too tight’ photos show the results of using the same tension I use for single crocheting amigurumi, while the ‘just right’ photos show how your chains and slip stitches should look:

Chains:
tension on yarn when crocheting amigurumi
Each example has 6 chains. The difference may not be clear for each stitch individually, but notice how short the overall length of the tight chain (left) is compared with the correct chain (right).

Slip stitches:
tension on yarn when crocheting amigurumi
Each example has 4 slip stitches. In the tight example (top), the sideways Vs along the top of each stitch are noticeably smaller and stretched more tightly than in the surrounding sc stitches. In the correct example (bottom), the Vs of the 4 sl sts are indistinguishable from those of the surrounding sc stitches.

Not only do these stitches not match the rest of my work visually, but they are very difficult, or even impossible, to work back into: the loops are smaller than the head of my hook and there’s no slack in the yarn. Here I’ll try to work back into the slip stitched examples:

tension on yarn when crocheting amigurumi
I can’t work back into the left slip stitches without a serious struggle! The right slip stitches are almost as easy to work into as a normal sc stitch.

Solution: Reduce Tension

The goal with chains and slip stitches is to have the sideways V shape of each stitch be exactly the same size as the sideways V along the top of a single crochet stitch (see the ‘just right’ examples above). That requires relaxing your tension considerably and may feel strange and wrong if you’re only used to tight amigurumi control. Here are some tips to practice:

  • Slow down and pay attention to your stitches when you make a chain or slip stitch.
  • As you form each stitch, don’t tug on the yarn with your hook; draw it through smoothly.
  • Check the size of your stitch by comparing it with the Vs at the top of your sc stitches.
  • Only draw the yarn back with your non-hook hand if the working loop looks too large; it should sit loosely on the throat of the hook so the hook can move freely within the loop.

Once you get used to it, chaining with low tension should become easy – it just takes a little practice to make your chains evenly sized. Slip stitching with low tension is slightly trickier when you’re used to amigurumi: the stitches are so similar to single crochet stitches that I still have to remind myself with every slip stitch to keep it loose, so my stitches don’t shrink and tighten.

If you’d like to practice these stitches, here are a couple of examples from my amigurumi pattern collection that make great use of chains and slip stitches:

examples of chains and slip stitches in crocheted amigurumi
These patterns use chains (Baby Cephalopods, left) and slip stitches (Magic Lamp, right).

With this low tension technique, you’ll no longer have to battle to work back into chains and slip stitches, and your work will look smoother, tidier, and more even. It’s one more step along the road to becoming an amigurumi expert!

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steam-relaxing yarn

When you unravel something you’ve crocheted, the yarn looks kinked up and squashed. Re-using this yarn can leave your crocheting looking noticeably different from starting over with fresh yarn. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to refresh the yarn and return it to its unused state so you don’t have to waste it or put up with the re-used appearance? Guess what: there is!

steam-relaxing yarn
Can you turn ‘stressed’ yarn back into ‘relaxed’ yarn? Yes!

I first read about this technique at TECHknitting but I wasn’t really convinced it’d work on acrylic (although I really hoped it would), so I decided to put it to the test with the yarn recovered from one of my prototype pandas.

(You may be wondering ‘why bother?’ The nicer acrylic yarns are actually quite expensive, and, if you’re a crochet addict, the cost of yarn soon mounts up; if there’s an easy way to save money, why not take it? But, for me, the real reason is availability – now I have to import all my amigurumi acrylics from the US, they’re like gold dust to me, and I hoard every metre! Making 3 prototype pandas took a whole skein of white Red Heart Soft, and that’s not something I can easily replace. Reclaiming the yarn so I can use it to design another amigurumi would be ideal, but not if it’s going to look messy and obviously re-used.)

steam-relaxing yarn
A 65m length of kinked up acrylic yarn reclaimed from a prototype panda.

Steam-relaxing

You can steam yarn with a clothes steamer or ordinary steam iron, and it will magically relax, de-kinking and fluffing itself back up! And yes, as I discovered, you can even do this with acrylic yarn – you can see my results in the photos below.

Note: to reclaim an entire skein of yarn, it’s probably easier if you wind it into a hank (a large loop), soak it, and let it dry (for more details on this method, see Webs’ article: How to Recycle Yarn). But for the yarn length recovered from frogging amigurumi or other small projects, steaming is simpler and faster.

Steam-relaxing yarn really is like magic: the yarn wriggles about as it relaxes and it looks quite eerie, like a pile of snakes – watch TECHknitter’s video to see exactly what I mean – but soon the yarn will turn from a kinked tangle into strands of fluffy yarn spaghetti.

My iron doesn’t have a ‘shot of steam’ feature, so it took a fair while to steam the entire 65m pile you see above, but the method really does work. I didn’t touch the yarn at all between these two photos – this is how it moved, by itself, in reaction to the steam:
steam-relaxing yarn
Before (left) and after (right) comparison of a small section – you can see that the yarn has de-kinked and untwisted itself.

steam-relaxing yarn
Pre-steamed (left) and post-steamed sections of my big pile of yarn.

Top Tips

Learn from my experience!

  • It’s much more effective if you spread the yarn out so you’re only steaming one layer at once, and work over a small area.
  • Watch to see when the yarn stops wriggling about when the steam touches it – that’s when it’s fully relaxed and time to move on.
  • For acrylics in particular, it’s critical that you don’t ever let the iron touch the yarn. Sit so you’re at eye level with your ironing board, then you won’t have to bend to see what’s going on, and you’ll be able to keep an inch between your yarn and the iron (you do need to keep it close though, so the steam is most effective).
  • If you have the option to avoid it, don’t start with a big tangle of yarn (as shown in my photos) – once it’s de-kinked, you’ll still have to untangle it and wind it. I’d recommend you wind the yarn into a ball as you unravel your work, then unwind a couple of metres at a time and lay it in rows along the ironing board. Steam-relax that length of yarn, then wind it immediately into a new ball before pulling out the next kinked length. (Once it’s all relaxed, you can re-wind the yarn into a neater ball if you like.)

steam-relaxing yarn
The 65m pile of yarn, post-relaxation. (Don’t leave it in a pile like I did here!)

I’m almost tempted to buy a handheld clothes steamer now, after seeing how effective this method is. And, as an added bonus, the yarn goes from feeling quite hard when it’s kinked up and squashed, to lovely and soft and bouncy again – it really does seem as good as new!

steam-relaxing yarn
After winding it into a centre-pull ball it’s practically indistinguishable from new yarn and ready to use for another amigurumi design!

Steam-relaxing is a bit of a niche technique, but if you frog a project and want to reclaim the yarn, I highly recommend it. You’ll save money, you can re-use the yarn so it’s not wasted, and I promise you’ll have fun watching the yarn wriggle about – what’s not to like?

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Warning! Foam blocking mat colour transfer

As I told you in my wet blocking tutorial, children’s play mats make an inexpensive and easy to find alternative to dedicated blocking mats. BUT, I’ve discovered a problem that you need to know about if you use these mats – please read this and learn from my experience!

foam play mats used for wet blocking

I’ve blocked all kinds of lace with these mats before with no problems, but my crocheted bamboo cardigan was a different story. My laceweight items felt practically dry by the time I pinned them to the mats, but thicker yarn retains much more moisture, so, even after rolling my cardigan in a towel to squeeze out as much excess moisture as possible, it still felt heavy and noticeably damp to the touch. It was still damp 24 hours later, and when I flipped it over so the underside could dry better, I was horrified to find areas of my beautiful cream cardigan were now bright, shocking pink.

I don’t have a photo, as my priority was trying to fix the disaster, not documenting it. Luckily, my story ended well; I’m not sure if it was because the yarn was still damp when I spotted the problem, or if the pink dye isn’t permanent, but after a few soaks in Soak wash, with some delicate but persistent agitation by hand in the sink, all the pink colour came out of my cardigan (phew). But you don’t want to take a chance that your mats may permanently dye your handiwork!

Looking back, I should have suspected that there may be a problem with colour transfer from the pink blocks – if you look at this photo from my blocking tutorial, you can see that some of the bright pink colour from a different mat has transferred onto the lower yellow block, at the right-hand side:

wet blocking on foam mats
My cream cardigan also had this pink colour transfer before I managed to soak it all out!

Foam Mat Colour Transfer Experiment

Although I assumed this colour came from the bright pink coloured blocks – the same colour as the pink stain – to be safe, I decided to conduct an experiment to figure out which of the blocks are the culprits. (I’m very glad I did, because the results surprised me!)

Method

  1. Select enough blocks to have a sample of each foam colour: orange, yellow, green, blue-green, blue, purple, light pink, dark pink. (I also tested a solid purple mat I bought from a different source.)
  2. Lay a piece of paper kitchen towel over each colour of foam. Spray all the blocks with water until the paper towel squares are completely saturated.
  3. Leave overnight to dry.

foam mat colour transfer experiment
The setup for my experiment – wet paper towel squares on a sample of every foam colour

When the paper towel was completely dry, I numbered each piece as I removed it, so I could compare them with my reference layout photo (top row L-R: samples 1-6; bottom row L-R: samples 7-10).

Results

  • Samples 1 and 2 (orange and blue-green) were clear.
  • Samples 3 and 4 (dark pink and green) were stained in only the dark pink areas.
  • Samples 5 and 6 (blue and yellow) were clear.
  • Samples 7 and 8 (light pink and orange) were stained in only the light pink areas.
  • Sample 9 (purple and blue) was stained in only the purple areas.
  • Sample 10 (all purple) was stained all over.

Example of my results:
foam mat colour transfer experiment
Sample 8 (top right in this photo) is mostly over the light pink foam, except the lower left corner which is over the orange O.

foam mat colour transfer experiment
Sample 8 clearly shows that colour has transferred from the background pink foam, but not from the orange O (dotted line added for clarity).

Conclusions
My samples clearly show that pink dye leaches out of light pink, dark pink, and purple foam when wet. The colour transfer seems to be equal between all these colours. All the other foam colours (orange, yellow, green, blue-green, and blue) appear to be colour-fast when wet.

This surprised me – I thought that only dark pink would be the problem, and possibly the light pink. I never even considered that purple foam might also leave pink stains, and equally badly as the over-saturated bright pink blocks! Note: My set didn’t include any red blocks, but I suspect they would suffer from the same problem. UPDATE: see the end of this post.

My Recommendations

If you haven’t bought foam mats yet, you may prefer to look for some that avoid the problem pinks and purples (and, probably, reds). I’ve seen all-grey sets sold as utility mats, and individual coloured blocks sold at dollar stores. Grey, blue, green, yellow and orange should all be safe.

If you already own foam mats, I’d recommend that you replicate my simple kitchen towel experiment – it’s easy to do, and then you’ll know for sure, one way or the other. If you do have the problem, you have some options to get around it:

Prevention Option 1: Only use the blocks with ‘safe’ colours that do not contain pink (safe: orange, yellow, blue, blue-green, green). Do not use light pink, dark pink or purple. Note: If your mats are different colours or types, test them to see which of your colours are affected.

Prevention Option 2: Lay out an old towel over your blocks, so any colour will transfer to the towel, not your precious handiwork. You can pin straight through the towel and into the foam.

If there was any colour transfer when I blocked this cardigan (below), it doesn’t show against the dark grey yarn. Look at all the blocks that could have stained my yarn pink!
foam mat colour transfer experiment
Arrows mark ‘dangerous’ colours: light pink, dark pink, and purple.

Below, you can see the second blocking for my miraculously-unscathed bamboo cardigan – now safely protected from any pink transfer by the towel. The underside of the towel was stained pink after this, but it all came out in the wash. (And, in case you’re wondering, the plastic containers at the corners of the towel are filled with water – I used them as weights to stop the towel from blowing away while I dried the cardigan outside!)
foam mat colour transfer experiment
Cardigan protected from colour transfer by a towel on top of the foam mats.

If you’re blocking lightweight yarn and you roll it in a towel before blocking so it feels almost dry when you lay it out to block, you shouldn’t have a problem with colour transfer, but you may wish to err on the side of caution – my results may not always apply. For anything that still feels damp/heavy after a towel squeeze, you should definitely be careful of potential colour transfer, and I’d recommend you test your mats and/or use one of the prevention options above, especially if you’re using light-coloured yarn. Why take the risk?


UPDATE: Thanks to Andrea Giattini (@SpringSplndr) for this update! Andrea has a set of 8 of the larger 2ft square foam mats that come in red, yellow, green and blue, and are sold for use in garages, playrooms etc. She has been using them for 3 years and had never noticed any transfer.

foam mat colour transfer experiment
Photo courtesy of Andrea Giattini

Andrea kindly agreed to try my test on her mats. She saturated white paper towels with water and left them to dry in the sun, as you can see above. She reports no colour transfer from any of these mats (even the red one, which I was most concerned about).

It appears that these red/yellow/blue/green mats are more colourfast than the sets that include purples, pinks, etc, which can bleed pink dye. However, I still advise caution – different brands may use different dyes, and manufacturing processes may change with time, so, for your own peace of mind, I’d still suggest you try the test on your mats too, just to be safe.

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3 fuzzy chicks (brushed crochet revisited)

fuzzy bunny & chick crochet pattern by planetjune

When I designed my Fuzzy Bunny & Chick pattern in 2007, I used Bernat Baby Lash yarn for the chick. It was perfect – a curly-lashed eyelash yarn with a thick yarn core in the perfect shade of chick yellow – but, of course, that yarn has long since been discontinued.

I stopped designing with novelty yarns in 2008: the frustration of yarn-specific patterns (yarn not being available to the majority of my customers worldwide, and then getting discontinued with no suitable replacement) means it’s very rarely worth the hassle of using an unusual yarn in a pattern.

Still, my Fuzzy Friends patterns are good designs, and I’ve always felt it’s a shame there are so few yarns that would be appropriate replacements to use with my sweet little Fuzzy Chick pattern. So, after a little experimentation, I’ve come up with two easy options so anyone can make a very, very cute Fuzzy Chick – maybe even cuter than the original, do you think..?

fuzzy chick crochet pattern by planetjune
L-R: Tiny Chick, Medium Chick, Fuzzy Chick (original)

The best part is that the new Tiny and Medium chicks both use standard everyday worsted weight acrylic yarn, so you can just use the same yarn you do for normal amigurumi! (Specifically, I used Bernat Satin in Banana for both chickies.)

Tiny Chick is just over 2″ tall, and uses worsted weight yarn, an E US/3.5mm hook, and 4.5mm eyes.
Medium Chick is 3″ tall, and uses 2 strands of worsted weight yarn held together, an H US/5mm hook, and 6mm eyes.

You can also use the above yarn/hook sizes as a starting point for any of my other Fuzzy patterns, if you don’t want to make them with a novelty yarn – this technique will work equally well with all of them!

A Miracle Brush

Let’s pause for a moment so I can tell you about my new amazing amigurumi brushing tool. I’ve seen it called a Teasel Brush (UK), Nap Riser Brush (US), and Bunka Brush (Japan) – if you google each of these names you should be able to find a stockist in your country under one or other of the names. Basically, it’s a very small wire brush with stiff angled prongs, used for brushing out the seams of teddy bears, brushing pile fabrics, or creating brushed areas in needlework or (of course) crocheted or knitted fabric. Some of these brushes slip over your finger, and others are mounted on a small wooden handle (like mine, below), but the prongs are the same in both cases.

teasel brush and pet slicker brush for brushing crochet
A small tool for a small job like a tiny chick makes all the difference – compare the size of my teasel brush (front) with the pet slicker brush (back).

Using one of these brushes follows exactly the same principle as using a wire pet brush to create brushed amigurumi, but, as it’s far smaller than a pet brush, it’s more suited to brushing detail areas and small amigurumi. I’ve left visible scratches in my thumbnail more than once when brushing my crochet with a large pet slicker brush, but, since I bought the smaller brush, I have finer control over where I’m brushing, and haven’t scratched up my nails once!

Of course, it does take longer to brush the same size area with a smaller brush, so, as usual, it’s your personal preference as to which type of brush is the best option. I’m happy to keep both in my toolkit now, and use the most appropriately-sized brush for the job at hand.

Making the Chicks

To make my chicks, I followed the original Fuzzy Chick pattern, together with the instructions from my Fuzzy to Brushed Crochet tutorial (you’ll have already received the tutorial as a bonus PDF if you’ve bought any of my Fuzzy patterns) but I brushed the chick pieces for longer than I did the bear in the tutorial, to get them nice and fluffy. This should give you an idea of the process:

fuzzy chick crochet pattern by planetjune
L-R: Head (brushed), Body (unbrushed), Wing 1 (brushed side up), Wing 2 (brushed side down)

As you can see, the pieces are very small after crocheting them, but the fluffiness adds to the size considerably after they are brushed. After brushing, my double-strand-of-worsted chick is almost as large as the original chick.

As the chicks are heavily brushed, I gave the fluff a little trim around the face (particularly the eye area) with a pair of small sharp scissors, to get rid of any extra-long fibres and neaten then up a bit.

fuzzy chick crochet pattern by planetjune

It’d be a bit fiddly to brush such small amigurumi with a pet brush, so, if you feel like small brushed amigurumi might be something you’d like to add to your repertoire, I highly recommend you seek out a Teasel/Nap Riser/Bunka brush to make the task less perilous!

fuzzy chick crochet pattern by planetjune

Now you know you can use any yellow yarn to make a Fuzzy Chick, how about making one – or a handful – of tiny chickies for the Spring/Easter crochet-along? The brushing probably takes longer than the crocheting, but with only 4 tiny parts, it’s still a very speedy project, and would be lovely for Easter…

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which is the ‘right’ side for amigurumi? [video]

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

I’ve already written (in my Which is the ‘Right’ Side? tutorial) about how to tell the right side from the wrong side of your work when making amigurumi, and when it really matters which side you have facing outwards, but there’s value in showing it in video form too, so you can really see how a piece of amigurumi forms, and what your stitches look like from the front and the back.

which is the 'right' side for amigurumi video tutorial, by planetjune

(If you’re already comfortable with the right and wrong sides, when you can use whichever side you prefer, and when it really matters which side faces outwards, you can skip this video, if you like – there’s nothing extra that I didn’t tell you in my original which is the ‘right’ side discussion – but I’m building my crochet tutorials video library and that has to include the essential basics as well as clever tips and new techniques.)

And now to the video tutorial (in right- and left-handed versions, of course):

Which is the ‘Right’ Side for Amigurumi (right-handed)

Which is the ‘Right’ Side for Amigurumi (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 to watch them full-sized :)

If you enjoy my crochet tutorial videos, please help to spread the word about them, and/or subscribe to the PlanetJune YouTube channel.

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Perfect your invisible decreases

The invisible decrease (invdec) is one of the two absolutely essential techniques for making beautifully neat amigurumi (the other being, of course, the magic ring). But invdec is a little tricky to get the hang of, and there are 2 points during the decrease where you can accidentally lengthen your stitch so it isn’t neat and tight, and the resulting decrease will be far more obvious.

Today I’d like to demonstrate these invdec problem points, so you know where the pitfalls are, and how to avoid them. You’ll find this tutorial useful if:

  • You’re new to the invisible decrease technique (watch my video tutorial before you continue reading this!)
  • You’ve tried invdec but been disappointed by your results
  • Your invdecs look inconsistent, gappy, or too prominent
  • You want your amigurumi to look as good as possible!

A Note about Tension

Although maintaining consistent tension on your yarn is a skill you need to master in order to crochet anything beautifully, it’s vitally important for amigurumi, as you need your stitches to be tight and even to produce the regular, firm amigurumi fabric that allows us to create complex ami shaping, and hides your stuffing. I’ve seen some people recommend that you tug on your yarn after every stitch to tighten it up, but that isn’t necessary if you maintain consistent tension.

crochet tension
Tensioning your yarn is a balance between the hook pulling forward and your other hand pulling backward.

How do you do that? Well, while your hook is pulling the yarn forward, your non-hook hand is simultaneously pulling back on the yarn, so you use a controlled amount of yarn to form each stitch. (You probably do this without even realising you’re doing it; if the yarn could just slide freely through your fingers with no tension, your hook would pull up large, inconsistent loops, and your crochet would look sloppy.)

When I talk below about pulling back on the yarn so the working loop is tight around your hook, the goal is to bring the tension back to your standard level, so the working loop should be the same size and tightness as it is for all your other stitches. If you go too far and pull it extra-tight, you’ll just make it more difficult to work back into that stitch in the following round.

Perfecting the invdec

If you look at the top of an invdec stitch, you’ll see there’s a ‘V’ at either side of the decrease. (As invisible decreases are practically indistinguishable from the surrounding stitches, I’ve crocheted my samples with the invdecs and the surrounding top loops in a different colour, so you can see what I’m talking about!)

perfect your crochet invisible decreases
Left: The source of the problems is these extra-long Vs at the top of the stitches surrounding the invdec.
Right: Invdec done right, with the Vs the same length as in the surrounding stitches.

These two Vs (A and B) are the culprits – if either or both of these is lengthened, there’ll be extra space around the invdec and it can look gappy or sloppy.

perfect your crochet invisible decreases
Left: The lengthened Vs have left a larger gap at either side of the invdec.
Right: Invdec is indistinguishable from the surrounding stitches (except for my helpful colour change!)

Loop A

Checkpoint: When you begin an invdec stitch, as you’re swinging the hook around to get the tip through both front loops, the working loop (the one that was already on your hook before you started the stitch) tends to loosen up.

Fix this: Once you’ve inserted your hook under the 2 front loops, and before you yarn over, tug the yarn to make sure the working loop is still tight on your hook and hasn’t lengthened.

perfect your crochet invisible decreases
Left: Lengthened working loop on hook will cause a loose stitch.
Right: Tightened loop – perfect!

Loop B

Checkpoint: After you complete the invdec, you’ve just turned 2 stitches into 1 stitch, and your hook is now further back than it usually would be for starting a new stitch. So this is another point where your yarn can make an extra-long loop, as you bring your hook forward over that extra distance to begin the next stitch.

perfect your crochet invisible decreases
Left: The position of the hook after a sc stitch.
Right: After an invdec, the hook is further back (dotted line marks the usual position), so there’s a greater distance to reach the next stitch.

Fix this: Make sure you keep tension on your yarn, so the loop on your hook doesn’t stretch out as you insert your hook into the stitch after the invdec. (If, after inserting your hook to begin the next stitch, you see the working loop has lengthened, just pull the yarn so the working loop is tight around your hook again, before you yarn over and continue with the stitch.)

perfect your crochet invisible decreases
Left: Lengthened working loop after inserting hook into next stitch.
Right: Tightened loop – perfect!

Multiple Decreases

The potential problem is doubled when you’re working 2 invdecs in a row, as you have the ‘too far back’ effect (Checkpoint B) and the ‘swinging the hook’ effect (Checkpoint A) both acting on the same loop, so you should make a little extra effort to be conscious of the size of the loop on your hook, and make sure it stays tight and doesn’t lengthen.

* * *

With a little extra effort to make sure you’re maintaining consistent tension, even while you decrease, your stitches will all stay the same size, and your invdecs will be as invisible as advertised!

Comments (6)

wet blocking for crochet (& knit)

Wet blocking is a process used to finish articles made from yarn. It basically involves soaking your finished piece of knitting or crochet to wet it thoroughly then shaping it to the final dimensions, pinning it into place, and leaving it to dry. When dry, the piece will hold its new dimensions (until you wash it, in which case it’ll need to be blocked again while it dries).

Why Wet Block?

Pretty much everything can benefit from blocking, to even up your stitches and square up the edges. But, for lacy projects, blocking is essential for opening up the stitches and showing off the stitch pattern.

wet blocking
My Rippled Lace Rectangular Shawl before and after blocking – there’s no comparison!

You’ll find wet blocking instructions in all my crocheted lace PlanetJune Accessories patterns, but I thought it might be helpful to go into a bit more detail here – I’ll explain how to wet block, the best tools for blocking, and some clever money-saving substitutions (also useful if you don’t have a local shop that sells the specialised blocking tools).

Basic Wet Blocking Instructions

  1. Soak your piece in lukewarm water until thoroughly saturated.
  2. Gently squeeze without wringing, to remove most of the water.
  3. Lay out on a clean towel and roll the towel up to remove excess moisture.
  4. Lay out onto your blocking surface (foam floor tiles, or a large dry towel on a flat surface).
  5. Gently ease into shape, using a tape measure to make sure the piece is shaped symmetrically or achieves the required dimensions.
  6. Use blocking wires and/or pins to keep in position while it dries.
  7. When completely dry (typically about 24 hours), remove the pins and/or wires.

Wet Blocking Tools

The minimum requirements for blocking are:

  • A towel to remove excess moisture
  • Towel(s) large enough to lay out your project onto
  • A surface you can pin into (a bed, carpet)
  • Rustproof pins

But, with a couple more purchases, your blocking will be much easier and more successful. The magic tools are:

  • Blocking wires
  • Foam floor tiles

Blocking wires are a revelation! Any time you need to wet block a crocheted (or knit) piece with straight edges, they save so much time and make a straight edge much easier to achieve. When you stretch a wet piece to block it and pin it into shape while it dries, the fabric between each pin tends to be stretched less, and you end up with a slightly scalloped edge, where each pinned point is stretched out more than the area between pins. You can minimise this by increasing the number of pins you use, but that takes a lot of pins, and a lot of time. If you weave a blocking wire along an entire straight edge of a piece, you need only a few pins to keep the wire in position, and the final edge will be perfectly straight. This is especially crucial for lace projects.

wet blocking
The blocking wire keeps the entire edge perfectly straight with very few pins

Foam floor tiles are waterproof and make a perfect surface for pinning into – especially if you don’t have a spare bed or carpeted floor to leave your work pinned to for 24-48 hours! The interlocking edges allow you to create a surface as large as you like, anywhere you have room for them.

wet blocking
Foam floor tiles are the perfect waterproof surface to pin into

Money-saving Tips

You can buy all these from yarn shops, for example KnitPicks sell reasonably-priced foam Blocking Mats ($25), Lace Blocking Wires ($20), and T Pins ($3). But you can save even more money by looking for the same products in everyday shops (this is also helpful if you don’t have access to a yarn store that sells dedicated blocking supplies). Here are my top tips:

wet blocking
Blocking wires (welding wires) and T pins

Stainless steel welding wires are identical to blocking wires, and you get over twice as many for about the same cost – so split a pack with a friend! Look in a hardware store for 4ft welding wires, and make sure they are marked as stainless steel so they won’t rust.

T pins. Okay, you can’t beat the KnitPicks price on these, but, for those outside their shipping range, you can also find T pins with dressmaking supplies in sewing shops. Just make sure you get rustproof pins – they’ll be touching your wet yarn and you don’t want to leave rust-coloured stains on your beautiful handiwork!

wet blocking
Foam floor mats (play mats)

Foam floor tiles or play mats for kids are identical to blocking mats. You can buy 2ft or 1ft square tiles in bright colours or serious grey, but I prefer the set of 12″ letter mats pictured above: with 26 interlocking mats I can arrange them into the shape of any crocheted piece I’m ever likely to make. Wait for a sale and you can pick up a set for under $10 – they may look a bit unprofessional, but you get far more blocking area than in an ‘official’ set of blocking mats, for far less money.
UPDATED 22 Mar 2013: Please read my warning about colour transfer if you use these mats!

Blocking is Key

Next time you’re crocheting lace, don’t worry if it looks less than encouraging while you’re crocheting – that is just part of the magic of lace! You can stretch it out between your hands to give you a temporary idea of how the finished stitch pattern will look after blocking. It’s always worth blocking your finished work to make it look its best, even if you use an acrylic yarn:

wet blocking
My Climbing Eyelets Triangular Shawl is 100% acrylic fingering weight, and, although the effect isn’t as dramatic as with the laceweight alpaca, blocking it still made a big difference. And, a year and a lot of use later, my shawl still looks just as good as the ‘after’ photo.

After all the effort you’ve put into crocheting a beautiful lacy piece, don’t skimp on that one last day waiting for your blocked piece to dry – it’s well worth it to turn your work from okay-looking to spectacular!

Ready to try making and blocking some crocheted lace? How about joining the PlanetJune Accessories Crochet-Along (on Ravelry)? The CAL runs until the end of the year, so you still have plenty of time :)

Comments (20)

narrow pointed tubes for amigurumi [video]

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

how to make narrow pointed tubes for amigurumi, by planetjune

I know, you’re probably saying “Huh? What’s a narrow pointed tube?” Well, that’s the best generic term I could think of to describe thin pointy bits on amigurumi, such as spikes, legs, horns and tails.

thin-legged reptile and amphibian crochet patterns by planetjune

I know that the trickiest parts of my reptile and amphibian patterns (pictured above) are those really thin pieces that make the legs (and chameleon toes and tail). With many of my new dinosaur patterns (see a few examples below) featuring spikes and horns, I thought it was time to give you a demonstration of the way I crochet the tiniest thin tubes without difficulty. I hope you’ll find my tips useful!

Dinosaurs Set 1X Expansion Pack crochet patterns by PlanetJune: Amargasaurus, Kentrosaurus, Pentaceratops

Here’s the video tutorial (in right- and left-handed versions, of course):

Narrow Pointed Tubes for Amigurumi (right-handed)

Narrow Pointed Tubes for Amigurumi (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 to watch them full-sized :)

If you enjoy my crochet tutorial videos, please help to spread the word about them, and/or subscribe to the PlanetJune YouTube channel. And let me know if you have any requests for crochet techniques you’d like me to explain in a future video tutorial!

Comments (5)

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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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