PlanetJune Craft Blog

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Archive for October, 2013

New-To-Me CAL roundup

The New-To-Me theme challenged participants to try a PlanetJune design they’d never made before and the result is a small but lovely roundup! (Don’t forget to keep reading to the end for the upcoming CAL details – we’re doing something a little different this time…)

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book review: Stuffed Animals

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

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

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

Overview

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

Stuffed Animals by Abby Glassenberg

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

Stuffed Animals by Abby Glassenberg

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

Stuffed Animals by Abby Glassenberg

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

Stuffed Animals by Abby Glassenberg

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

Stuffed Animals by Abby Glassenberg

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

Stuffed Animals by Abby Glassenberg

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

My Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

prototype aardvark toy - version 1

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

prototype aardvark toy - version 2

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

prototype aardvark toy - version 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the end result is:

PlanetJune plush aardvark toy

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

PlanetJune plush aardvark toy

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

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

PlanetJune plush and amigurumi aardvark toys
Ami and Fatty Aardvarks

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

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

Peeves

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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PlanetJune Stories: Monica’s amigurumi dolls

Today’s PlanetJune Story comes from Monica from Magical Amigurumi – you may remember her previous appearances on my blog from her first PJ Story and when she was commissioned to crochet my Fruit Bats for the Ralph Lauren store window last year!

I love it when people use my techniques and the Boy and Girl patterns from my Complete Idiot’s Guide to Amigurumi to create custom toys, and I don’t think anyone has taken that concept to heart as much as Monica has – I’m sure you’ll be as delighted and impressed as I am with her amigurumi doll collection. Over to you, Monica…


I love collecting dolls! Porcelain dolls, baby dolls, stuffed dolls, hand sewn dolls from all over the world. Each doll is unique and special to me. At the moment, most of my dolls are in two 30 gallon totes for safe keeping; small apartment means small space.

Monica's amigurumi dolls

When I first received June’s book Complete Idiot’s Guide to Amigurumi I really liked the look of her crocheted dolls. Some of the other crocheted patterns out there make the dolls look a little creepy for my liking, and June’s were really life-like (and super simple to create!) and they are the perfect size to hug, hold and carry around! I was not brave enough to try them out for several months and then took my first try on the boy pattern, turning him into this Scarecrow. After a cute success I was not able to make another doll for a year, but I had many ideas floating around in my head.

Monica's amigurumi dolls

I made this standard Girl Doll in a pink mist color and really liked how she turned out. Cute but simple. After which, I started making a list of doll ideas, yarn colors, and other items I would need to make these dolls the best I could. Searching for the best yarn colors took the longest, but after looking at my finished dolls, I’d say the search was worth it! I even ordered special eyes from some of my dolls from Michelle at Suncatcher Craft Eyes to make them perfect (for me anyways).

I made these two special dolls for my children first before my long list of wants for myself ๐Ÿ˜‰ and I love how they turned out: The Flash (from the Justice League) and Ariel the Mermaid. They love them and play with them constantly, and sleep with them, and best of all, the dolls may be a few months old, but they hold up really well.

Monica's amigurumi dolls

Monica's amigurumi dolls

Then in one afternoon I made myself my first crocheted doll! His name is Dastan from the Prince of Persia movie, and I enjoyed customizing him to make him as realistic as I could! I am a bit of a perfectionist, so making him as close to the character as I could was a big must for me, a reason I had held off on making myself the crocheted dolls because I was afraid I could not do it…but…after seeing that I could, and that he was super cute, I started (slowly) on the rest of the dolls I wanted to make!

(Top row, below) I started with my Disney-inspired Princesses for myself really but I like to share. My children helped me pick out the correct colors for their gowns, and I went back to June’s book a lot for help with the unique hairstyles. I am very pleased with how they turned out!

Monica's amigurumi dolls

With the recent CAL in August, I felt compelled to accomplish my set of dolls that were adapted from my favorite fantasy book! And I knew that if I made my two favorite characters, I would have to make their companions; a giant blue-feathered iguana (Iguana) and a giant cream colored hound (AmiDogs Great Dane), and I was not able to make the white Star Stallion as I do not have a horse pattern yet. I was (still am) very excited about this set of four! While I was making them I had to re-read my six books (not only for fun, but to make sure I got their descriptions just right).

Monica's amigurumi dolls

Monica's amigurumi dolls

My next two special ones are from characters of my own fantasy book that I started writing in high school and have finally typed it out, so I thought it fitting to make my main characters into dolls as a self gift of accomplishment! ๐Ÿ™‚

Monica's amigurumi dolls

Captain Jack Sparrow! I have always loved that character, and thought it would be fun and challenging to crochet him into a doll. I loved how he turned out! He is my most detailed doll I have done yet, and he inspires me to make more dolls even more detailed than before!

Monica's amigurumi dolls

In between all of my special dolls, I have made some regular dolls in different colors of yarn. I really like how simple and cute they are just as dolls (my favorite of them being this girl in the green mist dress).

(Below) The Cranberry China Doll, as I’ve been calling her, was fun to customize. I was not sure how she would turn out in the standard Chinese style dress, but I am very pleased. I was not sure if I could make a Xena Warrior Princess, but my son loves how she came out, and even asked when I was going to make a Gabrielle. I told him I had not planned on it, so she may be a Christmas gift for him this year. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Monica's amigurumi dolls


(Back to me, June, again!)

Aren’t they all wonderful? Thank you, Monica, for sharing your beautiful customization work! Please leave Monica a comment if you’ve enjoyed this post!

Do you have a PlanetJune Story you’d like to share? I’d love to hear it! Please email your story to june@planetjune.com, together with one or more high quality photos showing what you’ve made from PlanetJune patterns. If I choose your story to feature here on the blog, I’ll send you your choice of pattern from my shop to say thank you!

And if you’d like to try your hand at making some custom (or standard) amigurumi people, you can find the Boy and Girl patterns in my book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Amigurumi ๐Ÿ™‚

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I Love Yarn!

Today is I Love Yarn day, and, although every day is I Love Yarn day as far as I’m concerned, I thought I’d take a quick break from book-writing to share a little of my yarny love, as evidenced by a few of my old blog photos…

As a crocheter, I love yarn. I love being able to turn this:

my Bernat Satin stash
some of my amigurumi yarn stash

via this:

amigurumi in progress
toymaking!

into this:

PlanetJune amigurumi designs
some of my amigurumi designs

and this:

baby alpaca laceweight yarn
mmm, laceweight baby alpaca

into this:

PlanetJune Accessories designs
some of my accessories designs

But possibly the best thing about working with yarn is that you can fudge things and fix mistakes – it doesn’t always have to be perfect.

I’m a novice when it comes to knitting, and I must confess that I wasn’t quite delighted with my grey cardigan (the first garment I knitted) – stockinette tends to curl, and my i-cord edging wasn’t enough to combat that curl at the bottom. I found myself doing the Picard tug to the bottom of the cardigan every time I stood up…

I’d heard you can stitch a tape facing to the inside to keep it straight, but who has time to shop for tape? Then I realised I could make an afterthought knitted facing by picking up stitches all around the bottom, knitting a few rows, then stitching it a few rows up on the cardigan. I used some stash fingering weight yarn (left over from my Climbing Eyelets Shawl) and just did it without over-thinking the plan…

grey cardigan - afterthought facing to stop curling

It worked perfectly! My cardigan now has a straight non-curling edge around the bottom. You can just see a dented line on the outside from where I grafted the live stitches from the top of the facing to the cardigan with duplicate stitches, but the pale green colour is totally invisible from the outside and looks pretty from the inside when I wear the cardigan unbuttoned.

3 knit sweaters by planetjune

With this fix, I now have 3 self-designed and wearable handknit sweaters, and they’ve seen me through the (southern hemisphere) winter nicely. None of them is 100% perfect, but that may just make them even more special because it reminds me that I made them and it inspires me to do better next time. Although I won’t have time to knit anything else until I finish my book, I’m very excited at the idea of having a whole wardrobe of handmade sweaters – and in another year or two of knitting that could well be possible! I already have yarn bought and earmarked for the next 3…

So, both as a yarny professional (crochet designer) and an enthusiastic amateur (knitting adventurer), I really do love yarn! It’s amazing that you can start out with a ball of yarn and a hook or a couple of pointy sticks, and make pretty much anything ๐Ÿ™‚

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Limited Edition: Amigurumi Essentials Kit

A quick Public Service Announcement…

In an effort to streamline my business, I’ve decided to discontinue my popular Amigurumi Essentials Kit. I still have a large box of kits, but once the remaining stock has gone, that’ll be it!

Amigurumi Essentials Kit (eyes, stitch markers, stuffing tool) by PlanetJune

Note: I’ll still sell my PlanetJune-exclusive tools (Detail Stuffing Tool and Stitch Markers), so you don’t have to buy a kit if you just want my exclusive products – they aren’t going anywhere for the forseeable future!

Think ahead to Christmas and buy a crocheter (or future crocheter!) on your list an amigurumi kit, or pick up one for yourself to test out a selection of black and clear eyes in all the common amigurumi sizes. Each kit also comes with the essential PlanetJune stuffing tool and a set of locking stitch markers. If you’re on the fence about ordering, here are some tips that may change your mind:

  • Combine shipping and save! All my tools are very light, so shipping costs the same for up to 3 kits, or a combination of kits and lots of stuffing tools and stitch marker sets. (Just add the items to your cart and you’ll see the shipping fee right away – it’s the same cost for up to 100g of products.
  • Take advantage of my free bookmark promotion (available while stocks last) to get a signed Complete Idiot’s Guide to Amigurumi bookmark in your package, to keep with your copy of my book. I’ll even sign it to you – or your gift recipient – if you let me know your/their name!
  • Every order for one or more kits also includes an exclusive bonus coupon you can use on a future order from Suncatcher Eyes, so you can order more eyes once you’ve figured out which sizes and types you like best.

You’ll find all my shippable products (kits, bookmarks, stuffing tools and stitch markers) in the Crochet Tools section of my shop. Don’t wait until it’s too late – buy yourย Amigurumi Essentials Kit(s) before they’re all gone!

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    June Gilbank

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