PlanetJune Craft Blog

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Archive for April, 2014

Managing Customer Support

Customer support is an area that continually grows as your business expands and you acquire more customers who may need your help. I’ve been running PlanetJune for over 7 years now, and I have many thousands of customers – that’s the potential for a lot of people who may need my support!

Sometimes the task of helping my customers seems overwhelming and never-ending, but I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and I’ve realised it’s partly just my perception:

  • Requests tend to come in clusters: the days that stand out are those where I wake to a dozen customer problems to solve, not the pleasant days where my inbox is filled with only orders and compliments.
  • The hurt caused by one rude or demanding email outweighs the joy of receiving ten kind messages, and it weighs on my mind for much longer.
  • Many of the questions I receive aren’t even from customers – some are general queries related to one of my tutorials, and many others are specific questions relating to a non-PlanetJune pattern. I need to set rules for how much time I can/should devote to these types of questions.

Reaching this point has helped me find a better perspective to cope with all the emails and requests from other sources (blog comments, and messages via Ravelry, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc), but I still didn’t have a way to quantify how much work I really do to support my customers (and other people with questions for me).

A month ago, I started logging my customer support requests by categorising them, so I’ll be able to see a truer picture. Keeping track of how many questions and problems I actually deal with will help me figure out how much of my time I devote to customer support. Keeping track of the types of support requests I receive will help me to see where I can improve my instructions, systems and support resources to reduce that time commitment.

One month into this, I have enough data to do my first analysis. So what’s the verdict?

  • The largest number of requests by far are for technical support. This is to be expected as I run a shop selling downloadable products, but I hope to reduce the number dramatically by making improvements to the way my shop works. That’s a long-term goal (I’ll start working on it once my pattern re-release project is complete) but I’m already planning the conversion and it’s exciting to think how much customer support time may be saved once I’ve completed it.
  • The second largest category is people asking for help with non-PlanetJune patterns. Since I began blogging, I’ve spent countless hours helping people understand other (poorly-written) patterns, but I now have a policy on that: I provide unlimited support for my own patterns, but I can’t offer a free service to support other people’s patterns – that should be the responsibility of the designer or publisher of those patterns. Having this policy frees me from agonising over whether I should offer help just this once, and from feeling guilty when I don’t. I’m happy to support my customers; I can’t support every crocheter with internet access.
  • The best statistic so far: only two support requests have been for pattern support for PlanetJune patterns. That means I’m doing my job properly by creating error-free patterns that very few people have any difficulty in understanding. And those two questions were both regarding amigurumi techniques, not my pattern instructions, so I could easily respond with a referral to my tutorial on the technique in question.

With only one month of data, I’m already seeing areas of my shop, website and business I can target for improvement. I’ve learnt so much already, and my log will become even more valuable as I add more data over time. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been adding to my FAQ and building a bank of canned responses (stock answers I have ready to send in reply to common questions), and now I can judge how effective these are, and identify more FAQs and canned responses to develop.

I wish I’d thought to do this years ago, instead of relying on only my judgment to feel where things could be improved! I’ll be using the data from my customer support log to inform the systems I create, which will automate my business as much as possible. My end goal is to free up more time to concentrate on designing patterns and teaching through tutorials, and to allow my business to continue to grow without overwhelming me with a growing volume of administrative tasks.

If you have a craft business, how do you identify areas where your business could be improved, simplified, or streamlined? Could your business benefit from tracking your customer support requests?

Comments (4)

pattern re-releases: Plants

I’m updating my entire back catalogue of patterns with extra information and tips and a new space-saving layout, and re-releasing them in batches as they are ready. Please see the Pattern Re-Release FAQ for more information.

Time for the next batch of re-releases (and a test run for some improvements to my shop – keep reading for details and to help test the changes). This batch includes all my plant patterns: Cactus & Succulent Collections, African Violets, Lucky Bamboo, Water Lily and Christmas Trees. Note:

  • This batch doesn’t include the donationware flowers etc – all my Donationware patterns will be re-released in a separate batch.
  • The Primroses pattern also isn’t included in this batch as it’s a new release, so it’s already in the new format – there’s nothing to update 🙂

plant amigurumi patterns by planetjune

If you’ve previously purchased any of these pattern(s) (individually, or the Cactus and/or Succulent multipacks), the update(s) are now ready for you to download in the new format!

Log back into your PlanetJune account at any time in the next 2 weeks and you’ll see the download buttons for these pattern purchases have been re-enabled, so you can click and download the new versions.

If you have lots of past orders in your PlanetJune account, you don’t have to hunt for the right ones; just follow these simple steps:

  1. In your PlanetJune account, click Show All Orders.
  2. At the top of that page, click to the list of all your past purchases.
  3. Find the pattern name in the alphabetical list.
  4. Click the order number to go directly to that order.
  5. Re-save your pattern 🙂

PDF Download Test & Survey

This batch also has a special second purpose. As many of you know, zip file downloads are becoming less popular, particularly as they are very difficult to use with iPads and other mobile devices. To make everyone’s lives easier, I plan to convert my shop to straight PDFs, but this is a huge task with over 250 products to convert, so I want to be very careful to make sure nothing goes wrong, and make sure that your old orders will still be available if you need another copy of any of your patterns.

As a first test run, I’ve added a new PDF version of the Christmas Trees pattern to every order that already included that pattern. If you’ve bought this pattern, you’ll see the updated zip file (MP008.zip) in your order, and also a new file (Christmas Trees crochet pattern.pdf).

download the test PDF pattern from your account
Here’s what the files should look like when you access your order in your account.

If you’ve purchased Christmas Trees, please try to download the Christmas Trees crochet pattern.pdf file and fill in this brief survey about your experience. This will give me valuable feedback to make sure the system is working well for everyone before I start to convert over 250 items in my shop! This isn’t a job I want to do twice, so it’s important that as many people test the system as possible before I get any further into making changes.

As a thank you for helping me test this new functionality, everyone who completes the survey will receive a discount code to use on your next order from PlanetJune! Complete the survey here >>

Note: If anything goes wrong and you can’t save/view the new PDF, you can just download MP008.zip instead – it’s also been updated to the new version of the Christmas Trees pattern, so you won’t miss out. Please let me know what went wrong as well, though, so I can make sure to fix it before the new shop format goes live.


If you have any questions about the pattern reformat project, or you received the patterns through a different mechanism (and so don’t have an order for them in the PlanetJune shop) but you’d still like the new versions, check the Pattern Re-Release FAQ for more information.

(There’ll be more pattern re-releases coming soon – if you’d like to get an email notification each time a new batch is ready, sign up for the Crochet Pattern Updates mailing list.)

Comments (1)

Meerkat Design Report #4

I’ve been sharing my process as I design my amigurumi Meerkat crochet pattern – hope you find this behind-the-scenes journey through what goes into a PlanetJune design interesting! To catch up, see:
Part 1: Research, Shape, Colour and Sketch
Part 2: Construction Decisions
Part 3: Making The Head

Last time, I’d figured out the perfect colour changes for the head, and was ready for the final stage: finishing the rest of the head and designing the body, limbs and tail…

Part 4: Making the Body

I’m not sure if it’s because of the psychological aspect of showing you my progress as I go, or just something about the meerkat itself, but this design is proving to be really slow going. I’ve been struggling with proportion and had to draw myself a life-size reference sketch – I think it’s because meerkats are so long and thin, I kept underestimating how tall it should be!

planetjune meerkat proportions: full-size sketch
Full-size sketch for proportion reference

I typically have several designs on the go at once, and if I get stuck on one, I set it aside and work on something else for a while. The solution usually pops into my head a few days later, while I’m doing something completely different. Trying to force it doesn’t seem to make my brain come up with the best solution any more quickly – I’ll come up with something if I force myself, but I’ll usually end up redoing that part later when I think of a better-looking or simpler solution, so it’s best for me to just let it sit and wait for inspiration to strike.

That’s what happened here: it took me 3 attempts to get the arms right, not because the shape was wrong, but to improve my technique so I could simplify the pattern while keeping that unmistakable shape – meerkats have very unusual arms! There’s always a trade-off between making a design more realistic and making it easier to crochet, and, in my opinion, the best pattern will give a good balance: a recognisable result combined with an enjoyable crocheting experience.

Before I release a design into the world, I always take the time to stand back and consider if I’ve really done my best or if anything could be improved. If I’m not satisfied, it goes on pause for a while until I figure out how to improve it. That’s the stage I’m at right now – I’ve roughly pinned all the pieces together so I can get a better idea of what else needs to be changed:

planetjune meerkat design in progress
Almost there…

This isn’t the final design, but it’s pretty close! (I’ll save the full reveal for the finished design.) I have a little more work to do on the leg area, and some placements need adjusting, but next time you see my meerkat, he’ll be finished 🙂


So that’s really it for the design process – my next steps will be to make the final tweaks to the design and then, when I’m happy with all the pieces, to photograph the assembly process. I’ll write up my notes into proper crochet instructions, then edit my photos and describe the assembly process carefully so you’ll be able to easily understand how to turn the crocheted pieces of your meerkat into a close copy of my completed design.

After this, I have to set the pattern aside for a while so I can approach it with fresh eyes for technical editing and proofreading. During this break, I’ll be figuring out how to best photograph my meerkat so he’ll look at his most appealing, then take him into the studio (or out on location) for his cover photoshoot. I’ll select the best photos, edit them, and then add them to the pattern.

Once the pattern is complete, it’ll be time to do a final check for accuracy and clarity, then the pattern will – finally – be finished! Everyone who commissioned it will receive their copy, and then I’ll then publish it in my shop, so you’ll be able to buy my Meerkat crochet pattern if you aren’t among the commissioners.

UPDATE: See the finished Meerkat pattern here!


I hope this insight into what goes into making a PlanetJune design has been eye-opening for you. Some of my designs come together more quickly and easily than this, but there’s always a lot that goes on behind the scenes to create my deceptively simple-looking shapes and designs, and I don’t regret a second of that time – it’s always worth it 🙂

Comments (9)

finger protector for crocheters (or knitters)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

finger sleeve
It’s not pretty, but it works

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

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

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

finger sleeve
Problem solved!

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

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

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

Comments (31)

free pattern: Tiny Eggs (in a Nest)

Today I have a new fast and easy donationware pattern for you: Tiny Eggs!

Make miniature (1″/2.5cm) crocheted eggs that are still egg-shaped despite their diminutive size. Decorate for Easter with a bowl of calorie-free ‘chocolate’ eggs (just don’t eat them!) or make them as realistic-sized songbird eggs.

tiny eggs by planetjune

Tiny Eggs is a free pattern, but I decided to go a step further with the donationware PDF version this time, so it gets its own name:

tiny eggs in a nest crochet pattern

Tiny Eggs in a Nest is the PDF version, available for any size donation, and it includes a bonus pattern for a tiny textured bird’s nest (3″/7.5cm diameter) which I designed especially for these eggs.

The beautiful nest is smooth on the inside and textured on the outside, just like a real bird’s nest, so you can make a nestful of Tiny Eggs as a lovely decoration to celebrate spring, or as the perfect accompaniment to an amigurumi bird.

I really appreciate those of you who choose to donate for my donationware patterns (whether it’s a $1 or $20+ donation – every dollar counts). I’d have stopped creating ‘free’ patterns long before this point if not for your generous donations that support the creation of future donationware patterns and make it worth my while to keep creating them!

So, to show my appreciation, I give added value to the PDF version wherever I can, and in this case, it means the very special textured nest pattern, available exclusively in the Tiny Eggs in a Nest PDF pattern. With the bonus nest pattern, Tiny Eggs can do double duty as both a mini Easter Egg pattern and a sweet bird’s nest pattern.

tiny eggs in a nest by planetjune

I hope you enjoy making the teeniest tiniest crocheted eggs, with or without the nest!

Go to the free Tiny Eggs pattern >>

Or jump straight to donate:

Order the Tiny Eggs in a Nest pattern >>

Not ready to make it yet? Add it to your Ravelry queue:

PS – Don’t forget to share your eggs and/or nests in the PlanetJune Spring/Easter CAL on Ravelry 🙂

Comments (2)

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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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