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Archive for September, 2015

book reviews: Tunisian Crochet Beginner’s Guide & Stitch Guide

Let’s get this out of the way first: I received a digital copy of these books to review. But I’m not being compensated for this review in any other way, and the following is based on my honest opinions!

Overview

I have two books to review today! Both are Tunisian crochet books by Kim Guzman, and I really see them as a complementary set, so I thought I’d review them together. Both are published by LeisureArts, and they are:

tunisianreview1

Let’s start off with a look at each:

Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Tunisian Crochet

In this book, Kim walks you step by step through all the basic techniques for Tunisian crochet, with clear step-by-step photo illustrations. The first section packs a lot of valuable information into 10 pages: Tunisian hook info, all the common basic stitches, increasing and decreasing, changing colour and changing yarn, and seaming.

tunisianreview2

The remainder of the book is devoted to a selection of patterns to help you apply and practice your new knowledge and skills. This section includes 9 patterns, ranging from a very basic hat, through a blanket, fingerless mitts, and wearables (all for ladies: a ruana and two vests). The Drop Stitch Cowl (pictured above) and the Felted Duffel bag are my favourites of the included patterns. All the patterns include full written instructions (with the exception of the blanket, which is charted) and include schematics, where appropriate, for sizing.

Tunisian Crochet Stitch Guide

With this book, Kim has developed more stitch patterns than I imagined existed for Tunisian Crochet! The book includes 61 stitch patterns split over 4 chapters: Learning Charts (14 basic stitches), Typical Stitches (17 patterns), Color Stitches (12 patterns), and Lace Stitches (18 patterns).

tunisianreview3

Each stitch pattern is charted, with a helpful key given on the same page as each chart. No prior knowledge of Tunisian crochet charts is needed, as the first chapter walks you through each stitch with both the chart and full accompanying text instructions (as pictured in Stitch 1 and Stitch 2, above). The book ends with a brief reference section for all the included basic stitches.

My Experience

The Stitch Guide is a crochet stitch dictionary, but purely for Tunisian crochet stitch patterns. The best way to test a stitch dictionary is to test a variety of the stitch patterns, so I bought some co-ordinating yarns and starting working through the book from the beginning, making a swatch for each stitch pattern. I’d only ever used the basic Tunisian stitches before, so this was new ground for me. And I haven’t done any Tunisian crochet since 2010, so the Beginner’s Guide came in very handy as a refresher for the basic techniques.

Kim is a true expert in Tunisian crochet and I was looking forward to expanding my skills in this form of crochet. Working through the Stitch Guide (with the Beginner’s Guide as a backup) was a great way to learn more about Tunisian crochet: I discovered that some Tunisian stitches bias heavily (I ended up with a very slanted parallelogram instead of a square with some of the stitches) and others curl, a little or a lot. Some stitches were easy and enjoyable to work, and others I found awkward and had to grit my teeth and force myself to complete the square. Some gave me a thick, dense fabric (as I had expected), others were pretty and lacy, but my favourites were thin and relatively solid, with nice drape – I can definitely imagine using some of these for a future project.

tunisiancushion1
A selection of my swatches – some biased, some curled, some neither, some both!

All this is such valuable information to have before starting a project! Designing is so much more than choosing a pretty stitch pattern from a book – you have to know how the fabric will behave and whether it’s a good fit for the project you have in mind. A wonderful stitch for a thick afghan would probably be disastrous in a sweater. So, if you’re planning to use this (or any other) stitch dictionary, I definitely recommend you make a swatch before you embark on the full project – even if you don’t care about gauge, you still need it to discover the characteristics of the fabric you’re about to create!

I made 32 different 3.75″ squares while testing out these books. I wasn’t sure at first what I was going to do with them, but I decided to make a sampler cushion cover. I only have one Tunisian hook and I was making very small squares, so I couldn’t vary the gauge. Instead, I modified some of the larger stitch patterns so I could create the same size of square each time. Once I had enough squares, I pinned them all to the same dimensions and steam blocked them to reduce the curling and biasing. This made it much easier to crochet all the squares together to form the two sides of the cushion cover.

tunisiancushion2
I kept a key of the stitch patterns I used, so I can use my cushion as a reference 🙂

I made a cushion pad to fit the cover, using fabric from an old (clean) bed sheet and some stuffing. I tufted the cushion to keep the stuffing from sinking to one side of the cushion and to keep it from puffing up in the middle, to better show off my squares.

tunisiancushion3

And then I crocheted the front and back of the cushion together around their edges, inserting the cushion before I crocheted the final edge. Here’s the result – a lovely Tunisian crochet sampler cushion – isn’t it yummy? It’s like a chocolate box of Tunisian crochet!

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Yes, those twisted swatches I showed you above turned into these gorgeous squares once they were blocked and edged.

And my cushion is completely reversible, with all different stitch patterns on the back – I think I may like this side even more:

tunisiancushion5
In case you’re trying to match these with the ‘key’ picture above, I accidentally photographed my cushion upside down in both these photos…

I found it fascinating to try such a variety of Tunisian crochet stitch patterns, and I only tried just over half the included patterns (32 out of 61)! Colourwork adds another unique dimension to Tunisian crochet, and there are 12 two- or three-colour patterns, plus 16 more lace patterns and the heart motif pattern (#27) that was too large for me to include in my cushion, so there’s still plenty left to explore in the Stitch Guide.

Peeves

  • I would have appreciated some additional guidance in both books on how to make the last stitch of each row; the Beginner’s Guide explains how to make the last stitch differently for a tss, but doesn’t explain how that translates into the other stitches, and I had to consult Kim’s YouTube videos for additional help. The Stitch Guide doesn’t make any mention of the last stitch of the row being any different. I would have loved it if the instructions for each stitch explained the way to form the final stitch of each row, and that was also reflected in the chart (for example, in Kim’s video, she shows that the last stitch of the row in twisted simple stitch is not twisted, but the chart and instructions in the guide don’t explain that). I now think that the final stitch is always made in one of two ways: knitwise (from the front) or purlwise (from the back), but I’m not 100% sure on that, as neither book explained it, and none of the charts show the last stitches worked differently.
  • After I completed Chapter 1 of the Stitch Guide, I was surprised to find that the remaining stitch patterns are all only charted, with no text instructions. This makes sense, as the later patterns are more complex and would take a lot of space to write out, but I haven’t seen this mentioned anywhere else, and it’s important: Tunisian charts look very different to standard crochet charts. After trying every stitch pattern in Chapter 1, I understood the charts by the time I no longer had the text for backup, but if you bought the book and wanted to jump in with a Chapter 2 pattern, you’d have to learn how to read the chart first! (The book does include a page on how to read charts, and a master list of all the symbols used.)
  • I also noticed a couple of errors regarding the swatch photos: the swatch for Stitch 23 shows a different pattern to the chart (there’s a 2-row repeat in the swatch and a 1-row repeat in the instructions and chart – I believe they are missing a row of tss that separates each pattern row in the swatch); and the swatch for Stitch 26 has been photographed turned both sideways and back to front! But I highly recommend you make your own swatch before jumping into a project using any of these stitches anyway, as the results are often much more beautiful in reality than you can tell from the swatch photo.
  • The stitch instructions in the Stitch Guide are all in a section at the end of the book. This makes sense given the amount of repetition that would be needed otherwise, and it keeps the book nice and compact. As I have the ebook version, though, I found this a bit unwieldy in practice – I can tell you that flipping to the back of a paper book for a reminder of a stitch is far easier than trying to ‘flip about’ within a PDF ebook! It’d be nice to see future ebooks using internal hyperlinks (and a ‘back’ button) for this sort of thing; paper books still do some things better at the moment.

Final Thoughts

If you’re new to Tunisian crochet, I’d recommend the Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Tunisian Crochet as a good way to learn the basics, and a handy reference to keep around. You can practice your stitches and gain confidence by following the included patterns, and build your skills while you crochet a variety of projects such as a hat, a cowl, fingerless mitts or a baby blanket. Although I probably won’t be making any of the included patterns myself, the 10-page reference section at the start of the book still makes it a must-have for my collection.

If you already have some experience with the basic Tunisian stitches and are looking for a bit of variety, the Tunisian Crochet Stitch Guide is an excellent resource to add to your collection. While it does include instructions for each of the basic stitches used to form the various stitch patterns, they are brief reminders, not step-by-step instructions, so I wouldn’t recommend this as your first beginner’s book. Also, don’t buy this book if you’re looking for interesting project patterns, as it’s solely a stitch dictionary (although Kim does mention that you can make a scarf using any of the stitch patterns). But the stitches are varied and some are very unusual – I’ve learnt a huge amount about Tunisian crochet through this book, and discovered some lovely stitches!

These two books complement each other perfectly, as, once you’ve thoroughly learnt the basics from the Beginner’s Guide, you’ll be ready to try out the exciting new stitch patterns in the Stitch Guide. I’ll definitely be keeping both books in my library.

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AmiCats: a design evolution study

In January 2015, I released my AmiCats Collection, and their reception has blown me away – in well under a year, they’re already within my top 20 bestselling patterns of all time!

Sometimes you strike gold with a design, and this was definitely one of those times, but it wasn’t just a lucky break; it was the result of an unprecedented amount of work, and my most difficult challenge to date.

AmiCats amigurumi cat crochet patterns by PlanetJune

I mentioned at the time of release that it took me more than a dozen prototypes over a period of three years to complete these designs to my satisfaction. Let’s look back at some of the development stages, so you can appreciate the process that finally got me to the AmiCats you see today, and see how far removed they are from my first (terrible) attempts at making a cat!

This is a story of dogged persistence and refusal to admit defeat, even though there were moments where I thought I’d set myself an impossible task…

Initial Research & Prototyping

Although I’ve always been a cat person and have loved cats my whole life, I’d never really examined their overall shape that closely. I started out, as always, with research, and sketched some basic cat studies to give me a better idea of cat poses and movement.

amicats prototypes
A few of my initial quick sketches

I narrowed the position down to a sitting-up pose, as I felt this was a typically feline pose – like the way a cat sits when it’s watching something out of a window.

After 3 or 4 prototypes, I felt I had a good clever cat design. The body had a strong kidney shape to allow the legs to sit directly beneath the chest instead of splaying out in front of the body, and the muzzle – unlike a dog’s – was tiny and triangular. I completed assembly of my design, taking all the step-by-step photos that would go into the pattern as I went, and thought it was pretty much finished.

amicats prototypes
Not one of these photos appears in the final patterns!

Then I showed a photo of my prototype to a trusted friend, and she said ‘it’s nice, but it looks kind of like a wolf cub’. And she was right, of course! Try not to laugh too hard, now:

amicats prototypes
Woof?

Somehow, despite my efforts at clever design, the essence of ‘feline’ was missing, and I was so close to the design I hadn’t noticed how terribly wrong it had gone until I stepped back and took a proper look at the result.

I decided that my design was missing the fluidity of a cat – you don’t see a cat’s haunches and muzzle as defined shapes, and crocheting them separately lost the smooth lines that are so distinctly ‘cat’.

And there was another problem niggling at me: the front legs had proven fairly difficult to attach smoothly to avoid an awkward crease where they joined the chest. If this gave me problems, with my years of experience of stitching pieces together as smoothly as possible, would it be fair to inflict that on my customers? Of course not.

Major Redesign

With all this in mind, I set myself the challenge of going back to the drawing board to solve these problems. My goal was to reproduce the exact shape of my cat prototype, using completely different shapes and techniques that would give a seamless feline appearance without needing amazing sewing skills…

amicats prototypes

  1. The muzzle shaping is now built into the face
  2. The front legs and body are crocheted together smoothly
  3. The haunches are built into the body shape

I truly thought I’d nailed it with this prototype – the overall shape was very similar to the previous prototype, but it looked so much better and smoother than my previous attempt! And this cat (nicknamed Proto Kitty) was the basis for the final AmiCats, but of course the story doesn’t end there…

Design Refinement

I began to crochet the ‘final’ cats, developing the colourways and marking patterns as I went. I also spent hours watching my cat Maui, feeling his bone structure and trying to analyse his shape more closely, as I still had that nagging feeling I was missing something.

I’d started all the cats, and completed the two below, before I began to have doubts about the shape of them (although these cats were pretty cute!)

amicats prototypes

  1. The eyes stuck out too much from the head
  2. The chest was underdeveloped
  3. The front legs were too long and chunky and splayed forwards more than I’d like
  4. The front paws were overly-large, giving the cats too much of a kittenish look
  5. The straight back didn’t have that unquestionably feline curve

These niggles didn’t all present themselves at once, so I made many more prototypes as I refined and further refined my design to tweak the shaping to create subtle eye sockets, reduce the size of the paws and the length and thickness of the front legs while bulking out the chest, add that magical cat curve to the back, and create a completely new innovative leg-joining technique that keeps the legs sitting correctly beneath the cat.

With each of these changes, the cat shape grew slowly closer to what I’d hoped for when I began this project, and I started to think that my impossible task may just work out after all….

Resting Period

Finally, finally, I couldn’t find anything else I was unhappy with, and I left each cat sitting next to the TV as I finished it and continued to work on the rest, so I’d see them all the time and let any remaining niggles come to the front of my mind.

I had thought, once again, that they were finished, but this resting period wasn’t wasted: although even I thought I was crazy by this point, I remade the entire Calico cat so I could modify the markings slightly. In doing that I changed it from my least favourite cat to (possibly) the cutest of all – that last tweak is always worth it!

And, when all 4 were truly finished, I decided this was really it, and it was time to take a deep breath and bring my beautifully-shaped AmiCats into the world…

AmiCats amigurumi cat crochet patterns by PlanetJune

This was the scariest release date of my life, as these designs represented so much love and care, and I was terrified that everyone would be disappointed or critical of them. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, and I’m as delighted as I am relieved to see people appreciating all the little details that took years to get just right and that make these patterns so unique.

The End?

Not necessarily! Even now, the collection isn’t complete the way I’d originally planned: AmiCats was originally conceived as an ebook, including 6 cat designs. In addition to the 4 standard-body-type designs you see in the AmiCats Collection, I’d intended to make one design each of the two other major body types: the shorter, wider, flat-faced exotic (e.g. a Persian) and the elongated, elegant, long-nosed oriental (e.g. a Siamese). The ebook was also to contain additional bonus supporting matter with embellishment options and examples (different eyes, whiskers, expressions, etc).

I devoted weeks to the prototypes for the other body types, but I still haven’t completed them to my satisfaction, so I made the executive decision that 4 perfect cats now are better than 6 perfect cats in another year or more, and I scrapped the ebook. Although that was a difficult decision, the work I’ve already invested in the remaining designs hasn’t necessarily been wasted: there’s always the possibility of my designing a second AmiCats Collection at some point in the future. (If there’s a particular type or breed of cat that you’d like me to consider for a possible new collection, please do let me know, so I can add it to my Ideas List.)

But, for now, I’m content to leave the AmiCats Collection as this set of four very special and meticulously-developed designs…

AmiCats amigurumi cat crochet patterns by PlanetJune


I hope you’ve found this 3-year design journey interesting! This project was an extreme example of my design process, partly because cats are so difficult to capture realistically, and partly because I was so invested in the result.

Although my designs usually take a few months (instead of a few years) to go from concept to completion, I always bring this tenacity to my work – whether I want to or not! – exploring alternatives until I’m satisfied that I’ve found the best balance between instructions that are easy to follow and results that are cute, realistic, and unmistakeably PlanetJune. 🙂

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Sea Turtle Conservation at the Two Oceans Aquarium

A couple of weeks ago, Dave and I had the privilege of going on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town. We’ve been members of the aquarium since we moved to South Africa, as it’s not only one of the top tourist attractions in Cape Town, but also plays a valuable role in marine conservation, research and education.

me and Bob!

__(‘Read the rest of this entry »’)

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AmiDogs Set 8 crochet patterns

I’m so very excited by today’s achievement: not only do I have a complete set of three brand new AmiDogs patterns to launch, but this means I’ve completed 3 of the 4 remaining commissioned designs – finally, I’ve almost caught up with that crazily long waiting list for commissions!

Now, please allow me to introduce AmiDogs Set 8, consisting of three very diverse dog breeds: the Bernese Mountain Dog, Miniature Schnauzer, and King Charles Spaniel:

AmiDogs Set 8 crochet patterns by PlanetJune
L-R: King Charles Spaniel, Miniature Schnauzer, Bernese Mountain Dog

In case you don’t want to read this whole post and just want to buy some dog crochet patterns, here are the relevant links:

Now, if you’re still with me, let’s take a closer look at the three new dog designs…


About the Patterns

It’s been an interesting challenge to make three such different dogs simultaneously. Domestic dogs, more than almost any other animal, have such a variety of shapes and colourings (and sizes, and temperaments, although those don’t really translate into my designs!) It’s amazing to think that people have encouraged this diversity with selective breeding over the centuries, and fascinating to compare how completely different various types of dog look, while still all being so obviously dogs.

The Bernese Mountain Dog is a sturdy tri-colour breed with distinctive markings.

AmiDogs Bernese Mountain Dog crochet pattern by PlanetJune

And a bonus: you can also use the same pattern to make an Appenzeller, Entlebucher, or Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, or a tri-colour Australian Shepherd.

AmiDogs Bernese Mountain Dog crochet pattern by PlanetJune

Queue/fave AmiDogs Bernese Mountain Dog on Ravelry now:

The Miniature Schnauzer is a real character with his fluffy beard and eyebrows!

AmiDogs Miniature Schnauzer crochet pattern by PlanetJune

(Of course, this pattern will also make a Standard Schnauzer or Giant Schnauzer if you’re looking for a pattern for either of those breeds – the only real difference is the scale…)

AmiDogs Miniature Schnauzer crochet pattern by PlanetJune

Queue/fave AmiDogs Miniature Schnauzer on Ravelry now:

And finally, the sweet King Charles Spaniel. My design is based on the Blenheim (chestnut and white) colouring of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

AmiDogs King Charles Spaniel crochet pattern by PlanetJune

You can also use this pattern to make a King Charles Spaniel (non-Cavalier), Toy Spaniel, or Japanese Chin.

AmiDogs King Charles Spaniel crochet pattern by PlanetJune

Queue/fave AmiDogs King Charles Spaniel on Ravelry now:


The Complete AmiDogs Collection

These 3 designs bring the total number of AmiDogs patterns to 24. And, while I’ll never say ‘never again’, I think I’d need a long break before I even consider taking on any more dog breed designs. Although you may think it’d get easier with each new design, trying to distill the defining characteristics of each breed into a design that fits the overall aesthetic of the rest of the AmiDogs range – a range I started 8 years ago! – actually seems to get more difficult and constraining with time.

So, for now at least, I’m going to call it a day with these 24 designs and declare the AmiDogs range complete. 24 dog patterns, all completely different from each other – that’s quite an achievement!



I’d like to thank my commissioners for supporting me to make the final 3 designs and round out my collection. (If you haven’t already, you can log into your PlanetJune account to download whichever of the pattern(s) you helped to make possible!)


Choose Your Favourites!

If you’d like to pick up the final AmiDogs patterns, you can now buy them individually from my shop (links: Bernese, Schnauzer, King Charles), or save money when you buy all 3 as the complete AmiDogs Set 8.

Or, mix and match your favourites from all 24 AmiDogs patterns: you can choose any 3 breeds for a special price when you buy the AmiDogs Custom Set. (And if you want 6, or 9, or any multiple of 3, just add the Custom Set to your cart multiple times, choosing 3 different breeds each time!)


I hope you’ll enjoy these final 3 additions to my AmiDogs collection as much as I enjoyed designing them. Dogs are such special animals and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know much more about them over the 8-year course of this design series. 🙂

Comments (9)

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    June Gilbank

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