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Designer Toolkit: Yarn Colour Swatch Box

Over the holidays, I decided to give myself a fun organisation project: creating a box of yarn swatches for all my amigurumi yarns, so it’ll be easy to see all my options and make choices.

Being able to see at a glance all the yarns I have available for my designs is so handy – this could be a really useful project for you too, if you make a lot of amigurumi and have a large yarn stash!

Here is the glorious result:

worsted weight yarn colour swatches

Isn’t it wonderful?! It’s like looking at a selection box of chocolates, but calorie-free and without the one that nobody likes.

worsted weight yarn colour swatches

There’s so much pretty colour here, and so much potential for what those colours could become… I feel like I’m an artist and this is my paint box.

Why Make a Swatch Box?

As a professional amigurumi designer, I have a lot of yarn in my stash. More specifically, a lot of worsted weight acrylic from several brands. Some are close enough in weight and appearance to be mixed within a project, and others aren’t (just look at my worsted weight yarn comparison to see how broad a category ‘worsted weight acrylic yarn’ really is!)

worsted weight yarn colour swatches

All my ami yarns are filed in plastic drawers, and every time I need to pull yarn options for a new project, I have to open several drawers, grab multiple balls of yarn, and then select the best combination of shades that could work for what I have in mind and also match in weight, sheen and texture.

worsted weight yarn colour swatches

This often leaves me with 10 or more balls of yarn scattered around and the hassle of cramming all the rejected yarns back into their appropriate (and usually overstuffed) drawers. Not ideal.

worsted weight yarn colour swatches

Making the Swatch Box

I bought lots of the plastic bobbins that are usually used for storing embroidery floss, and wrapped each one with a single layer of yarn, leaving a small space at the top to write the colour name. I used the slits at the bottom of the bobbin to hold the yarn ends in place. To finish each bobbin, I used a yarn needle to pass the yarn ends beneath the wrapped yarn on the back of each bobbin, then trimmed the excess.

worsted weight yarn colour swatches

I labelled each bobbin with a simple code (due to lack of space):

  • top left corner : brand (e.g. B = Bernat)
  • top right corner: yarn line (e.g. S = Satin)

And then wrote out the full colour name below that.

I found a plastic divided box that had sections large enough to hold several bobbins, and organised the swatches first by brand and yarn line, then by colour family.

worsted weight yarn colour swatches

Do you think I have enough yarn options? (Trick question: of course I don’t! That’s what the extra space and spare bobbins are for…)

After the Swatch Box

This box has changed everything for me. Today I pulled shades for a potential upcoming design, and I just opened the box and could see all my options at once. Within a couple of minutes, I had a selection ready to go, and now I can just go to the appropriate yarn drawer (as indicated from the bobbin) and grab only the shades I need to use.

worsted weight yarn colour swatches

I can use the holes at the top of each bobbin to clip the collection together while I use them so none go astray.

worsted weight yarn colour swatches

And, when I’m finished, I can easily refile the swatch bobbins in the box.

worsted weight yarn colour swatches

Yes, I ‘wasted’ about 2ft of each yarn in making these bobbins, but it was definitely worth it to me – just opening the box and looking at my yarn palette is so inspiring!

worsted weight yarn colour swatches

Now I can’t wait to grab my hook and get ‘painting’ (well, ‘sculpting’ would be more accurate) with some of these pretties…

Comments (8)

2020: year in review

Every year, I write a wrap-up to see how far I’ve come over the past year and set a direction for the year ahead.

I don’t think anyone in the world can say that 2020 turned out the way they’d planned, and I’m no exception!

I’ve been very fortunate to not have been directly impacted by COVID-19, other than isolating, social distancing, mask wearing, etc since March. But despite that, I haven’t had the best year, healthwise: I’m still struggling with fatigue problems, and the bad fall I suffered in July left me with a couple of months of post-concussion symptoms (and brain injuries aren’t exactly conducive to productive work…)

2020 Achievements

Thanks to the pandemic and my head injury, this year has been a bust for me, in terms of quantity of new work. I’ve only published 6 new patterns, and I’ve made little or no headway on my bigger plans and ambitions. But it’s not all bad news!

2019 PlanetJune crochet patterns

I think that any progress in 2020 counts as a win, and I’ve definitely made progress. 2020 marks a huge milestone for me: I now have over 300 self-published PDF patterns, ebooks and craft tutorials – isn’t that amazing?!

And I succeeded in completing my most complex design to date. Designing that tortoise shell was an achievement in itself, but figuring out how to explain it clearly in pattern form was a huge undertaking, and, with hindsight, 2020 wasn’t the best year to push myself into such innovation…

Tortoise crochet pattern by PlanetJune

I could have been much more productive in terms of quantity if I’d stuck to tried-and-true ‘safe’ ideas. But where’s the fun in that?! I’ve been designing amigurumi for 14 years now, and I have to follow my curiosity and keep trying new things, otherwise I’d be completely bored by now. (And, btw, I’m not bored at all – I still have so many ideas that I haven’t explored yet!)

I also followed up on my plan to post more crafts (not just crochet) on my blog this year with a few tutorials:

2020 PlanetJune tutorials

And some other craft projects:

2020 PlanetJune craft projects

(Plus there’ll be a few more projects – knitting, crochet, weaving – that I haven’t finished writing up yet.)

Spending time writing all these craft posts was a bit of a gamble in this age of digital distraction, but I was so happy with the response the non-pattern posts received! I love posting about what I’m making and hopefully inspiring people to try more crafty ideas along the way, and it’s really rewarding to know I still have interested blog readers who find value in my longer-form content in this fast-scrolling social media-filled world. (By the way, huge thanks to everyone who took the time to leave a comment this year and let me know you’re enjoying my posts – I really appreciate it!)

Business Report

My bestselling patterns this year were the Turtle Blanket and Baby Sea Turtles, Bearded Dragon, and Love Hearts (thanks to their repurposing by healthcare professionals and caring crocheters as COVID-19 comfort hearts). Pine Cones, Farmyard Goats and Mushrooms pushed the usual cats, dinosaurs, succulents etc further down in the PlanetJune charts – a bit of a surprise there, but I’m very happy to see different patterns gaining in popularity and joining the bestseller ranks.

2020 bestselling PlanetJune crochet patterns

And, once my brain was back to firing on all cylinders, I managed to complete a massive behind-the-scenes project last month that had been on hold since March: a much-needed upgrade of my shop. Although the difference won’t be visible to you, I started over and rebuilt the entire shop from scratch with the latest code updates to keep it safe and secure. It was a lot of work, but if the shop code is clean and simple, it’ll be easier to keep things updated and make improvements in the future.

Personal Report

I decided at the start of 2020 to officially ‘retire’ from being an amateur wildlife photographer. That seems like a shame on the face of it, but the pressure of having to take my camera everywhere and try to get ‘good’ photos had started to spoil the relaxation of appreciating the environment and enjoying the wildlife I see. Now I can just enjoy time outside in nature with Dave and Maggie without being stuck behind a lens or worried that my photos won’t be good enough – just appreciating it in the moment is enough.

My biggest personal breakthrough in 2020 was to finally seek therapy for my PTSD and anxiety disorder. After many months of counselling and learning CBT techniques, I not only feel much calmer, but also better equipped to deal with new stressful situations whenever they come up.

And my biggest joy of 2020 (and one with the most serendipitous timing, just before the lockdowns etc began) was adopting my rescue dog Maggie at the end of January. As a first time dog mama, I’d been so nervous to take this step, but it only took one look at her to know that she and I were meant to be together.

contented Maggie dog

I’ve already written about how much she’s helping me, and I’ve devoted a lot of time this year to helping her blossom: from a timid, neglected, skin-and-bone scrap who didn’t know any commands and cried whenever I left her side, to a happy, healthy pup who recognizes dozens of words and knows she’s part of a loving forever family. That’s my most important and rewarding accomplishment of the year.

Looking Forward

I have so many things I want to make: videos! ebooks! new designs! new techniques! new products! but even in writing this list I realise that sounds exhausting.

I know I’m not capable of doing things by halves, so there’s no such thing as a “quick” video or blog post for me – it just doesn’t fit with my detail-oriented personality, for better or worse. And I know my energy reserves are limited; pushing myself today just means I’ll be too tired to do anything tomorrow, so I have to try to respect my limits.

So I’m looking to be strategic with where I spend my energy. I’m trying to make it easier for people to find PlanetJune and discover my huge back catalogue of treasures. If that could completely support me financially on an ongoing basis, like a successful author living on the royalties on their past books, it’d give me the time to follow my inspiration without any pressure.

Last year, my wishes were for acceptance of the things I can’t control (like my fatigue problem, and the bigger problems in the world), appreciation for all the good stuff in my life (I’m so fortunate in many ways), and inspiration (a new decade is a perfect time to try new things, and I have a feeling I have some great ideas coming!)

And, although I couldn’t have guessed the global challenges the year would present, those goals turned out to be an excellent 2020 coping strategy, and, in re-reading them, I realize that they still ring completely true for me today.

So, my wishes for 2021 are for:

  • acceptance of the things I can’t control
  • appreciation of all the good things in my life, no matter how small
  • inspiration to keep moving forwards and trying new things

For me, these are calm, centred guiding principles to live by. They stood me in good stead last year, and I want to keep going on this path and keep making slow, steady progress this year.

If my wishes sound good to you too, I hope you’ll also be able to find a way to apply them to your life this year. I wish you a very Happy New Year, and a safe and happy 2021!

Comments (7)

PlanetJune End-of-Year 2020 Crochet-Along

This year has been a struggle for everyone, so let’s try to end it on a high note, and celebrate our love of crochet together, with prizes for everyone!

The annual PlanetJune Christmas Crochet-Along (CAL) is back, but it’s even more inclusive this time around. You can enter the End-of-Year 2020 CAL any time from now until the end of the year by:

  • Crocheting any PlanetJune Xmas/winter-themed patterns you’re making for your holiday decorating
  • Crocheting any PlanetJune pattern you’re giving as a holiday gift or as a donation to a good cause (or selling to someone who’s buying it as a gift)
  • Crocheting any PlanetJune pattern you’re making for yourself – remember, you deserve treats too!

Basically, you can make any PlanetJune patterns you want – the more the merrier! Share what you’re making and join our crochet party as we approach 2021.

Come to the PlanetJune group on Ravelry and join the fun! Share your crochet plans, post photos of your projects in progress, let everyone else know you like their projects, and (of course) post pics of your finished projects so we can all appreciate them.

If you don’t use Ravelry, or can’t at the moment due to their accessibility problems, see the ‘How to Enter’ section below for how to participate via social media instead.

Prizes

Thanks to a generous anonymous benefactor, we have extra prizes this year:

  • First prize: $20 PlanetJune Gift Certificate
  • Second prize (2 winners): $10 PlanetJune Gift Certificate
  • Participation prize (2 winners): $5 PlanetJune Gift Certificate
  • Runner-up prize (everyone else!): 10% PlanetJune discount code to spend in 2021

Pattern Options

While you aren’t limited to my seasonal patterns with this CAL, I thought I’d whet your appetite for project ideas with a collage of all my Christmas patterns:
Christmas crochet patterns by PlanetJune

Isn’t that amazing? There are soooo many to choose from! You can find all these patterns at www.planetjune.com/xmas – including plenty of free/donationware options if funds are short 🙂

How to Enter

Ravelry Users
Post a pic of your PlanetJune projects to the CAL thread in the PlanetJune Ravelry group, and tag your projects with PJCAL2020 in order for them to appear as part of the CAL.

New to Ravelry or PlanetJune CALs? See my Crochet-Along FAQ for all you need to know!
Non-Ravelry option
If you are unable to use Ravelry, you can still enter the contest by:
  1. Posting a photo of your finished PlanetJune project on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter
  2. Tagging me (@PlanetJune) in the post so I’ll see it
  3. Using the hashtag #PJCAL2020 in the post so I know it’s an official entry (only use the hashtag once per entry please, even if you post multiple photos or in multiple places!)

Example message “Here’s my entry into the @PlanetJune End-of-Year CAL! #PJCAL2020” (and add your photo, too!) 

Rules

  • Prizes will be drawn from all eligible entries, starting from first prize and working down the list, with a maximum of one prize per person.
  • You’ll receive one entry per PlanetJune pattern used in a completed project and tagged PJCAL2020 (if you make e.g. a Christmas wreath using 5 different patterns, you’ll get 5 entries).
  • Entries will be capped at 8 per person, to give everyone a chance of winning.
  • Bonus entry option (for the participation and runner-up prizes only): even if you don’t manage to complete a project, you can still be entered into the contest – all you need is to have posted at least 5 posts in the CAL thread. So do join in the conversation – you’ll be guaranteed at least a runner-up prize!

I do hope you’ll join us for this PlanetJune end-of-year crochet party – I’m really looking forward to seeing what you’re making from my patterns, as holiday gifts or for yourself! See you in the ravelry group or on social 🙂

Comments

Tortoise: a 10-month (or 10-year!) design study

I’m so happy with the reception my Tortoise patterns have had already! Thank you so much to everyone who’s already bought them or shared them on social – I’m so glad you love them too!

Tortoise crochet pattern and Simple-Shell Tortoise, Turtle & Terrapin expansion pack by PlanetJune

It’s been a very long journey to get to this point, so I thought I’d put together a visual diary of creating my most complex, detailed and challenging pattern to date.

For anyone who looks at the pictures of my finished tortoises and thinks that doesn’t look so hard to design, this post should be an eye-opener! Although my style is to create designs that look smooth and simple, the process is anything but.

So here goes: a decade to get properly started, and then 10 months to get finished!

2011: Conception

I came up with the idea to make a tortoise along the same lines as my AquaAmi Sea Turtle, with a segmented shell and amigurumi-style head and limbs.

AquaAmi Sea Turtle crochet pattern by PlanetJune

There were a couple of other cute tortoise patterns out there, but they all had circular shells and that’s just not right: tortoises have very oval-shaped shells. I sketched out a design for the shell segments that would make an oval shell using simple geometric shapes, and started crocheting.

initial concept for tortoise crochet pattern by planetjune
The initial concept for the shell

Once I started to assemble my pieces, I quickly realised the problem with my design: it was going to produce a flattish shell top. That’s fine for a sea turtle, with its streamlined shape for swimming, but completely wrong for a land tortoise with its domed shell.

I was a fairly new designer back then, with only a few years of experience, and the challenge of creating a very specific asymmetrical 3D shape from simple geometric segments was beyond me – I just didn’t know where to go from there – so I set it aside, and the notes and prototypes were filed for later…

amigurumi wip by planetjune
You can see a couple of the original shell segments (with some dinosaur parts!) in this work-in-progress photo from 2011 – before I realised my idea wasn’t going to work…

2012-2017: Research

Moving from Canada to South Africa in 2011 brought an unexpected benefit. Although I knew that tortoises must live wild somewhere in the world, I only specifically knew about giant Galapagos tortoises, until I made the delightful discovery that ‘normal’ tortoises are pretty common in conservation areas and empty wild spaces in the Cape!

Throughout my years in Africa, I had endless opportunities to meet and study tortoises, from spotting wild tortoises while I was out in nature…

tortoise photo by June Gilbank

… to hanging out with rescued tortoises at my local wildlife sanctuary, World of Birds (tortoises live for a very long time, and keep growing throughout their lives, so ‘cute’ pet tortoises are often abandoned when they get too large)…

June and a tortoise

… to braking for wild tortoises crossing the road in undeveloped areas (and ‘awwww’ing whenever I spotted an adorable baby tort!)…

tortoise photo by June Gilbank

… to getting to hold those baby torts and learn more about them at an education and conservation centre…

tortoise photo by June Gilbank

In all that time, I learnt to appreciate these fascinating reptiles more than ever, and study their shells and markings up close.

2020: Realization

January

After my Christmas break, I was ready to jump into new designs for 2020! With an extra decade of design experience under my belt, I had a new idea for how to tackle that tortoise shell shape.

After all my research time, I knew exactly what I was aiming to create: a life-sized realistically-shaped tortoise with correct (if simplified) shell structure:

  • The carapace (upper shell) has 13 main scutes (segments) with 5 vertebral scutes down the middle, 4 costal scutes around each side, plus a rim of marginal scutes.
  • The plastron (lower shell) is shaped to give the legs room to emerge, and has a gular (throat) scute at the front.

You don’t need to know all those details, but when you look at the tortoise, it should just look right to you, from all angles.

prototype tortoise by PlanetJune
An early prototype: the general idea is good, but it’s too boxy and the scute shapes are all just a bit wrong

prototype tortoise by PlanetJune
Completely reworked in shape and size, this is almost the final shell design, minus the edging

prototype tortoise by PlanetJune
It’s beginning to look like a tortoise!

February

The basic design was finished – and check, check, check, I’d included all the features I wanted in the shell, the shape was lifelike, the size was great, and the shell fit around the body beautifully.

Tortoise crochet pattern by PlanetJune
Tortoise crochet pattern by PlanetJune

You probably think great, I was 90% done and it’d all be smooth sailing from there? If only that were true – the fun designing part was now basically finished, but a lot of hard work was still to come…

March

To take my mind off the lockdown etc, I decided to test my prototype instructions by making a giant tortoise (using the techniques from my Complete Guide to Giant Amigurumi)…

giant tortoise in progress by planetjune
My biggest (and certainly heaviest) giant amigurumi to date!

It was so much fun to make, but it highlighted a lot of things I’d need to explain in the pattern, and that I’d need to refine the design to simplify the assembly process. It turns out that coming up with the design, although it was a long time in the making, was just a small step in the process of producing this pattern – being able to clearly explain something that’s so unique was a whole new challenge.

May

I started prototyping expansion pack ideas while trying to figure out how on earth to make a useable and enjoyable pattern from my well over 150 step-by-step photos and 16 pages of handwritten notes…

prototype tortoise by PlanetJune
Maggie looks a little perturbed by the shell-less tortoises!

July

I felt like the pattern was starting to get into shape, but I still had parts I hadn’t figured out how to explain clearly when I had my accident and temporarily broke my brain. Concussion meant no chance of making progress on such a high-level task – I couldn’t concentrate on anything, let alone something so demanding.

giant amigurumi tortoise by planetjune

My giant tortoise was now part of the family and a fixture in my living room, but I wasn’t sure if he’d ever be able to have any crocheted relatives around the world…

giant amigurumi tortoise by planetjune
Yes, my giant tortoise is bulkier than Maui and Maggie combined!

September

With the post-concussion symptoms finally fading, I could get back to whipping this pattern into shape. But – disaster – I couldn’t remember anything I’d been planning to include, or where I’d left off! I had to make another complete tortoise from my notes so I could re-learn the design well enough to explain it clearly.

handwritten notes for tortoise crochet pattern by planetjune
My 16 pages of handwritten notes – there’s a pattern hidden in there somewhere…

I started to regret thinking this could even be possible – the shell was so complicated, and there were no precedents to consult for any of the techniques I’d come up with to make this design work with 18 pieces and no sewing at all (except the back legs).

I threw out pages and pages of explanation I’d put into the pattern that were either too technical or relied on too much expertise – I didn’t want to drown you in irrelevant info, or for this to be a pattern that only a few advanced amigurumists would be able to tackle!

I kept tweaking the techniques and the instructions to make things clearer and cleaner and easier to follow, but it felt like I’d never reach the end of this marathon.

October

Success! With 18 pages, over step-by-step 70 photos with lots of annotations to make things even clearer, and separate right- and left-handed versions, I finally had a pattern that I could be proud of. I’d tried to include solutions to everything that could possibly trip you up, so your questions are answered before you even think to ask them.

Tortoise crochet pattern by PlanetJune

This pattern is unlike anything you’ve seen before. If you follow it carefully and add stitch markers at all the specified places to make sure everything will line up, it’ll guide you step-by-step through the whole process to make a fantastic tortoise!


It’s very fitting that this design is a tortoise: it took a lot of small slow steps to go from a vague concept to a great idea to a satisfying design to a solid finished pattern, but, as in the Tortoise and the Hare fable, slow and steady wins the race.

I always try to give every design the time it needs to become the best pattern it can be. (But I do hope that my ideas won’t all take 10 years to come to fruition from now on!)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into my design and patterning process. And if you’d like to enjoy the results of all that work, you can pick up my Tortoise crochet patterns from my shop!

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    June Gilbank

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