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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)

behind the scenes: my new photo studio

Have you entered my contest to win your choice of Vanna’s Choice yarns and a PlanetJune pattern? It’s open until Thursday – don’t forget to get your entry in!

I thought you might like to see my new photo studio and a glimpse behind the magic (ha!) that goes into my crochet pattern photos. Things have changed for the better since I last showed you my light tent setup and tutorial photography setup. My photo setup in Canada included 2 swing lamps and 2 goose-neck lamps (all with daylight bulbs) and my light tent:

craft room
Light tent in the good old days

It worked well, and I was happy with it. The only problem was when I made something too large to photograph in the light tent (e.g. Reepicheep, dinosaur group shots): then I had to fall back on the (thankfully) good natural light in my craft room and wait for a bright, overcast afternoon to give me the right conditions to shoot in daylight.

My new craft room has no natural light to speak of – our house is on one level, the windows are small, and there are trees right outside my window, so it’s dim inside on even the sunniest day. (I’m sure this will be a blessing in the heat of the South African summer!)

craft room window
Pretty view, but dark interior

As I couldn’t bring my old lamps with me (wrong voltage), I had to sell them all before I left and buy everything again at this end. There’s no IKEA or equivalent here, and 4 lamps and 4 bulbs at South African prices was not an appealing prospect. I also couldn’t find those daylight-coloured bulbs anywhere…

All these factors made a perfect excuse to upgrade my setup and invest in some professional lighting. I found an excellent local photographic shop, Studio22, who helped me to find a pro lighting solution that was within my budget. I bought 2 light stands, 2 fluorescent lamp heads (each with 2 sockets), 4x38W daylight bulbs (expensive, but they should last for years), and 2 translucent white umbrellas.

planetjune photo studio for product photography
The new setup

And oh, what a difference!

  • I can light my static scenes with an even light without having to fiddle with 4 lamps to get them all into position.
  • The bulbs are cool, so I can shoot for hours without raising the temperature in my room.
  • Without the confines of my light tent, I can light anything that fits on my desk, at any time of day or night.
  • I can set up to shoot a tutorial or video and light the scene much more easily and evenly (and without roasting under the hot lights!)

Of course, nothing is perfect: my craft room isn’t huge, and those umbrellas take up a lot of room! When I have it all assembled, I have to pick my way around them to reach the computer. And this desk is also my sewing table, so I have to get everything out of the way if I want to set up my sewing machine. It’s really not a big deal, though: to dismantle, I just furl the umbrellas and move the light stands (still set up and plugged in) and camera tripod to the corner of the room. When I next need a photo, it only takes a minute to set it all up again.

planetjune photo studio for product photography
Setting the scene (that’s my camera in the foreground)

On the desk, I create my scene. In this case, I have:

  • My handpainted ‘dappled forest’ backdrop, stuck to the wall with sticky tack. (I painted this backdrop for my AfricAmi set in 2008, and I’m so relieved it survived the move without the paint cracking.)
  • A fabric ‘ground’
  • Fake foliage courtesy of the dollar store (I really miss dollar stores for buying props!)
  • And, of course, the star of the show – my Aardvark in this case 🙂

I complete the setup with my camera on a tripod in front of the desk. I use the remote control (toe-operated!) when I’m making tutorials or videos, sat behind the camera with my hands in view, and otherwise take photos the regular way.

Hopefully my pattern photos will now be so irresistible that the business will repay my equipment investment in no time!

Comments (12)

home at last!

After a very long 10 weeks of being without any of our stuff, the delivery team arrived yesterday with our shipping container! We spent most of the day re-assembling pieces of our IKEA furniture and discovering long-lost treasures in some of the many boxes we now have stacked up all over the house. The day ended when we went back to our flat to collect Maui and bring him to his new home 🙂

Here’s my craft room this morning:

new craft room - boxes galore
Yay – a whole room full of my craft supplies! It’s going to take some effort to turn this into a functional craft room though…

I also just realised that with all this moving craziness, I missed my 5th blogiversary last week. Let’s pretend that didn’t happen, and I’ll write my end of year roundup post later today – I’ll need to take a break from unpacking at some point and this will be a good reason 😉

There’s a lot more work ahead of us to get everything sorted out, but I’m just so happy and relieved that we finally have a home again!

Comments (1)

my craft room: a photo guide

We’ll hopefully be moving into our new house this week, and I’ll have the challenge of figuring out how to set up my new craft room/office/photo studio. To make that task a bit easier, I thought I’d put together a visual guide to my old craft room, and I thought you might enjoy seeing it too – maybe it’ll give you some ideas for your own craft space!

I sadly didn’t have time to take photos before dismantling everything and depersonalizing the room to stage the house for sale, so I’ve compiled this guide from photos I took for previous posts. There are some strange angles, gaps, and different lighting etc as a result of that, but that just makes it more interesting, right? 😉

In case you want to know more about the crafty projects you see in the photos, I’ll link back to my original posts where applicable.

Okay, now let’s take a tour anti-clockwise around the room, starting from the doorway…

craft room
To your right as you enter, my bookcase, made prettier with a little crafty decoration down the side.

craft room
To the left of the bookcase, amigurumi galore! My overcrowded toy shelves. (Beneath the shelves, I kept my business/shipping supplies and digital piano – I had to sell the piano before we moved, so at least I won’t need to fit that into the new room.)

At the left of the photo, you can see the edge of desk 1…

craft room
As you can see, it had good natural light from the window, so I used this desk mostly for polymer clay and papercrafting. I kept a row of cubbies and baskets along the back of the desk to store small supplies: paintbrushes, crochet hooks, glues and varnishes, etc.

Under the window, I had a low table with my toaster oven (for polymer clay, shrinkydinks, etc) and I kept storage boxes underneath the table. No photos of this, and of course I couldn’t bring the toaster oven to South Africa (it’s electric, so the voltage would be wrong).

craft room
I decorated the window with origami – this strand of lucky stars along the top, and 6 dangling vertical strands of silver thread, each strung with a few sparkly beads and origami lotus flowers, cranes, and diamond shapes, spaced across the window. (I did try to photograph the vertical strands but, with them being so small and backlit, I never managed a decent photo.)

craft room
My computer desk, with a magnetic dry-erase board mounted on the wall next to it, and my wall-climbing amigurumi gecko!

craft room
Above the desk, some shelves I made to keep various trinkets – mostly handmade ornaments and a few travel souvenirs.

craft room
I prettied up my stark black leather office chair with a custom-designed crocheted granny throw.

Now moving along to the other side wall…

craft room
Light tent for my pattern photography. I eventually replaced the tiny table you see here with a wider coffee table and then stored all my computer accessories, gadgets etc in decorative patterned cardboard boxes (from IKEA – sorry, I apparently never photographed them) underneath – you’d never guess their geeky contents from the outside!

craft room
Desk 2. I kept my sewing machine here, and borrowed the desk space when needed for the print-quality tutorial photography for my book (shown in-progress here – the letters refer to my blog post about this setup), and for filming tutorial videos.

craft room
I re-covered this boring grey office chair with pretty fabric. I shared the chair between desks 1 and 2, as I could only sit at one at a time anyway!

craft room
And finally, the built-in closet, aka craft supply heaven. The wire shelving on the right contained my fabric stash, and the plastic towers of drawers were filled with yarn, FIMO, and supplies for all my other crafts. For each plastic tower, I cannibalised 2 units and snapped them together so I could create these taller towers that fit my space better. The contents are organised and the drawers are all labelled so there’s a drawer for stamps and punches, one for papercrafts, one for embroidery supplies, one for art supplies, etc etc, and then yarn split by weight, type and brand.

Not the prettiest solution, but I could always close the closet doors to hide the mis-matched units if required. The only problem is that my yarn stash inevitably outgrew the closet, so I’ll need to rethink things a bit this time around.

On top of the units, I had a stock of clear plastic boxes with lids, in two sizes. Each in-progress project gets its own box, so I can easily see what I have on the go, and keep all the pieces of one project together. This idea works really well for keeping organised and keeping the clutter down on my desks.

So that’s what I left behind… My new room will be very different and quite a challenge – it’s currently an empty square apart from a very cool fireplace in one corner:

new craft room

The lighting is terrible (small window, bare bulb hanging from the ceiling near the door) and there’s only one power socket on one wall, but that’s what happens when you buy an old 1920s bungalow instead of a modern cookie-cutter characterless house. Our new place has a lot of personality!

What do you think of my craft storage solutions? Any suggestions for me to improve things this time around? If you have photos of your craft space, or links to photos of other people’s beautiful craft rooms that might inspire me when trying to set up my new room, please share them in the comments!

Comments (41)

toy shelves

Three years ago (almost exactly! it was Jan 19th 2008) I posted about the glass shelves I’d bought from IKEA for displaying my crocheted animals in my craft room. Here’s how it looked back then:

toy shelves
Awww, evidence of a fledgling crochet pattern business!

Things have changed just a bit since then! As I have to depersonalise my craft room and turn it back into a bedroom so we can sell the house, I thought I’d better take some pics for posterity before I have to dismantle everything (sniff). So here’s the current state of my toy shelves:

planetjune toy shelves
It’s a bit tricky to fit everything into one photo, as the shelves take up the full length of one wall!

As you can see, I expanded from 2 shelves to 4. I was actually planning another IKEA trip to get yet another pair of shelves just before we found out we’d be moving – things are more than a little cramped on the shelves at the moment, and I don’t even have everything on display!

Credit for another artist: the beautiful sea turtle print you can see on the wall above my orangutan is by Ron Krajewski (dogartstudio).

After a few failed attempts, I managed to get a panoramic shot of everything (this is actually 4 photos I stitched together!):

planetjune toy shelves
I promise it’s worth the click through to Flickr for the large version – you can’t see anything at this scale!

I must confess I’m feeling a little bit proud of myself, looking at that photo. I just did a quick head count: 52 on the top shelf and 70 (I think! I kept losing count) on the bottom shelf…

Can you spot your PlanetJune favourites up there?

Comments (9)

climbing the walls

Finding space for all my creations is a bit of a challenge! I’ve come up with a novel solution for my amigurumi gecko, so I thought I’d share…

When we were in Hawaii, the geckos we saw could climb straight up vertical walls, thanks to their special toe pads. We always saw them climbing around window frames, or running around the walls inside the front porch, right up by the roof. That image was always in my mind when I made my gecko, so I thought it would be cool to let my gecko do a little wall-climbing too.

amigurumi gecko on the wall of my craft room

Also in this photo: my computer desk, the purple trinket shelves I made last year and my new magnetic white board (it’s actually silver-coloured, which is why it looks glaringly white here – reflected light from the window!)

How does he do it? It’s actually very simple – I knocked a couple of tiny nails into the wall and his stitches just hook onto them! The effect is very good – you only see the nails if you put your head right against the wall:

amigurumi gecko climbing the wall

And here’s my Hawaiian inspiration (awww!):


A pretty close match, I think 🙂

Comments (9)

post-deadline goals

Now I’m over my deadline, I finally have time to make a dent in the huge to-do list of ideas I’ve amassed over the past few months while I’ve been too busy to work on any of them. I have 4 projects on the go already, but ‘reorganise craft room/office’ has to be the most important (if boring) of them all.

I’m posting this now in the hope that I’ll finally be able to show you pics of my craft room next week (something I’ve been planning for a long time but it’s always too embarrassingly disorganised to photograph). I hope you’ll forgive a little mess – it’s a working room and I have a lot of craft supplies, so it’s just not possible to ever get it completely tidy!

crocheted orangutan and tissue paper flowers by planetjune

For now, here’s a little sneak peek of the top of the cubbies that sit on one of my desks. One of the nicest things about making pretty things is getting to look at them: here’s my orang utan and my tissue paper carnations. In a crazy ‘night before the deadline’ moment, I decided my orang utan looked a little hungry and freeform crocheted a little amigurumi banana for him (that’s not weird, is it?!). I think he looks much happier now – what do you think?

Comments (14)

photo studio for craft tutorials

Yesterday on Twitter I let slip that I had just turned in the manuscript for my new book! I’m so excited – I’ve been wanting to write this book for a long time and I’ve finally had the chance. I’ll share details of the book itself closer to publication – there’s still a long process of editing and printing to go through before it’ll hit the shelves.

This is the big secret project I’ve been alluding to for months, and the reason why I haven’t been blogging as much as I’d like to for a long time – so now I have some catching up to do! I’ve been making lists of things I’d like to do ‘when I finish the book’ – new patterns, new products for the shop, and a lot of improvements I’d like to make to the website. And my craft room/office is in serious need of organisation…

As I’m the photographer as well as the author of my book, I had to develop some novel methods for taking print-quality photos with only two hands at my disposal! I thought I’d share the method I came up with for taking step-by-step photos that include my hands – you’ll see the benefit of this when I next make a tutorial, as the pictures should be much improved with this new setup.

(By the way, in case you’re wondering how I took this shot of myself at work, I used a 2nd camera on a 2nd tripod with a 10-second self-timer!)

tutorial photography setup by planetjune

A: White bristol board used as a seamless backdrop

B: 2 very bright lamps aimed at the backdrop to make it as white as possible in the photos

C: 2 less bright lamps aimed at my hands (one on each side of the camera) to light them without shadows

D: This is where the camera is pointing – at my hands

E: My DSLR camera on a tripod, angled so that I can comfortably look through the viewfinder as I sit

F: (Out of shot) Remote detonator control for my camera so that I can operate it with my toe when I have the perfect shot set up

I bought the remote control on eBay and it’s literally changed my photo-taking life. I’ve always had to take my tutorial photos by setting up the shot, moving my right hand to press the shutter release while keeping my left hand hand still, then scrambling to get my right hand back into position before the 10-second timer ran down and the picture was taken… Now I can just press the remote button with my toe (minimal dexterity required) at the appropriate time and I don’t need to use the camera’s timer at all. Huge, huge improvement.

Of course, this isn’t the only way, or even the best way, to light for this kind of photography, but it works for me and only cost me 2 cheap IKEA work lamps, 2 clip-on spotlights, and a sheet of bristol board, all of which I already had from my light box (shown below, click through if you’d like details of that too):

lightbox setup by planetjune

So, when you see the clear and helpful pictures in my new book, you’ll know exactly how I managed to take them – I hope this hasn’t ruined the magic! But seriously, if you make tutorials, I hope this little glimpse into my lighting setup has been helpful 🙂

Comments (16)

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