PlanetJune Craft Blog

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interview with June, part 2

As I’m a 99% self-published designer, I don’t often get profiled in crochet magazines etc, so my Ravelry group decided to interview me to find out a little more about who I am and what I do – my own PlanetJune Story, if you like! I’ll be posting the answers to some of their questions every now and again, and grouping them by theme if they fit together nicely. Here are the questions I’ll be answering today:

Why Amigurumi? (from Monica, theMarkofSMB)
How did you find out about Amigurumi? (from Monica, theMarkofSMB)
Do you crochet from other designers’ patterns? (from Aleksandra, petrOlly)
How did you get into designing patterns? (from Chrisie, CrochetChrisie)
What is your favorite animal? (from Monica, theMarkofSMB)

In 2005, the online craft scene was very different. Imagine a world with no Ravelry, no Etsy, only a handful of craft blogs (and no way to subscribe to them), no social media… It’s strange to think how much things have changed in only a few years!

Back then, amigurumi was pretty much unknown outside Japan, but when I got bored with afghans and scarves, I managed to find something different in crochet that piqued my interest: thread bears – tiny bears crocheted with thread and steel hooks. Free patterns weren’t common back then, and thread bear design seemed to be a closely guarded secret – there was no free way to find out how to make them. As the idea of working in rounds was completely new to me, I had no idea where to even start on making a crocheted toy, so I bought one pattern from a designer on eBay so I could see how these crocheted bears worked.

Now, I really don’t like to follow patterns – crochet or otherwise. I can’t help myself – I have to tweak and ‘improve’. Even my first thread bear didn’t quite follow the pattern I’d bought, and then I started changing them to make them simpler and cuter (unknowingly, I was creating something closer to amigurumi style!)…

thread bears by planetjune
L: loosely based on a pattern I bought; R: my first attempt at a design

thread bear and bunny by planetjune
Further refinements (all are between 4 and 6cm tall as seated)

I got curious and tried making a regular-sized bear of my own design with eyelash yarn and a larger hook:

blue crocheted bear by planetjune
Blue Bear – a very early amigurumi prototype, ahead of its time!

…and that was the end of the story for well over a year. With no blog or online community, nobody saw what I was making, and there was nobody to tell me I was onto something and I should keep going in this direction, so I didn’t.

But then things started to change – we had forums like Crochetville and Craftster to share what we were making, and more people (including me) started their own craft blogs. I began to hear about amigurumi, and crocheted toys were starting to get more popular.

I didn’t really like the style of any other amigurumi I’d seen, so I wasn’t too interested in them. Then I remembered my fuzzy Blue Bear – nobody was making anything like that, despite the proliferation of eyelash yarns around that time – and decided to try remaking it from scratch with more structure and better proportions. And look what happened:

fuzzy crocheted bears by planetjune
Hey, it’s Fuzzy Bear!

I submitted an early version of Fuzzy Bear to the Crochet Pattern-a-Day Calendar, but didn’t hear anything back from them. People on Crochetville and my fledgling blog seemed interested in a pattern anyway, so I thought I’d self-publish it as a PDF and see what happened…

(As it turns out, Fuzzy Bear not only made it into the calendar that year, but also made the back cover! Luckily, by the time I found out, I was already well down this road as a self-published crochet designer.)

It turned out I had a perfect combination of skills for doing this: my science/mathematical background worked well for figuring out all the numbers for patterns, and my technical writing background let me write clear, concise, accurate instructions. And, not only that, but all my other crafty pursuits lent themselves to my designs too:

My love of all animals (and, to answer the question, cats are my favourite ‘pet’ animal and orang utans my favourite ‘non-pet’) and observation skills I used to make my painstaking animal pencil sketches came in handy when I decided to make more realistic animals instead of traditional ‘toy’ shapes.

pencil sketches by June Gilbank
Some of my pencil sketches: cat with flowers, donkeys

And I’d also done lots of 3D modelling before, both in recreating toys from much-loved childhood TV shows:

pencil sketches by June Gilbank
Hand-sewn Charlie Mouse from Bagpuss – my own design (inset pic shows the real Charlie Mouse from the show)

…and making polymer clay sculptures:

polymer clay sculptures by June Gilbank
My versions of the flying pig from an old Telus commercial and Gingy from Shrek

So even though I started down this road by accident, it does make sense, looking back, that I could combine all my skills and interests in this way and find something that was a perfect fit for me – making models of my favourite things is something I’ve always done, many years before I even learned to crochet, let alone knew it could be used to create 3D models. Crochet lends itself to pattern-making more easily than clay sculpture, but, apart from that, the design process is pretty similar for me.

planetjune toy shelves
Some (nowhere near all!) of my amigurumi designs

Although I’m still amazed and grateful that I’ve been able to create a career from this, I’d still be making amigurumi even if nobody bought my patterns, because I just love to do it. Finding out about, and spending time with, animals and nature; crochet; sculpting; design challenges; and a good excuse to fill my house with the cutest toys I can imagine – what could be better?

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing a bit about my introduction to amigurumi. If you have any questions you’d like to add to the interview pool, please submit them on Ravelry or in the comments of this post – I’ll do another interview post in a little while!

8 Comments »

  1. Mary said

    Hi June!
    I haven’t been on your site in awhile, so I’m lurking today.
    I remember when we worked together at the University (in Canada), when you were just starting out. The concept of quitting your full time job to design crafts seemed so risky! I am so happy for you, and proud of all your success! What a journey!

    • June said

      Thank you, Mary! Even after I left the library, I still did freelance technical writing for almost a year before I supported myself solely through my designs and craft books, so there was a transitional stage – it wasn’t just a crazy leap of faith, although it was definitely a bold, scary decision! BTW, I still use the big knitting (crocheting) bag you gave me as part of my library leaving present all the time, and I think of my UTM friends every time I pick it up 🙂

  2. Anastacia said

    Wanna here something funny? I think I was in that same calendar, & I totally remember your bear on the cover!

  3. Susan said

    Very cool story! I started crocheting stuffed animals back when I was a teen over 30 years ago. Back then, you could send for free patterns from magazines like “Teen”, “McCalls”, “Family Circle”, etc. as well as buy them from Annie’s Attic. I also bought quite a few kits. I remember doing characters from Sesame Street, as well as a camel and a dragon. I still have a lot of those old patterns!

    As a crochet animal pattern designer myself, I can understand the process and work that goes into each design. I find 3D sculpture with polymer clay so much easier than designing a crochet pattern. For me it’s very much trial and error and often the final product is not quite what I was aiming for. You have a real talent and a gift for it, and I really admire you. Keep those great patterns coming!

  4. Meg P said

    Thanks, June — very interesting. Special thanks for sharing the sketches and pieces in non-crochet media — I am consistently amazed at your multi-craftual talent! I echo Simone — more, please!

  5. Simone said

    It all fits perfectly together. Great story, and thank you for sharing!
    I’m amazed at your drawing skills, the polymer clay toys, and of course what you’re able to do with a crochet hook! 🙂
    Cheers and hope more Planetjune stories to come! 🙂

  6. Thanks for sharing more of your background. I’m so glad you became an amigurumi designer. Making so many of your cute animals has enriched my life and of those around me. 🙂

  7. Monica said

    Amazing! I LOVE your story! I’m so glad you followed the path into amigurumi! We all love your patterns! (and the toys they create!) Thanks for sharing such a wonderful inside view of how you became a designer!

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Please note that I can only answer questions related to PlanetJune patterns and tutorials (see details), and I can only respond to questions or comments written in English. Thank you :) - June

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  • Welcome to PlanetJune!

    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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