Flip through any issue of Crochet World and it’s very likely that you’ll see a doll, toy or figure. The magazine has featured animals from farm to jungle to zoo, ocean creatures, elves, gnomes, snowmen, women and children, fruits, vegetables, Santa and Mrs. Claus, balls, Halloween bowling pins and many other characters. Of course, they all have one thing in common: They’re stuffed with fiberfill or other material. However, some of them stand out in another way: They’re worked in a technique used to create cute crocheted toys known as amigurumi.
It’s a Japanese term, defined by the website SheCodes as a blend of the words “ami” (編み), meaning crocheted or knitted, and “kurumi” (包み), which means “wrapping.” The DIY craft website, FeltMagnet, defines it as “ami” and “nuigurumi” (ぬいぐるみ) which together are “crochet or knitted stuff toy.” A breakdown of the pronounciation, as best as can be described in print, is this: Start with the French word for “friend,” “ami,” and follow with “guh-rue-me”. It’s the same in Japanese with a slight roll of the “r.”
What makes amigurumi different from standard crochet?
Both techniques obviously use hooks and yarn. Crochet usually creates 2-D, flat pieces in a variety of stitches, many of which can be joined in some manner and stuffed to produce a 3-D project. Amigurumi, however, is worked with single crochet stitching in continuous (spiral) rounds to create 3-D spheres and tubes that are then stuffed and sewn together. The pieces begin with a slip ring (also called a magic ring) for a smooth appearance. It’s imperative to place a marker on the first stitch of each round to track the rounds as the work progresses.
These toys are easy and quick to make because of their small size; generally, they can fit in the palm of one’s hand. Most of the patterns I’ve seen are animals, real or otherwise, but I’ve edited inanimate objects such as the aforementioned bowling pins, fruits, vegetables and other foods in amigurumi form. The tiny facial features make these pieces especially adorable. Lopsided eyes, ears and mouths, and out-of-proportion sizing add to their appeal.
For the ultimate in small size, look at micro amigurumi pieces on Etsy and Pinterest. Made with sewing, tatting or crochet thread and steel hooks, these itty-bitties are so small they can balance on the tip of your finger! If you’re ambitious and want to try this tiny work, check out the bumble bee by NerdyCrochet.
Standard crochet can trace its roots back to 16th century Italy and possibly beyond to when shepherds made netting with a form of crochet. Although the craft was popularized in Japan in the 1970s, there are, according to FeltMagnet, records of crocheted and knitted dolls from the Shang dynasty of China (circa 1600–1050 B.C.).
Thanks to trade relations with the Dutch, it is believed that crochet and knitting were introduced in Japan between the 1600s and 1800s. Knitting developed in part by the samurai, who began using this art to create decorations for their katanas (curved, single-edged swords), and winter wear, gloves and even socks.
What about kawaii?
When the kawaii (“cute”) culture emerged in Japan in the 1970s, focusing on objects or appearances that are charming, endearing and pretty (think of Hello Kitty and Pikachu), amigurumi wasn’t far behind. In the late ’80s, it shot up in popularity after it was featured on a hit Japanese TV show, Ami. In the early 2000s, the craft began to catch on around the world. It’s now as commonplace as mainstream crochet. Enter “amigurumi patterns” into a search engine and you’ll have 12 million (yes, million!) results in seconds. This form is so popular in Japan that there is a group devoted to it. Founded in 2002, The Japan Amigurumi Association is a nationwide community of amigurumi enthusiasts sharing their designs and techniques with one another and the world. There are numerous amigurumi groups on Facebook as well.
What makes amigurumi enticing?
With the billions of crochet patterns available online, in books and in magazines, why would you want to make amigurumi figures? FeltMagnet cites enticing reasons (with a few of my own thrown in):
- Just like standard crochet, there’s a huge variety of designs. “With so many designs, you can surely find the right patterns to make your kids’ favorite characters.” Get those kids or a young recipient involved in the process by allowing them to choose the character and colors. Who knows? You may inspire the child to take up crochet. If you’re into character dolls, make them for yourself!
- They’re conveniently sized. Amigurumi dolls are so portable that you can take your hook and yarn or thread and make them anywhere. Depending on how fast you crochet, you can make many in a very short time.
- They make great gifts. Think of amigurumi when you need a small gift in a hurry for a birthday, holiday, baby shower or other special occasion. They can be attached to a gift as a decorative tag.
- They’re collectible. Adults can collect them, either to display or to create an online store to sell them. (Note: If you sell them, you cannot label the pieces as your own design if you make them from someone else’s pattern. Don’t commit copyright theft; credit the designer!)
- Just like standard crochet and any manual craft, they boost brain power. Amigurumi develops your imaginative and mental abilities because it combines manual skill and artwork.
- Amigurumi is a great scrap project. If you enjoy threadwork, such as the beautiful doilies and other delicate pieces featured in Crochet World, look for micro patterns to use up the little balls and spools from your favorite projects. Of course, any scrap yarn can be used in amigurumi.
- Lastly, you don’t need a pattern to create a toy or figure. Pick up your hook and yarn and let your imagination go to create something fun and truly unique!
—Randy Cavaliere, guest blogger, technical editor and designer