If you’ve done any online searches of crochet projects, chances are you’ve encountered patterns for cute and cuddly animals in brightly colored yarns. Known as ‘amigurumi,’ these patterns are what attract many people to try crochet in the first place. Even though these tiny critters look fun and easy to make, without some basic fundamentals, those new to crochet are likely to find themselves frustrated and defeated. Start out your first project with success and avoid the frustration with everything a beginner should know about creating your first amigurumi project.
What is Amigurumi?
Amigurumi (pronounced “ah-mee-goo-roo-mee”) originated as a crochet art in Japan. The word amigurumi is a combination of the Japanese words ‘amu,’ meaning ‘to knit,’ and ‘nuigurumi,’ meaning stuffed toy. Amigurumi projects became popular in the 1970s in Asia and moved to the United States craft market in later decades. In recent years, amigurumi has become one of the most popular crochet projects for beginners and experienced crocheters alike.
Can a beginner make amigurumi projects?
As mentioned above, anyone can learn to make amigurumi. While it helps to have some basic crochet or yarn craft experience, it’s not required to successfully learn amigurumi techniques. There are hundreds of instruction books, videos, and step-by-step patterns available on the market for whatever your skill level. In fact, almost all amigurumi begins with the same starting stitches (see The Magic Ring below) and involves the basic crochet techniques of increasing and decreasing. If you can master these stitches, it’s possible to create hundreds of different amigurumi projects.
Getting Started with Amigurumi
Before you begin an amigurumi project, you’ll need to select a pattern and gather some basic crochet supplies. Choose a design and start by learning the common amigurumi crochet stitches, including the magic ring, a technique to start amigurumi.
How to Choose an Amigurumi Pattern
At first, reading an amigurumi crochet pattern can seem like learning a foreign language. There are a lot of terms and abbreviations, skill levels, and symbols on the pattern that can sometimes be confusing. When choosing an amigurumi pattern, it’s best to answer these questions:
- What is the skill level? Crochet patterns are generally listed by beginner, easy, intermediate, and advanced/expert skill levels. If you have little or no crochet experience, it’s best to start with a beginner amigurumi pattern. This will have the most detailed explanations for each step of the design and the easiest stitches to complete. If you have some crochet or knitting experience, easy crochet patterns may also be a good fit. It’s best to choose the intermediate and advanced skill level patterns only after you have completed several amigurumi projects.
- How many color changes are required? Generally, the more colors of yarn necessary for an amigurumi project, the more difficult it will be. Beginners should start by selecting projects that need only one yarn or only one color change.
- How much sewing is required? Amigurumi projects start by crocheting each piece of the stuffed animal separately and then carefully sewing the pieces together. Some amigurumi projects also involve sewing or embroidering on details like eyes, noses, and mouth features. Read through the pattern to determine how much sewing you’ll need to complete. The fewer the steps, the more successful a beginner will be in completing the project.
Supplies needed for amigurumi
Once you’ve selected your amigurumi pattern, the next step is to gather the required materials. For most amigurumi patterns, you’ll need this list of supplies:
Yarn – While your amigurumi pattern may indicate the best type of yarn to use, beginners commonly start with a 100% cotton, worsted weight yarn. Worsted weight or medium weight cotton yarns are easy to work with, durable and clean well, and provide a high stitch definition classic to amigurumi projects. Amigurumi projects are typically done with solid yarns rather than patterned dyes. Choose bright, fun colors to help your projects ‘pop’ or colors that match your home decor.
Crochet Hooks – The size crochet hook you select for your amigurumi project will depend on the pattern you choose. The most common hook sizes for amigurumi projects are 2-5 mm, but it’s possible to use finer hooks for smaller, intricate projects. Many crocheters find that ergonomic crochet hooks work best for amigurumi projects because they require holding a consistent and tight tension which stitching. If you find yourself developing hand or wrist pain while working on amigurumi projects, try an ergonomic hook.
Stitch markers – Another essential supply for amigurumi projects are crochet stitch markers. Crochet stitch markers are used in patterns like amigurumi that require a specific amount of stitches in a row or require you to increase and decrease stitches in multiple spots in the design. They can also mark the places in your project where you’ll need to sew different parts of the stuffed toy together. If you find yourself frequently interrupted while crocheting or you need to set aside the project for a time, crochet stitch markers help you return precisely where you left.
Yarn Needles – As mentioned above, amigurumi projects are constructed by crocheting individual pieces of the stuffed toy first and then sewing the pieces together. Therefore, you’ll need a yarn needle to complete the final stitching and embroidery details. Yarn needles are different from regular sewing needles; they have a larger eye suited for threading through yarn, and they typically have a blunt point for safer sewing.
Fiberfill Stuffing – Amigurumi projects can be stuffed with lots of different materials. For beginner projects, it’s recommended to purchase synthetic fiberfill stuffing. Synthetic polyester stuffing is widely available at craft retailers at an affordable price. Other synthetic, chemical-free options are available for baby and toddler toys. Fiberfill stuffings clean well and will repel moisture during wash cycles. Finally, they are a safer alternative for pets and toddlers over packing peanuts or pellets if the toy breaks open.
Embroidery Floss – Many amigurumi projects call for adding the finishing touches on a project with embroidery floss. Using your yarn needle and a contrasting color of embroidery floss, you can add tiny details like noses, mouths, eyebrows, or whiskers to your critters. Choose an embroidery floss from a well-known manufacturer so that the colors are less likely to bleed into the yarn upon washing.
Buttons/Safety Eyes – Depending on the type of amigurumi project you selected, you may want to attach embellishments to the finished project rather than embroider on the details. These might include plastic buttons or safety eyes. Embellishments can be purchased at any craft retailer and can add the final touches to help an amigurumi project ‘pop.’ Just be sure that the finished toys don’t end up as a choking hazard for a toddler or pet.
The Basic Crochet Stitches in Amigurumi
One of the reasons amigurumi has become so popular among crocheters is that the patterns require only a few fundamental stitches. Once you master these stitches, it’s possible to make hundreds of different amigurumi patterns (or begin to design your own!)
Slip Knot – (sl) – Amigurumi projects typically begin with a slip knot. Created on the crochet hook, slip knots are not counted as a stitch but rather how to form the first stitch.
Single crochet – (sc) – Most amigurumi projects are structured with single crochet stitches. It’s the most basic crochet stitch from which all other stitches are formed. To complete a single crochet stitch, draw up a chain from the previous row (2 on the hook). Bring the yarn over the hook from back to front and draw it through the loops on the crochet hook. Single crochet creates straight, horizontal rows of sturdy fabric ideal for amigurumi projects.
Increase – (inc) – Once you’ve mastered single crochet, you’ll need to know how to increase stitches in each row. Increasing in crochet means the row will have additional stitches than the previous row. In amigurumi, that allows the rows to expand out to form the head and body sections of the stuffed toy. Amigurumi patterns will tell you exactly where to increase the stitches and the method to add the additional stitch. If the design does not indicate how to increase, simply work two stitches in one stitch.
Decrease – (dec) – As you might guess, decreasing in amigurumi patterns removes stitches or creates fewer stitches in the current row than in the previous row. In amigurumi patterns, this occurs as part of shaping body parts as well. There are several different ways to decrease stitches that become important in forming amigurumi; the design should indicate the preferred method to decrease stitches.
Repeat – (rep) – You’re also likely to encounter the instruction to ‘repeat’ in amigurumi patterns. Repeat indicates that you should complete the same step or steps as previously completed. It can include repeating a series of stitches or can involve repeating a row.
The Magic Ring or Circle
Another fundamental skill you’ll need to master for amigurumi is the magic ring, also sometimes known as the magic circle. The magic ring forms the starting point for round body shapes in amigurumi like heads, ears, arms, and legs. Unlike a traditional crochet-in-the-round that leaves a big hole in the middle, the magic ring technique forms a tightly crocheted circle that prevents any stuffing from escaping.
To form a magic ring, start by creating the slip knot around your index and middle finger, rather than pulling tight against the crochet hook. Then begin to single crochet stitches around the loop (rather than onto each other). When you’ve formed the correct number of stitches for the first row, then pull the tail end tight. This will draw the ends of the loop together and closing it into a tight ring.
Do you need a gauge swatch for amigurumi?
As with any crochet project, it’s always a good idea to use a gauge swatch for amigurumi. A gauge swatch helps determine the total number of stitches per inch of a project. It’s helpful–especially for projects like amigurumi–when a uniform, even stitch tension is required for the project to have a professional and polished look. Amigurumi also requires precise measurements to ensure that different parts of a stuffed toy are proportional and even. No one wants a teddy bear with the wrong sized ears!
To create a gauge swatch for an amigurumi project, start with the yarn and hook recommended in the pattern. Create a 4 x 4 inch (10-centimeter) square in the stitch pattern recommended in the swatch. Compare it to the recommended gauge in the design to make sure you have a similar total number of stitches per row and per inch of crocheted fabric, as the pattern suggests.
Can you use knitting needles for amigurumi?
If you take a sample of amigurumi patterns online, the vast majority of projects recommend crochet. It’s definitely possible to use knitting needles and knitting stitches for amigurumi, but more complicated. Knit stitches tend to be less forgiving and flexible than crochet. Finished knitted amigurumi also tend to be softer and squishier toys, whereas crochet amigurumi are sturdier with a more ‘structured’ feel to the toys.