Here's a tutorial on how to knit or crochet amigurumis, along with free patterns to get you started.
Amigurumi have been a hot Internet craft topic for the last few years, with plenty of patterns and tutorials available on nearly all the popular sites, so it's surprising that almost no English-language books on the topic have hit the stores before now. That's about to change, with four new books scheduled in the second half of 2007.
What are amigurumi? Well, nuigurumi (noo-ee-goo-roo-mee) is a Japanese word that means stuffed doll, but it refers to sewn fabric items. Ami (ah-mee) is from a word that means crocheted or knitted. So, an amigurumi (ah-mee-goo-roo-mee) is a crocheted or knitted stuffed doll.
Join me after the break to learn much more about amigurumi, including links and a detailed tutorial for Nekoyama's Amineko cat, shown above. And join me over the next few days to see what else the web has to offer on this topic!
"Crocheted or knitted doll" is a simple definition for a slightly loaded term. Amigurumi are almost always tightly crocheted in a spiral, without joining rounds. They use any of several variations of an adjustable loop cast-on, and the stitches are almost exclusively single crochet.
They usually follow the kawaii aesthetic - the word just means "cute" in Japanese, but to English speakers, the connotation tends to be "cute in a Japanese pop-culture way." This often means strange proportions, like oversized heads, or wide-set eyes with a mouth almost on the same level. Hello Kitty is a good example.
It's possible to knit amigurumi, but the overwhelming majority of patterns are for crocheters. In fact -- and this is embarrassing to admit -- I only learned to crochet in the first place so that I could make amigurumi. While on vacation in New York City in 2001, I found an adorable book in Rockefeller Center's Kinokuniya bookstore called Amigurumi & Komono, which included both knit and crocheted amigurumi and some patterns for crocheted accessories. It made me want to try to crochet, but it took me several years to pick up the skill.
I mentioned that several books on this topic will be hitting stores in the next few months. Mr. Funky's Super Crochet Wonderful was released in July. About half the book is devoted to amigurumi: nine basic patterns with several variations. The coming months will see the release of Amigurumi: Super Happy Crochet Cute (September, by amigurumi icon Beth Doherty), Claire Garland's Toys to Crochet (November), and Kyuuto! Japanese Crafts! Amigurumi! (December, a translation of a popular Japanese book), with more to come in 2008.
To make amigurumi, you'll need a few tools. Most amigurumi projects are inexpensive, using only part of a ball of yarn, some filling, and some embellishments.
Yarn: Worsted weight yarn with a smooth texture is a good choice. Most amigurumi makers use inexpensive acrylic yarns, like Caron's Simply Soft.
However, several people have commented that the wool content in Lion Brand's Wool Ease wool/acrylic blend makes it a little more elastic, and therefore easier to work with, so it's the inexpensive yarn I recommend.
If you don't mind spending more money, you could try a superwash wool; use a real, untreated wool like Paton's Classic Merino if your pattern calls for felting.
Whatever you choose, it's good to have a selection of colors.
Hooks or Needles: Whether you're knitting or crocheting, and whichever yarn you're using, use needles or a hook at least two sizes smaller than the one normally recommended for your chosen yarn. Knitters will require a set of double-pointed needles (DPNs), while crocheters will just need a hook.
In the tutorial below, I used an I hook, because J was recommended for Wool-Ease, and I didn't have an H. This turned out to be much too loose (you can see the stuffing through the stitches in some of the photos). F, G, or H would be ideal, depending on how tightly you crochet. You should not be able to see stuffing through your stitches.
Notions: You'll definitely need a yarn needle and pins. Stitch markers are optional, but can help you confirm that you've reached the end of the round. Shaping is accomplished through a lot of increases and decreases, so it's important to keep count.
Stuffing: Regular fiberfill is fine, but you'll often also want something to weight the base and limbs. The weight will stabilize your creation and allow it to sit or hold a position.
Polyethylene plastic pellets are the item of choice, but most American craft stores sell them in large bags that cost over $20, which isn't cost-effective unless you plan to become an amigurumi factory. You can often purchase just a cup or two of plastic pellets at a reduced price on Etsy or eBay.
People have also used dried rice or beans tied in old nylon stockings, but those can draw bugs. You can use plastic pony beads or perler beads (the kind that you arrange into a picture and then melt together). You can also try plastic BBs, or some stuffing from a thrift-store Beanie Baby or bean-bag chair.
If the amigurumi is for display rather than hugging, you can tie basic, small glass beads in nylons, or carefully wrap flat glass marbles in padding before inserting them.
Eyes: Safety eyes for stuffed animals (an eye on a long shank with an interior washer that clamps it to the fabric) are a popular choice, and are available in several styles. You can also use beads, buttons, fabric cutouts, crocheted discs, and so on. Sometimes, people use a safety eye with a crocheted disc behind it.
Nose: You can embroider a nose, stitch on a fabric nose, use a purchased plastic nose, or omit the nose entirely.
Accent yarn: Depending on the pattern, you may need scraps of several colors of yarn to embroider features onto your amigurumi. You may also occasionally wish to crochet with something like a fluffy novelty eyelash yarn for hair.
The techniques you need to know:
Crochet: single crochet, increases, decreases, single- and double-loop cast-ons.
Knitting: cast on, knit stitch, increase, decrease, bind off.
Other stitches may be required by a particular pattern, but they are usually decorative.
For the purposes of this tutorial, I am using Nekoyama's Amineko pattern. (That means "crocheted cat.") We'll be making the head, ears, and mouth, by which point you'll understand how to do the other parts of the pattern. This is for crocheters only, so if you're a knitter, or if you'd prefer a different pattern, skip down to the end of this article: there are some links that will help you out.
Nekoyama has asked that people not link directly to the pattern, but to her main page, which is in Japanese. I'm respecting this request because I don't want her to pull the pattern off the Internet. Look for the English-language link that says "Pattern of crocheted Cat with diagram (Amineko)"; it's on the right side of the main page. Once you get to the pattern, print a copy.
Back on the Japanese main page, click the link just above the link to the pattern. You'll find several other pages devoted to Amineko, including galleries that show the various ways this adorable cat doll can be made, and photo tutorials for assembly. These aren't necessary, but may be helpful, even if you don't read Japanese. (I don't!) There's also a Flickr pool: Amineko's World.
I've chosen this pattern for several reasons. One is that it's pretty easy, but the results are charming. Another is that you'll learn a lot about crocheting different shapes in the round, in a way that will enable you to start designing your own patterns. The third is that it'll give you practice in most of the other major techniques involved in making amigurumi: how to join parts, and the proportions and positioning of the two kinds of stuffing. The plastic pellet stuffing isn't part of this tutorial, but the pattern includes specific diagrams for placement.
Finally, if you follow the diagrams as you crochet and see how they reflect the written instructions, you'll learn to follow Japanese crochet patterns, which are symbol-based diagrams that show every stitch. This will enable you not only to make the English-language patterns that you can find online (and, soon, in bookstores), but to delve into the wider world of Japanese craft books, where the backlog of amigurumi patterns is huge. You can learn more about these books at Crafting Japanese. See also: the Japan Amigurumi Association.
All pieces start with an adjustable/"magic" ring cast-on: here's a magic ring tutorial. The tutorial shows a double-crochet round being worked on the ring. Since we are using single crochet, chain 1 (not 3) before you begin working stitches over the loop.
The head pattern begins with the adjustable ring cast-on, then goes into a bunch of increase rounds. You're working in a spiral. Notice that there are six sets of increases, evenly spaced, with one more stitch between them on each round? You do that to create a circle. When you've finished the increase rounds, you'll have a circular shape that's mostly flat (gallery image 1).
You'll do a bunch of rounds with no increases, which create a cylinder; the result is that your entire piece starts to look like a bowl (from top - gallery image 2 and from side - another view in gallery). Then you'll do several rounds of decreases, which start to turn your bowl into a ball. However, you'll stop before closing the ball off.
If this were a pattern where the ball gets closed, you'd want to stuff this piece before crocheting the last few rows.
If you tend to get lost while trying to count the increase rows, my method is to count first the number of the repeat, then the number of the stitch in that repeat. "One one, one two, increase stitch. Two one, two two, increase stitch." Remember that there are six repeats in this piece, so after your sixth increase, you're on the next row.
The ball shape is perfect for heads, hands, and feet, and is the basis for many amigurumi patterns. The bowl shape, smaller and with or without a few cylinder rounds, is perfectly adaptable to ears for bears or puppies.
The ears are easier: they're smaller and faster. Each ear is a cone that flattens into a curvy triangle. You'll increase one stitch halfway through each round, and then one stitch again at the end. (Gallery image 3 includes the ears and mouth.)
Use this cone shape for... well, cat ears and pointy things. Once you're done with Amineko, try making a larger cone: do as many increase rows as you want. You can then try some decrease rows, and either decrease all the way back to a point, or alternate a few increase rows and decrease rows to see what kind of wacky shape you can come up with! Or you can try doing three sets of evenly-spaced increases instead of two. What did you get?
The mouth is similar to the head, but will be used in a completely different way. Instead of a sphere, you'll get a long cylinder. (Gallery image 3 again.)
I had a hard time crocheting this section, because I kept worrying that I had it wrong: I was coming out with a very pointy shape and didn't understand how it was going to attach to the head. I would nearly finish, then pull everything out and start over.
Don't be like me. If you're following the pattern, you're fine. This piece will be very lightly stuffed, then flattened and stitched sideways onto the cat's face. If you're still confused, check out some photos of finished Amineko dolls. Note the direction of the crochet stitches around the mouth compared to the direction of the stitches on the head shape. See? It's on its side.
Putting It All Together
At this point, you'll attach the mouth and ears to the head, along with whatever eyes you've chosen.
Start by stuffing the head. I use small tufts of fiberfill, then work my fingers around the middle to try to "round" the fiberfill out all the way around. Sometimes the head and/or mouth will look lopsided because of lumpy or unevenly-distributed filling: you can push the filling around with your fingers until you like the shape better. If you need to remove some of the stuffing to work on the rest of the face, that's OK, but try to keep the basic shape of the head.
Use pins to try out several positions for the mouth piece and ears, then choose the one you like best.
Because of its irregular shape, the mouth can be difficult to attach. First of all, you should run stitches around the cast-off area and pull tightly, so that both ends look more similar. I had more luck stitching it to the head at the sides, then top, then bottom, than I did trying to stitch across the bottom first. If you do go across the bottom first, it's easy to set the mouth too low.
The ears are next. You may want to reposition them from where you had them before you finished sewing on the mouth. In Image 4 from the gallery, they're arranged "centered," (the center is my blue stitching needle), without regard to the mouth piece. They looked uneven, so I had to rearrange them relative to the mouth piece before I sewed them on.
Either way, they'll be in a slight curve, with the center a little further back on the head than the ends are. Whip-stitch the outer half of the chain at the base of the ear to the head. This should be easy, with seamless-looking results (Gallery image 5).
After that, you'll embroider the nose and mouth. The order doesn't matter: you'll either stitch the nose over the top of the mouth embroidery, or you'll hide the ends of the mouth embroidery under the nose.
I had a lot of trouble with the nose. The nose you see here is the third nose I attempted! Although most Aminekos I've seen have a nose stitched from top to bottom, I had much better luck stitching from side to side. Go slowly, without pulling the yarn too tight.
The eyes are easy: follow the pattern's diagram or use safety eyes. If following the diagram, try to count holes between your stitches to make sure the eyes are placed evenly. For example, I counted the number of holes between the end of each eyebrow and the end of each eye, so I knew that they matched. I used black worsted weight yarn and went over both the eyes and brows twice.
(Gallery image 6: finished head!)
You'll go on to make the body, limbs, and tail, but those use the same forms that you've just learned. You can stuff them as you go along, or as indicated in the pattern. Most of these piece will get plastic pellets, so be sure to look at the stuffing placement diagram near the end of the pattern. When you're ready to sew everything together, check out this amigurumi assembly tutorial at CrochetMe. (See a finished Amineko in the gallery.)
People on Craftster who have made this pattern say that it's more poseable if you stuff the limbs very lightly. It's also suggested that you sew the arms on at a 45-degree angle.
Sarah Jane Tiverton did her own, Babelfish-assisted translation of this pattern. It's not formatted as nicely as the original, but you might like to see her recommendations for assembly.
That's it! You won't need to know much more for completing almost any amigurumi pattern. Actually, now that you understand how to create a few basic shapes, you may not even need patterns to make what you see, and you can start designing your own pieces. Super-kawaii!
Maybe you're uncomfortable on a Japanese-language site and would prefer to try a different basic amigurumi pattern... or maybe you'd rather knit. OK, we've got you covered. And over the next few days, we'll be recommending a few more patterns for animals, crocheted food, and pop culture icons.
CrochetMe's Amigurumi issue
: Tutorials, a pattern, and a small argument about what to use in place of plastic pellets. You'll find the double-loop cast on here.
Lion Brand Best Bunny
(registration required): Similar to Amineko, but smaller, and without that crazy mouth piece. If you are overwhelmed by Amineko, try this one first.
Stitch's Amigurumi Doll
: Another pattern similar to Amineko, but for a classic rag-doll. Includes more tutorial-type suggestions, too.
: Amigurumi are a popular topic on this crochet community.
Note: This article has been corrected since its initial publication. The number of chains crocheted at the beginning of the magic ring should be 1, not 2, for single crochet.