Hop onto any popular craft or DIY website, and there’s a good chance you’ll find a section dedicated to a trend that’s still expanding after well over a decade: amigurumi. If it seems unlikely that a miniature combination of yarn, stuffing and bright colors could dominate an entire arts and crafts genre, that’s because nothing quite like it has been on the market before. It’s a fresh concept built on a marriage of cultural aesthetics, and even better, it’s adorable.
Amigurumi is the Japanese word which describes small knitted or crocheted stuffed toys, often in the shape of characters, animals, mini foods, household objects and scenery. It comes from the two root words ami, meaning crocheted or knitted, and nuigurumi, which means stuffed doll. Since their inception, these handmade toys have become synonymous with the whimsical subculture many already associate with Japan, a movement which has spawned thousands of imaginative works. This particular branch, however, has no exact parallel anywhere else in the world.
The art of amigurumi. Where did it come from?
While amigurumi’s specific origins are murky, it definitely has its main roots in Japan. The first stuffed animals emerged in their earliest forms around the same time other countries discovered and, eventually, entered into trade with the Japanese civilization of the day. Crocheting and knitting techniques didn’t originally exist on the Japanese islands, and several theories circulate about how they arrived. Some speculate that they appeared as early as the dynasty periods, when sporadic interaction with the Chinese brought it to light, while others believe the specific techniques came later on in the 1600s-1800s with Dutch traders. Either way, the methods took up a quiet stand in their own niche of homemaking and practical needlework and didn’t truly blossom until much later.
The first actual amigurumi dolls appeared at the start of the 1970s. The concept sprang up alongside other kawaii (cute) trends, like chibis, which means “little” versions of normal people and objects, and formative (though not the earliest) types of anime and manga. At the time, they were still relatively new, and given Japan’s emerging focus on bolstering its economy, the development of a sub-culture built on kawaii was prime breeding ground for products just like amigurumi toys.
However, the bulk of the movement gained its footing when it reached the United States in the early 2000s. As soon as arts and crafts gurus in the U.S., already fascinated with Japanese aesthetics, grabbed hold of the idea, it exploded into the form most people know today, resulting from the blend of Eastern and Western creative thinking. Of course, the internet then made short work of bumping it to the top of the trend list.
From there, it evolved from fad to fundamental. Individuals started forming groups based around the movement, becoming the first of many who are dedicated to perfecting the art. There have since been meet-ups, galleries, conventions and social groups all over the world centered on crafting these delightful crocheted toys. Finding an active and/or local group is a simple matter of doing an internet search – but be careful: it’s an addictive pursuit.
Amigurumi technique and design
This rampant success stems from a myriad of reasons. First, amigurumi toys are easy to make. They’re small, making them quick from start to finish, even for beginners. While there are plenty of knitted patterns available, crocheted ones are often the historically preferred method. Instead of using a flat, row-by-row, Western approach with either knit or crochet patterns, these specific types are usually worked in rounds. This not only eliminates the need for many seams and edges, but streamlines the process of making a stuffed animal in general.
To work in rounds, you should begin with a magic ring. Then, work the hook through that ring with a single crochet stitch to create a circle. Repeat into the original circle, continuing until you’ve gone all the way around according to the length of the pattern. Increases and decreases will determine the toy’s shape, and of course, switching colors between rounds can create stripes, zigzags or any other desired effect. The most-used textiles for smaller amigurumi projects are mercerized cotton yarn or semi-cotton yarn. Both have a low weight, are well-spun, and will hold better shape and definition once the toy is finished. The toy made of thin yarn will come out much tinier, while thick yarn bumps the size up a bit.
After the base doll is complete, you can stuff it using any number of stuffing types. The best is usually a mix between soft stuffing materials like polyester fiberfill “polyfill” stuffing or cluster stuffing, and weighted options like silicone rubber pellets, beans or rice. Loose or small components like beans or pellets often act as weights that help the amigurumi toy stand up on its own or stay posed, and should be placed in a pouch before inserting into the doll’s extremities.
Finally, in order to polish off the toy’s appearance, you need to know a few simple embroidery stitches. These make up the minute details, such as the eyes, mouth, outfit designs and sometimes, hair. Usually, people opt to use embroidery floss, which you can purchase in large packs of the full rainbow spectrum, and which completes the amigurumi’s look with clear, visible stitches and a brilliant shine. It’s also possible to add details with a lighter-weight yarn and a bigger needle, or to stitch on cut sections of felt. For different types of eyes, you can embroider with individual stitches, or you can attach buttons, beads or safety eyes.
Unsurprisingly, hundreds of amigurumi patterns are available for free online. Most require only the simple mastery of the basic stitches. More complex designs exist as well, and if you’re already a needlework pro, you could assemble an army of crocheted toys in no time. Many enjoy making them because it’s a way to see fast, yet high-quality results.
Why should I join in?
The real question is, who doesn’t want their own amigurumi doll? In addition to their rich history and widespread accessibility, they have a broad audience, as well as artistic integrity that stems both from its cultural roots and the imaginations of its creators. It’s not just a hobby limited to those who want to make them; they also have special appeal for children, collectors and literally anyone on the spectrum in between.
Amigurumi for kids:
It’s a no-brainer that crochet toys are perfect for children. If you have children of your own, or nieces and nephews who really enjoy a particular TV show or movie series, there’s a good chance that trademarked patterns already exist for those characters. Amigurumi dolls are also the perfect stocking stuffers or birthday gifts because you can customize each one right down to the specifics in very little time. They even make great party favors for your child’s friends since you can turn out a large number in a short amount of time.
Amigurumi for adults:
Kids shouldn’t have all the fun, right? Adults and teens can start making and/or collecting their own crochet toys whenever they’d like. Collections speak for themselves. You can purchase or make them by theme, and either display them for the aesthetic, photography purposes, or to create your own online store where you can sell the ones you make yourself.
Another practical benefit is gifting. Baby showers are a great excuse to whip up a few toys. Bridal showers are, too, since it can be a real joy to watch the bride-to-be unwrap a tiny representation of herself and her significant other. Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and just-because gifts are endearing, and much more meaningful, when they’re handmade and personalized. Stick some in a college care package for a nice surprise. Donate a dozen to a local toy drive or fundraiser. Give one to a friend who needs some cheering up. Any occasion is the right occasion, and not just because they’re small and quick, but because it will be a special gift from you.