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Crafted Creatures

Not your grandmother's crochet
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Seas of scarves pour from the hands of most beginning knitters and crocheters —but with a little Japanese flair, those seas could be filled with squid, mermaids, and flying fish. Amigurumi is a Japanese style of crochet: the name comes from ami, which means knit or crocheted, and nuigurumi, which means stuffed creature. Small crochet stitches come together to create tiny, quirky stuffed animals. This art has recently become immensely popular in North America.

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A Brief History

The history of Amigurumi is vague, but it most likely originated in 1950s Japan. The innocently frivolous look of Amigurumi is similar to Japanese post-war emergences such as Hello Kitty, one of the most well known images of cute culture. In the early 2000s, crafting websites such as Ravelry and Etsy brought Amigurumi to North America.
I learned about Amigurumi through a crochet website. I kept seeing photos of darling animals and monsters, but I worried they would be too complicated for me as a beginner. I eventually bought a pattern I could not resist from a designer, and found that I already knew the one stitch that was used for the entire pattern. Unfortunately the first one I made wound up with too big a head: I had missed a step. I still keep it because it makes me laugh, and reminds me that my crochet skills can only get better.

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A Quintessentially Japanese Style

A big head isn’t necessarily out of place though. Amigurumi style has a quintessentially Japanese kawaii aesthetic: adorableness, sometimes with a dash of the strange or macabre. Big heads are very chibi, which means “small child,” and in anime culture refers to a cute, “super deformed” style of drawing with big heads and small bodies. The trend now is for monsters or little girls made to look like monsters. With Amigurumi you can make just about anything you can imagine from basic shapes like cones and spheres. It usually involves only single stitches and sewing parts together.
Stacey Trock, blogger and author of Cuddly Crochet: Adorable Toys, Hats, and More, suggests to beginners, “Take your time when placing/making the eyes. Their placement and size really determine the expression.” It’s also useful to crochet with an extra-small hook to keep the stitches tight and to prevent the stuffing from showing.

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With Amigurumi, it does not cost much to make something incredible. Each project takes very little yarn. Affordable, easy-to-follow patterns can be found throughout the generous crochet community. The pattern I tried was about $5. Many people design and share their patterns, and jump at the chance to answer questions and help beginners. Brenda B. K. Anderson offers pattern designs at www.crochetme.com. She sketches to come up with ideas and sometimes tries “to imagine what…friends would look like if they were monsters.”
Amigurumi appeals to a whimsical nature and promotes smiling. Anderson says, “A common by-product of making Amigurumi is all that happy squealing from those around you—and who doesn’t want that?”