What Is Amigurumi? (History, Techniques & Resources)
What Is Amigurumi?
Amigurumi (あみぐるみ) is just one of the many ways of knitting or crocheting crafts and toys. The word is the blend of the words 'ami' (あみ) and 'nuigurumi' (ぬいぐるみ), and it means crocheted or knitted stuffed toy.
These toys are easy and swift to make because of their small size. To create them, it’s usually favoured to crochet rather than knit, and instead of the usual row-by-row Western method, the thread is usually worked in rounds. This method simplifies the creation process.
What Is the History of Amigurumi?
Some historians think that the origin of this art can be found in China, where there are records of crocheted and knitted dolls from the Shang dynasty. The craft started to take hold in Japan with the interaction between China and Japan during the Edo period, at the start of the 17th century.
Until the late 19th century, amigurumi continued to spread widely due to the start of trading with the Dutch, who introduced knitting as a technique. Knitting also progressed thanks to the samurai, who began using this art to create decorations and garments for their katana, winter wear, gloves and even socks (tabi, たび).
During the Meiji period and until the beginning of World War I, with the start of the industrialisation of the country, education began to change. Thousands of students were studying abroad, and many foreign teachers were hired in Japan. During this time period, more women were pushed to learn Western-style needlework.
Amigurumi began to be more common in the late 1970s, when the kawaii (かわいい) culture emerged, thanks to characters like Hello Kitty. In the late ’80s, amigurumi’s art boomed thanks to an NHK show called Ami.
The craft became really popular in the rest of the world between 2003 and 2006, when you could start finding thousands of free online patterns and video tutorials to help you learn.
Techniques and Instructions for Beginners
Even if you’re just a beginner, with so many patterns to choose from and so many tutorials to help you, you can still create amazing things. Amigurumi is perfect both for kids and adults. The only limitation is your imagination!
One of the first things to learn is how to do the ‘magic ring’. With this technique, you work in a circular pattern that allows you to adjust the diameter of the central ring so that it disappears. That’s the major difference between amigurumi and the usual crochet, which leaves the central circle visible.
How to Start a Magic Ring
- Wrap the yarn around your forefinger a couple of times, keeping the tail of the yarn behind your hand.
- Insert the hook in the circle you have created and pull the strand of yarn from the skein through the ring.
- Now take the yarn and pull through. This is the start of your magic ring.
Below you can see some visual instructions from an out-of-print Japanese book on how to create the magic ring. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, you can create great projects with this technique.
Why Create Amigurumi?
- There's a Variety of Designs: With so many designs, you can surely find the right patterns to make your kids' favourite characters.
- They're Conveniently-Sized: Amigurumi dolls are also perfect to hide presents or sweets, and considering their small size, you can make many in a very short time.
- They Make Great Gifts: Another chance to show your skills could be during baby showers or bridal showers.
- They're Collectable: Adults can collect them, either to display or to create an online store to sell them.
- They Boost Brain Power: This craft develops your imaginative and mental abilities, because it combines manual skill and artwork.
- They Foster Community: You can join online and local communities that will help you meet amazing people.
- They're Cultural: Amigurumi also opens another special part of the Japanese culture: creating kawaii (かわいい) toys that can have important meanings.
- They're Portable: With the portability of the crocheted project, you can work everywhere and anywhere you want. You need only a crochet hook, colorful yarn and your imagination!
You can find dozens of video tutorials on YouTube and hundreds of free patterns online. If you prefer to use books, there are tons of them in any language you prefer. If you have a specific question about what type of yarn to use, read here to learn how to choose the best option.
Traveling to Japan?
If you find yourself in Japan, you can find dozens of amigurumi at the Japan Amigurumi Association (日本あみぐるみ協会) located in Setagaya, a district of Tokyo. You can even participate in their workshops to learn to crochet amigurumi.
In case you find yourself in Tokyo and want to appease your need for crochet, there are many shops around the city. In Ginza, one of the Yuzawaya shops would be a good place to visit. If you want a preview of the many kawaii things they have, you can start shopping on their webshop (however, the store ships only in Japan). In Shinjuku, there is Okadaya—six floors full of fabric and craft supplies. You can lose yourself in the stock they provide. If you want to know what you can find there, visit the webstore.