Basic techniques: Magic ring and alternatives, Spirals versus joined rounds, Inside versus outside, Working in tight spaces, Invisible decrease, Finishing off pieces, Securing and hiding yarn ends, Pinning pieces together, Sewing pieces together
Components and stitches: Bobbles and popcorns, Ears, Shaping
Finishing touches: Tweaking your pieces, Embroidering on crochet
Patterns for amigurumi beginners
- Bobbles and popcorns
These stitches are good for ears, nubby tails, and even arms and legs if the creature is small enough. Both are made with dc, the difference being that bobbles are a series of half-completed dcs so that loops accumulate on the hook, with the last loop pulled through all of them. Popcorns are a series of completed dcs such that the loop on the hook after the final dc is enlarged, the hook taken out and inserted through the top of the first dc and then through the last loop, and the last loop pulled through that first dc loop to connect the dcs at the top as they are at the bottom. As such, the popcorn stitch works up a bit larger than a bobble. Both may be done with various numbers of stitches; the 4-dc version is quite common (for a bobble, this means you make the finishing move when you have 5 loops on your hook). For more, see this post on demystifying cluster stitches 1 by A Bag Full of Crochet, which shows you popcorn, puff, bobble, and offset puff (pineapple) stitch.
Typically, ears that are not sewn on are crocheted in FL, the next row crocheted in BL of those stitches. This sort of ear often has trouble standing up straight. To help it, if applicable, replace any sc between the ears with sl st in FL only, and in the next round, bracket the “sc in rem lp of prev rnd’s sts” with a “sc in BL only” on each end. This keeps the second round from dragging the ears backwards (well, “backwards” if you started at the animal’s nose).
For example, if you have 12 stitches around with the ears roughly halfway, you could do the following: sc 4, (sc, ch 1, dc, ch 1, sc) all in FL of next st, sl st in FL of next st, and repeat () in FL of next st. Sc 5 to get back to the beginning. For the next round, sc 3, sc in BL only of next 5 sts (this is the BL of the previous round’s st for the first and last, and the remaining loop of the ear stitches in between), and sc in both loops for the last 4 sts.
- Embroidering on crochet
I label all blog posts relevant to this with the tag “embroidery on crochet.” In particular, I have a series of posts covering a wide variety of embroidery techniques as applied to crochet. The series consists of four long posts, so let me highlight the parts I think are most widely useful.
In the first post you’ll find instructions for beginning and ending your embroidery yarn or floss and working with crochet fabric and around stuffing. It also discusses running stitch and backstitch and how to fill regions with satin stitch or freehand weaving. The second post covers lazy daisy (detached chain stitch), which looks like a teardrop or petal, and French knots. The fourth post includes whipped backstitch, a way to make the broken line or backstitch or double running stitch into one continuous line, and couching, or securing a length of yarn lying entirely on top of the fabric.
The first post also includes cross stitch, the second post includes fly stitch and bullion knot, and the fourth post includes whipped backstitch, Pekinese stitch, spider wheels, and detached woven picots. The heretofore unmentioned third post covers chain stitch, blanket stitch, and feather stitch.
- Finishing pieces
The perfect finish for amigurumi (closing up the end hole in a ball- or egg-shaped object) from PlanetJune and another comparison with running stitch. If you have a large opening to close, running stitch is the way to go.
Weaving in the last end when working in the round with an edge (e.g., a cup), by futuregirl – though in the case where you are finishing a piece stitched in a spiral, I have found a smoother edge comes from stitching the yarn around not the next stitch, but the one after that, as seen in this blog post. Although the technique is unfamiliar to many amigurumi makers, it has a good pedigree in granny squares and the like, where it is called the invisible join or needle join.
- Inside versus outside
The front of a stitch is the side that faces you as you make it. A piece of flat crochet has alternating rows of stitch fronts and stitch backs on both sides. In the round, one side has all fronts and one has all backs. Which is the outside? It’s partially a matter of taste, as the two sides have different appearances. In favor of the back being the outside we have the fact that the natural curve of a bowl-shaped piece of crochet has the stitch backs outside. However, the convention is to have the stitch fronts on the outside, which necessitates turning your piece “right side out” after a few rounds. There are some compelling arguments for the front being the outside: it doesn’t have the little bars of stitches showing, giving it a smoother appearance. Color changes are crisper when viewed from the front. The fact that the stitches lean toward you a bit makes it easier to insert your hook slightly upward and avoid snagging stuffing or the opposite side of the round. And finally, the fact that this is the convention is itself an argument in favor: because of this, techniques have been developed that only work when the outside is the front side. In particular, the invisible decrease is only invisible from the front.
- Invisible decrease
This decrease is stitched just like a single crochet, except the two loops on top of a single stitch are replaced with the front loops of each of the two stitches to be decreased. If you’re stitching at the tightness typical of amigurumi, it looks just like a standard single crochet – from the outside only! I learned from this tutorial by Falwyn.
- Magic circle/magic ring/adjustable ring
The magic ring is a way to begin work in the round that lets you make your first round’s stitches into a nice large opening, but drawstring that opening tight afterward so there is no gap to show stuffing through. I learned from this wonderful video, which shows what I now call the single magic ring. Since then I have made my own video on the double magic ring, which stays completely tight even if you do not secure the yarn end at all. If you do not like the magic ring (or if you are using furry yarn, which tangles when you try to drawstring it shut), you can replace “form magic ring, chain 1” with “chain 2, work first round stitches in first chain.” In fact, if you make an adjustable slip knot (where the short end changes the size of the loop; see slipknot instructions here), you can make the first chain loose and tighten it after stitching, as Lily Chin points out.
There are additional alternatives to the magic ring that allow you to tighten the opening, such as Stacey Trock’s sloppy slip knot and Nerdigurumi’s method of making the first round into the second chain from the hook – but with a starting chain 5.
- Patterns for amigurumi beginners
Here are a few to start with, small, simple, and free. I’ll add to this list as I come across more.
Alicia Kachmar’s fortune cookie
BitterSweet’s tiny whale
Kristie’s Kids’ little mouse
- Pinning pieces together
The first step to sewing amigurumi pieces together neatly and where you want them is pinning correctly. When you pin regular sewing fabric, the pin goes into the fabric, under it a short distance, and out again. The thickness of crochet fabric means that approach will distort the piece before you even begin to sew. Instead, use multiple pins inserted at right angles to each other, stabbed straight into the piece. For example, to attach a head to a body, one pin could go in through the chin, down the neck, and out between the shoulderblades. A second could go in at the back of the head, down the neck, and out the sternum. The head can’t slide away from the body along one pin because that motion is crosswise to the other pin. Three pins works even better.
- Rounds: See spirals versus joined rounds.
- Securing and hiding yarn ends
I wrote a blog post about this with lots of photos. In brief: You want the cut end to be far inside your amigurumi so it can’t poke out between your stitches. After weaving your yarn through stitches as usual, put your needle straight through the ami starting with the point at which the yarn emerges from the last stitch it is through. Where the needle then emerges, cut the yarn close to the stitching. It may take a little massaging, but the yarn end will slip inside the ami, never to be seen again. You can do this with the beginning end of yarn or floss you are using for embroidery, as well; see the blog post for photos.
- Sewing pieces together
This is probably one of the most difficult parts of amigurumi, just because it’s awkward. The danger is in distorting the individual pieces by the yarn holding them together. Of course, you could just sew loosely, but big strands of yarn joining the pieces like guy wires are not desirable either. The trick is, after pinning properly, to start at the center and go around full stitches, not individual strands. Sew three or four stitches together near the point of contact, pull your pins out, and see whether the piece wobbles or droops. Gradually add stitches as needed to correct wobbles and droops, but check regularly. You may be surprised how little connection it takes to get the effect you want.
Increases and decreases don’t take full effect until the row or round after the one in which they are made. Amigurumi sometimes uses the chain out/stitch back method of adding stitches, but since it is in the round the details are different: when stitching back, the back bump of each chain will give you the most natural orientation for the chain. Then when you get back in the next round, everything you stitch into will be a teardrop (though the ones that are the remaining loops of the chain will be tight). If there is no next round the teardrops will make a neater edge than any other leftover loop(s) of the chain.
- Spirals versus joined rounds
There are two main ways of working in the round: spirals (continuous rounds) or joined rounds (sometimes confusingly called just “rounds”). In a spiral the first stitch of the second round is made directly into the first stitch of the first round. After that there are no visual distinctions between rounds, which gives a nice uniform appearance but can make stitch counting harder. Spirals produce rounds that lean a bit, and have a height jog after the last stitch if the piece ends with a lip instead of a closed hole. Spirals also make stripes messy, as the beginning and ending of the round are off by one stitch height (though there are methods to mitigate this). The main advantage to spirals is that they are easy! In joined rounds, at the end of each round you slip stitch to the beginning stitch and chain up as though at the end of a row. The rounds are flat and even, making stripes clean and open-ended pieces smooth, but the joinings produce a visible “seam” and the method can be hard to get the hang of (pulling the slip stitch quite tight lessens the appearance of the seam; see this blog post for details). The only reason to choose one over the other, aside from personal preference, is if the pattern is set up to require one: spiral crochet biases, so later rounds begin behind earlier rounds (to the right of them if you are a right-hander). Properly made joined rounds do not bias, so a pattern with features designed to line up in one kind of rounds will not work properly with the other.
- Tight spaces
Often in amigurumi you’ll find yourself working rounds that are only five or six stitches big. It can be a pain to avoid snagging the opposite side of the work, or when you are close to the start of the piece, the initial yarn tail. It helps to keep the starting tail to the right of your hook (left if you are a lefty), which will mean moving it around as you go, and to point your hook upward a bit so it heads out of the top opening of the piece. When you can, tuck a finger of your non-hook hand inside the piece. This works also at the end of a piece when you have stuffed it and are decreasing toward a closure. Tamp down the stuffing with your finger. Fortunately, the invisible decrease has the added benefit of leaving a portion of the previous round’s stitches as a buffer between your hook and the stuffing.
- Tweaking your pieces
I like to leave an unnecessarily long yarn end when I finish an ami. That way, after closing up the final hole, I have attached yarn with which to sew the piece to shape or cover over spots where stuffing or wrong-color yarn are peeking through. Use the same techniques as when weaving in a final end, so that for the most part your yarn is invisible, but cross diagonally to the next row occasionally (for example) to cover the space. A strand of yarn under the fabric will look a bit out of place, but less so than a patch of visible stuffing. Sewing can also be used to shape curves or pull in narrower parts (stitch all the way around, tightly, and then secure the yarn as usual elsewhere). An example of that is in this blog post.