Today I thought I'd go over some tips when making an amigurumi.
Amigurumi: the Japanese art of crocheting or knitting plushies/stuffed animals/dolls.
This is the current way we refer to plush creature making, you'll also occasionally hear ami, plushie, stuffie, stuffed animal, etc. This post has some helpful hints and tips.
Making the Ami
There are two truly basic components to making amis- the mastery of the magic circle and an ability to work in spirals. For a how to on the magic circle, you can search out a tutorial or check out mine here.
Working in spirals can seem intimidating, but it's the same as working a circle with the exception of the join. There isn't one.
USE A STITCH MARKER. This is important so you know when to stop counting a row and start on the next one. You can use a conventional marker, or even a scrap of yarn works nicely too, especially if you just weave it in and out on the next row- then when you're done, a simple tug and it comes out cleanly. Use more than one or the yarn so you can leave it in place for a few rounds, just in case you need to go back and redo a few rows.
READ THE ENTIRE PATTERN BEFORE BEGINNING! Pay special attention to the finishing section- sometimes you can save yourself a lot of frustration and counting if you see a note along the lines of "On the head, place one eye in a spot here, and then count over 9 spots and place the second eye. A little forethought and you can pop a scrap of yarn in the stitch as you make it and not need to count when you're ready to put the head together.
USE PROPER HOOK SIZE! As a general rule, you want to go 2 sizes smaller than the recommended hook size- so for a worsted weight(4) yarn, I've found a F hook works best. This makes the fabric you produce thicker and sturdier. You can use any size of yarn/thread to successfully make amis, but you have to use the proper hook for that size to get good results.
DON'T BE CHEAP! Use a decent quality yarn and other materials. The difference shows. Red Heart Super Saver is GREAT for amis, providing both a large selection of colors and durability. I've used Caron simply soft as well, and while it provides a nice sheen to the finished project, it's a pain in the rear to work with a smaller hook. I DO NOT RECOMMEND USING A FUN FUR TYPE YARN UNTIL YOU ARE SERIOUSLY EXPERIENCED AT MAKING AMIS.
USE THE EXTRAS! Do purchase SAFETY EYES. Buttons are a choking hazard and even if it's intended for an adult, there are often children/grandchildren that are indulged when they want to play. Lacking that, embroider them on. Use a little liquid stitch(On a side note, do NOT buy the bottle of LS with a twist top, get the tube- the bottle leaks and dries out) when weaving in your ends. A METAL sewing needle is a must, the blue plastic ones bend and break. I've actually managed to snap off the ends of a couple of metal ones while sewing an ami. Find a local source of cheap nylon stockings, like the $0.33 cent knee highs that come in little plastic capsules in my local wal-mart hoisery department. Use them to line the ami before stuffing to stop the fiberfil from working it's way back out. Use new fiberfil if you can, it's fine to recycle old pillows/animals, but at the same time, there are dust mites and dead skin cells that work their way into the fluff over time. Purchase some POLY PELLETS if you're making something that needs a little weight. You can create an easy weight sack by pouring some into the leftover parts of your nylons and tying a knot in it(and a little bit of liquid stitch around the knot for security purposes)
KNOW YOUR STITCHES! Again, you should know all the stitches used in the pattern. Most amis are worked in single crochet(sc) and have increases (2sc in next stitch) and decreases(pull up a loop in the next stitch, yarn over, pull up a loop in the next stitch, yarn over, pull through all 3 loops on hook). Some will use taller stitches for texture or shaping.
PRACTICE! Make some hacky sacks first. They are small balls that are filled with beans/pellets and will help you understand the concepts and get used to decreasing while working with a stuffed item.
SEW ON BEFORE CLOSING! With the exception of things like arms and legs, or something that needs to be added after stuffing for proper positioning, you should add other things before you stuff. I sewed the eyes on my zombie lab dudes and embroidered the mouth once I was about 6 rows past where I wanted them so they'd be firmly in place when I stuffed. This allowed me to work both sides of the fabric and ensure a close fit, as well as stopping me from stretching out the fabric more than I should or ending up with a large loop of sewing thread knotted and messy and requiring me to pull the whole thing off and try again.
BE AWARE OF THE NATURE OF SPIRALS! When doing color changes in a proper spiral, there will be uneven edges. I covered the zig zag of my lab dudes eye strap by sewing the eye over the join. For his pants, and needing a flat join, I had to slip stitch and tie off, then start a new row, and it's still noticable, just not as much. I covered the join with the overall flap.
SMALL HOOKS AND SMALL STITCHES CAN HURT! Amis require an even, tight tension. This can and will irritate your wrist/hand/fingers. Take frequent breaks, just be sure to mark where you stopped on the pattern and try to stop at the end of a round.
HAIR IS A PAIN! There's nothing more time consuming than adding hair to an ami. There will be gaps, and bumps if you add it "latch hook" style by pulling up a loop and then pulling both ends through the loop. It's completely do-able, but very time consuming.
Amis are fun and wonderful keepsakes for people. You can do it, just don't expect perfection right from the start- it's a rare occurence. I think I've gotten it all covered in a basic manner, but if I've forgotten something, let me know and I'll add it :)
Stay Happy, my hooker friends.
P.S- I'm anxiously awaiting my "Yarn Whisperer" hoodie in the mail ;) I also paint occasionally, and got permission from the Ninja Hooker designer to use the ninja. She's so cute!