My health is preventing me from working at the moment, so I'd like to use my time to help sick kids feel better, not with pills, but with crochet. Follow my journey on my blog ~

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Amigurumi Basic Tutorial & Tips

I can't even begin to compare to the wonderful tutorials available on YouTube or the wealth of information that can be found on Ravelry or other blogs.  However, I would like to point out a few hints that I've found helpful - or which might help clarify some confusion for some of you.

* Tools

My favorite hooks by far are Clover brand.  I usually stick with 3.5 or 3.75mm for medium weight yarn.  Why Clover?  Because they're so much easier to work with than any other brand I've tried.  The hook slips very easily through loops without catching unwanted plies, and makes stitching nearly effortless.  Fewer mistakes, fewer snags, and the grip on the hook makes cramps less common.  I also have metal allergies, and the plastic hook removes the risk of a reaction to an alloy in the metal.

Vanna's Choice (by Lion Brand) is a pretty good weight for "medium" yarn.  It makes nice even stitches, comes in a good range of colors for making animals, and isn't rough.  Michael's brand is better value for the money, and is just as good.  I also like Caron Baby Soft for some projects, but use a slightly smaller hook, since it's not as "puffy" as the other brands I've mentioned.  It -says- it's medium weight, but the stitches come out much smaller--I would suggest sticking to one brand if you're just starting, for consistency.  You don't want to wind up with arms, legs, stripes or spots that are much smaller or larger than the rest of your piece.

Stitch markers are extremely useful for stitching in the round.  They mark where each round begins (or ends, depending on how you choose to do it).  If you lose your place, or need to re-do a round, you can tear out exactly the right number of stitches without losing your place.  Locking stitch markers are my favorite, I use Clover brand.  They won't fall out even if you bump or nudge them.  If you can't find them or don't want to buy these, you can use a small scrap of yarn (should probably be a different color so it doesn't blend in).  However, this scrap can leave fibers on your piece that are hard to get out, and a tail end of yarn can get caught and pulled out.

<-- Different types of Clover stitch markers.  The tiny one doesn't lock, but is very useful for smaller projects or at the start of a project where one of the bigger markers would get in the way.

The safety eyes I use most often are 6mm, but 9 and even 12mm are good to have on hand.  Black is widely available at craft stores, and you can get colorful ones for a somewhat higher price -- check Etsy for the best prices.  If the washers are difficult to get on (and they are,) try warming them gently.  I usually have a hot cup of tea near me, pushing the plastic washer against the side of the hot cup helps. **Remember if you use safety eyes, they need to be attached while you can still fit your fingers behind them to secure the washers.  It is often helpful to stuff the head before you put them on, to get a better idea of where they will be on the finished piece.  You can pull the stuffing out again if it will be in your way as you continue on.  If you forget to attach the safety eyes, you can embroider them or use buttons or beads.

Embroidering eyes can be difficult, but rewarding.  There is cheap bulk craft thread available, I use it all the time for decorations and embroidering details.  It can also be used with a tiny crochet hook to make things like tiny hats or scarves for your ami friends, if you're so inclined. Craft thread is twisted together and doesn't come apart in plies, I find it to be most useful.  Embroidery floss can also be used, but it's a little more high maintenance because the plies sometimes separate or don't pull through evenly. I also keep clear nylon sewing thread on hand for sewing on bead eyes or felt pieces for decoration.

Two sizes of needles can always be found in my kit.  Yarn needles are used to finish a piece or to help weaving in ends.  Tapestry needles with an eye large enough for a whole strand of craft thread/embroidery floss - with a sharp point is best - are used for details.  You may need a smaller needle to sew on beads or buttons, or felt accents.

I've never used a brand of stuffing other than Poly-Fil.  It has been reliable for me and is inexpensive.

* Beginning

 First you need your yarn and your hook.  Here I have Caron Baby Soft in a gray heather color (lost the label ages ago - sorry!) and a Clover hook, 3.75mm

 Confession, I use a double knot instead of a slipknot to begin.  Slipknots come loose for me and I always feel like things look lopsided when I tighten them back up.  Double knots should be snug but not tight.  I use the "chain 2 and single crochet (howevermany) into the second chain" method, so I actually make my founding stitches in this loop.  It loosens slightly as needed, but doesn't leave a large gap.

To make your first chain stitch, hold the yarn under your finger as you bring the yarn behind.  This will stop your original loop from twirling around endlessly.

[PS - I'm left handed so I'm sure this will look backwards for some (most?) of you.  Don't listen to those silly tutorials that say crochet right handed even if you're left handed -- I couldn't do it, and it would be silly to give up because someone claims you're doing it wrong !  Living in a right handed world, we're used to doing things backwards anyway, right??  There are video tutorials for lefties, too!  :)]

Keep your finger snugly against the yarn after it's wrapped, as you slide your knot up and over to make your first chain stitch.

(if you don't know how to do a basic chain stitch, I'd check out a video tutorial -- this is more of a hint about how to anchor the yarn so it doesn't slip.  I always have to see things done step by step to learn them...)

Here are the first two chains.  Next, you put the hook back through the first loop and make  howevermany single crochet to make round one of your piece, usually six. There are lots of good videos that show how to make the actual stitches -- I couldn't possibly show them properly in photographs. [Note-this is not the magic ring method.  There are videos for that available - I haven't found any visual difference in the finished piece, so I always begin this way.]

Textual instructions for a single crochet stitch - insert the hook back into the first loop, wrap the yarn, and pull that loop back through.  Wrap again, and slip the two lower loops over the top loop.  If you use this two chain method, you'll come to the end and see a sort of pseudo-stitch where the two original chains bend.  Some people say this counts as your first single crochet.  Personally, I make my sixth stitch over it--I think it looks more even that way.

This is the end of my first round.  I've marked each of the six stitches -- these are the loops you will put the hook through on the next round. For more information about loops, scroll down! :)

Always remember to count before you begin round 2... the first round is a terrible place to make a mistake. Note in the photo that the yarn gets held tightly in between rows so the stitches don't get loose.

The most important thing is to find what works best for you -- how you keep count, where you place your marker, etc.  This all seems very confusing at first, but it'll soon be second nature :)

When making amigurumi, the hook is smaller than what you would use with other types of crochet, and the stitches are a little tighter so that there are no gaps (Lacey shawls wouldn't be nearly so pretty if they were bunched together like an ami-animal, so this makes sense).  Note that your first two rounds shouldn't be too tight -- the piece will begin to curve, since you're making tube shapes or spheres.  You want to be able to bend your piece comfortably, which can be tricky with smaller pieces.  I make my stitches a little tighter than is required, in general, because my amis are designed to be played with, not to be displayed.  This makes my stitches a little less defined.  The type of yarn you use will also affect what your stitches look like.

*Stitch? Round? What?

 Here is the end of round three of my not-quite-elephant.  How do I know it's round three?  Count!  Some designs count the rounds differently, but I always start at the tiny circle in the middle as round one.  This is typically comprised of six single crochets in the beginning loop, but I've done as many as eight or as few as three.  For a bigger piece like the body or head, you will increase to make a gradually bigger circle.  When you start with six stitches, you increase by six each time as follows:

2nd round - 2 single crochet in each stitch
3rd round - 2 single crochet in one stitch, 1 single crochet in the next (repeat around)
4th round - 2 single crochet in one stitch, 1 single crochet in the next two stitches (around)

Note that the number of the row matches the number of stitches in a "set." This is helpful if you're making a large piece and don't want to keep referring to your design.  For example, for round 3, 2 single crochet in one stitch, 1 stitch in the next = 3.  I always think back to my days in band, the way you're taught to count the notes in a measure.  But of course, whatever way you come up with to remember is the best way, because you're the one who has to count!  If you're doing a very large number of stitches in a round, it might help to put the occasional stitch marker so you don't lose your place.

 These two photos show the way that the piece will begin to curve once you stop increasing your stitches.  When you increase, you'll end up with a disc, like in the pictures above.  In this piece, round 5 has the same number of stitches as round 6, etc.  You can see that it's becoming a tube shape.  To the right, you can see the end of my round.  I put the stitch markers in after I make my first stitch, so when I get back to it, I know where to stop.

<-- This shows the back of the work.  Some people get confused about which side goes out -- you can see these stitches are flatter and more square than the ones shown in the other photos, and the rows are not very clearly defined.  You can see much more obvious stitch increases and decreases on this side of the piece as well. If this is the side you like better though, show it proudly! Arguments can be made for the "right" and "wrong" way, but I'm a big fan of "do what makes you happy" -- it's the best way to learn and to come up with new ideas.

*Anatomy of a stitch! 

Every stitch has two loops, as you can see from the picture I took above where I put a square around each one.  The picture on the left shows my hook through both loops--most stitches will be worked through both loops.

Some stitches are marked "back loops only" (BLO) or "front loops only" (FLO) for various reasons.  I took some photos to help illustrate the difference below.

Back loop, pulled out a little bit - the loop on the inside or "back."  Stitches worked in the back loops are ONLY done in these stitches.  You will be able to see a line around your piece where the front loops are still showing.

                   Front loop only, over the hook ------->
These are the loops on the outside, or front of your finished piece.  If you're only working in the front loops, the back loops are left alone.

*Increasing, Decreasing, Shaping

I've already mentioned that the beginning of an amigurumi piece usually involves making a small round, and then increasing.  To increase, you put two stitches into a single stitch from the previous round.  This is usually done evenly around, to make a disc shape.  But what happens if you put all your stitch increases at the beginning of your round?  Well... 


You can see that the top of the piece is raised, where the bottom is flat.  In this case, it has been done on purpose to "shape" the piece... in this project, the body and head are worked together.  

So here you can see that the top has been opened up to create the top of the head, as the bottom of the piece starts to narrow for the neck.

...No offense, ma'am, but your elephant looks like a shoe.

In the wonderful world of amigurumi, the shape of the final piece has a lot to do with how the different rows of stitches pull on each other.  In the next few rows, that awkward looking top part will be pulled down and forward to make the top of the head, and then the whole thing will close at the front-middle of the head, as I make the trunk.  So now that we've seen what increasing does to the shape, what does decreasing do?

The easiest way to explain this effect is that an increase pushes the piece apart, or opens it, where decreasing pulls together or closes.  This is usually done by a stitch called "single crochet 2 together," often abbreviated as SC2TOG or DEC.  You begin the same way you would a single crochet, by putting the hook through the next stitch, wrapping the yarn and pulling a loop through.  You then put the hook down in the next stitch and pull up a second loop.  Wrap the yarn and pull over all three loopsWhen you do your next single crochet, you will notice that the stitches are now closer together, and it will pull a little bit. You can see this effect in the "heel" of the "elephant boot" above.

There will be times when you're following designs and you begin to wonder... could this possibly be right?  That boot sure doesn't look like an elephant.  But if you follow the directions carefully, you'll usually find that your finished piece resembles the original design (different people craft things differently, so don't be disappointed if it doesn't look exactly the same... that's what give finished pieces character!)

This is how it looked after a little more shaping, and a front view before I added the trunk (it had just finished eating a nice poly-fill meal).

... and done!

But what if it's all..... wrong?

If you got your increases and decreases in the wrong places on a shaped piece, it's possible for a finished product to look a little off.  This is pretty easy to avoid if you count and re-count your stitches after each round where shaping is important. If you end up with an extra stitch or are missing one, don't simply skip or decrease or increase to compensate--most designs will be okay if you're off by one, or even two, sometimes more.  A misplaced increase or decrease can cause more of a problem.  When I get the wrong number of stitches, I'll usually leave them as they are until the end--most pieces will end by decreasing repeatedly until it leaves a small enough gap to tie off.  If you really need to increase or decrease to correct a mistake, wait until you get to an area where it would blend in -- for example, the middle of the top of this piece would be a good place to add a stitch, while the bottom of the neck would be a good place to decrease.

If you  up with a lump, bump, or miscellaneous mistake, this can often be fixed with stuffing.  When stuffing, use small pieces and make sure to compress it firmly around the edges.  Once you finish off, you can mush your piece into shape--they're not very fragile.  You can make just about anything look lopsided with stuffing, so try to get a nice, even "spring" in your piece all around before fastening off.  Then you can work on pinching and pulling to get the final result.

Even if things don't go your way the first time, or two, or three, don't worry.  Crocheting gets easier the more you do it, and it's such a versatile craft.  The basic single crochet stitch changes only slightly to make the more complex, decorative stitches.  If the videos on YouTube and directions around the web aren't enough to help you along, ask at your local craft store or even at a craft fair--classes are pretty easy to find in most places, and most people I've met who craft are more than happy to share tips!  Ravelry makes it easy to ask questions of other stitch enthusiasts.  By learning to crochet, you're opening up a whole world of possibilities.

Design credit for the elephant: Easy Crochet Critters from Leisure Arts

[I think this is done for now, but still open to edits/clarification if needed - be sure to check out my other tutorials for making a braided tail & securing limbs to help you finish your piece!]


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