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Stitch Tension in Amigurumi: an investigation

Link easily to this page in your patterns: www.planetjune.com/stitchtension

Today, I’d like to dispel a common amigurumi myth…

In amigurumi, as with all crochet, you should always be keeping tension on the yarn to keep your stitches compact and regular. But I often hear misinformation that you should be ‘crocheting tightly’ to make amigurumi, and that’s not true at all!

The tightness of amigurumi stitches refers to the tension of the small stiff stitches of the fabric you produce, not to the tension in your hands while you crochet.

Showing is better than telling, so allow me to demonstrate, via a new crochet investigation, how to make perfect amigurumi stitches without hurting your hands!

Experiment 1: Effect of Hook Size

I crocheted the same sample amigurumi cup shape 3 times with different sized hooks and the same worsted weight yarn each time. I crocheted the same way as I would when making a scarf or anything else – I kept my tension even, but didn’t try to pull my stitches tightly or pull back on the yarn after pulling up each loop.

I used my standard amigurumi E hook (3.5mm), and, to show the effects of changing hook sizes, I tried a larger H hook (5mm) and a smaller C hook (2.75mm).

stitch tension in amigurumi: a PlanetJune investigation

You can see that the stitches are neat and even in all three samples and, as you may expect, using a larger hook results in a larger finished piece that’s both taller and wider than the same piece crocheted with a smaller hook.

See how the smaller hook samples can stack inside the larger ones? There’s quite a size difference!

stitch tension in amigurumi: a PlanetJune investigation

What you can’t tell from a photo is how stiff the fabric of each sample is. With the H hook, the fabric is too floppy to hold its shape well. With the E hook, the fabric is much firmer and holds its shape much better. With the C hook, the piece is even firmer and feels very solid.

I simulated the effect of adding stuffing by gently stretching out each piece between my fingers, so you can see the gaps between the stitches:

stitch tension in amigurumi: a PlanetJune investigation

As you can see, the H hook fabric is far too open for an amigurumi; the gaps between the stitches are very noticeable. With the E hook, the stitches have smaller holes between them, so the stuffing would be far less visible. And, with the C hook, the gaps between stitches are almost invisible.

So here’s the result of changing hook size: a smaller hook gives a smaller and firmer crocheted piece, with tighter stitches and smaller gaps between the stitches.

These are the properties we want for amigurumi fabric! A stiff, sturdy fabric that holds its shape and has tiny gaps between the stitches is exactly what we need for crocheting a 3-dimensional sculpture.

Choosing the Right Hook Size
The C hook was the smallest hook I could manage with this specific yarn (Caron Simply Soft, a light worsted weight yarn), and I had to stop and undo a stitch a few times, when my hook hadn’t grabbed all the plies of the yarn. I wouldn’t recommend using a hook quite this small, as it’s annoying to have to undo your work whenever you realise you have a snag in your stitches from splitting the yarn with the small hook.

My Recommendation: In practice, with a light worsted weight yarn like this, I might go down to a D hook for the best balance of small, tight stitches and not splitting the yarn as I crochet. For the heavier worsted weight yarns, I still recommend an E hook for most amigurumi.

(See my Worsted Weight Yarn Comparison for more about the differences between different yarns that are all labelled as worsted weight!)

Experiment 2: Effect of ‘Crocheting Tightly’

Now, part two of this investigation. I returned to my standard E hook and tried crocheting the same sample piece yet again, but this time I followed the misunderstood advice of ‘crocheting tightly’. I held the yarn tightly and pulled back on it against my hook each time I formed a loop, so each loop was tight around the hook and as small as possible.

stitch tension in amigurumi: a PlanetJune investigation

Both these samples were crocheted with the same hook. As you can see, the ‘tight’ piece is smaller and firmer than the normally-tensioned piece, but at what cost?

When you crochet with too-tight tension, your stitches are so small that it’s hard to work back into them, and that’s what happened in this case: it was an effort to force my hook into each stitch. My yarn-holding hand began to cramp from pulling the yarn so tightly, and I didn’t enjoy the process of crocheting at all. Even finishing this small piece was very hard work.

stitch tension in amigurumi: a PlanetJune investigation

Yes, the tight piece is definitely smaller (and therefore ‘better’ for amigurumi) but crocheting it was a horrible experience!

The Tension Exception
In amigurumi, chains and slip stitches should not be crocheted with your usual tension. These stitches need to be crocheted with an extra-relaxed tension (or a larger hook), or they’ll be too small to work back into.

See my tutorial Chains and Slip Stitches in Amigurumi for more on this.

Experiment 3: Comparing Smaller Hook and Tighter Tension

Now, let’s compare the small (C hook) sample from Experiment 1 with the extra tight tension sample (E hook) from Experiment 2:

stitch tension in amigurumi: a PlanetJune investigation

Can this be right? They look almost identical!

stitch tension in amigurumi: a PlanetJune investigation

Yes, comparing the two pieces, they look and feel almost exactly the same – the size and shape are the same, the stiffness of the fabric is the same, the gaps between stitches are the same.

The only difference? The sample on the left was crocheted comfortably with a small hook, and the sample on the right was crocheted extra-tightly, at great discomfort, with a larger hook.

Conclusions

As these experiments have shown, there’s absolutely no advantage to changing the way you crochet when you make amigurumi by working extra-tightly (and you may actually hurt your hands, wrists and arms by doing so!)

The goal with amigurumi is to maintain tension (down and backwards) on the yarn that’s balanced by your hook pulling up and forwards. This control allows you to form neat, consistent stitches.

You should never feel you have to force your hook into every stitch and/or pull your stitches as tightly as possible. This not only distorts your fabric but can also lead to hand and wrist fatigue and repetitive stress disorders.

The secret to making good-looking amigurumi without making your hands hurt is simple:

  • Select an appropriately small hook and crochet the same way as you usually do.
  • The perfect hook for your yarn is the smallest size you can manage without starting to have problems from splitting your yarn because the hook is too small to consistently grab all the plies.

The result: neat tight stitches, with no pain!

If you ever experience discomfort when making amigurumi, I encourage you to relax that death grip on your hook and yarn, and try crocheting with a slightly smaller hook instead. Your hands will love the difference and, I hope, you’ll enjoy the amigurumi-making process more.


Have you fallen for the amigurumi myth of ‘crocheting tightly’? Please leave a message in the comments and share your experiences…


See more helpful PlanetJune crochet tips and technique tutorials

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tool review: Yarn Ball Winder

I love my yarn ball winder! Not everyone already has (or even knows about) this useful tool, so I thought I’d share today why I find it so useful in my crocheting life, and whether getting one may help you too.

How to Use a Ball Winder

A yarn ball winder is a simple mechanical tool for quickly winding yarn into a neat ball.

To use, it, load one end of your yarn through the metal guide arm and across the slots at the top of the cone, then turn the handle and the yarn will wind onto the cone (see my photos near the end of this post for examples). When you’ve finished, tie the final end of the yarn around a couple of strands on the outside of the yarn ball so it doesn’t come undone, then pull the ‘cake’ of yarn off the cone.

yarn wound on a ball winder by planetjune

The finished ‘cake’ isn’t shaped like a hand-wound ball, but has a flat top and bottom (which makes it easy to stack and store). And the starting end of the ball (that ran across the slots at the top of the cone) is ready to be used. Pulling the yarn from the centre of the ball instead of the outside means the ball won’t roll around while you work.

My ball winder is like this one (amazon link) but there are other similar models also available on amazon and at yarn/craft shops (e.g. the KnitPicks ball winder is a less expensive option). I’d recommend you check reviews before you buy one, but, for what it’s worth, I’ve never had any problems with mine – it runs smoothly and quietly.

Why I Use It

A yarn ball winder is invaluable for turning a hank of yarn into a beautiful centre-pull ball. (This is especially easy if you have a yarn swift to hold the yarn for you while you wind it, but, if you don’t have one you can ask a helper to hold the loop of yarn from the hank taut between their hands while you wind it.) When I used to buy a big hank of laceweight yarn to make a shawl, it’d take me literally hours (and many tangles) to wind all the yarn by hand. Now it takes me mere minutes to wind 400m of yarn ready for use.

yarn hank and centre-pull yarn ball by planetjune
A hank of yarn (front) and a centre-pull ball (back)

But that’s not the only use I have for my winder; it’s really useful for my amigurumi yarn too! Once I’ve used over half a skein of worsted weight yarn, the remainder doesn’t hold together well any more. If you store it in that state it can tangle easily, and if you store lots of partial skeins together, you could end up with a giant yarn mess that takes hours to untangle. (I’m speaking from personal experience, here…)

Since getting my ball winder, I re-wind all my partially-used skeins of yarn into tidy small balls. They stack more neatly in my drawers, and don’t get tangled any more! In case you’re wondering, I need all these leftovers for my amigurumi projects – you never know when you might need just a few metres of an unusual colour to make a specific thing, so I never throw away any yarn over a couple of metres long (and btw I even save the shorter lengths too, to make pom-poms – nothing goes to waste in my studio).

small yarn balls by planetjune
Partial skeins wound into neat balls

My Special Trick

I do something extra when I wind yarn balls that makes a huge difference to my crocheting experience. I’ve never seen it mentioned anywhere else, so I thought I should share it with you: I like to wind each ball twice.

As soon as the ball is complete, I remove it from the winder and sit it on the table next to the winder, then reattach the end from the centre of the wound ball to the winder and re-wind it into a new ball, letting the yarn flow through my fingers with a light tension as I wind it.

As you can see, the first winding looks fine, until you compare it with the result of the second winding:

first and second yarn windings
The same hank of yarn, wound twice: the first winding is tiny compared with the second!

Why does this happen?
Let’s compare what happens during the first and second windings:
With the first winding, the tension on the yarn can be uneven as the yarn tugs on the swift to move it, or the skein flips about on the floor as it unwinds, or the fibres of two strands of yarn are slightly stuck together and it takes more force from the winder to pull them apart.
first yarn winding
First winding: partial shop-bought skein to centre-pull ball

With the second winding, the yarn comes from a centre-pull ball, so it winds very regularly, as nothing is moving apart from the strand being wound. As the yarn has only just been wound into the first ball, any loose fibre ends haven’t had a chance to snarl together, so the tension on the yarn is low and steady as you wind it.
second yarn winding
Second winding: centre-pull ball to lower tension centre-pull ball

Why does it matter?
If you keep your balled yarn wound tightly:

  • The yarn is kept in a stretched state, which will affect your gauge when you crochet or knit with it.
  • There’s more chance of the yarn strands sticking together into a clump – this is especially likely to happen with a yarn like mohair or alpaca, where the loose fibre ends along the yarn (visible as a fluffy halo) can grab onto each other. When you pull on the centre yarn end, a clump of yarn strands can come out together from the ball instead of one single strand, or, even worse, the yarn may not come out at all!
  • The longer you keep the ball wound like this, the worse the stretching and tangling can become.

The second winding is actually much more fun to do as it winds so smoothly, so it adds very little time to the process. And what’s a couple of extra minutes of winding time compared with the many hours you’ll spend using the yarn?

In my opinion, it’s definitely worth winding your yarn twice: the result is an ideal yarn ball with neat low-tension wraps that put no stress on the yarn. You can keep your yarn wound in this ball for a long time without having to worry that it will become stretched out or will be snarled up when you try to use it.


Verdict

If you crochet or knit and don’t already own a ball winder, I’d highly recommend you pick one up, or at least put it on your wishlist. It’s time-saving, and fun to use. Even if you don’t buy yarn in hanks, it makes a huge difference in keeping the partial balls of any type of yarn in your stash tidy and organised.

If you already have a ball winder, please feel free to add your experience and tips in the comments below 🙂

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Tutorial: Attaching Legs Evenly on a Standing Amigurumi Animal

Stitching the various pieces of an amigurumi together is arguably one of the least enjoyable parts of amigurumi-making. I have a wealth of knowledge gleaned from making hundreds of amigurumi, and I’d like to share those tips with you, to make your amigurumi assembly less frustrating!

Today I’m going to share my tips on how to best attach the legs evenly on a standing 4-legged amigurumi animal, so the joins look neat and the animal can stand straight with all four feet touching the ground.

For more tips to make your amigurumi look even better, check out the new Perfect Finish category on my crochet tutorials page!


1. If They Touch, Pre-Join the Legs

Depending on how wide the legs are and how wide the body is, the legs may meet in the middle. Check your pattern’s cover photos to see if this applies, or test it out by positioning a pair of legs at the correct position beneath the body and seeing if the legs need to touch each other at the top to fit underneath the body.

Tip: If you place the legs too far apart, the feet will tend to splay outwards and the legs won’t support the body. That’s a look you’d probably like to avoid!

If Legs Don’t Meet:

amigurumi animals whose legs are separate at the point where they join the body (patterns by planetjune)
If there’s a space between the tops of the legs (as with the animals pictured above), skip down to Step 2, below.

If Legs Do Meet:

amigurumi animals whose legs touch at the point where they join the body (patterns by planetjune)

If you determine that the pair of legs will meet in the middle (as with the animals pictured above), you can stitch them together first, before attaching them to the body. This helps to attach them evenly and makes it easier to stitch the inner edge of the second leg to the body.

To do this, simply hold the pair of legs together, and stitch the tops together where they touch. (The number of stitches to attach will depend on the diameter of the legs.)

attaching legs evenly on a standing amigurumi animal

Repeat the check for the second pair of legs (remember, the body and leg shaping may mean that one pair of legs meet while the other doesn’t). If they do touch, stitch the pair of legs together as described above.

2. Attaching the First Pair of Legs

I prefer to stitch the front legs to the body first, as it’s easier to position them in relation to the head, to make sure the legs are centred beneath the body.

First, stitch just the middle of the joined pair of legs (or just the inner edge of each separate leg) to the underside of the body (below, left), making sure they are lined up with the head (or other means of recognising the top/bottom of the body).

Stop and check: is the middle of the pair of legs exactly at the bottom of the body (below, right)? If not, pull out your stitches, adjust the leg positions, and try again. Once they are centred, you’ll know that the pair of legs will be joined to the body symmetrically, without having had to pull out many stitches!

attaching legs evenly on a standing amigurumi animal

Next, move to each leg in turn and begin to stitch around the remainder of the open edge, using the Seamless Join technique (below, left). To create the smoothest join, when you reach the outer edge of the leg, try positioning your stitches onto the body slightly further out than usual, so the leg is stretched slightly as you pull each stitch tight.

When you’ve finished, the pair of legs should sit directly beneath the body (below, right).

attaching legs evenly on a standing amigurumi animal

3. Attaching the Second Pair of Legs

Move to the second pair of legs. Turn the animal upside down, and position the pair of back legs so their midpoint is in line with the midpoint of the front legs:

attaching legs evenly on a standing amigurumi animal

Again, stitch just the middle of the joined pair of legs (or just the inner edge of each separate leg, to the body, then pause and test the amigurumi to make sure the second pair is straight in relation to the first.

To do this, stand the amigurumi up on a flat surface and make sure both pairs of legs can sit squarely at the same time:

attaching legs evenly on a standing amigurumi animal

If the back legs are skewed slightly to one side or the other, only one back foot will be able to touch the ground. If this has happened, pull out your stitches, adjust the leg positions, and try again. Checking this now has just saved you from potentially having to undo all the stitches later!

As before, move to each leg in turn and begin to stitch around the remainder of the open edge, using the Seamless Join technique. To create the smoothest join, when you reach the outer edge of the leg, try positioning your stitches onto the body slightly further out than usual, so the leg is stretched slightly as you pull each stitch tight.


Congratulations! Now your amigurumi should have nice looking leg joins, and be able to stand stably on a flat surface, with the legs neatly beneath the body and all four feet making contact with the ground:

Farmyard Goats crochet pattern by PlanetJune

Give it a try on your next four-legged amigurumi and see if my technique makes the task a little less daunting for you! Let me know how it goes…


If you’re looking for my Farmyard Goats pattern, it’ll be going on general release in a couple of weeks. But if you join the Farmyard CAL in the PlanetJune Ravelry group, you can have exclusive early access to the pattern! See the Farmyard CAL thread in the group for full details 🙂

UPDATE: The Farmyard Goats crochet pattern is now available to purchase 🙂


See more helpful PlanetJune crochet tips and technique tutorials

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The 5 Essential Techniques for Amigurumi

Amigurumi is a special subset of crochet that requires its own skills. Even the most experienced crocheters can be startled when they pick up their first amigurumi pattern and discover it’s full of new terms and techniques!

In this post, I’ll cover all the essentials you’ll need to be able to tackle an amigurumi pattern with confidence and end up with great-looking crocheted stuffed toys.

Note: All the posts linked below include both right- and left-handed video tutorials!


1. Magic Ring

The magic ring gives the perfect start to any piece of amigurumi: you can start crocheting in the round without any trace of a hole in the middle.

5 essential techniques for amigurumi: magic ring
L: magic ring; R: standard ‘chain 2’ start


2. Invisible Decrease

Decreasing without leaving any bumps or gaps sounds too good to be true, but the invisible decrease (abbreviated invdec) really does live up to its name!

5 essential techniques for amigurumi: invisible decrease (invdec)


3. Changing Colour

Changing colour correctly lets you make clean colour changes without dots of the wrong colour peeking through.

5 essential techniques for amigurumi: changing colour
Note: To manage your colour changes perfectly, you’ll also need to deal with the yarn you’re not currently using. My Managing the Yarns tutorial explains how!


4. Seamless Join

My Seamless Join technique creates a smooth, almost invisible join whenever you’re stitching an open-ended piece to a closed piece.

5 essential techniques for amigurumi: seamless join


5. Ultimate Finish

The Ultimate Finish is the equivalent of another magic ring at the end of your piece! Close up the remaining hole with a smooth, gap-free finish.

5 essential techniques for amigurumi: ultimate finish


Practice Makes Perfect!

Master these 5 techniques and you’ll be all set to conquer any amigurumi pattern and get a beautiful result!

PlanetJune pattern examples

Why not pick a favourite from my extensive nature-inspired PlanetJune pattern range and practice your skills?

PlanetJune pattern selection


Further reading:

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tutorial: amigurumi wall hanging

The recent popularity of art weavings, macrame and other yarny wall hangings got me thinking, and I came up with the novel idea to display amigurumi creatively as a wall hanging…

amigurumi wall hanging tutorial by PlanetJune

It’s easier to hang than a mobile, and more versatile as a decorative piece for all ages. And it looks even better in person than in the photo – it’s so bright and cheerful!

For my wall hanging, I decided my Tropical Fish patterns would make a perfect grouping, and I added some tiny crocheted balls to represent bubbles in the water. But you could combine any small amigurumi and crocheted pieces into a decorative wall hanging in this way.

amigurumi wall hanging tutorial by PlanetJune

Want to make your own wall hanging? The tutorial is free to view online, and I’ve also compiled it all together into a handy PDF – yours in return for any-sized donation – that includes lots of bonus content: the exclusive Tiny Ball crochet pattern; step-by-step tutorials for my preferred knots (particularly useful with slippery fishing line!), and more bonus tips, photos and advice 🙂

Go to the Amigurumi Wall Hanging Tutorial >>

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    June Gilbank

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