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The 5 Essential Techniques for Amigurumi

5 Essential Techniques for Amigurumi - crochet video tutorials for left- and right-handers by PlanetJune

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

make an amigurumi wall hanging with this PlanetJune tutorial

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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Amigurumi Finishing Technique: Needlesculpting

Needlesculpting is a finishing technique you can use to improve the shape of your amigurumi. It uses a yarn needle and length of matching yarn to draw in certain areas of an amigurumi to alter its shape, as with this bulky-necked panda:

needlesculpting in amigurumi - tutorial

If you’re following a pattern with crocheted shaping built in, you shouldn’t need to do this, but it can be a useful tool to have in your arsenal, if you want to:

  • Fix ‘lost’ shaping: If you’ve crocheted too loosely or been over-generous with your stuffing, and the built-in shaping has been lost.
  • Add extra definition: Exaggerate the shape of your amigurumi.
  • Make easy modifications: Alter the shape of a pattern without modifying the stitches you crochet.

Continue to my tutorial and I’ll show you how to add needlesculpted details to your amigurumi! >>

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Glinting Eyes for Amigurumi

Link easily to this tutorial in your patterns: www.planetjune.com/glint

Today I’d like to show you a technique that’ll bring your amigurumi to life when you don’t use shiny plastic eyes. This is particularly useful when you’re making baby-safe or pet toys, where plastic eyes may be a choking hazard.

example of embroidered catchlight on crocheted amigurumi eyes

The Power of the Catchlight

A catchlight is the highlight or glint of a light source reflected in an eye. Compare these kestrel photos I took a few months ago, and you’ll see how appealing a glint in the eye can be:

kestrel with glinting eye (by June Gilbank)
Where the eye has the magic glint, it brings a spark of life to the photo that makes it irresistible.

kestrel without glinting eye (by June Gilbank)
The same bird, only a couple of seconds later, but the angle is slightly different, and I didn’t catch a glint in the eye. Although the kestrel is still lovely, do you see how this photo looks dull and lifeless compared with the first?

Now, this principle doesn’t just apply to wildlife photography – the same concept applies in amigurumi! Two-part plastic animal (‘safety’) eyes are the ideal eyes for most amigurumi, because the shiny plastic replicates the shine of real animals’ eyes, giving a glint in the eye which helps to bring your amigurumi to life.

But plastic eyes aren’t always the best solution, especially if you’re making toys for very young children or pets, where plastic eyes may be a choking hazard and should be avoided. Non-plastic eyes can look dull and make your amigurumi feel lifeless, but there’s a simple way to add that spark of life back again.

Adding a Catchlight

If you crochet eyes for your amigurumi or make them from felt or embroidery, I highly recommend that you add a small white dot with white embroidery floss in the upper right quadrant of each eye, to simulate the glint. It makes the eye look more realistic and gives your toy that spark of life. All you need is a tapestry needle and a short length of white embroidery floss per eye.

Compare these two gingerbread men. Even before they have any features added beyond the eyes, there’s a huge difference in appeal:

Gingerbread Man (crochet pattern by PlanetJune) with and without a glint in the eye

Without a glint, the eyes have a dull vacant stare. With the glint, they have a sparkle of personality!

How to Add the Glint:

  • If you’re embroidering the eye directly onto your piece, you can stitch the catchlight on top of your other stitches.
  • If you’re attaching a felt or crocheted circle for the eye, you may find it easier to embroider the catchlight before attaching the eye, as you can then hide the thread ends beneath the eye. (If you plan to glue the eye in place, it’s essential to embroider the catchlight before you apply the glue, as it’s very difficult to embroider onto fabric that’s been hardened with glue!)
  • You can also add a catchlight with a dot of white fabric paint, but please do practice on a spare crocheted eye before adding paint directly to your amigurumi, to make sure you’re happy with the result.

illustration of good and bad glint positions for amigurumi eyes

Glint Size and Shape
The size and shape of the catchlights aren’t critical. A single stitch can be enough, or, if you prefer a more rounded/square shape, you can make a larger catchlight by making two or three stitches right next to each other. Whatever you decide, try to keep the glint the same size and shape on each eye.

Glint Position
You don’t have to use the upper right corner of the eye, but it’s very important that you add the glint in the same position on each eye – this is one situation where symmetry is definitely wrong! The idea of the catchlight is to suggest that the amigurumi is being lit from one side, and the side with the lamp/sun is the side that reflects that light as a glint. Light typically comes from above, so add the glint above the middle of the eye, but you can choose between the upper right or upper left side for both eyes.

Get Glinting!

This simple technique makes such a difference to any eyes made from fabric, yarn or embroidery floss. I hope you’ll use it every time you make crocheted, felt or embroidered eyes in future, to add an extra spark of life to your amigurumi!

Gingerbread Man crochet pattern by PlanetJune

Note: The samples used for this demo are made from my Gingerbread Family crochet patterns.

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A Colour Changing Crochet Investigation

managing yarns when changing colours tutorial

Spoiler alert: in doing this colour changing investigation, I’ve come up with recommendations for how best to manage your yarns when you make multiple-colour amigurumi.

If you’re not interested in my experiments and how I reached my conclusions, you can skip the rest of this post, and jump straight to the Changing Colour: Managing the Yarns tutorial 🙂


I’m often asked how to deal with the other yarn when changing colour in my amigurumi patterns. If there’s a specific technique I recommend for a specific pattern – one that makes the colour changes much neater or faster than any alternative – I give you that information in the pattern itself.

But, in general, I don’t give specific details within a pattern for every colour change, because a) there’s no one ‘right’ way to deal with yarn ends and carrying colours, and b) it’s up to you which method(s) you find to be the best combination of fast, easy, and with a good end result.

In fact, I tend to intuitively use a combination of several options, but how do you know what to use when? Time for another crochet experiment, so we can see the the advantages and disadvantages of each technique, and I can give you a better recommendation…

Note: Not interested in the investigation and just want my recommendations for how to deal with the other yarn when you’re changing colours? Go straight to my page Changing Colour: Managing the Yarns!

Method

I crocheted the same amigurumi-style sample piece 4 times, using the same pattern each time but changing the method for dealing with the other yarn in each sample, as a basis for comparison.

colour_changing_investigation

The pattern was a two-colour cylinder worked in a continuous spiral in the round, changing colour every five stitches on one side and every two stitches on the other side, so we can see any differences between short and long blocks of stitches between colour changes.

The techniques I used were:

  • 1. Cut-and-tie: Cut the yarn at every colour change and tie each resulting pair of ends together.
  • 2. Stranding: Carry a float of yarn behind the work, and pick it back up when you resume crocheting with that colour.
  • 3. Tapestry crochet (yarn on top): Lay the unused yarn across the top of the stitches, and crochet around it with every stitch.
  • 4. Tapestry crochet (yarn behind): I don’t think there’s a real name for this technique: crocheting around the other yarn with each stitch, but holding it behind the back loop, instead of across the top, of the stitch below. (But does that really make a difference? Let’s find out…)

Results

The overview picture below shows the results of the four different methods.
L-R for each method:

  • Wide blocks of colour, right side
  • Wide blocks of colour, wrong side
  • Narrow blocks of colour, right side
  • Narrow blocks of colour, wrong side

colour changing experiment by PlanetJune - 4 methods to deal with yarn ends when changing colour in amigurumi

(You may be wondering why I’m looking at the wrong sides too, when the inside will never be seen in an amigurumi piece. It’s important for the experiment to see what’s going on behind the scenes as well as comparing the look of the finished outside.)

By comparing each of these samples, I could see the advantages and disadvantages of each method, which will let me figure out which is best to use when, and why…

Cut-and-tie vs Stranding

Stranding is much faster than stopping to cut the yarn and tie knots at every colour change, but the quality of the stranded result depends on the width of the yarn that’s floated on the back of the piece:

colour changing experiment by PlanetJune - cutting vs stranding

For long stretches between colour changes, the floated yarn on the back of the piece can distort the shape of your work (if too tight), or cause the stitch before and after to work loose (if too loose). Cut-and-tie leaves yarn ends, but gives a consistent result.

However, for frequent colour changes of only a stitch or two, cut-and-tie is fiddly and leaves a big mess of ends on the inside of the piece. Stranding works very well for these shorter colour changes, provided you tension the stranded yarn so it sits snugly along the inside of the piece.

Conclusion: Stranding the yarn behind your stitches saves time and yarn vs cutting and tying at each colour change, but it works best when you’re only carrying the yarn for a short length before swapping back.

Tapestry crochet vs Normal crochet (cut or stranded)

There’s a big problem with using tapestry crochet for amigurumi – unless, of course, the pattern was designed to be worked this way! Let’s compare the stitches formed with standard crochet vs those with tapestry crochet:

colour changing experiment by PlanetJune - stitch bias difference between normal and tapestry crochet

Working in the round without turning always introduces a bias to your stitches – a stacked colour change will travel by approximately 1 stitch per 5 rounds (above, right). But with tapestry crochet (above, left), that bias is intensified, so a stacked colour changed will travel by approximately 1 stitch per 2 rounds. So, if you use the tapestry technique where it’s not intended (or, use non-tapestry for a pattern designed for tapestry), the colour pattern will become skewed.

The tapestry stitches are also slightly taller than standard stitches, but I’m not sure there’s enough of a difference there to skew the overall shaping significantly on the scale of an amigurumi piece. The colour shifting is a much more obvious problem, and a good enough reason to abandon this method for amigurumi colour changes without further investigation.

Conclusion: Don’t use tapestry crochet (working over the carried yarn with every stitch) for amigurumi with colour changes, unless the pattern specifies it.

Tapestry crochet (yarn on top vs yarn behind)

The modified tapestry crochet technique, where you carry the yarn just behind the back loop of the stitch instead of across the top, does make a difference: looking at the green stitches in the samples below, you can see that the carried (pink) yarn is less visible on the front of the piece, and more visible on the back (where it doesn’t matter for amigurumi).

colour changing experiment by PlanetJune - comparison of tapestry crochet with the yarn held on top or behind the stitches

Conclusion: If you’re going to work over yarn (to carry a yarn, to catch a floated yarn, or to work over a yarn end), for amigurumi it’s better to hold the yarn behind the back loop of your stitch instead of across the top of the stitch.

(This modification doesn’t help with the bias effect, so I still wouldn’t use it for amigurumi colourwork, unless the pattern was designed to be worked in tapestry crochet. But I have incorporated this technique into my recommendations in a specific scenario, as you’ll see…)

Verdict & Recommendations

managing yarns when changing colours tutorial

Putting it all together, we can see which techniques may be most effective when a pattern has frequent/infrequent colour changes that span few/many stitches, and I now have solid reasons for recommending different yarn-wrangling methods in different situations.

You always have a choice of how to deal with the other yarn(s) when you change colour, but I’ll give you my recommendations – together with some case studies so you can see how these methods work in practice for amigurumi – in my tutorial page:

Continue to ‘Changing Colour: Managing the Yarns’ >>

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    June Gilbank

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