One of the great things about learning to crochet is that it’s not expensive to get started. Unlike with some new hobbies, you don’t need a bunch of new equipment or to spend a heap on weekly classes.
You might find as you get going that you get a bit addicted to buying new yarn. (I may or may not have balls of wool taking over my bedroom…) but at least you don’t need a lot to begin with.
In my experience you really only need six things to get started, and some of those you’ll already have at home:
1. wool / yarn
It doesn’t even matter what sort of wool really, as long as you can handle it around your fingers and the hook OK. In fact, the more basic or simple your yarn is, the better.
My first attempts at crochet began just with an old ball of wool I had lying around, then when I wanted a particular colour for a pattern, I bought the cheapest acrylic yarn I could find at my local craft shop.
Cotton yarn or pure wool feels a lot nicer – it’s soft and smooth to the touch and missing the scratchy factor, but it’s not necessary to spend the extra on high quality yarn to begin with unless you really want to. Also, some more expensive yarns like cotton bamboo blends will split more easily, making it harder to get the whole strand over your hook at times.
The weight of the wool doesn’t really matter too much for learning as long as it’s suitable for the project you’re working on and your hook size matches well enough. Lighter or smaller yarn will be more fiddly and might be a bit more difficult to work easily with at first. Same for decorative yarns with extra fluffy, feathery or pom pom bits, as they make it hard to pull the yarn through easily and it’s difficult to see where your strands are. Similarly, I’d probably recommend avoiding super chunky yarns or thick t-shirt yarns until you’re more confident. Specialty yarns like softer baby yarn can be a bit small and the strands come apart more easily, which you don’t want when you’re starting out and are probably going to stick the hook through the wrong place a few times!
The best yarn for beginners in my experience is a plain 8, 10 or 12 ply yarn.
I usually use 8 ply as it’s best for the size dolls I want. Heavier wool with a higher ply number turns out a bit bigger than I want, with larger gaps between each stitch – you really want nice tight stitches with amigurumi so the stuffing can’t be seen through the fabric.
I have used 4 ply for smaller toys and would use it if I was making a toy specifically for a baby, but recommend getting yourself an 8ply to begin with.
2. crochet hook
When you get to more involved patterns you may need hooks of different sizes, but starting with one hook is just fine. In fact it may even be more helpful as you can compare how different stitches turn out using the same hook and wool size.
Although I now have a handful of hooks, I generally tend to use the same one or two most of the time – I almost always use my 3.50mm metal hook for the main parts of amigurumi toys, and have smaller 2.75mm and 2.50mm hooks that I use for smaller or more detailed pieces.
The names for different hook sizes vary between countries. Here in Australia we use metric measurements. There are plenty of conversion cheat sheets available online if you have a hook measured with a different naming system and aren’t sure which metric size it equates to.
3. stitch marker
A stitch marker is a very handy tool for keeping track of your rounds and allows you to see immediately where the current round ends and the next one begins. This is especially handy in amigurumi where many rounds are worked using simple single crochet stitch over and over to build up a shape.
One of the great things about amigurumi is that once you get the hang of it, it doesn’t require intense concentration and you can let your mind wander as you create. However, you might find things get a bit confused if you don’t use a stitch marker and lose track of your stitches because you forget to count.
You can buy stitch markers that are specifically made for knitting and crochet, but I just use a safety pin. I might buy a pack of ‘proper’ stitch markers one day if/when I run out of safety pins but for the moment the unused safety pins in my sewing kit work just fine.
Another method I sometimes use when I’m feeling lazy and can’t be bothered to keep moving a stitch marker, is to grab a short length of yarn that’s left over from another project and tie it loosely around the last stitch of the round. Just make sure the yarn that you’re using as a stitch marker is a different colour to the yarn you’re using for your project so you don’t get confused. I use this method when I’m building up a small but long tube (like a skinny doll leg) so I don’t have to keep stopping to remove and replace a safety pin. The other coloured yarn stays in the same place I tied it and I can follow the line of stitches up the tube to see when I’ve completed another round. It’s also handy when I can’t find a spare safety pin or if the pin is too big for the project and gets in the way.
4. yarn needle
Creating amigurumi characters often requires making multiple parts that need sewing together, and embroidering smaller details like eyes (unless you prefer to use plastic safety eyes).
I find the stitching needed to attach limbs or add details like eyes is best done using a large blunt needle. The eye of your needle needs to be large enough to fit your yarn threaded through, and I find that a blunt needle works best as it’s a bit easier to avoid separating the yarn threads you’re sewing into.
Most of the sewing I do on amigurumi involves threading in between crochet stitches, aligning the parts I’m attaching with the rows on the main piece for a neater finish. You may find a sharper needle helpful if you’re doing more sewing into the middle of crochet stitches, but I rarely find the need to do that.
There are a couple of hand sewing stitches that are handy to know for this part of creating amigurumi and I’ll cover those in another post soon.
You’ll need a pair of scissors to cut off your yarn when you’ve finished each piece. I use a pair of basic sewing scissors but any will do just fine. Just grab your nearest pair from the kitchen drawer if you need to – unless you’re super keen to invest in a pretty vintage pair to use as a photo prop in your Instagram pics showing off your new crochet creations!
The last thing you’ll need to complete your amigurumi piece is some soft filling of some sort. You can buy bags of stuffing at craft shops that are sold specifically for this purpose but my secret is to buy some cheap pillows and use the polyfil from those as my toy stuffing. It’s pretty much the same stuff as the expensive craft filler but a lot more cost effective.
The filling I’m using at the moment is from a two-pack of pillows that I got from Big W for about $4 and it’s enough to fill so many toys that I actually can’t remember when I bought it, that’s how long ago it was. So the stuff goes a long way and lasts and lasts…
Of course if you’re keen to use specialty filler such as organic cotton or allergy-friendly stuffing then your craft shop is probably your best place to find that. It will cost more, but if those attributes of the materials you use are important to you then I guess you’ll decide if it’s worth it.
And that’s it! That’s all you need to get start with amigurumi – or other types of crochet really too.
If you think I’ve missed anything, or there’s something you’ve found especially useful in your crochet tool kit, I’d love to hear about it – please leave a comment below.
Otherwise, happy making!