Ever wonder how did Amigurumi came about? Why are cute little knitted and crocheted creatures called Amigurumi? What is the story behind these cute and adorable handmade stuffed animals?
I always wonder, and I finally found the answers to my questions. I bought a book called “Crochet Animals by Annie Obaachan” a couple of months back at Vivocity PageOne’s closing down sale. There’s a few pages dedicated to amigurumi history that I would love to share with all of you. It’s always good to know the origins and stories behind what we love and see how it have evolved.
Amigurumi is a recently coined word. “Ami” means knit in Japanese, and “nuigurumi” means stuffed creature - so knit it, stuff it and you have amigurumi. These are anthropomorphic creatures that you are giving life to - you could never make the same one twice, as each one is unique.
Japan has a rich history of textiles, especially in the art of kinomos, where you find beautifully crafted ikat-kasuri weaving, batik, shibori, wood-block printing, to name a few - but no knitting. Knitting and crochet are not indigenous to Japan. The samurai warriors took up knitting to make socks with toes that allowed more freedom of motion, but for a long time, they were the only ones forming knitting circles.
In the West, there’s no history of amigurumi. When we talk about yarn, we immediately think of functional items such as cardigans, jumpers, socks and gloves. Traditionally, we knit and crochet from patterns, typed in an abbreviated language, which instructs us to make shapes that we join, and fashion around our bodies. Without a picture of one that’s been made earlier, when we read our patterns, we can only imagine the finished result.
The Japanese, with no prior knitting tradition, invented a new use for knitting and crochet in their culture and a new way of writing patterns. Amigurumi seems to have grown naturally with the way the charts developed. Pictures are drawn with crochet and sometimes the images become little creatures. Japanese writing comprises pictures and symbols, and knitting and crochet stitches are represented in the same way. Charts are designed as a full picture of how a pattern is expected to evolve and show where you are heading.
So why do we want to make little stuffed crochet creatures in the first place? They may be very small and cute, but they have weighty cultural significance. Type amigurumi in a search engine, and they are everywhere, millions of them, and some of them are real enough to write their own blogs. Amigurumi as a phenomenon has been growing slowly since the 1950s. It was at this time that the Japanese culture moved towards cuteness, or kawaii, inventing characters like Hello Kitty, a cute white kitten with a little bow on one ear. At the end of World War 2, atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan lost its political strength, and re-formed with a deliberate avoidance of what had happened. A new culture of “cuteness” served as a mask for all the atrocities.
During the 1960s, the Japanese government encouraged economic expansion over cultural preservation, dissolving communities and regionally distinct traditions. Families moved to big cities to find jobs. Little Hello Kitty and her other nu-cultural friends were developed as mass marketable icons, spreading a cute, pacifying force over a new nation of “salary men” and “office ladies”. These were white-collar workers, who turned Japan around into an economic power.
Most of us have a friend, or are ourselves, an absentee who is devoted to their work and missing out on the rest of life. A typical modern job might demand the wearing of a uniform, and the conducting of friendships throughout text messaging and e-mail, which unfortunately means we can’t use all the little noises, faces and gestures we normally use to express ourselves. Amigurumi step into the breach. They offer us cute individual characters formed by human hands. The materials are chosen with love and care. The pacifying force is still there but it’s heavily personalized. They are sweet gestures, with no particular depth of message, but characters with very colorful, anthropological histories, which are a light relief in time when collective joy and culture can be of second importance.
Book Source: Crochet Animals by Annie Obaachan (message by Rachael Matthews)
How true. Amigurumi have indeed made my life more colorful and interesting one way or another. I’m so glad I found out this amazing art that allows me to create cute things and get my little escape from the fast pace and demanding society, as well as to bless others. I’ve learnt something new. Have you?
Love, Rachel H
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