Here’s a Friday morning brainteaser for you… (because, you need one, right? You’re wide awake and raring for brainteasing this morning, right? …no? Oh, never mind, keep reading. It’s worth it.)
Right, here’s your brainteaser: how do you pronounce amigurumi? Yes, amigurumi. I’m hitting you with a word like amigurumi first thing on a Friday morning not because I’m particularly cruel and sadistic (although… umm… no, never mind) but because if you don’t know about amigurumi, then I have someone I want to introduce you to.
Ok, let’s back it up and make Friday morning a bit easier. How do you pronounce Fresh Stitches? How about Stacey Trock? Better? Yep, me too! I can’t say amigurumi to save my life. …Well, I can, but I have to slow right down and I sound like an idiot. I prefer to say Stacey Trock. Mostly, because I really like her.
Stacey designs crocheted amigurumi, which is a Japanese word meaning a crocheted or knitted stuffed animal. And so you know they are going to be cute, but Stacey’s designs are not just cute, they’re downright funky. I mean, right now, you’re thinking “teddy bears”, right? Nope.
I met Stacey at TNNA in June — she was unmissable, wandering around with a crocheted monkey on her back — and I quickly discovered she is an absolutely lovely person. During the Mother-of-All-Knit-Nights (imagine a room filled with every.single.one of your knitting idols, and that’s exactly what it was), Stacey and I got to talking and… we just kept going for a couple of hours! Isn’t it just the coolest thing when the people you’ve admired from afar turn out to be truly nice people in real life?
Stacey, your amigurumi are so adorable! How do your design ideas come to you? Do you know what the finished project will look like before you start, or do you let the yarn and hook lead the way and just see how it comes out?
Aww, thank you! I have no idea how my ideas come to me… sometimes I think it’s just a little fairy in the night that brings them. In all honesty, I’ll just get ‘struck’ by an animal idea, and I know exactly how it’s going to look and how it’s going to be made. And more than often, I’m right. Once in a while, I go through a phase of experimenting with different shapes and techniques, and then a whole new batch of animals will hit me.
When did you make the jump from crocheter to crochet designer? What defined that change in your mind?
Ah, yes… you’re hinting at two different questions! The first one is: when did I go from crocheter to being a person who sold crochet designs. I did that one summer, when I was finished with school, and was tired of what I was doing. I asked myself, ‘what would I do if I didn’t have to worry about money at all?’. And I thought, ‘make stuffed animals’. And, I’ve been crocheting since I was very small, so that seemed like the natural method to make my animals. Then, I thought about it, and figured I really could make a living of it… so, then I just started designing! My first designs were a koala and a lion.
The second question, when did I feel like a crochet designer is slightly different. It took a while for me to really believe that this was my job and not just some pipe dream. I would say that after my first book, Cuddly Crochet, came out, I felt like I was really a designer.
It’s interesting, though- because I think of myself as a stuffed animal designer, not a ‘crochet designer’. I would jump to knitting stuffed animals before I would design a crocheted sweater. I guess I’m just obsessed with stuffed animals 🙂
When you design, do you have a specific person in mind? Are you designing for someone, or for yourself?
I always have one of two customers in mind when I design. Customer number one is a late-20s, early 30s woman who is crocheting a toy for her children (of course, in real life, it could be a grandmother, aunt or even a father… but marketing folks tell you to be specific!). She’s interested in a pattern that’s not overwhelmingly complicated (she has other things to do, after all!) and she’s also interested in a fairly mainstream, cute animal. The animal also will need to be baby-safe (crocheted eyes, no long strings, etc.). My Nelson the Owl pattern is a stereotypical example of an animal I designed with this customer in mind.
Customer number 2 is a late teenager or 20-something woman who loves crocheting and wants to make a funky and cute crocheted animal. She’s not scared off by trying a new technique, but the end product has to be awesome. She may be making it to make a statement at work, or crocheting a gift for a
friend (and wants a super-unique gift over something you can just buy in the store). Weird animals are totally okay… even suggested! Sandford the Squid is the best example of a pattern I’ve designed with this customer in mind.
Sometimes, I lose sight of my customer, and design an animal ‘just because’, and these usually end up being flops. Like, I designed a cheetah… he was cute, for a cheetah. But, what’s the market? You don’t give a cheetah to a baby. And, people looking for funky designs aren’t drawn to cheetahs.
It’s been a lesson… even though I’m completely passionate about what I do, it’s still a business, and I need to keep in mind that I’m designing for my customers.
Are there any special skills needed for amigurumi that are different from other crochet projects?
The main thing about amigurumi is that they are worked in the round. You don’t need any special stitches (it’s the same single crochet, increasing and decreasing that you see everywhere), but starting off can be tricky for folks… it’s getting the piece going in the round. I use the sloppy slip knot (a technique that I made up by accident) because it’s quick an easy. The magic ring is another popular choice.
Attaching the pieces (arms, legs, etc to the body) also takes a little artistry. It can be tricky when you start, but using some locking stitch markers to position the piece (and see if you like it) before sewing it on is a great tip. Alternatively, Dawn Toussaint is an amigurumi designer who attaches all of the pieces as you crochet- so there’s nothing to attach afterwards… that can make the whole attaching-thing easier!
What is the best bit of being a designer? What part of it brings you the most joy?
The thing I love most is the flexibility. I get to work from home and make my own schedule. My partner (Tim) is Australian, and we go back to Australia for 3 weeks every Christmas. I’m the studio manager at my yoga studio, and I attend classes at 5pm. Tim is giving a talk at a university in a few weeks, and I get to just go along. I don’t think I could do any of those things if I worked a normal 9-5 job.
Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t work a lot of hours… but the flexibility is priceless to me!
It’s funny you ask the 2nd question… because the best thing in the world happened to me this morning- that makes my job super-awesome. One of my customers emailed me and told me that she was going through a very hard time in her life (due to family illness), and that what had gotten her through was making my stuffed animals for her grandchildren! I couldn’t believe someone would say such a sweet thing to me! Making others happy brings me the most joy!
What is your favourite amigurumi design that you’ve done? Which one makes you smile every time you see it?
I’ve got two. One is Nelson the Owl… I’m not sure if it’s because owls are insanely popular right now, or what, but I make a lot of them, and they’re adorable every time! It doesn’t matter what color combo you use- he’s adorable! The second is Milton the Snail from my new book, Crocheted Softies. I have a total soft spot for snails… and I love Milton!!!
What do you suggest to knitters/crocheters who are nervous about using hand-dyed?
Who’s afraid of hand-dyeds? I’ll go have a talk with them! I think what most people don’t realize is that you can use hand-dyed yarns in almost any pattern that calls for commercial yarns! Crocheters and Knitters seem to get really caught up on using the yarn recommended in the pattern… but as long as you’re substituting a similar weight and fiber yarn (i.e. a worsted weight wool for another worsted weight wool)- you don’t need to think very hard about doing a substitution! And, there’s so much more variety in the hand-dyed market. A commercial yarn company produces thousands of skeins of each color… so they’re pretty tied to producing yarns and colors with a broad appeal. But, since an indie dyer produces yarn in small lots, they can really let their creativity shine through. I’ve gotten some amazingly colored skeins from indie dyers that would have never been available commercially! Also, you can’t beat the colors and love that goes into hand-dyed… so I say, rock on!