Small and cute: why crafters love ‘little thingies’

People are drawn to small things, including projects

This photo provided by Quarto Publishing Group shows a banana split throw pillow which is featured in the book "Crocheted Abode a La Mode: 20 Yummy Crochet Projects for Your Home," by Twinkie Chan. (Quarto Publishing Group via AP)

This photo provided by Quarto Publishing Group shows a banana split throw pillow which is featured in the book "Crocheted Abode a La Mode: 20 Yummy Crochet Projects for Your Home," by Twinkie Chan. (Quarto Publishing Group via AP)

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Photos provided by Storey Publishing show a koala. It is featured in the book “Crochet Taxidermy” by Taylor Hart. (Mars Vilaubi/Storey Publishing via AP)

When my daughter Grace was little, she collected tiny objects, sometimes pilfered from her sister and squirreled away in her bedroom. Among the 4-year-old’s prized collection of teeny-tiny items were a Barbie suitcase, Hello Kitty erasers, a 1-inch plastic baby and animal figurines.

“It’s special to me,” she explained when an item of her sister’s was found in her room.

Everything tiny was special to this child, and the family came to refer to little objects as she did, as “little thingies.” We still do, even though Grace is 18 and graduating from high school.

Little thingies have caught on in the crafting world, so much so that stacks of books are dedicated to their creation. Most are crochet projects, but other mediums, such as needle felting and knitting, also bend toward the tiny.

The Japanese gave little thingies a name: amigurumi — small, adorable creatures that are usually crocheted. I’ve seen Hello Kitty and Star Wars characters, comic book superheroes and every animal under the sun in books touting amigurumi patterns.

What is the draw? Why spend hours hunched over a small, non-essential project? You can’t wear it like a scarf or a hat. You can’t decorate with it, as you would a pillow or a blanket. Albeit adorable, the inanimate object is a dust collector.

Crocheter Twinkie Chan of Ventura, California, attributes the attraction to this: babies.

“We’re naturally drawn to little, tiny things like a baby,” human or animal, she says. “Stick some big eyes on (a project) and people will love it.”

There are practical reasons, too.

“I don’t have the patience to make anything big,” says Cindy Wang, author of “Literary Yarns: Crochet Projects Inspired by Classic Books” (Quirk Books, 2017).

“I like being able to make something you can hold in your hand.”

Wang, who created patterns for Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Frankenstein and many more characters for “Literary Yarns,” began crocheting tiny figurines six years ago — mostly superheroes. Depending on its complexity, a project can take two to nine hours.

Wang likes to share her simpler creations, and makes a game of it, regularly leaving the figurines at San Diego Comic-Con and in her home city of Houston. She recently dropped off Marvel characters such as Spiderman and Iron Man in New York City, tweeting clues to their whereabouts.

She says that only basic crochet skills are required to make the simplest dolls, although learning how to shape them and adding embellishments takes more time.

“The crocheting part itself is the easy and quick part for me,” Wang says. “It’s the tiny details that take time.”

Taylor Hart of Bastrop, Texas, says beginner stitches and “the magic circle,” which works a project in the round, is all it takes.

Hart gravitated toward simple amigurami shapes for a lot of reasons. “It’s like therapy for me. It’s also fun,” she says. “They’re tiny and not stressful. They’re not a huge project. They’re cute. You can give them away as gifts. They make people smile.”

She kept dozens of patterns in her head until asked to write them down for her book, “Crochet Taxidermy: 30 Quirky Animal Projects from Mouse to Moose” (Storey Publishing, 2016). Her quick-crochet projects may be mounted on wood plaques to “spruce up your walls with a herd of humane home decor,” according to her book.

Other recent books touting tiny treasures include “Little Felted Dogs: Easy Projects for Making Adorable Pups” by Saori Yamazaki (Potter Craft, 2016), “Let’s Go Camping! Crochet Your Own Adventure” by Kate Bruning (Martingale, 2016) and “Huggable Amigurumi: 18 Cute and Cuddly Animal Softies” by Shannen Nicole Chua (Martingale, 2016).

Yet there’s always another side to the story. In this case, it’s going large.

Chan likes to crochet small dolls, but super-sizes food. She crocheted a pink doughnut floor pouf (with sprinkles on top), a cherry pie seat cushion and a giant banana split sofa pillow for “Twinkie Chan’s Crocheted Abode a la Mode: 20 Yummy Crochet Projects for your Home” (Quarto Publishing Group, 2016).

Chan says her food-themed projects provide a home with a sense of wonder. “It makes you feel little when the item is big.”

Her whimsical projects combine nostalgia for toy food with chunky yarn and rainbow colors. “It’s sort of a fantastical quality,” Chan explains. “It’s not real life any more. You’re in a magical world.”