26 Oct 2019
Grab a hook, some balls of yarn and get ready to be transported into a wonderful world of adorable amigurumi characters. Angela Sara West talks with Ilaria Caliri and her crafty unique creations.
Looking to embark on an adventure into an imaginative land of cute creatures, each with their own fun story?
With absolute attention to detail, Italian crochet designer, amigurumi maker and blogger, Ilaria Caliri, has designed over 100 incredible crochet patterns for Italian and international magazines, her blog and her amazing amigurumi books.
How long have you been crafting?
Since I was a child. I’ve always loved any kind of creative work and my mother and grandmother taught me how to crochet, knit, sew and embroider when I was around six years-old.
When did you discover your passion for amigurumi?
I re-found my love for crochet in my early 20s, and when my cousin told me about amigurumi, within minutes I’d found an old crochet hook and leftover yarn for crocheting my first amigurumi creation. As soon as I learned how to create three-dimensional shapes with yarn, I started to translate my sketches into amigurumi characters - the first of a long series of them!
Your business name, Airali Design, is your name spelled backwards?
Yes, I have a propensity to do and see things upside down! I used to spell words backwards when I was young, just for fun, and my name was easy to pronounce – in Italian, at least! In my 20s, I joined a local marketplace with a craft friend and needed a name. I had to make a quick decision and Airali was my first thought - my perfect upside-down world!
So, when did you start Airali Design?
My lifelong interest in crochet and knitting, combined with a passion for design, led me to start my first blog, Where is the Wonderland? besenseless.blogspot.com, in 2010. In April 2016, my passion became a real job, so my blog become a website called by my nickname, which is also the name of my brand: airalidesign.com. Regardless of the name change, the substance is the same - I work with yarns and crochet hooks.
You’ve said that you like “to draw weird toys like a child and sit on your sofa with a crochet hook like a granny!”
Happiness can be made from playing with yarn and drawing in a sketchbook. That doesn’t sound like everyone’s dream, but trust me, I could live on that – and chocolate!
And you still use your mum’s trusty crochet hook, despite its worn-out head?
That’s right - it’s a 2mm crochet hook with a very worn-out head and it’s over 30 years old. It looks like a very small hook, but allows me to easily insert the hook through the crochet work, avoiding wrist fatigue. This is my personal preference and, of course, it doesn’t work for everyone!
Which yarns do you like to use?
The yarns differ - the only common feature is the quality. Knitting and crocheting are time-consuming activities, and it doesn’t seem worthwhile to use materials that could wear out more easily. Each type of yarn is suitable for a particular project. For example, if I think of a small amigurumi creation to be used as a collection among books in the library, I’ll choose cotton yarn (like DMC Natura Just Cotton or Silke by Arvier Estate). If making a soft teddy bear for a child’s bedroom, I’ll use wool (such as merino rather than alpaca, which tends to be hairy). For each pattern, there’s a suitable yarn, although personal taste always plays a significant role in the yarn choice.
You don’t produce any waste crocheting - all the leftover yarn can be used in small projects or kept for samples. I try not to use acrylic yarns (unless I have to do it for commissions), preferring organic cotton and wool.
Tell me about your love of collecting yarn and how you like to get ‘hands on’ and very touchyfeely with the different textures
I was a yarn hoarder, and used to buy anything I found new, eye-catching, in a nice colour, of interesting manufacture, and so on. I had to stop when I ran out of space, and now I use that yarn when friends ask to start a project but have no idea what to do! I’m trying to be a good girl who only buys what she needs, with some - but not major - exceptions.
What inspires you to dream up new amigurumi personalities?
Inspiration is everywhere! Nature, graphic patterns and yarns are my inexhaustible source of inspiration.
Do any other crafters inspire you?
Instagram makes that very easy! It’s so inspiring to look at other designers’ projects and paths. Sometimes, this can create nice relationships and partnerships. I’ve teamed up with amigurumi designer, Irina Strange (@IreneStrange) for a couple of projects over the past few years and we have a few new crochet events together lined up. I’m currently running an Halloween-themed MCAL (Mystery Crochet Along) with Irene, called Amigurumi School of Magic. After that, we’re revealing our second Amigurumi Advent, in December, which is even more a Mystery!
What’s your design process?
Everything starts with a rough draw - doodling with pens and pencils in search of a cute character and interesting shapes is always the first step. Then it’s crochet time! A series of single crochet stitches to recreate the shapes I designed and imagined. The next step is from analogical to digital! I can’t deliver my patterns without using at least three types of software (for photos, graphic elements/ illustrations and layout).
You’re well-known for dreaming up imaginative amigurumi personalities, such as Super Sausage the Superhero Dachshund Dog, Sartù the Lemur from Madagascar, Steno the Stilt Walker Mouse, Brando the Sloth and Caterino the Sailor Walrus, each with their own story
Yes, there is an amigurumi dachshund with a cape that saves puppies who are in danger - dachshunds CAN fly! Apparently, some of them have some sort of super power… Go Super Sausage!! Sartù the Lemur is a shy guy with sparkling eyes that always sees positivity around him. Steno the Stilt Walker mouse is fond of jokes. He scares the elephants, startles the hippos, messes up the lion’s mane and steals the visitor’s popcorn! With his small stilts, he hops covertly and unseen past the grandstand, while with the tip of his tail, he flicks the crispy popcorn out of the boxes unnoticed! Brando the Sloth is living his best life cuddled up in his crochet hammock. Do not disturb him! Caterino the Sailor Walrus has seen the world, and you can find him with a sombrero on a Mexican beach, arguing with a penguin in Galapagos Islands or laughing with a seagull in New Zealand.
Crafters can discover my amigurumi characters’ fun stories and make them using the instructions and step-by- step photos available in my PDF crochet patterns.
Tell me about your latest designs, Prince Perry the Frog and Roly the Hedgehog?
Prince Perry would be better staying a frog than becoming a prince, but you CAN try to kiss him! He’s such a charming character. I’ve dreamed of making an amigurumi hedgehog for years, but it was never the right time/yarn/idea. Finally, Roly the Hedgehog was born! He has the cutest little muzzle – I must admit they are even cuter in real life – and his quills can be made using two different techniques. Because this is not about making a new collectable toy, it’s an enjoyable craft project, and it’s nice to customise our make using different stitches and yarn to create a unique piece.
You recently returned to your native Italy. Has your move back to your roots inspired you?
After a few years in London, I’m back in Italy again, in a new home and studio where I’m going to grow my yarn stash. This time, I’ve been clever - I bought a bed with storage underneath!
And it’s not just characters you come up with - what else do you enjoy making?
I mainly draw quirky characters and then transform them into crochet toys, but I also design garments, accessories and home décor, such as baskets, bags, hats, scarves, sweaters. I like to play with stitches and texture and make crochet casual and wearable!
So, your PDF patterns are available on Etsy and lovecrafts.com, and you also create crochet garments designs for your Ravelry shop. Anywhere else?
Those are the main marketplaces. I’m also planning to make them available directly on my website, but it’s a medium-term project.
You recently designed a limited-edition amigurumi kit collection for the new yarn shop, Beautiful Knitters, in central London. Tell me a little about your collaboration with the store?
Beautiful Knitters opened in August 2019, and the owner is my lovely friend, Karin. She did know I had those kits up my sleeves; I was just waiting for a good occasion to put everything together. So, when she asked, I was happy to make the first exclusive amigurumi kits collection by Airali Design for her. You can find them in the London shop in Pimlico and online at www.beautifulknitters.co.uk
How does it feel to now have your work showcased in a bricks and mortar store, as well as online? And will you be offering any events or workshops at the store?
It’s exciting! Maybe next year, we haven’t planned anything yet.
Tell me a little about your two amigurumi books, ‘Amigurumi Winter Wonderland’ and ‘Amigurumi Globetrotters’, published by Meteoor BVBA, and the Zoomigurumi books, published by Amigurumipatterns.net.
It’s nice to flip through the pages of a book, and it’s a bonus you can’t get from a PDF pattern/ebook. From the author’s point of view, I can concentrate more on the collection and less on the production and editing, which can be nice between periods of self-published PDF patterns.
‘Amigurumi Winter Wonderland’ was my first, and unexpected, book. I focused on beginners’ crochet projects and cute characters. With my second book, ‘Amigurumi Globetrotters’, there are different techniques, a lot of details and interesting shapes for brave beginners or experienced crocheters. The Zoomigurumi book series is the best amigurumi patterns collections from ten to 15 different authors. It’s a joy to be part of that “family”. Volume nine will be out at the beginning of next year, so look out for that! My new amigurumi book will be out this October. It’s called ‘Crochet Puppies’ and will only be available for the US market.
Your top tips for amigurumi beginners / those looking to take their amigurumi skills to the next level?
Trying and trying again is the only way to understand what works comfortably for you, choosing how to hold the crochet hook (as a pencil or knife) and the preferred hook material and shape (metal, with soft or rigid plastic handle, wooden, ergonomic). Taking your time with all those small details can make all the difference. Neat stitches and nice colour choices are also really important. Always use a tapestry needle (or any needle with a blunt point) to embroider the details. It slides between the stitches!
Which of your patterns, such as Pedro the Donkey, are ideal challenges for amigurumi masters?
My ‘Amigurumi Globetrotters’ book has a lot of great patterns for experienced crocheters, or those who like to elevate their amigurumi skills. Pedro the Donkey is only available as PDF pattern. Like all digital patterns, it’s packed with step-by-step images which can help a beginner to make it!
Your website offers free patterns in Italian and English (US crochet terms). What are the differences between US and UK crochet terminology and abbreviations?
Unfortunately, for some reason, they are different. For some of us, it’s really tough, and the issue gets more complicated because the names of the stitches are pretty much the same, but they refer to different stitches. The first approach may cause some dizziness, but with the helpful list of abbreviations etc on my website to hand, everything will go smoothly!
You have an impressive 36k followers on Instagram. How do you use the power of social media to promote your work?
I can’t believe 36,000 people pushed that button and decided to follow my crochet adventures - it’s exciting! I’m not a very clever marketing strategist, I must admit. I understand the power of this, but I only use it to keep in touch with customers, makers and colleagues, and to share what I’m up to in a fun and quick way!
You enjoy interacting with your community and other designers and encourage crafters to share photos of their creations using your patterns on Instagram, using the tag #AIRALIDESIGN
I love it when they are proud of their work! I know how much care and time there is behind a tiny crochet creature, and supporting their passion is a great pleasure.