Lee Mei Li’s passion for amigurumi led her to design and illustrate two books on the crocheted stuff dolls

Each doll has a distinct personality, with a story to tell and a style of his/her own by way of clothes and accessories.

Mei: People want to make things for themselves or as gifts, and the idea is to give them the patterns so they can handcraft the dolls (Photo: Patrick Goh/ The Edge Malaysia)

Toying with dolls has led Lee Mei Li into a world where she “brings them to life” with yarn and crochet hooks. Each doll has a distinct personality, with a story to tell and a style of his/her own by way of clothes and accessories. Meet Mei’s Amigurumi People, 16 characters in a book that adds adorable to cute and which you can create for yourself, following instructions by the artist.

Amigurumi, Japanese for crocheted or knitted stuffed dolls, requires practice, patience and imagination. Mei had no inkling of this in 2011, when she happened to pick up a book about making little cats on sale at MPH bookstore. With her work schedule more stable after switching from copywriting to journalism, she was looking for something to dabble in as a hobby.

Her mother immediately said not to get the book because “you’re not going to do it”. But her husband, who was also there, suggested she just try. She did, and failed. “I didn’t know what the abbreviated instructions were about.” She had bought some tools by then, and quietly put the lot away.

Hubby stepped in again, this time with some videos he had found on YouTube. “I watched a video and realised it was doable. So I did a basic pattern in tiny a cylindrical shape.”


Each doll has a distinct personality, with a story to tell and a style of his/her own by way of clothes and accessories (Photo: Patrick Goh/ The Edge Malaysia)

Encouraged, Mei googled amigurumi and found people who shared patterns online. Interested in cartoons and characters from Studio Ghibli, she sourced more and began making her own dolls, using yarn from old haberdashery shops in Sea Park, Petaling Jaya, and old-fashioned metal hooks.

Also keen on photography, she decided to document and share what she was doing. After each doll was done, she would take pictures of it, create a story and post both on her blog (amiguruMEI).

From YouTube, she learnt to read patterns and instructions and was soon writing her own. That led to design and she came up with a doll of the Sanrio character Tuxedosam, a clumsy personable penguin that can speak, loves to eat and has a collection of 365 bow ties!

It was very popular and led people to her blog, the same way American publisher Quirk Books “discovered” her and suggested that she do the Hello Kitty Crochet book in conjunction with the little girl’s — she is not a cat — 40th birthday in 2014. Mei took time off from work and came up with exclusive patterns for 24 characters selected from a list of creations by Sanrio.

“People want to make things for themselves or as gifts, and the idea is to give them the patterns so they can handcraft the dolls,” Mei says, explaining the appeal of 20cm creations.


'Amigurumi People: 16 Wonderful Characters to Crochet' (Photo:Tuva Publishing)

In 2016, she gave birth to twins and motherhood put a stop to crochet. When her boys were eight months old, she sleep-trained them, tucking them in at nine. “Suddenly I had my life back!” She returned to crochet and was active on Instagram again.

A UK magazine then approached her to design patterns for it, which she did because they were nice and it was good to see her work in print. Then Mei started an account on Etsy, where people can sell anything handmade. She made patterns on PDF, placed them on the platform, and they sold well: Customers bought them to make their own dolls.

“I did it for fun but the important thing was I got to know a lot of nice people from around the world. I never met them but we would do collaborations on all sorts of things” to grow their customer base.

Covid-19 did not put the brakes on her creative activities. In fact, more people were drawn to the craft during the lockdowns, she notes. During that time, a French company contacted Mei to design a DIY crochet kit focused on small animals. Subsequently, Turkish publisher Tuva Publishing approached her to design and illustrate Amigurumi People: 16 Wonderful Characters to Crochet, launched last year.

From Ollie the Firefighter to Megan the Exchange Student to Austin the Astronaut, each has a story. Family — “my biggest love”, says Mei, now a mother of three — has a special place between the pages, where readers can meet and create their own Grandpa & Grandma, Best Friends, Mommy & Twins, and Samantha the Big Sister.



A post shared by Mei メイ (@amigurumei)


If these models of kawaii charm could talk, readers would hear how Sleepy-Time Sophie never resists bedtime, why Austin has to give up his favourite things — long showers, ice cream and cycling into the sunset — and which animal zookeeper Zara has a soft spot for. BFFs Elise and Isobel spell trouble — the former is quiet and calm and the latter, energetic and wiggly — while twins Josh and Jake are a handful. Ask mum.

Not forgetting how she was ignorant about crochet materials and terminology in the early years, Mei packs the book with colourful illustrations and text that should be handy for the novice. After they have grasped the basics following step-by-step instructions, users can adapt designs and move on to special crochet and embroidery stitches.

There are pages on the feel and effect of different types of yarn, and which hooks work better. A bigger hook and thicker yarn make a larger doll. Toy stuffing, beat to jazz up an outfit, threads for fine facial features, and how to use safety eyes or add a layer of clothing for your doll are welcome pointers.

Clearly adept now, Mei has not stopped learning. When it comes to sharing her amigurumi journey, “one photo won’t do it anymore now; they need videos”. She posts one Instagram reel a day to promote her craft, fanned by personal interest, says the graduate in media studies and filmmaking.

A hobby that gives you time to yourself is important, she thinks. Getting the chance to hone a new skill from one that has changed her life is a surprise. Now, whenever her boys ask her to make their favourite characters, she happily gets down to it. After all, who knows better the pull of whimsical whatnots and pretty things?


This article first appeared on May 6, 2024 in The Edge Malaysia.

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