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There is one word for this level of cuteness: amigurumi. It’s Japanese for “adorable crochet animal”. Mignon is big in Japan. It’s also a hit in a local high school class.

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Phillip Ha is a math teacher at Bishop McNally. In his spare time, he crochet – some would say obsessively – a wide variety of little woodland creatures and Pokémon, as well as pretty much anything that has a cute face and overload potential. Ha’s interest in wool crafts began in high school when, on a whim, he began to knit. But as soon as he realized that fluff was a bigger place in his heart than sweaters, he turned to crochet. (Small stuffed animals can be knitted with double-pointed needles, but they are much easier to create with a crochet hook.)

Calculus and craftsmanship may not seem like an obvious match at first glance, but Ha says needlework “suits (his) mathematical brain perfectly.” “There’s a lot to count and understand,” he says, “and I’m using math skills to create new patterns. Several of his original designs will soon be available in a self-published book to be released this fall.

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High school math teacher Phillip Ha crochet adorable animals in his spare time. Photo by Julya Hajnoczky /Swerving

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Meanwhile, the dozens of handmade friends featured in Ha’s class are cuddly proof that doing well in Grade 10 algebra is worth it. Plus, “They show kids my personality, and they like it, they can see I’m not just a boring old math teacher.” (Obviously, the likelihood of such a thought crossing the minds of Ha students is statistically insignificant.)

Every few months since last fall, Ha shares the value of two courses of her crafty wisdom at the Stash Needle Art Lounge in Inglewood: Amigurumi Basics (where participants bring their own chubby little owl) and Amigurumi Bunnies (a course that promises to “melt your heart and bend your mind”). Your next chance to acquire Ha’s hobby will come in September, giving you plenty of time to transform into a one-person toy factory by Christmas.

But the benefits of learning amigurumi don’t end there: according to a recent New York Times article, several studies have shown that crochet (like knitting) may be effective in helping people quit smoking, lose weight, reduce anxiety and blood pressure, and reduce the risk of memory loss age-related. Not to mention its power to improve the math skills of adults and children. So why settle for being cute when you can also be healthy and smart?

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