Last year, my dear friend Jennifer from Squirrel Picnic asked me if I would test a pattern for a crochet book she was working on. I was so excited to hear that she was working on a book and I happily agreed!
Jennifer’s patterns are super clear and easy to follow. I tested the pattern for a seed packet phone case and I remember having this sense of adventure when starting out – the flower design used all kinds of different stitches and at the end of each round I found myself eagerly looking at the next step thinking, “Oooh I wonder what’s next!!” There’s also a pattern for an award medal with two sizes: one for me and one for a squirrel friend. So of course I had to make my own squirrel (Zackary the grey) and again, the pattern was so enjoyable and fun to make.
But I haven’t even talked about the story! Yes, there is a story and it’s the cutest, funniest, squirreliest story ever. I was literally giggling and grinning as I read each page and admired every photo. I could not get over the cuteness and when I showed Jason he couldn’t get over the cuteness – “OH MY GOD, look!!!” he squealed and pointed at Podge standing in her garden. Yep, that one did it for me too.
Looking through the rest of the patterns I can see that Jennifer put so much work and effort into this book. If you’d like to learn more about the book and the characters check out the interview with Jennifer below and if you’d like to purchase the book you can find it here on Amazon.
Interview with Jennifer Olivarez, author of The Big Acorn Race
How did you come up with the name Squirrel Picnic?
One of the most important things to consider when starting a blog is the name, or at least that’s what I’ve been told. So when I set out to start a blog back in 2012, I took a day off of work to set it up. It took me all day to think of the name. Every name I thought of had already been taken. I was pacing my living room when a squirrel jumped down onto the balcony. We treat the squirrels in our neighborhood like pets — we feed them almonds and give them names. I’ve always wanted to put a tiny picnic table out on the balcony with some almonds on it to see if they would sit down to eat a proper picnic. When that squirrel hopped down on the balcony, it struck me — Squirrel Picnic!
How did the characters of Hodge and Podge come about? Are they modeled after people you know?
When I first started the blog, I planned on covering lots of different crafts, from crochet to jewelry making. I did tutorials on needle felting and we went on a field trip to a stained glass studio. It was a real hodge-podge! When I decided to create some mascots for the blog, it seemed only appropriate that they be named Hodge and Podge.
Hodge and Podge are modeled after two of my childhood friends.
What inspired you to write this book?
I’ve always enjoyed storytelling. Since Squirrel Picnic began I have been putting together webcomics for the blog featuring the squirrels and their friends the fatimals. One of my favorite things to do is to come up with new adventures for them all. Often I’ll create a pattern to crochet one of the items featured in the comic, and I’ll share it with the readers of my blog. It dawned on me that it would be really fun to write a story for the squirrels that they would enact in an entirely crocheted world and then create a whole series of patterns around those crocheted items.
What makes this book unique?
Building a crochet pattern book around a story is a relatively new concept as far as I know, though I’m not the only one to do it. Unlike some of the other books of this nature that I have seen, the patterns in The Big Acorn Race allow you to make the characters and props so that the story doesn’t have to end. You can invent your own story with your version of Hodge, Podge, Eric, or a squirrel of your own. The sky is the limit to the adventures you can take them on.
What was your favorite pattern to design for this book?
The Tall ‘n’ Fast Flower Pillow was my favorite to design. It was a complicated pattern for me, so I took every Monday off during the month of June 2015 in order to focus on the math and work out the details. As complicated as it was, I really enjoyed this work, which is a lot like solving a puzzle to me. I had a marathon of the TV show 30 Rock on in the background while I worked and I remember laughing the whole time. I like to think that the playfulness of that show made its way into my pattern.
Everything in this book is crocheted! How long did it take you to create everything and why did you choose to do this?
I was putting away all the props after photographing the story section when I was struck by the amount of effort that went into crocheting all these things! I added it up and discovered that between March and November I had spent roughly 950 hours creating the backgrounds, scenery, props, and characters for the story! As much work as it was, it was also a real joy. It’s been my focus with Squirrel Picnic from the very start to create a world with my crochet. By crocheting every detail of this story, I hope that readers will feel that they have entered a fuzzy, comfy, colorful little world.
You are a big fan of dioramas. How has that influenced your work?
Yes, I really love how dioramas draw the viewer in. To me, the best dioramas have an exaggerated sense of depth created by multiple layers from foreground to background, which draw the viewer’s eyes farther and farther back into the piece. It’s like entering into another world. I particularly admire dioramas that are loaded with tons of detail. The more detail the better! I love getting lost in all the layers of detail. It makes you feel like you have entered another world and have been invited to stay there for a while. I’ve tried to capture that in my own work by populating the world of Squirrel Picnic with lots of crochet details.
How did you become involved with crochet?
My mother taught me how to knit and crochet when I was really young, but it never really stuck. Then when I first moved to Colorado in my early twenties, she came out to visit me. While she was here during that visit, she taught me to crochet granny squares. I loved it so much that for several years everyone I knew got a granny square afghan for Christmas and birthdays! Then in 2009, I picked up an amigurumi book at the library and was instantly enthralled at the idea that crochet could create these tiny, adorable creatures. Once I got the hang of crocheting in the round, I couldn’t stop. By 2012 I had created Squirrel Picnic and all the amigurumi friends that live there.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I am inspired by places more than anything else. I love being outside in nature and Colorado is perfect for that. But I also love to travel and study other cultures. I find anime and Japanese culture particularly inspiring, which is fitting I suppose since amigurumi originated in Japan.
Describe your process for designing crochet patterns.
Each of my patterns starts with an image which I pour over in my mind until I can see it clearly and can sketch it out. The next step is to make sure that it hasn’t been done before or that I can approach it in a unique way. The hardest part is figuring out how to translate the image into crochet, which often involves some trial and error, testing out different techniques, stitches, and construction until it works. Throughout the entire process I take tons and tons of notes and photos, always keeping in mind the final pattern. I pride myself on creating patterns that are easy to read and follow. I love including photo tutorials, videos, and diagrams with my online patterns because I want my fellow crocheters to have a good time working on my projects.
What is the biggest thing that people don’t know about amigurumi, that they need to know?
Amigurumi isn’t just for kids. Adults can make amis for themselves and their friends. Who doesn’t love a cute little animal or inanimate object with a smiley face. I’ve seen them on the desks of adults in several industries and on the dashboards of people’s cars. Everyone can love amigurumi. I hope they take over the world.
What one tip would you give to a beginning crocheter embarking on an amigurumi project?
Use a stitch marker to mark your rounds and count your stitches often. Most amigurumi are created in unjoined rounds, so placing a piece of yarn (often called waste yarn) before the first stitch in a round is essential to keeping track of which round you are working on. You can move the marker up each round to keep track as you go. At the end of each round that involves increases or decreases, I often count the stitches to make sure that I have the same number as the pattern before continuing on to the next round.
But my biggest piece of advice is, don’t worry too much about making mistakes. I make mistakes all the time when I’m crocheting. It’s how I learn. And sometimes I fix them, but other times I just shrug my shoulders and say, “That’s not a mistake. It’s my own personal design element.” It’s okay to make mistakes.
What do your plans for future projects include?
I really enjoyed making the larger props for the book and it has inspired me to work on more sculptural crochet pieces. As for Squirrel Picnic, I have several new comics and patterns for new characters in the works. I’m also planning a Squirrel Picnic Summer Camp that will feature new video tutorials for basic and intermediate crochet stitches and techniques over the course of four weeks. I’ll offer more details on this project in the coming months.