The Big Acorn Race

A Squirrel Picnic Story with Crochet Patterns and Projects


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Interview with the Author

Ever wonder how Squirrel Picnic got its start, who the characters Hodge and Podge were inspired by, or how I go about designing crochet patterns? Read on for the full scoop!

How did you come up with the name Squirrel Picnic?

Podge from The Big Acorn Race by Jennifer OlivarezOne 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 whip up 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?  

Big Acorn Race PropsI 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. The best dioramas have an exaggerated sense of depth created by multiple layers from background to foreground, 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. These dioramas are captivating, inviting you 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.

Hodge from The Big Acorn Race by Jennifer OlivarezDescribe 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 is 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.

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. 

When will The Big Acorn Race be available and where can we get a copy?

The Big Acorn Race will be available through Amazon.com starting March 10, 2016. I hope you enjoy the book!


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Big Acorn Race Update: Nearing the Finish Line

I've found wearing one of the #1 Award Medals while I proofread gives me instant motivation! Patterns for #1 Award Medals for you and your squirrel friend are included in the book.

I’ve found wearing one of the #1 Award Medals while I proofread gives me instant motivation! Patterns for #1 Award Medals for you and your squirrel friend are included in the book.

I can almost see the finish line from here, and after a year in the making, it is really hard to believe that it isn’t a mirage! There are just a few more branches to climb, and this little squirrel book will be ready to hop out into the world.

My designer has been diligently working on the graphics and layout. She’s even scheduled a photoshoot with a professional product photographer to take some final photographs later this month.

Meanwhile I’ve been busy proofreading the first few drafts. You’d think this would be a piece of cake for me, since I’ve been working professionally as a proofreader for almost a decade. However, this was probably the most difficult part of the process so far. It might be because I am too close to the project, so I have enlisted the help of some friends I used to work with at the greeting card company. It will be really nice to have their talents and fresh eyes to look over the manuscript.

Proofreading the book takes a lot of patience, but I know it will pay off. I can’t wait to see the book in print and be proud of all the hard work that went into it.

I’ve also booked a venue for the launch party – well, it’s really more of a thank-you afternoon tea for all the people who have helped to make this book possible. It will be April 16 at the enchanting and whimsical Beatrice & Woodsley in Denver. I wish I could invite you all because with your support and encouragement you each have also played a hand in making this dream come true. I will be sure to take plenty of pictures and share them here with you!

It’s all looking very spectacular. These final stages continually call me to reflect on what it has taken to get here. When I look through the book, I am amazed at how much information I have been able to include. I think you will be very pleased. Just to give you a taste of what you can expect to find in The Big Acorn Race, here is the final Table of Contents.

As we get ever closer to crossing that finish line, I’ll have plenty more behind-the-scenes stories and photos to share with you. Join me next time when I’ll share images from our final big photoshoot, accolades from some rather prestigious reviewers, and information on how you can win a free copy of the book during The Big Acorn Race giveaway in March.


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Big Acorn Race Update: Roadblocks and Speed Bumps

As I write the title for this edition of the book update, “Roadblocks and Speed Bumps,” I find myself thinking about some bad luck I’ve come upon lately, and how I hope that by writing about it I’m reversing a jinx. What I’m talking about is the superstition that catastrophe comes in threes. You see, I’ve encountered a roadblock and a speed bump so far on my journey toward publishing The Big Acorn Race, but I’m hoping that doesn’t mean that a third obstacle — perhaps in the form of a speed trap, giant wall, washed out bridge, or cow crossing — is waiting ahead of me. Maybe if I think about it hard enough I will find that I’ve already encountered more than two impediments in recent months and the curse will be lifted!

thanksgiving-wallpaper-with-sentiment-from-squirrel-picnic-desktop-1366-x-768

Click on the image to visit the picnic and grab a free wallpaper for your computer or phone.

(1) Two Sundays ago I was supposed to wrap up all of the props for the story portion of The Big Acorn Race. Before I got started, I went over to the grocery store to get a few things for Thanksgiving and pick up some coffee. I returned to my car to find that my tire had been slashed! Just the day before I had given out a free wallpaper that said “Give thanks for every little thing,” and my first thought after seeing my tire was “Is this what I get for spreading some joy?” I’m not very proud that I had that thought. But I am pleased that my second thought was “It is because I know there is goodness in this world that I’m not going to let this one negative experience color my world black.” I called my husband and he came right over to help me. And then I was reminded to be thankful that I have such a thoughtful and reliable husband, a cup of coffee to keep me warm while I waited, and a car that works pretty well otherwise. When you have gratitude for the good things in your life, no one can steal your joy.

(2) This past weekend, I was plowing ahead, editing the photos for the book with the help of my dear friend, Ranee, who is a top-notch graphic designer. She helped make Hodge, Podge, and Eric look their absolute best by working on their tails in Photoshop until they were fabulous! On Sunday morning (must be my bad-luck time), the fan in my computer gave up the ghost and I had to very quickly transfer about a quarter of my files to an external hard-drive before the computer died completely. I spent the rest of the day trying to find a good deal on a computer, purchasing said computer, and installing everything I’d need to get back in the game. It was a bit hectic and I had to spend money I don’t really have, but in the end I have a better computer now and it felt really good to say, “I’m not going to let a little setback stop me! I will finish this book.” I felt unstoppable.

In case you haven’t gathered, I’m more than a little bit superstitious. There’s a part of me though that knows it’s just all in my head. I believe that if you think that bad news must come in threes, then you better come up with a third thing so that all the bad news is over and done with. In this case, there really isn’t a bona-fide third thing… but just for the sake of breaking the spell, I can think of one last obstacle.

The Big Acorn Race by Jennifer Olivarez

These days, I’m feeling just like Podge as she nears the finish line in The Big Acorn Race. I’m in it with all my heart!

(3) An old injury has resurfaced, sending me back into physical therapy every week for the next few months. This just takes a lot of time away from work I could be doing on the book. And if I imagine myself walking down the road toward getting this book published, I can envision myself with a bit of a limp. But like I said before, I’m unstoppable, so even if I have to drag myself across the finish line, I will publish this book!

Can you hear the bells chiming? I think the spell has been lifted!

Whenever anything bad happens in life, it’s so important to be able to take something positive away from the experience. I believe this is what gives us strength. So after acknowledging that some bad stuff has happened in recent months, I find myself asking, “What have I learned from all this?”

I have learned that difficulty is inevitable. You can be sure that the more you want something, the more obstacles will be laid in your path toward achieving it. It’s like the universe has to test your resilience and ask, “How badly do you really want this?” And your response to the universe has to be perseverance. In any pursuit, especially those that require your wholehearted commitment and passion, you will encounter opposition; you will have to find a way over, around, or through the barricades, and keep the hope that your goal is on the other side.

You will question yourself, perhaps numerous times, and wonder if it really is worth all the hassle. You will want to quit. If you listen to your heart, you will know if you are ready for the challenge. If your heart is in it, it won’t let you give up, no matter what.

Great achievements in your life require great resolution in the face of difficulty. But for everything you encounter, it’s important to remember that it’s these same challenges that make the road worthwhile. If it were easy, the achievement wouldn’t be nearly as sweet. And the trials certainly make the people who believe in you all the more precious.

So to all of you who have been cheering me on every step of the way, you’ll be happy to know that I’ve entered the final stretch. And I don’t think I would be able to say that if it weren’t for your encouragement. Thank you, thank you, to every last one of you for all your support.


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Big Acorn Race Update: Podge’s Garden

Podge in her gardenI have had so much fun crocheting everything for Podge’s garden over the last few months. This particular project stretched my crochet skills to the max. Every detail, from the pumpkins to the strawberries, was done freeform, without a pattern. I just made it all up as I went along. Having just finished creating the patterns for the book, this was actually a welcome change. I really enjoyed the playfulness and freedom of winging it and not having to worry about keeping track of a pattern. Although, I did jot down notes for each plant in case anyone is interested in crocheting a garden of their own. Let me know if you’d like to see this and I’ll work on a pdf download to release after the book early next year.

My practice of miniature crochet last year really came in handy, as each one of the plants in Podge’s garden is pretty tiny. I used mostly sock-weight yarn and a size B-1 hook or smaller. Here are the yarns I used:

Soil: Plymouth Merino Superwash DK in Brown
Pumpkins and Carrots: Lion Brand Bonbons Beach Collection Orange, and Plymouth Merino Superwash DK in Peapod
Strawberries: Lion Brand Bonbons Beach Collection Red, White, and Yellow, and Knit Picks Wool of the Andes Sport in Grass
Lettuce: Knit Picks Stroll Fingering in Peapod
Cornstalks: Lion Brand Bonbons Beach Collection Yellow, Lion Brand Bonbons Nature Collection Green, and Knit Picks Wool of the Andes Sport in Grass
Sunflowers: Lion Brand Bonbons Beach Collection Yellow, Lion Brand Bonbons Nature Collection Brown, and Knit Picks Stroll Fingering in Peapod
Tall ‘n’ Fast Flowers: Patons Grace in Sunkissed, Orchid, Lemon Lime, Lotus, Aquifer, and Snow, and Plymouth Merino Superwash DK in Greenlake
Watering Can: Lion Brand Bonbons Beach Collection Turquoise

Now that we have those details out of the way, Podge would like to show you around her garden… Continue reading


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See How Podge’s Flowers Grow!

Tall n Fast Flower Cycle by Jennifer OlivarezIn the Big Acorn Race, three little squirrels named Hodge, Podge, and Eric compete to see who can get an acorn out of a tree first, without climbing the tree. Each has to come up with a unique and creative way to get the job done. Of all the tricks they try, my favorite solution has to be Podge’s. It’s clever and simple. She grabs her packet of Tall ‘n’ Fast seeds, plants one in a pot full of soil, and sits back to watch her flower grow.

This past weekend has been spent crocheting Podge’s flower pot and the many stages of growth of a Tall ‘n’ Fast flower. First I crocheted 5 yellow flower pots and 5 brown circles that would become the dirt. Then I shaped 12-gauge wire to form the base (inside each  flower pot) and stem. I used cardboard circles inside the pots to add stability. After assembling the first two pots and adding a little sprout to the second one, it was time to crochet the flowers. First I crocheted the blossom which was a lot of fun. I had no plan in mind when I first set out to crochet it. It just sort of took shape as it went — magical! Then I crocheted the flowers themselves in 3 different sizes using the patterns in the book. The smaller flower is crocheted using the motif pattern for the Seed Packet Phone Case. The larger flowers are made using the actual Tall ‘n’ Fast Flower motif pattern. I haven’t assembled the final flower that Podge uses to reach the acorn yet. You’ll just have to wait for the book to see for yourself.

In the meantime, enjoy this gif I made out of all the flowers and pots that I crocheted this weekend. My, Podge, how your flowers grow!

Podge_s_Tall_N_Fast_Flower

 


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Big Acorn Race Update: Tall ‘n’ Fast Flowers

The past six weeks have been all about flowers – well, one flower in particular. The Tall ‘n’ Fast Flower is a very special one that is native to Squirrel Picnic. In “The Big Acorn Race” story, Podge has to grow a flower, fast. Luckily she has a packet of seeds that will do the trick. Sure enough, her Tall ‘n’ Fast Flower grows both tall and fast. You’ll have to excuse my cryptic description there – I just don’t want to spoil the story.What I can tell you is that just like many of the items in the story, there will be patterns to make your own Tall ‘n’ Fast Flowers. This month I designed a Tall ‘n’ Fast Flower barrette, wall hanging, and 14” round pillow. I even designed a seed packet phone case! So far these are my favorite patterns from the book. I hope you enjoy these photos of them…

Tall n Fast Flower RGB IMG_8429 Continue reading