Welcome To The Knitty Gritty World Of A Fiber Toy Artist

By Heather Schroering
Chicago Tribune.

Imagine a world where nearly everything has eyes and is made of wool. For some, this could be frightening, but for Anna Hrachovec, this is Mochimochi Land, a world where her cute and squishy knitted toys, including gnomes battling snowmen, whimsical bathtubs and narwhals with faces, all exist.

Hrachovec (pronounced her-ROCK-uh-vick) considers herself more of a toy designer than a crafter. But her knitted creations, ranging from the teeny tiny to the huge and huggable, have been gaining attention since she launched her website,, in 2007.

“I like that characters are approachable in a visceral way,” she says of character design. “I think for a lot of us, characters help make the world be a friendlier, better place to be in.”

Although Hrachovec occasionally sells her toys, she loves designing and focuses most of her time writing patterns and creating kits that she sells to yarn stores. Her portfolio includes four pattern books, with a fifth due out in June 2015, and animation work with Nickelodeon; her work has appeared internationally in Germany, Japan, South Korea and Denmark.

She got her start in New York City, working as a junior creative agent for an illustration agency and gallery. Through sites like Flickr and, more knitters began discovering her work and seeking patterns. She quit her job in 2011 to explore knitting full time.

Hrachovec learned to knit in Japan, where, at 18, she first made a purple scarf, which she describes as “the tackiest thing ever.”

Now 33, the entrepreneur works full time out of her home in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood, where she lives with her husband, John Teti, their two cats, Soupy and Nipsey, and a whole lot of Mochimochi creatures. Here is an edited transcript of the conversation.

Q: How did you come up with the name Mochimochi?

A: Mochi (a Japanese rice cake) is the sticky rice part. It was one of my favorite things in Japan, and the word “mochimochi” is like an onomatopoeia that means sticky and squishy. I had a fun association with squishy toys.

Q: How did you get from ugly scarf to adorable toy?

A: I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without (my mother-in-law). … She’s a crafting goddess, and she encouraged me to learn all kinds of different techniques. She really got me into knitting in a really big way.
My very first toys were actually based on the logo for the (New York agency where she worked). It was the debut of the gallery, and I made these little creatures. The logo itself looks kind of like a blob dripping paint, and it looked like a creature to me. It was really when I made the first one and embroidered some eyes onto it and it was looking back at me, that I was like, “I have to do lots more of this!”

Q: Where do you gain inspiration?

A: I’m really inspired by Japanese design and characters. Early on, when I started making my toys, I determined that they’re in this specific place called Mochimochi Land, so that’s been a nice place to do my work. I get a lot of inspiration from Dr. Seuss. I love how he invented these bizarre landscapes. From classic cartoons, I take a lot of inspiration from the action that’s going on.

Q: What is Mochimochi Land?

A: I’m still finding out kind of. I never sat down and made a map and labeled everything, but I kind of like that I can have this imaginary place, and I can say whatever I want to about it, so I’m making it up as I go. … There aren’t a lot of rules. Everything is cute, but I incorporate some amounts of edginess and violence so it’s kind of like our world but it’s cuter, a little more colorful and interesting, but it’s not necessarily a super happy place.

Q: Tell me about your upcoming book, “Adventures in Mochimochi Land: Tall Tales from a Tiny, Knitted World” (Potter Craft).

A: It’s like a storybook for the first three-quarters, and then there (are) patterns in the back. For that book, because it is a story, and we’re looking into this world, I had to envision it a little bit more. I like the idea that I can make these patterns and somebody else can make their own Mochimochi Land _ it’s not like I own it, necessarily.

Q: I like that it’s not this happy utopia because we don’t always identify with that.

A: That can be a little boring, everybody always getting along. And when I was doing the gnomes versus snowmen thing, that was part of the things that can be interesting _ how violent can I get these characters to be with each other and still be adorable?

Q: What do you mean by violent?

A: I don’t really do blood and guts, I do cartoon violence.

Q: When I look at your work, I like that it’s fun stuff that’s not all for kids.

A: I strive to make things that kids can like, but the first toys I made were for my co-workers. So I have my own tastes and what my friends might be into in mind, although I do have a niece now who is 2{ years old, so it’s really fun to have a small person to make things for.

Q. What size needles do you use?

A: The needles I use range from size 1 to size 10{. The 1s are about the thickness of a toothpick, and the 10{s are more like the thickness of a marker.

Q: You’ve been successful selling your designs. You don’t feel like that might compromise your creative property?

A: I’ve found it so much more rewarding to create a design and share it. I’ll knit one or two of the original toys to take pictures of, and then 200 people can make their own version.

Q: What skill level do your patterns cater to?

A: They’re definitely for intermediate knitters. … Toys aren’t great to start with because they’re a little bit more fiddly and intricate since you’re starting with a small number of stitches and making (an enclosed) shape. I would really like to do a series of patterns that are completely for beginners.

Q: How does it feel turning a hobby into a job?

A: I put a lot of pressure on myself to be doing something interesting and to be thinking about the next thing, and I wouldn’t be doing it if it was just a hobby. When it comes to (sending emails) about potential projects or talking to my agent or (dealing with) orders, it feels like work. And actually writing up a pattern is not the most fun thing in the world. But when I’m working on a design, that’s my favorite thing. I love seeing something growing on my needles. I still like the physical act of knitting. I listen to a lot of podcasts so it’s sort of relaxing.

Q: What do you listen to?

A: A lot of the NPR podcasts. I really love “Planet Money.” I like news and current events. Maybe because my work is completely unrelated to that kind of stuff, I really like to absorb it while I’m doing it.

Q: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

A: The most important thing is just to get started and not worry (about knowing everything). It’s easy to talk yourself out of stuff if you don’t have experience. Something I’ve found throughout my career is, if I’ve never done something before, (if) I don’t have any kind of credentials for it, but you know what? I’m going to try it and see how it goes. I’ve found that, for me at least, it’s the best way to learn.

Q: What are you doing when you’re not knitting?

A: I’m a slow runner. I do that every day; that’s kind of how I recharge. I love to read. A big part of my spare time is spent absorbing news and information. I have a subscription to The New Yorker and Harper’s, and that takes up all of my time.

Q: What are you reading right now?

A: I just finished Errol Morris’ “A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey McDonald.”

Q: What’s your favorite place in the city to hang out?

A: I like quiet bars (like) Tiny Lounge, and I like Fountainhead quite a bit.
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I’ve gone to a couple of drag shows, which are really fun. I love that about Chicago, and I love that it’s so easy to go out here. It feels like less of a huge ordeal (than in New York) to get in a cab or take the train to a bar or see a cool show.

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