Let’s Cast On Together!

Thank you all so much for your wonderful, thoughtful comments on my last post; I really loved reading your comments and hearing your thoughts on what you like about Knit-A-Longs…

…Themes of friendship, community and shared endeavour cropped up several times, as did the motivational aspects of a deadline…

Many of you seem to enjoy knowing there are folk right there to ask, should help be required… and almost all of you share my feeling that seeing what other people are making is always really inspiring.

From being good for mental health, to overcoming a sense of isolation, the joy of the KAL really is just all about doing something together and helping each other out. I’m really excited about our POLKAMANIA! cowl and glad to be preparing to knit dots together through the festive season. I struggle with the darker months of the year and a colourful, playful, yet not-too-tasking project is perfect to bring on journeys to visit relatives or for working on while watching holiday TV. I know this can be a stressful and busy part of the year, but I find that a soothing, portable project is just the thing to have on hand at such times. We can check into the Ravelry group KAL thread whenever suits and turn it into a joyful little corner of encouragement, colour-play, and dots.

KAL Rules
Cast on date: Monday 17th December, 2018
Completion deadline: Thursday 28th February, 2019
3 PRIZES (details to be announced): Monday 11th March, 2019 THE PRIZES WILL BE DOTTY

KAL Stats
Days of knitting time: 74
Segments in cowl: 24
Number of dots to knit in each cowl: 2592 (unless my maths is badly wrong!)

Between now and the cast-on date, there are a few fun things to do including making your project page on Ravelry; choosing your colours; and – very importantly! – knitting your gauge swatch. Feel free to use the KAL image above for your Ravelry project page, for your social media, or anywhere else where it will cheer you to remember that we are knitting dots together this winter.

Choosing colours
You can either plan out the whole cowl using the tutorial given in the pattern or go for an improvisational segment-by-segment approach, making up your colour combinations as you go; I’ve tried to design the pattern to allow for a completely freestyle approach, recreating the sample exactly, or something in the middle; do whatever feels good. There are 24 sections to the cowl which offer many opportunities to try out different colour combinations on the fly, if that’s your kind of thing, but if you prefer planning colours ahead, I have some suggestions: if you have a copy of the KNITSONIK Playbook Colouring Companion, you’ll see that the same motif as appears in the cowl is also there on pages 16 and 19 as part of the Polka Dots & Dolls pattern; you could colour this in to get your ideas going. If you don’t want to work directly into the colouring book for this project, you can redeem the digital download code on the inside cover of the book and get a PDF copy, from which to print out the relevant pages.

It’s also fairly easy to plot the polka-dot motif from the chart in the pattern onto squared or gridded notepaper, so that would be another way to plan your cowl before casting on if that’s what you would like to do. Equally, finding all the random balls of fingering weight yarn you have and putting them into a basket with the idea to pick combinations at random is also completely fine.

Knitting a gauge swatch
I am an extremely loose colourwork knitter and I hold my yarns in a very relaxed way in order to avoid exacerbating the arthritis in my fingers and wrists. I produce an open, soft fabric when knitting fingering weight yarn on 2.75mm needles, and many knitters I know require a needle size several sizes larger than mine in order to attain the same gauge. Additionally, if you are knitting POLKAMANIA! using 4-ply mini-skeins from John Arbon, I had just a metre or two of most of my mini-skeins left over after finishing my cowl and I actually ran out of one shade 2 rounds before the end of a segment (I sneaked in a couple of rounds of the next colour in the sequence and it’s impossible to see unless you’re really looking hard). All of which is to say that if you don’t get close to the gauge specified in the pattern – and especially if you end up making a much looser fabric that uses slightly more yarn per stitch – you may run out of yarn at a more critical point. My friend Kate has written a magnificent post about the importance of swatching to get gauge, and I heartily recommend that you read it and, also, that you either knit a swatch for your POLKAMANIA! cowl or relax into the idea that you may require different quantities of yarn to those specified in the pattern, and that – if you don’t feel like swatching – you may end up with a differently-sized cowl at the end of the process.

Finally, I’m thrilled to reveal who won the giveaway! I wrote out the names of everyone who commented on my last post on pieces of paper, folded each one twice, then asked my enthusiastic comrade, Mark*, to pick one out at random.

He chose Mary Jo, who says “This sounds like a lot of fun! My wonderful local yarn shop closed and I miss the group that used to meet there, though some of us continue to get together. There were often group projects going on at the shop and a KAL sort of reproduces that feeling of knitting together with a group and helping each other with problems that come up.”

Congratulations, Mary Jo! I’ll email you directly for your postal address and post out your goodies tomorrow.
Thank you – and thanks to everyone else, too – for affirming how much fun it can be to Knit-A-Long together.
See you in the Ravelry group?


*who specifically instructed me to use the silliest photo of him picking out a winner for this post.

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POLKAMANIA! Knit-A-Long and Giveaway

I thought it might be fun to host a POLKAMANIA! KAL for folks who have downloaded the pattern and are planning to knit it. It can be a simple thing – I can produce prizes for different categories and we can encourage each other and share our progress in the KNITSONIK Ravelry group.

If you want to join in, here’s how it will work:

1. buy a print or digital copy of the POLKAMANIA! cowl pattern
2. join the KNITSONIK Ravelry group and find the POLKAMANIA! KAL thread for sharing polka dot fun, inspiration and encouragement
3. knit a POLKAMANIA! cowl, completing by 28th February, 2019

I haven’t worked out the details for the prizes yet, but they will be knit-related and joyful; they will include dots of some sort; and there will be three of them.

To launch this KAL, I’m running a giveaway. The giveaway winner will receive a copy of the superb Knitter’s Graph Paper exercise book made by Narangkar Glover of Rowan Morrison Books (which I am now stocking in the KNITSONIK shop); a selection of dotty stickers with which to mark cowl progress in this or another preferred notebook; and a printed copy of the POLKAMANIA! cowl pattern.

To enter, leave a comment on this post before Monday 10th December, sharing what it is that you like most of all about joining in with a KAL. I’m really interested to know and really want your input so that we can have the best time knitting dots together over the festive season and on into the New Year.

Who’s in?

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Thank you so much for your support and kind words about Polkamania! following last week’s launch; I’ve been so lifted by the collective joy for polkadots and am really excited to see what you make with my pattern. Today I want to tell you about another new design: Featherheid.

This pattern is one of fifteen included in the exciting forthcoming Kate Davies Designs publication, Milarrochy Heids. This fantastic collection of hats features heids by thirteen designers, all worked in Kate’s glorious Milarrochy Tweed. There are some amazing heids in the collection and it’s really exciting to see all the different creative approaches to designing with this yarn. Looking through the whole collection not only gives one a serious case of startitis (who else wants to knit ALL THE HEIDS???) but also reveals the fabulous creative potentials of Milarrochy Tweed.

I am particularly fond of the elegant striping sequence in Nur Gutes’ Let’s Stripe. How pleasing is it to see the yarn palette in this way, with the shades all interacting like this, as little strips and bands of slubby tweedy joy?

I think it’s just lovely and shows all the colours off to great effect.

I also love the glorious Breiwick beret by Ella Gordon which appears on the cover of Milarrochy Heids.

It combines Ella’s knowledge of vintage Fair Isle knitwear with her fresh, contemporary style, and it also expresses a strong sense of place which you can read about (in this inspiring blog post). Ella’s photos of Breiwick Road are full of the same soft sunsets and blue, watery colours as her beret design. Reading her post I kept thinking of the Shetland word lichtsome which means cheerful and can be used to describe people and places.

There are so many other lovely ideas in the whole gallery of HEIDS and I feel really honoured to be included.

Now Featherheid has been revealed on Ravelry and on Kate’s instagram, I thought I’d share a bit of the design process behind my hat which celebrates the ducks Mark and I kept for several years: Honey, Bonbon and Pretzel. These much-missed comrades can be seen here lurking underneath our outside table on some straw the winter before last.

They were a quacking posse of suspicious birds who managed to produce staggering amounts of mud and poo considering their modest size. They never liked us; hid their eggs in weird places; ran away when we tried to befriend them and then ran towards us in a cowardly way whenever our backs were turned. Their presence in our garden decimated the slug and snail population completely (nice) but attracted rats (not nice). Their wonderful sound ranging from companionable little grunts and low-level quacks through to collective, bellowing outrage was my favourite thing and, in spite of the mud, the smell, the wet, and the resentment they seemed to harbour for human beings in general, we loved them very much. They died, one by one, of mysterious, egg-related complications. Their ailments proved impossible to treat even with expensive vet visits and valiant antibiotic-administering regimes (at which Mark was much better than me, it must be said). With my health being what it was this year it did not feel wise to stock up on more labour-intensive livestock. We still dream of figuring out a filtration/pond system and once again having a garden full of ducks, but for now I’m glad for the experience and the memories of keeping our spirited gang of duckpals. Whenever I think about them, I recall the gleam in their beady eyes whenever they saw me with a fresh paddling pool full of sparkling clean water. At such times they would determinedly thrust their faces into the mud, fill their bills with muck, then run towards the water and despoil it. This was their favourite game. I also think about their feathers, which ranged from being very tiny and delicate around their necks, to being thick and bold and shapely at the end of their glorious wings. I wondered if I could chart a series of shapes to suggest this progression in stranded colourwork motifs; this was the starting point for my design.

I found it a delightful challenge to work with the palette of Milarrochy Tweed, and to explore how the nubby, flecked shades interact when knit together. As with all KNITSONIK design processes, I began by casting on a large swatch to help me find my way with this new yarn.

You can see my palette and my ideas for feathery shapes evolving side by side through the swatch. Reading the swatch from left to right, you can see I began with greys and greens on my way to finding the palette and shapes you see in the final design. I tried using Stockiemuir to begin with – the vibrant light green in the Milarrochy Tweed palette, but it was too green and cold for describing Khaki Campbell plumage, so I abandoned that and rigidly stuck with brown and cream shades for the next part of the swatch. As I knit on, I began to feel that the muted tones of Hare, Bruce and Horseback Brown shaded over a background of Hirst did not quite capture the same rich warmth that ran through the feathers of our ducks.

Since the Milarrochy Tweed palette doesn’t feature the precise shade of brown I was after, I decided to introduce those warm tones in another way: by adding Buckthorn to my shading sequence. I also decided to vary the background between Birkin (a sort of pale, silver grey) and Hirst (a warmer, creamier colour). The Buckthorn warms up the browns that are around it, while the contrast of Birkin brings out the creaminess in Hirst and prevents the browns from appearing flat.

I wanted to write about this here because, when working from an inspiration source we’ve found in the world, there very often *isn’t* an exact match in the available yarns. Rather than being a frustrating problem, this can be a wonderful opportunity to revisit your inspiration source and to think about other inventive ways in which to speak to its colours with what you have to hand. I’m really pleased with how Featherheid pays homage to my ducks without being too literal an interpretation. I love how Buckthorn brightens the whole palette and is bold in a way that suits the personalities of Honey, Bonbon and Pretzel.

I got Mark to take a couple of photos of me with my phone once my HEID was finished before posting the sample off to Kate Davies Designs and it was fun to wear it in the same garden where the ducks once quacked, made mud pies, and snacked on slugs.

However, I really like seeing how the design looks in Tom’s official photos for the book and it’s great to see it styled with that vibrant, rust red jacket. I think Featherheid really suits Jane!

This project has been a delight to work on from start to finish, and I’m so excited to see the book. If you’d like to knit Featherheid or any of the other luscious designs featured in this wonderful forthcoming tome, you can pre-order a copy here for £18.00.

Thanks so much to Honey, Bonbon and Pretzel for many mucky adventures, and to my friend Kate for inviting me to be part of this fantastic project,

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POLKAMANIA! Pattern Launch

Polkamania! is back from the tech-editing desk of my friend Rachel Atkinson and will be going on sale tomorrow in my Ravelry store.

I’ve had a really productive time learning how to lay out this pattern in InDesign and the pdf includes full colour and black and white charts, plus a tutorial section in which I talk about how I sequenced my yarn shades when planning my cowl. This extra information is supplied to empower and inspire you to produce a Polkamania! cowl in your preferred colours.

As mentioned in this post, Polkamania! was inspired by, and speaks to the strengths of, the Knit By Numbers yarn range produced by John Arbon. This yarn range is really so clever; it’s produced by blending precise amounts of white wool with dyed wool to produce gradients through a wondrous array of different shades. The creative possibilities offered by this range are endless; Polkamania! offers a framework for diving in and playing with them.

Knit By Number shades – image from John Arbon Textiles website

The simplest way for you to design and knit your own Polkamania! cowl, is for you to pick two colours that you really like in the range, and then to buy six miniskeins of each, from the deepest to the lightest shade. I had almost nothing left over from my twelve mini-skeins, so the pattern uses up all the yarn AND lets you explore the entire range across two colours. In celebration of my pattern launch, John Arbon Textiles have generously offered a 10% discount code for use with purchases of 4-ply mini skeins in case you too wish to work with sets of this yarn. The offer is only available to KNITSONIK newsletter subscribers, who will receive the download code in tomorrow’s newsletter.

I really enjoyed knitting with this yarn and discovering how orange and grey brown interact depending on how light/dark they are, and which yarn is used for knitting the background, and which yarn is used for knitting the pattern. The resulting cowl is incredibly cosy and soft around my neck, but it’s also rich with information in case I ever want to work with orange and grey brown again – a wearable sampler, if you will.

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As keen-eyed spotters will have noticed, Polkamania! speaks both to knit (stranded colourwork) and sonik (polka dots are thought to be so-named because they featured in the jolly ensembles worn to Polkas when that form of dance was first popularised). John Arbon has a fantastic record collection and, like myself, is interested in both KNIT + SONIK… so, to celebrate the forthcoming pattern launch, I asked him if he had a preferred polka to share with you. Juliet sent me a picture of a wonderful record sleeve yesterday, along with the following note:

“John has found his most favourite Polka influenced record in his collection. It is a 7” single and it is Bulgarian. The first track is very polka-esque – it is an eastern European accordion tune. He got it in a charity shop and bought it because he loves the sleeve. He had no idea what it sounded like when he bought it, but he thinks it is fab.”

I had a check and народна музика seems to translate directly as “folk music” in Bulgarian. The record company – Balkanton – who produced John’s Polka-influenced record was state-owned and founded in 1952. During this time, Bulgaria was one of the countries in the Eastern Bloc, which also included many of the countries associated with the birth of the Polka dance. Examples of Polkas can be found throughout Eastern Europe and seem to span everything from classical to folk music dances; if you have a favourite polka I’d love to hear it – leave a link in the comments.

In the meantime, in case you wish to listen to polkas while you are knitting your Polkamania!, I have included some links below for your KNIT and SONIK pleasure.
Yours in Polkamania!

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Listening for Change: on #diversknitty

Julia Farwell Clay has written a blog post called Listening for the Voices You Can’t Hear. In it, she speaks about diversity, inclusion and race and representation in the world of knitting. She reflects on what we privileged white ladies of knitting can do about the fact that our industry, at its top levels, is still predominately white and why that is a problem:

I’m a middle aged white lady comfortably represented in the knitting world around me so it’s my privilege and responsibility to listen and amplify that call for Diversity. I have welcomed the choices some knitting magazines have made towards casting non-white models… Meanwhile, Dyers and Designers and Teachers and Shop Owners and just regular knitters of color still haven’t achieved a complimentary visibility equal to the percentages they occupy in our industry.

– Julia Farwell Clay

The lack of representation of knitters of colour is the driving force behind Lorna Hamilton-Brown’s film, Knitting Ain’t Whack, made as part of her MA in textiles as a creative response to a brief titled “Identity”:

I created the character Lorna HB who is a knitting, rapping MC. I’m keen to break down the stereotypes associated with who knits.

– Lorna Hamilton-Brown

This conversation about who knits and who doesn’t knit also informed Lorna Hamilton-Brown’s dissertation title, Myth − Black People Don’t Knit: the importance of art and oral histories for documenting the experiences of black knitters. The title for the dissertation comes from Lorna’s lived experience of being told by a white academic at a knitting conference “black people don’t knit – they crochet”. Being erased from history is all too common an experience for black people – and especially for black women. Lorna Hamilton-Brown’s amazing dissertation goes some way towards putting the stories that have not been told back into the frame. It’s enormously important:

The question ‘do black women knit?’ is possibly asked due to the lack of visibility of black knitters. I am not alone in wanting to debunk this myth. On the 16 October 2016 user ‘gillyffish’ posted a message on the social media site Tumblr. It encouraged black knitters and spinners to use the hashtag #KnittingWhileBlack to raise visibility and awareness. ‘Knitting is an art that is visually dominated by white parties, let us show the world we are out there.’

– Lorna Hamilton-Brown

The call for representation continues in other hashtags. If you’re not an instagram user you might not have seen the current conversation that’s evolving around the #diversknitty hashtag. Started by Nathan Taylor AKA The Sockmatician, the hashtag has been enthusiastically taken up (mostly) by knitters of colour as a means to achieve greater representation and visibility on social media. Julia reflects that this year Rhinebeck felt more inclusive and diverse and that maybe hashtags which have helped knitters of colour to find and see one another have contributed to this. One of the privileges of being white is that we never have to think about whether there will be people like us present when we attend events and social media may have played a role in making Rhinebeck feel safer and more inclusive for knitters of colour… but maybe, rather than being instigators of long overdue change, hashtags like #diversknitty and #blackpeopledoknit are symptomatic of it. Magazines are doing more in terms of hiring models of colour and PomPom magazine’s magnificent cover for issue 26 was well received everywhere, testifying to the fact that there is a collective thirst for diverse images in the knitting community.

PomPom Magazine, Issue 26

Visible, high profile, positive change like this is fantastic, but there is still a great deal of work to do. Change needs to happen at *all* levels of the knitting industry and diverse customers feeling welcome (rather than unwelcome) is not enough. We need to see more vendors, designers, teachers, publishers and podcasters of colour across the board and we need to change our own thoughts and behaviour if the knitting industry is to become a truly inclusive place. To this end, Jeanette Sloan has been crowdsourcing an incredible list of POC designers and crafters which must be circulated in discussions around event planning, vendor booths, conference organisation and anywhere else where professional opportunities exist.

However we can do more on an individual level, too. To try and redress the unbalanced dominance of whiteness in our industry, we can prioritise buying yarn and patterns from businesses owned by people of colour; we can give our support to events and magazines that are actively promoting diversity; we can champion, amplify and celebrate the work of people of colour on social media; when we are researching folks to interview for our blogs and podcasts we can ensure we are being inclusive in our searches and not just referring back to our existing and primarily white networks. We can support initiatives like The Yarn Mission and we can follow the #diversknitty hashtag without inserting ourselves into the conversation. We can educate ourselves about the incredible work being made and done by people of colour and we can support and amplify that work. We must do these things in a meaningful and sustained way – not tokenistically – towards making our industry genuinely inclusive. To me, the work ahead looks alot like building relationships, extending networks, sharing skills and resources and consciously supporting people of colour in our industry the way that we already support each another. We can – and must – hold one another to account.

Like Julia says, we can listen for the voices that are missing and use whatever leverage we have to try and change the status quo. In the SONIK half of what I do, listening is the most important activity. Something changes when you change what – who – you listen to, and powerful shifts in mindset can happen when we are being quiet and paying attention. There is a wealth of writing about diversity in knitting available right now and written by people of colour: we need to listen to this and we need to really hear it.

Recommended Reading/Listening/Watching

Read Lorna Hamilton-Brown’s thesis already.

Jeanette Sloan recently wrote a fantastic piece in Knitting Magazine as well as this blog post. You can find her amazing list of POC designers and crafters here.

Gaye Glasspie, AKA GG Made it has written a fantastic piece here reflecting on Diversity in crafting, and this video by her comes highly recommended for LYS owners.

The Yarn Mission is a revolutionary, black-led organisation based in the USA; their support page is very helpful for anyone who wants to not only be inclusive but to actively fight racism through knitting.

This instagram post from Lady Dye Knits is important, as well as this amazing blog post from 2015 on the need for greater diversity in the Knitting Industry.

There are some important reflections on racism, representation, feminism and knitting in this video produced by PomPom Knits.

This Ravelry group set up by Sahara Briscoe is “is a global platform to showcase the knitted and crocheted patterns of underrepresented designers of African Descent throughout the Diaspora, and to foster productive dialogues between crafters and designers.” Check it out.

Reni Eddo-Lodge’s fantastic book Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race is not about knitting, but it gives vital context to conversations about inclusion and diversity.

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The Slow Wardrobe Podcast

Greetings, Comrades!

I’m just popping in to tell you about a video podcast put together by my friend Linda of The Slow Wardrobe (formerly Tall Yarns ‘n Tales). As long-term readers may know, I am a HUGE fan of the wonderful workwear produced by Linda and Andrea. I often use their Layercake range of pinnies, smocks and tabards when styling KNITSONIK stranded colourwork handknits and I love the flexible and accommodating shapes they use. Some years ago I interviewed Linda and Andrea for the KNITSONIK podcast. Linda has just launched a video podcast for The Slow Wardrobe and this time it was my turn to be interviewed. We met up last Friday to talk about colours, creativity, gradients, what we’re knitting now and some of the ways in which we like to pair sewn garments with handknits. We talk for a while before launching into a joyous dressing up session involving ALL THE LAYERCAKE and ALL THE HANDKNITS. If you want to join us in this fun for an hour or so, you can do so via the video below.

When I first launched the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook four years ago, Linda generously invited me to join her on her stand at Harrogate at the Knitting & Stitching Show. Tomorrow I’m joining Linda again at the wonderful Yarnporium event organised by Yarn In The City. Linda has copies of all my books on her stand and I’ll be there from around midday. If you’re coming too, please do stop by to say hello.

I’ll be there wearing Layercake and Polkamania!
See you there?


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Earlier this year when I launched the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook I had this idea that I could knit everything from the book again, sharing the progress of my work as I went and showing how each of the patterns might be adapted. This idea slowed to a glacial pace when my psoriatic arthritis got so much worse back in the spring. I still had the desire to adapt my patterns… I just had to take things a bit slower (boo).

One of my ideas was to show how Bricken might look worked in an alternative, fingering weight yarn. With this plan in mind, at Edinburgh Yarn Festival I picked up all the greys and all the oranges in the Knit By Numbers range produced by John Arbon. This is a rare thing – a worsted spun merino yarn that has not been superwash treated. The result is a soft, smooth, gently lustrous buttery yarn that has good squooshiness, but also still feels like something that’s come from a sheep. I thought it would be ideal for a cowl.

I also loved how many of the colours in my beloved Reading bricks are reflected in the soft peachy oranges and grey brown colourways of Knit By Numbers. These shades appear here in quite a different way from how they are represented in the wondrous palette of Jamieson & Smith 2ply Jumper Weight, but many of the colours are there… and I’m interested in how many different colour interpretations you can have, in yarn, of a single inspiration source.

With a view to re-knitting Bricken, I cast on in Knit By Numbers only to immediately discover that I had no real enthusiasm to make the same project twice.

The thing is that the original Bricken cowl is a true representation of many actual brick walls in Reading. It contains moments of looking at walls, photographing bricks, analysing their colours, finding matches in the J&S Jumper Weight Yarn range and knitting them, section by section.

It’s like a minimalist, modular representation of details from the walls of the town in which I live. When I created the colouring book that goes with the main book, I asked Nic to lay out the colouring pages for Bricken to aid a similar creative process; there are 2 pages laid out with sections for you to colour in, each of which can be used to celebrate a particular wall that you love, and to plan the shades in which you’ll knit it.

This process of recording places was enthralling and as much a reward of the project as the end result itself. Attempting to replicate the same cowl in a different yarn range held no appeal without the joy of the search for new brick colour combinations. However, the lovely yarns in their brickish shades still sang from my knitting basket and I knew there was still a cowl – and a joyous creative process – tucked up in their cosy plies.

My aforementioned arthritis found me pouring a lot of my creative energy this year into getting well; managing my small business with extremely painful hands and very low energy; finding ingenious ways to do things with malfunctioning thumbs (hurrah for pliers and living aids!); and having a lot of extra medical administration to manage. My bullet journal played a key role in helping me to keep track of All These Things, but I also used its pages as a place to lift my spirits and console myself. Very few things are more useful in this regard than joyous POLKA DOTS.

Dots provide an endless source of pleasure and fascination. The Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, expresses the power of the polka dot beautifully in her autobiography, Infinity Net:

My desire was to predict and measure the infinity of the unbounded universe, from my own position within it, with dots – an accumulation of particles forming the negative spaces in the net… One polka dot: a single particle among billions. I issued a manifesto stating that everything – myself, others, the entire universe – would be obliterated by white nets of nothingness connecting astronomical accumulations of dots… And the spell of the dots and the mesh enfolded me in a magical curtain of mysterious, invisible power.

One day an artist who had found success in Paris and become renowned around the world called at my studio. This ebullient Frenchman, a savvy self-promoter who had gained and maintained popular success thanks to his agility at leaping from trend to trend, seemed to live only to win all the awards he could get his hands on. He berated me. ‘Yayoi! Look outside yourself! Don’t you want to listen to Beethoven or Mozart? Why don’t you read Kant and Hegel? There’s so much greatness out there! How can you repeat these meaningless exercises, day and night, for years? It’s a waste of time!’

But I was under the spell of the polka dot nets. Bring on Picasso, bring on Matisse, bring on anybody! I would stand up to them all with a single polka dot. That was the way I saw it, and I had no ears to listen. I was betting everything on this and raising my revolutionary banner against all of history.

I don’t create anything on the scale of Yayoi Kusama’s magnificent, dazzling, polka dot artworks. But much of what she says here – about dots; about personal conviction; about an inner power; and about her resistance to Patriarchal ideals of artistic greatness – resonates. Dots are a kind of language for me too… a language of self expression and chromatic invention; of self-defining my disability and its representation. When I used a walking stick in my early twenties, it was a polka dot cosy that made it feel like my stick.

I realised that maybe my creative process with Knit By Numbers could be an investigation of different combinations of dots and backgrounds. The playful way in which I might lay red and white or grey or black or translucent or big or small dotted washi tapes beside or over one another on a page might surely become something to do in my knitting, too, no?


Revitalised, I went back to my delicious yarns. Knit By Numbers offers unprecedented opportunities to explore hue (colour) and value (dark/light) in your knitting; the yarn is made by blending dyed wool tops with successive amounts of white wool, producing colour ranges that move from saturated intensity to delicate pastels. Stranded colourwork is all about the interplay between hue and value, so I decided to sequence my yarns in ways that would give me a really rich sampler of possibilities… orange and grey explored from dark, through light… from high contrast to low contrast. Instead of a search for interesting brick walls in my city, this would be an introspective journey through dots and colour possibilities. I cast on again, taking the large dotty motif from Polka Dots & Dolls as my starting point, and then letting the glorious shades of Knit By Numbers yarns show me the rest of the way.

I knit on through the summer, each section of the new cowl revealing different combinations of orange with grey brown, and different levels of contrast between background and pattern yarns. It was a reflective and happy adventure, recorded in my bullet journal – of course – with dots. Thinking again of Yayoi Kusama and of her fantastic artwork – Obliteration Room – I decided to record progress on the polka dot cowl with a dot shaped sticker, stuck on a dedicated page, each time I knit on it.

It’s an easily memorised stitch pattern and a fairly portable project, so I took it everywhere and worked until it was complete. The result is a wide, soft cowl that travels from light to dark through two of my favourite colours. On Sunday, Mark and I went out to my favourite park to take photos of the cowl against the bricks which, long ago, were part of its design story.

It is, as predicted, warm and massive and snuggly, and I love it.

I learnt a lot about hue and value while knitting my polka dots, and the process has deepened my love of spotty patterns. All this has – as you know – inspired the production of some special knitted, dotty washi tape, and there’s a pattern coming soon. If you have a copy of the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook you can probably work out your own version by combining the charts from Polka Dots & Dolls with the idea of Bricken. However, if you want a nicely laid out pattern that’s ready to go with no maths for you to do, plus a tutorial section on sequencing your yarn shades, there is one in the pipeline which is currently being tech-edited.

Looking for a name for my new cowl pattern, I found the term Polkamania which was used to describe the immense popularity of the polka dance when folk first discovered it. Polka dots are thought to be so-named because of the prevalence of spot pattern fabrics or dotty motifs in costumes worn to dances. The title Polkamania! perfectly summarises my love for the humble dot. It also points to the shared sense of repetition and rhythm that define both music and knitting; and it celebrates how every section in this cowl is like a rhythmic set of steps worked between yarn shade partners.

Stay tuned if you’d like to knit one; I’ll let everyone know when the pattern is out so that the joy of colours, of dots, of Polkamania! can be shared!

Until then –
YOURS IN ALL THE DOTS (and thanks to Mark Stanley for capturing so much joy and mischief in these amazing photos),


KNITSONIK is making washi tape

I have written here before about my deep appreciation for printed washi tape but today I want to say more, and to tell you about the new line of KNITSONIK washi tapes that I am currently producing.

First, a bit about washi tape. The word ‘washi’ comes from wa meaning ‘Japanese’ and shi meaning ‘paper’ so ‘washi tape’ means paper tape of the sort popularised by, and originating from, Japan. Washi tape is low-tack paper tape. It often features incredibly decorative and colourful designs, and is traditionally made using natural fibers from the bark of the gampi tree, a mitsumata shrub, or paper mulberry. It is generally biodegradable and non-toxic, and has a huge variety of applications from decorating objects…

…to enhancing gift-wrapping and correspondence.

However, my favourite uses of washi tape are all bullet journal related. I am an intensely visual and playful person, and I find that theming pages and projects in my bullet journal really helps me to keep track of all the different ideas running in my head at any one time. When I was working on the KNITSONK Stranded Colourwork Playbook, I found it helpful and motivational to use different washi-tapes to theme particular work days. I collected different washi tapes (mostly through Etsy) and used them to mark out different pages and projects.

I fold washi tape over the edge of pages that contain charts; this was invaluable when I needed to produce those charts for the printed books. The pages are indexed but, when I need to find the original idea, it is always quicker to simply flick to the pages edged with pink and white washi tape to locate the roughly drawn pencil charts that are my starting point for all KNITSONIK designs.

Washi tape also features in the layout of pages where particular ideas are taking shape. So when I was thinking about my Tarmac Tuesdays chapter, I used this washi tape…

…and for Polka Dots & Dolls, I used these.

There is a lovely correlation between the richly patterned and highly colourful worlds of KNITSONIK designs and washi tape. Viewed from a distance, stranded colourwork designs have the same tiny and pleasing complexity as washi tape. Thematically, I love how washi tape – like KNITSONIK designs – can be a very small celebration of everyday things.

Like bricks…

…and Tarmac…

…and Dandelions…

…and Polka Dots…

…and Bunting…

…and Cherry Blossom.

I use washi tapes in my bullet journal and around my home to feed and inspire designs, and also to affirm what I am working on. I loved that during a phase when I was designing cherry blossom motifs, I could add bits of this idea to notes sent to friends and to pages where the ideas were developing in my bullet journal. And that when I sent out the copies of the book to Tarmac Tuesdays contributors, I was able to add little bits of tarmac celebration to our correspondence. In these ways, washi tape acts as a sort of conduit or shorthand for ideas I’m working on. It’s a visual note-taking format that’s shareable and playful, and it criss-crosses the surfaces of my home, my work and my bullet journals.

The history of washi tape is one of art and creativity. The Internet legend goes that in 2006, the Japanese company Kamoi Kakoshi – a Japanese manufacturer of adhesive papers – were contacted by 3 women from Tokyo*. These women had been using the factory’s industrially produced tapes to make their own artists’ books, and wanted the company to produce more colourful tapes for them to use. Intrigued by this surprising repurposing of their products, Kamoi Kakoshi invited the women to visit their factory. This creative visit inspired the development of a new and original category of tape: MT brand washi tape: colorful tape that is easy to tear by hand and that can be repositioned on nearly any surface. MT stands for “Masking Tape” and this subdivision of Kamoi Kakoshi is the brand that launched the explosion in tapes of this type. Fast forward to 2018 and washi tape is now produced not only in Japan but throughout Asia, where the raw materials used – and the expertise and infrastructure for processing them – are well established. My washi tape collection was made in Taiwan, in Korea, in China, in Hong Kong, and in Japan.

One of my favourite things about visiting Japan in 2017 was meeting artists – many of whom had their own signature washi tape. We bought several tapes of this sort as special mementos of our trip and, of course, I started to imagine what an amazing extra level of joy it would be to design my own washi tapes and to share my designs, along with tips of how they might be used to organise and manage knitting projects in a bullet journal.

After much searching, I found a company based in Hong Kong who work with artists like me. I’m working with them to bring you KNITSONIK washi tape designs. I have one design in stock (and only a few rolls of it) but there are more designs coming in the next few weeks, and I’m working with the factory to develop a cardboard wrapper rather than having the rolls shipped in shrink-wrapped plastic. The washi tape is made of grain shell and corn bran with a non-toxic adhesive. The first batch is shrink-wrapped in plastic to protect it, but subsequent batches will come in cardboard boxes without plastic wrapping.

As some of you who follow me on instagram will know, I have been working on a polka dot cowl design which uses the dots motif from the large size of my Polka Dots & Dolls design. I used a combination of dot stickers and polka dot washi tapes to manage the pages in my bullet journal where I was working on this design.

I decided to celebrate the original knitted dots from the Playbook in washi tape.

These rolls are currently for sale in the KNITSONIK shop but I’ll be adding more as soon as they arrive! I would love to hear in the comments how you use washi tape. I love the original spirit in which washi tape was originally conceived, and feel as though that spirit lives on in the amazing ways that comrades employ washi tape for creative projects. Please tell me how you like to use washi tape – I’d love to know.

More soon – until now,

*if anyone has any further information on who these women are, or any clues about the original artworks made with Kamoi Kakoshi industrial tape, I would absolutely love to see them! I’ve found several versions of the story of the history of washi tape, but it would be truly wonderful to learn more about the women whose creativity gave rise to this awesome phenomenon!

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The Joy of Color (AKA The Joy of Janine)

If you’ve been following KNITSONIK for a while, you’ll know that earlier this year I went to the USA. I stayed with my friend Janine in California, and then we travelled together to Wisconsin to Knitting Camp. I loved every single moment of this magical adventure but today I want to talk specifically about staying with Janine Bajus AKA The Feral Knitter.

Janine is every bit the angel of colour that this image suggests, and she has a magical ability to translate almost anything into glorious, shimmering knitwear. She lives in Berkeley, and the home she shares with her family is a colourful, nurturing paradise filled with wool, projects and books. A lush Santa Rosa plum tree presides over the garden and in its shade grow dye plants which Janine uses in her textile projects. Janine’s home is infused with an atmosphere of creativity and curiosity; there are beautiful things everywhere and I loved staying there.

One of the things I miss most of all about being in full time art education is seeing other people’s creative workspaces. Glimpsing other people’s desks and wall-spaces was one of the best bits about being enrolled in an arts department. I get a fantastic kick out of seeing what other artists collect; watching fellow creatives’ projects-in-progress; and perceiving how peers are solving problems and evolving ideas. In art school I adored the creative ferment of group sessions. The frank discussions we used to have about our work are what I miss most of all. Nowadays I work almost entirely alone at home but I get the same feeling enjoyed during my former art-student life when I spend time in the workspaces of fellow creative practitioners. Staying with Janine was a feast on this score. It was fascinating and inspiring on every level to see how she brings her stranded colourwork garments from concept through to fruition.

I particularly enjoyed seeing the little booklets she creates for herself for each design she knits; staying in the same room as her vast and wide-ranging library; and exploring her precious piles of knitting – a practical, living archive of stranded colourwork theory and practice.

Translating everyday inspirations into stranded colourwork is a rather niche area within knitting and it just blew me away to see the unique way in which Janine approaches what is also my passion. I will treasure forever the memory of pulling all Janine’s work out of the shelves and onto the bed, and hearing her speak about the details and memories of each one.

Janine seems to turn everything into sweaters (and hats and shawls and vests but mostly sweaters). These are breathtaking sweaters that glow and glisten in the light. Every evening when I was falling asleep in Janine’s craft room I would peep at the folded wonderment. I was desperate to haul all the sweaters out and see them in all their glory, and I know you will want to see them, too.

…Shall we?

This is the first sweater Janine ever designed. It’s called Dragon Fly Vest and is a stylised and spare celebration of one of Janine’s favourite watery landscape. I just love how those bands of greens, golds and blues suggest the strata of water, land and flora.

Her Acorn Sweater has a much more autumnal palette, based on a photo of curry spices! The sweater was devised for John – Janine’s lovely husband – and the photo helped them to settle on a palette that John would like to wear and that Janine would like to knit. It’s so clever, because John wanted a brown sweater. As per the brief, the sweater does certainly – from a distance – give a brown impression…

…but, when examined closely, you can see many other colours sitting around and speaking to that central hue.

Janine’s Rainforest Vest also has a sort of brownish tint when regarded as whole…

…yet when you peep more deeply into the fabric, you can see there are glorious purples and golds in there as well.

THAT PURPLE! My heart.

I love how Janine’s endless creativity is not limited to experimenting with colour; she’s also fascinated by shapes. Her sweater collection contains many differently shaped garments and is full of sartorial ideas about how to wear stranded colourwork. I really love the neat silhouette of this tee with its unfussy dark edges and understated, moody palette…

…and this glorious jacket, which draws its inspiration (in part) from Japanese sashiko stitch dictionaries. Janine designed it with princess seaming and waist shaping “to wear with black pants when going into the city.”

Yellow Island is a gloriously wearable cardigan with a cosy marled shawl collar and sleeve edgings; it’s exactly the kind of cardigan you want for chilly autumnal days and I love all its details from its palette to its chunky edges, and to the innovative treatment Janine has given the raglan shaping around the shoulders and the side seams.

Janine’s attention to detail and experimentation with construction seem to spring from the same curiosity that informs her amazing approach to colour. “Why does everything have to have corrugated ribbing” she shrugged as I commented on an especially lovely sleeve cuff on one of her designs. After hearing her say this, I could see her working the question over in all of her designs.

Why not finish a neckline like this one, in Janine’s Sea & Sand sweater?

Why not place a detailed pattern band around the bottom of your cardigan, creating a facing to stabilise the fabric?

Why feel compelled to stick to corrugated ribbing for sleeve openings when you could finish them like this instead?

Janine’s work just takes my breath away. I can’t stop showing you photos of it.

I mean… just look at that. It’s a vest inspired by a storm in New Mexico, and I think the colours are so amazing, really speaking to that moody, threatening quality of the sky when it is both the colour of a bruise, and lit golden from within. It’s perfect.

And who can argue with the magnificent exuberance of Starburst Shawl with its bold, oversized motifs, and radiant palette, inspired by a photo (taken by Meg Swansen) of magic lillies?

I mean…


Seeing these garments in Janine’s home was very special to me. I only have a bad photo of this, but my abiding memory is of Janine ensconced in her knitting chair either knitting, laughing, or commenting on the news via Twitter and her iPad. When I think about Janine, it is this that I picture, and it’s a magical thing because it’s from this space that all this incredible knitting has ultimately come.

Sadly not everyone can have the same opportunity as me to spend time with this wonderful woman in her glorious palace of dreams! But, having been lucky enough to have had such an experience, I can really see how much of herself Janine has poured into her magnificent tome, The Joy of Color.

I really appreciate how she and her designer Kate Godfrey have worked together to create a layout that reflects Janine’s magpie-like approach to design. The images of workbooks, of swatches, of little pieces of torn paper taken from here and there are friendly and inspiring, and reflect the way Janine collects and organises resources. The book feels friendly, too, and is – like its author – incredibly encouraging, and chock full of bit-sized nuggets of wisdom.

In life and in print, Janine is extremely generous with her knowledge, and shares the stories of her creative process with candour and wit. I loved reading The Joy of Color when it first came out, because it was full of glimpses into a creative process parallel to, but not the same as, my own. It made me see topics with which I am really familiar in fresh and different ways and from a different perspective… from Janine’s perspective.

When I went to stay with Janine, we had only met the one time. But I had an idea it would be wonderful, because when I read the following passage in her book, it made me cry (in a good way) and I knew I had found a kindred spirit:

Wear your sweater whenever you can – don’t save it for special occasions. Let it become your signature in the world, a quiet symbol of intelligence, skill, persistence, and the power of individual beauty in an over-commodified world.

Revel in its warmth, privately thanking the thousands of people who helped you bring your vision to life: the shepherds, the veterinarians, the fence builders, the shearers, the mill workers, the truck drivers, the dyers, the label printers, the shop owners, the teachers, the needle makers, the book publishers, the designers, the editors, your knitting friends – in the deepest sense your sweater is an expression of your place in an interconnected web spanning time and place whose strands are too numerous to name.

– Janine Bajus, The Joy of Color

All of which is a very long preamble to the announcement that I am now stocking Janine’s book in my online shop. I am extremely excited about this as the book is one I truly believe in.

The Joy of Color contains instructions and templates for a cap, a tam, fingerless mitts and a scarf, but it’s not exactly a book of patterns… rather, it is a book of process stories and enabling colourwork knowledge. There is also a genius – nay, Janinius – method for speed swatching shading sequences that I think all lovers of stranded colourwork design will find inordinately useful to learn. The stories shared throughout this book include the process behind each of Janine’s sweaters, as well as those made by some of the many students who have enjoyed her renowned classes. The goal of making beautiful knitwear from the things you love runs through the book like a golden seam, the case-studies continually reassuring that it’s an achievable one. As in Janine’s creative practice, the book is rich with variety, curiosity and, like Janine herself, JOY. I feel very lucky to have been able to sit down with Janine and knit and, having had that experience, can say with total confidence that reading her book is the next best thing.

Like Janine, the book is supportive; inspiring; colourful and full of wonderful ideas, and it will make you want to knit All The Things. I have thought for a long time that The Joy of Color and the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook are natural friends, and it’s really wonderful to be able to say that Janine and I are, too. I’m so thrilled to bring her book to the UK because I just know that you will love her knitting as much as I do.


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Bullet Journaling

Some of you may know from instagram that I keep a bullet journal. I don’t rigidly follow The Official Bullet Journalling System, but I do love finding ways to structure ideas and to keep track of projects in a notebook. When I was much younger, I used to keep amazing, elaborate sketchpads which documented all my artistic ideas; as I took on more complex projects, sketchpads gave way to notebooks with long “to-do” lists in them. I am a very practical person – you simply cannot get creative ideas off the ground if you are not – and I heartily love a good list. But my imagination, sense of play, mischief and fun also really benefit from my having a colourful and expressive space in which to record and test out my ideas. The bullet-journal is a perfect amalgamation of practical task-management space and flexible play-space. Today I thought I’d ramble through some of my bullet-journals with you, sharing some of the pages, and reflecting on the different ways in which I use bullet journals to organise myself.

I really love using the Leuchtturm 1917 notebooks best of all. I like that the blankish pages provide just enough structure for me to organise my thoughts. I can use the dots to support the creation of knitting charts formed in a grid system, or lists written out in a more linear way.

The dots are faint enough that I can also sketch freely on the pages if required. I like that if I don’t do anything in the book for a few days, I have not – unlike with a monthly planner that allocates space to specific days and dates – wasted any paper. There will be a lack of continuity in the dates, but I just pick up exactly where I left off. I like that there is an index so that when I need to know where my recipes for deodorant or face cream or Brenda’s rice salad are, I can easily find the appropriate pages. I use washi-tape tags atop the relevant pages too, so they can be immediately and visually identified by their tag, as well as by the page number.

This is just one of the fun/practical ways in which I really enjoy adorning my bullet-journals with all manner of washi-tape and stickers – indeed some of you may have seen my efforts to get #maximumwashitapeandstickers trending on instagram whenever I share pages from my bullet journals there!

I manage projects, chores and healthcare alongside each other in my bullet journal, and because it has everything in it, it’s always with me. This total life/work conflation really suits how I work and think, and it gives me a space in which to see ALL THE THINGS moving along together.

However, for me, the Bullet Journal is not just about getting things done: it’s also become the self-care tool par excellence. As long term readers will have gathered, my psoriatic arthritis got much, much worse in 2017. I marked the change with a renewed commitment to my own health. Every month from March 2017 onwards begins with a bullet journal tracker full of daily health reminders. Across the top of each self-care tracker I put the days of the month, and down the side I put things like “go to bed at a reasonable time” “drink enough water” “walk at least 6,000 steps” etc. I review and modify the list of self-care things at the end of every month and each night I sit down to colour in the squares corresponding to the self-care things I managed that day; if I didn’t do the thing, I don’t colour in the square. I love these abstract records of self-care. Sorry the photos are a bit blurry, these are really personal and I wanted to share the gist of what I do without sharing the actual details of my self care with The Internet!!! I love that these visual records look a bit like knitting charts, and that they are a sort of homemade lofi data visualisation. I like how the practice of colouring in each square has given me pause each night – for over a year and a half now – to think about ways in which to better help myself and to care for my body with psoriatic arthritis.

I love that these trackers make visible the invisible work of self-care.

Each tracker is beautifully decorated with stickers and washi-tape from Japan – from the amazing Honeymoon Mark and I took there at the start of 2017 – framing my intentions in love and happy memories…

…and these wondrous stickers poking out of the top of the tracker pages help me to find them instantly when I pick up the journal. Over time, friends have come to know of my stationery love, and so stickers and washi tape from them have made their ways into my pages. I love this Sakura washi tape from my friend Kate, and these beautiful autumn leaves from my friend Yumi.

I really, really like using my bullet journal in this way as a tool for managing all the things I do connected with disability and wellbeing. If any of you have long term health conditions you will know it’s like an unpaid part-time job to keep up with things like monthly blood-tests, weekly injections, managing fatigue and side-effects, keeping on top of supplements and prescription medication, lining up appointments with the appropriate professionals, and making sure the basics – sleep, diet, exercise – are properly in place. My bullet journal has become a place to manage this stuff in an incredibly fun and colourful way. The trackers have really helped me to develop good habits, but they are also a joyous visual reminder of resilience and how creativity can be used as a practical tool for uplift and self-management. For me, they are also about one of the most important aspects of having a disability, which is about authoring and managing your condition in your own way, in your own terms, in your own flavour. My disability management style is #maximumwashitapeandstickers.

It is hard to express just how much joy I got out of a gradient pen that enabled me to make gorgeously graded self-care trackers throughout this summer – what an endless surprise to see the colours mixing and shifting across the pages of my self-care.

In March 2017 I taught at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, Shetland Wool Week, and at Stephen & Penelope in Amsterdam; I worked on a sound-map for the Museum of English Rural Life, exploring Reading’s town/country identity through its soundscapes; and I continued work on the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Playbook. Charts and pattern notes, yarn-weights and book-production to-do lists dominate the pages of my bullet journals around the times of those projects.

With the help of friends and guest contributors, and under the wise guidance of my amazing comrade in Wool, Louise Scollay, we produced Wovember 2017 with a focus on woolness: where wellness meets wool. I also began a new project with the MERL combining knitting and sound to explore some of the objects in their collection that relate to shepherding. I love looking back and seeing how each project begins life in my bullet journals, and I love how adaptive the pages are to what each project required.

As I turn towards a busy and exciting winter full of projects, I am experimenting with new systems for managing my projects; with new ways of playing with plans and lists and of recording processes and progress… it’s a really exciting time both in my work and in my bullet journal, and looking back at my stack of books so far has given me loads of ideas for new pages and practices to try. I hope you have enjoyed this short tour of my bullet journalling practice, too.

The KNITSONIK System is about celebrating the everyday through creativity in our knitting and, to me, it makes loads of sense to see the weeks, months and to-do-lists of life happening next to charts and notes on chapters. I really dislike the notion that art is some sort of rare process that happens in a hallowed and mysterious place and prefer to see it all jumbled up next to shopping lists, addresses for posting wholesale orders, and reminders to go to bed at a sensible time. To me, those connections between our creativity and our daily lives are the very things that make creativity so special and I love how the Bullet Journal provides a context in which to play with those ideas.

In coming weeks I’d like to share more about Bullet Journalling, and how daily life/creativity and KNITSONIK knitting can be managed in the pages of your very own Bullet Journal, and here’s where I’d really like your input; is there anything you struggle with when it comes to planning and managing your knitting or your life, or anything you’d especially like me to cover in forthcoming weeks? I’d love to hear your thoughts on planning and managing knitting in the context of All The Things that all need doing in all our lives, and whether there are things – like the self-care trackers – that I do in my Bullet Journalling practice that may be of use to you.

Let me know in the comments!

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