Monday, 28 July 2014

Book Review: Fairytale Knits by Katharina Ritter

'Fairytale Knits' by Katharina Ritter was published in 2011 and is a smouldering dream-like collection of fairytale-inspired knitwear for women and children.



There are twenty designs - all of which are themed on fairytales. Each pattern is based on a character or a story. The cover design features fingerless gloves and is based on 'Sleeping Beauty'.



One of the distinctive features of this book is that the patterns do not specify the yarn to be used apart from its weight and whether it is cotton, wool, etc. Most of the patterns only have two clothing sizes (10-12 and 14-16 for example) so there is not much use getting this book if you are unusually small or above a size 16 unless you are advanced enough to alter the pattern to fit you.



However there are five children's patterns and eight hats, bags and mittens to knit so the majority of the book is not comprised of women's clothes.



The photography in this book is stunning and magical. I loved the Tom Thumb children's sweater and the Rapunzel knitted dress. The charts and blocking diagrams are very clear. There is no advice on how to knit from scratch in this book so I would recommend it as an advanced beginner collection.



'Fairytale Knits' by Katharina Ritter is published by Search Press and you can purchase it from their shop.

Thank you to Search Press who sent me this book to review at my request.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Book Review: Christmas Cross-stitch Treasures by Joan Elliott

Yes - I know it's July and the temperature is about to hit 30 degrees later this week, but if you want one of the larger cross stitch pieces from this book finished in time for Christmas you're going to have to start around now (although there are smaller patterns too!)



This is a truly delightful book full of beautiful timeless classic cross stitch designs. There are 18 patterns in total and the level of detail in each one is amazing.



At the back of the book there are three A4 pages full of advice on how to start to stitch - this includes working from charted designs, stitching with beads, french knots and finishing up. The issue of framing your work while stitching isn't covered. This isn't essential but there is a wide choice of frames, particularly at the larger end of the scale which may have been helpfully explained here since the projects are very big and may be cumbersome to hold. However these instructions are enough to get you started and don't waste space for those who are already in-the-know.



Eight of the 18 designs are large and will occupy your hands for a few months or weeks - dependent on how busy or experienced you are. 'The Snow Princess' stood out as particularly special in my view (pictured above). Usually there are a couple of patterns I don't like but I could imagine myself stitching all these designs.

The charts are very clearly printed and the numbered threads are given for Anchor and DMC - something you don't always get with a cross stitch book. This enables you to easily shop for a variety of threads if you are on a budget. Joan also has worked out how large each design will be if you stitch on 11, 14, 16, 18, 25, 28 and 32 count aida.

This book was sent to me at my request by Search Press. Please buy 'Christmas Cross-stitch Treasures' by Joan Elliott from Search Press. Thanks to Search Press for sending me this book to review and for generously linking to my blog.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

London Short Story Festival and a finished object!

I have a finished object - my first one for a few months. It's a hat knitted from Classy Dream in Colour in the Prince William colourway on 5.5 mm circular needles. It's a pattern I keep going back to as I know it fits me and the pattern has stitch counts for DK, Aran and chunky. I downloaded it a couple of years ago to knit hats for the Mungo's homeless charity. I'm not sure if it's available now.


I was very pleased with this yarn. It's so soft and I knitted the hat with an extra five centimetres of stocking stitch before the shaping for the crown to make it hang down in a slouchy style. I love it and couldn't wait to pick it up each night after work. I think I have to pick projects which are either crochet based or stocking stitch based for a while. I'm completing them faster.



Since going to the London Short Story Festival two weeks ago I have been subscribing to literary magazines and buying books like a true bibliophile. I felt like I got a lot of superb quality books in the past two months since Arvon.

The festival itself was amazing. It was a small festival with about 50-80 people around at Waterstones Piccadilly. It took over two floors with writing workshops in the basement and talks and readings over another floor. The highlight of the festival for me was definitely the Jackie Kay reading on Friday night. She was absolutely amazing and if you ever get a chance to see her please leap off your chair enthusiastically as she really was entertaining.

I wrote two pieces of flash fiction in a notebook in the basement. I showed the second one to Vanessa Gebbie who was very helpful with plenty of constructive criticism and encouragement. I came away feeling really inspired until I got to Paddington station and ended up arriving home at 11.40pm when I had planned to get home before 9pm. All the trains had been cancelled due to a signalling failure just outside Reading. Be careful if you travel between the South West and Paddington as there seem to be a lot of fails at the moment.

But what a festival and a buzz being around amazing writers for hours. I've written a poem and two flashes since the festival. I think the poem is slightly above my usual standard of poetry (i.e not completely crap) and one of the flashes is lovely and fits well with another one I wrote which came runner-up in a competition.

I will start reviewing books again next week - I had a lovely delivery from Search Press earlier this week and I can't wait to show you them!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Flesh and bone chats

I've had a busier-than-usual six weeks. It's been amazing and I have been stretched and challenged as well as inspired and enthused creatively.


Birds sunrise photo by AllyNewcomer on Etsy

I've written so many flashes - for me it feels like I'm writing reams, although in reality I'm not of course. I've been blocked in my creative writing for so long I hadn't really written anything much. I started and stopped and became discouraged.

This time I've tried to have what the late Paul Sussman (and my Ty Newydd tutor in 2009) called 'flesh and bone' chats. I've never written anywhere online about Paul but as anyone who has been on a writing residential will know, you sometimes have very intense chats and you really do have so many conversations with the tutor-writers - it's the equivalent of a semester at university. I was very upset when he died in 2012 and still have his obituary pinned to my noticeboard by my desk and it really does feel like he wants me to write. He tried hard to encourage me to get out and meet people but at the time I lacked money and was disheartened.

So after my recent Arvon course it's been really nice to feel as if I have enough money to get out the front door and try and make things happen a little bit. I'm very introverted and quiet most of the time but I do have a chatty side which I have attempted to kickstart in terms of literary outings. Hopefully I should be out and about a lot more as well as writing, editing and submitting. I so want to continue to have this as a blog about craft but I hope my regular audiences won't mind a bit of creative writing sometimes and the odd fiction review as well as the latest crochet book!

Sunday, 15 June 2014

From Exmouth to the London Short Story Festival

I went for a lovely day out in Exmouth yesterday. The sky was clear in the morning and we sat looking out to the beach watching the jet skiers, boats, and children swimming. Unfortunately I forgot my iPod at the last minute so there are no pictures!


We had fish and chips along the seafront (I eat eggs and fish now - so I'm not a vegan or a proper veggie, just dairy and meat free), then we got on a very hot train back to Exeter for some shopping. I went to Inspirations next to Exeter Central station which has now become my closest Rowan stockist. It was so nice to feel the yarn and I fell in love with the hank above. It's Rowan Fine Art Aran and it has all my favourite colours together in one place.

I felt like going somewhere quiet this weekend as next weekend I will be in London for 24 hours for the London Short Story Festival. It takes place in a very large bookshop in Piccadilly. I'm really looking forward to meeting up with someone I met at Arvon a few weeks ago for a coffee and chat, and being around creative enthusiasts. The heady combination of books and writers will be hugely exciting. Tania Hershman and my Arvon tutor from a few weeks ago, Adam Marek will be there too. Jackie Kay will be around as well as the people from Litro Magazine - I'm actually thinking about cancelling my Mollie Makes subscription to subscribe to their magazine and book club (shock horror!).

I'm sure I will remember the iPod this time so I will have lots of photos of the event this time next week.


Tuesday, 3 June 2014

My week on a creative residential

I got back from my creative writing residential at Totleigh Barton* ten days ago and haven't stopped thinking about it since.



It was an amazing five days. I got used to meeting people sprawled on sofas with notebooks or laptops looking thoughtful around the house and felt at home alongside the incredibly well-stocked bookcases. It was like sleeping in the best library in the world where the authors had come to life and were speaking to you about how to improve your writing. It was quite a buzz and it's taken me a while to come down!



I managed to get up the drive for a good 90 minute walk. The drive takes a while to travel along in a car and it takes about 30 minutes to walk to the nearest little town, Sheepwash. I was struck by the isolation of the house and how you could easily forget about the internet, television, or even that anyone else in the world existed. The manor house is surrounded by farmland which isn't all owned by the Arvon Foundation so I was very careful to stick to the road. I went for this walk on a whim to get rid of a claustrophobic mood which had descended so I hadn't asked at the office for a map. I'm sure there were many walks to explore and I would be so excited to walk through the lush countryside if I ever go again.



I didn't do an enormous amount of writing during the week but there were four three-hour workshops in the mornings which were extremely entertaining so I wrote in those. I think I over-compensated by reading about five collections of stories and 'on writing' by A.L. Kennedy which was amazingly funny and suited my mood perfectly. I was lucky in that there were seven other students instead of the usual 15, so we all got twice as many one-to-one tutorials. I had taken a few stories with me which have benefited hugely from having an expert edit them and guide me into how to finish the piece and 'sew in the ends'.

Overall it was a hugely beneficial experience but I think it lessens the effect if you go on too many so I will aim to do another one in a few years' time. Hopefully things will have moved on quite a bit by then. Fingers crossed.

*Bursaries are available.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Literary shenanigans

I've been knitting away on my Wollmeise shawl in the last ten days. My shoulder is starting to heal and I have more flexibility in it. I now have 115 exercises overall to do each day which involve attempting to push a wall over with my fist :)


Oscar Wilde postcard by Literary Emporium on Not on the High Street


This time next week I will be on an Arvon Foundation residential deep in the Devon countryside with no internet access and just a notebook, a project bag full of wool and my own mind. And lots of other creative wonderful minds, good food and nice wine.

The last couple of months have felt a bit strange for me personally with a few opportunities exploding from the toaster and landing buttered side down. A few things have gone very right though. I am feeling very confident with my good female driving instructor and I'm going to Arvon, obviously. I have also bought some lovely things and the sun is out this week. Each day I try and write a list in my head to try and focus on the good things. Sometimes we can get carried away and forget how many steps we've taken when we feel as if we are going backwards.

So I will have some time to knit next week I'm sure. And take photos of the wonderful Devon countryside. Lets hope the opportunity will land buttered side up and I will start submitting my flash fiction again!

Happy knitting :)

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Book Review: 'Knit and Crochet Garden' by Arne & Carlos

This book review is a bit later than I had planned. I took the pictures in December then put them to one side as I had asked Arne & Carlos for an interview. I waited to see then found out from them about a family illness. Then came Christmas and all the hustle and bustle. Anyway, here it is finally.

'Knit-and-Crochet Garden' by Arne & Carlos is, as always, an amazing cute wonderful book. It's full of bright cheerful colours and comforting knitting and crochet patterns.



There are unusual twists on household items like coasters and cushions inspired by flowers and all things related to the garden. I love the feel and aura of Arne & Carlos books. They are so homely. You feel as if you could really snuggle up with the cushions and throws.



There are also patterns in here for toys - a mouse and a hippy to be exact! They come with clothes and you'll need to be able to knit in the round with DPNs or be able to adapt the pattern to suit your needs. There isn't much in the way of instructions for complete beginners, just advice on yarn and needles, but if you are a confident beginner you should find you are OK.



There is a pattern for a blanket for the toys and there are lovely photos of the dolls house Arne & Carlos own in their garden.



I have reviewed two other Arne & Carlos books here: Easter Knits, and Knitted Dolls with a Designer Wardrobe

You can find 'Knit and Crochet Garden' by Arne & Carlos on the Search Press website.

As usual, thank you once again to Search Press for sending me this book to review.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Wollmeise, socks and a doll

I haven't blogged for two weeks partly due to wanting to rest a RSI issue I've had with my right shoulder which resulted in a visit to the GP and then the physiotherapist. She's given me some exercises to do which are enormously pleasurable and relieve a great deal of tension. So as I am off work this week (on proper leave not sick!) I thought I would slowly do some crafting and blogging while making sure to stretch!



I picked up the latest issue of Simply Crochet and wanted to crochet almost everything in the magazine. This hasn't happened for quite some time and I have slowed down considerably on buying magazines. It's probably something to do with not wanting to knit an entire jumper and sometimes the accessory patterns in knitting magazines don't grab me. On the same day I picked up some sock yarn (Regia 4 ply which you can find here - although I can't seem to find the shade I used 07707). I started the crocheted sock in the magazine and so far it is working well. I've never crocheted a sock before and found it really easy. I love the colour - I found the shade in my local sewing and fabric shop.



This is my doll so far from the 'My Crochet Doll' book which I reviewed a few weeks ago. I think she's pretty awesome. Even without hair or a nose. Since this photo was taken a couple of days ago I've crocheted a scalp for her.



And finally this is the Naiada pattern knitted with Wollmeise. It's so amazing to knit with. Unfortunately every time I take a picture of it my camera makes it look a different colour but it's the Merlot colourway so you can look for yourself on the Wollmeise website if you are interested. Although it kind of looks different again on their website (NB Merlot is currently unavailable).



I've really enjoyed the simplicity of the pattern so far. It's very cleverly done and you only need to remember a three stitch sequence which is repeated over and over on right sides and then purl the wrong side. Quite simple, as long as you remember to look up each row! Of course this will need blocking and after this I will have two shawls to block. I have my eye on a blocking kit from Loop but I will think about that again in a few weeks perhaps.

For now I'm loving all my projects!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Jealousy within the crafting community

It seems jealousy is back as a major issue within the online crafting community. I'm seeing signs of distress and of a backlash against Instagram. It's sad because usually I love to see people chatting to each other about handmade and what they've achieved that day. Instead I'm seeing online bullying and I think that stems, partially at least, from jealousy.

Hestercombe House, Taunton

Jealousy is a feeling of wanting what someone else has. Within the crafting community online it is accepted by most people that they will experience these emotions and, for most people, the emotions stay on the surface and actually feed into their creativity and drive.

But for some, a small percentage of people, the emotions bury deep inside, particularly if they also suffer from feelings of low self-worth, anxiety or depression. It festers within them and it becomes dark. Their own creativity is neglected, sometimes completely. After all, why bother if other people crochet better, knit nicer things and make more sales on Etsy? What's the point of being mediocre?

I have experienced these emotions myself and have also been the subject of jealousy. Both have been intensely painful. I have felt the panic rise as someone seems to direct their irrational feelings towards a random skill I may have or something I have done. The irony is often that I've felt really sorry for them as I know how it feels to want someone else's job or intelligence or talent. Often people have no interest in hearing about the struggle the object of their jealousy may have suffered. Poverty, distress and illness are not written in a list on the front of your clothes as you walk around in life.

Recently I've realised taking action can solve some of these negative feelings. If you stumble across a blog where someone has had five books published, is seemingly rich and looks fantastic all at the age of sixteen, and you feel sick with envy perhaps you should start writing and networking. If a seller on Etsy is selling fantastically well see if they have done any interviews anywhere on the web and study their daily routine, where they go for inspiration and where they studied, then see if you can be inspired by them instead of feeling down.

Perhaps if it really annoys you so much take a break from whatever social media you use the most and go somewhere else instead? Pinterest is less overwhelming and jealousy-inducing than Instagram and can be a great source of creative inspiration.

Perhaps just switch the internet off completely and remind yourself other things are way more important.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Book Review: My Crochet Doll by Isabelle Kessedjian

I found a great book a few weeks ago in the 'Inspirations' craft shop in Exeter just a minute away from Exeter Central train station. Usually when I pick up knitting or crochet books to purchase for myself I think 'well, I won't crochet that, or that, maybe that' and then put it back. This book was sold the minute I picked it up. I have been looking for a pattern for a 'neat' amigurumi doll for ages and now here was the perfect book.



'My Crochet Doll' by Isabelle Kessedjian is a truly gorgeous and cute book. The book contains the pattern to crochet a basic doll and a wide array of clothes to crochet for her (I say 'her' but you could easily make the doll male). The book contains patterns for everything from a onesie for the doll to pyjamas. She is pictured with a range of hair and 'facial decorations' (masks, glasses, etc). She really looks so different in each photo shoot. There are patterns for a tiny blanket for her and even a suitcase. What a dream book for a child just getting into crochet or a young mum!



I chose to make the Red Riding Hood doll to begin with. I've nearly finished the actual doll but there was a short hiatus after I started as I needed two 50g balls of cotton and I had only picked up one in Inspirations, so I had to order on eBay. (This was my fault, I didn't read through the book properly in the shop). If you follow the patterns to the letter Isabelle recommends 'Begere de France' yarns for the doll and the clothes and provides a list for each photo shoot. The only mistake I've discovered so far is on page 72 - to make the boots it has a symbol to crochet from and to in the shoe pattern but hasn't been included so I don't know how to make them. I bet I could figure it out if I really tried. Everything else has worked out fine so far.



I've finished the legs, body and head. I have nearly finished the left arm and have crocheted the hood. I know you shouldn't start the clothes before the doll but I couldn't wait to crochet a ball of cherry King Cole DK I had bought. I don't know why I don't just crochet little dolls - they always get finished and aren't too taxing to have out while watching TV.

'My Crochet Doll' is available with £5.50 off at Play if you are in the UK. Or you can find it in your local book shop or library.

If you are in the US please take a look at this UK and US conversion chart for crochet - we use different terms here in the UK.

If you are in the US here is the link for Amazon.

This sounds like a sponsored post but it's not - I bought this book and I love it so much!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Mother's Day on UK Etsy

I've taken a break from my busy schedule of watching House of Cards and Sherlock on Netflix and drinking tea working full-time and generally trying to improve my life even further to bring you a selection of four beautiful handmade items from Etsy from UK sellers so you can order them and give Mum a lovely present on Sunday week.



Big Button Coasters by 'WoodpaperscissorsUK' from Kettering, UK on Etsy £17.85



Silver Bird Pendant by 'AliBaliJewellery' from Edinburgh, Scotland on Etsy £64.79


'So loved' print by 'JenRoffePrint' from St Albans, UK £10



'Mum Hessian tote bag' by 'jillgrantxx' from Glasgow, Scotland on Etsy £20

Have a wonderful look on Etsy for yourself by searching 'UK Mum' or 'UK Mother's Day'.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Book review: 'Baby booties and socks - 50 Knits for Tiny Toes' by Frederique Alexandre

'Baby booties and socks' is a pretty book crammed full of beautifully designed yet simple to knit baby booties and socks.



There are 50 designs and they are wide-ranging in their styles and colours. Most of the designs include sizing for six month old babies and one year olds. A good amount (though not all) contain sizing for newborns and three month old babies and sizing for two year olds.



Most of the designs are knitted with two needles with a seam but there are approx a third which can be knitted in the round with double pointed needles.



The book also contains a few crocheted booties and socks. There are five pages of instructions in total - with clear diagrams on how to crochet with seven stitches including how to increase and decrease. Also there are knitting instructions with detailed guidance on how to make a left and right slanting increase and how to graft and sew invisible seams.



The yarn picked is always Bergere De France which is easy to get hold of in the UK and very affordable. If you are like me and don't mind sewing seams after knitting socks or booties flat then this is the book for you. If you can knit in the round with multiple needles and can convert a flat pattern then you could practice doing that with this book.



I think if you are new or relatively new to knitting and are thinking about knitting a present for a family member or friend with a baby then this could be a safer bet than a garment tension-wise. I've found socks to be quite simple once you master putting stitches onto a holder to shape the heel.



You can buy 'Baby Booties and socks - 50 Knits for Tiny Toes' from the Search Press website.

Thanks to Search Press for sending me this lovely little book.


Sunday, 23 February 2014

Book review: Cuddly Knitted Animals by Caprice Birker

'Cuddly Knitted Animals' by Caprice Birker is a fun and entertaining book for all knitters who love toys.



All the animals are knitted in the round with double pointed needles and a couple of the animals need very basic crochet skills. There are charts but the charted sections are also written.



There are 22 animal patterns in total and they all use the same torso pattern at the beginning of the book. There are extensive 'basic' patterns in the first section so you could even experiment and branch out with your own design if you wanted to.



The first section is quite exhaustive with a total of 24 pages introducing you to toy knitting such as which yarns to use and making the face, etc. Caprice has been adventurous with her choice of yarn and I particularly love the sock yarn used for the dragon, but the exact yarns she's used are not specified and you would have to try and find your own 'green and blue sock yarn 75 per cent wool' to use.



The animals range from an elephant and monkey to a unicorn and a dragon! This is a really fun book which should be accessible for the intermediate knitter or the advanced beginner.



You can buy 'Cuddly Knitted Animals' by Caprice Birker from the Search Press website.

Thanks to Search Press for sending me this book to review at my request.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The joy of Wollmeise

Have you ever noticed the two scales of stress and knitting? When one goes up the other goes down? It's a vicious circle. Sometimes, when you feel stressed you don't want to pick up the needles and it's difficult to plug into your crafting mojo. So a couple of weeks ago I had to force myself to knit. I picked up my knitting and gradually I felt better. It wasn't much but I immediately felt the benefit the next day. (Although reading my new Neil Gaiman novel helped too!)



It also helped to be able to order some Wollmeise! It arrived a couple of weeks ago, and having lost my crafting mojo at that point, I put it away and didn't really look at it (I know - how did I do that?!). But last week I wound it into five balls and started to knit a tension swatch as I couldn't wait to find a pattern. It's amazing. There are two things I've tried in the last few months which haven't disappointed me after being highly recommended by bloggers or podcasters, one is Craftsy* and the other is Wollmeise.

It doesn't always follow that if you spend more on wool you'll get a better result but I'm pleased to say I feel this is well worth the extra money. At about £5.25 per 50 grams it's only like buying Rowan but in a 200 gram hank.

I am planning to knit 'Naiada' by Martina Behm which is a paid-for pattern on Ravelry. I have some 150 cm circular knitting needles on order from Love Knitting who kindly gave me free shipping on my first order as I subscribed by email. I'm sure I will need to consider investing in some interchangeable circulars soon otherwise the cost is quickly going to rack up.

I hope you are in a position to treat yourself to Wollmeise - it's well worth the postage, trust me.

*This is an affiliated link - I will gain a percentage fee from Craftsy if you click this and then buy something.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

A trip down memory lane

I've been recently looking through my childhood photos and putting them all into a Paperchase photo album I bought a few months ago. I'm getting there, although some of the mediocre ones look awful next to the ones my father took as he had a passion for photography. If there's one thing this blog is lacking it's baby/children photos so here are mine instead!



This is me at around the age of six or seven and my older sister Louise at the age of ten or eleven. I may look like I want to kill her, but as you'll see if you hover over the photo and find out what I've labelled it, nothing happened after the photo was taken.



This is one of my favourite photos of all time from the album. There are many, but this is in the top ten. I always wonder why I love tulips so much, and this is probably why.



Gosh, I loved the paddling pool. I remember this being a very very hot summer and I was constantly being slathered in sun lotion everywhere I went. It had to be positioned underneath our apple tree as the rest of the garden was just too hot. And before you ask, yes I was born a blonde. Suddenly I became a brunette a couple of years after this photo was taken.



By this time you're probably wondering did I forget the camera when I turned into a teenager? The answer is yes, I threw it into the lavatory. I can't believe how awful I looked as a teenager but then, I suppose everyone does, and maybe one day I'll pluck up the courage to create a post based on my teen photos.



And, finally, here is a photo of me and my sister during a tour around Granada studios in Manchester while we stayed with my Nan in Lancashire during the school holidays. I absolutely loved this tour and I had a great day. I was totally addicted to Coronation Street as a child. I think The Darling Buds of May, Poirot and Corrie were on quite a lot and we rarely watched the BBC if at all.

Well, I hope you enjoyed my photos. Have you found an interesting way to display yours?

Saturday, 18 January 2014

New Year No Fear!

If you're anything like me you'll love a good sale in January. There are endless bargains to be had and right now there is 10 per cent off everything at The Bead & Button Company.



These crochet hooks are a lot of fun. Made from aluminium they are really colourful and bold and will pop out when crocheting so you can see them really well. They would also make a great present for a child to get them into crochet.



The lace I received for review from them was also of very good quality. These are just long enough to sew along a pillow edge and are really thick.



These poppy wooden buttons are just awesome. I've seen these in a few different places, as background for magazine shoots and on knitting on the wonderful knitting blogs I follow. They really are gorgeous. They come in two different sizes - 25mm and 30mm.



These buttons have butterflies on them and are equally gorgeous. They would all look so brilliant on baby or adult clothes. I'm sure everyone would be asking you where you had got them!



So why not give them a try? They do free delivery on all orders over £30 so if you have been holding back on supplies before Christmas now's your time to do a bulk order with 10 per cent off.

I received these goods for free from The Bead & Button Company to review them and this is therefore a sponsored blog post.
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