Pluen Eira Hat – free knitting pattern

Pluena eira hat full set up flat lay

One of my goals for this year was to share my ideas and enthusiasm so with this in mind I have just published my first knitting pattern for about 2 years. It is called the Pluen Eira Hat and is available for free via Ravelry.

This hat is for those cold winter days when the snow falls in giant flakes and I run outside to spin around in them like a small child, finding joy in each and every snowflake as they land on me – I am 40 years old and I still do this! It is for the crisp winter days thick with frost when it is a delight to sit outside and read a book provided you are wrapped up well and have a hot drink in hand. Admittedly these are quite romanticised daydreams but the hat will also be perfect for the reality of trudging out to pick up small children from school, walking the dog in the biting wind, working outdoors or any of the other 101 practical reasons why you might need a warm and squishy hat to wear.

This design is for a close fitting hat with a small amount of slouch at the back. The texture on the body represents thick falling snow flurries whilst the crown shaping creates a giant snowflake shape at the top of the hat.

Happy knitting!

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Vintage knitting books.

As a general rule I’m not a big one for shopping trips and buying myself lots of pretty things. I have even managed to tame this desire when it comes to buying yarn (to an extent!). There is one thing however that I am powerless to resist and that is vintage knitting books from charity shops. Looking through my craft library it would appear that the same can be said for vintage embroidery books too but that is another story for another day. There are probably myriad different reasons why these appeal to me but the ones that immediately come to mind are;

  1. I am cheap – if I can find something at a bargain price I am a very happy woman. Some may say this is because I am from Yorkshire, others may link it to growing up in a thrifty (by necessity) household, I personally would say my main excuse is that I am a stay at home mum without a fixed income so my money is a very precious resource.
  2. I have a slight book addiction – there are people who horde shoes, clothes or even football memorabilia, for me it is books. I wasn’t exaggerating when I describes my craft book collection as a library. I love learning new things and as someone who grew up mostly in  time before the internet my preferred method of learning is from books. There is something about old books in particular that makes them even better and it mostly seems to be about the smell. Yes I just admitted to sniffing books, lets just accept it and move on shall we?
  3. Vintage/ retro fashions – my preference for fashions and styles has been very firmly in the 1970s camp since I was I my teens and shows no signs of going away any time soon. Whilst my first love will always be the 1970s, as I get older I am broadening my affections towards knitwear from the 1980s and early 1990s too so old knitting books are perfect to feed this interest.
  4. The styling of pattern – this is often very different to the styling of modern patters and can be hilarious. Remember all that fuss a few months ago when Laine magazine showed a sweater modelled on a woman that wasn’t smiling? Well that is nothing compared to vintage knitting books. Check out this stylish pair.

old men knitwear

Image from pg 141 of The Penguin Book of Knitting by Pam Dawson (1978)

Far from being off putting I find myself desperately wanting to cast on these patterns precisely because they are modelled on grumpy faced old men in what appears to be the back yarn of a terraced house in some northern industrial town.

5. The garments are more individual – in a time when half the knitting community appears to be working on exactly the same pattern by the exact same designers every few months it is wonderfully refreshing to see something different. Admittedly when they were published you may well have ended up bumping in to someone wearing the same design but not to the same extent but now knitted examples of the pattern are few and far between having been relegated to the back of a wardrobe many years ago.

Whilst there are many reasons to love old knitting books they also come with a number of caveats or words of warning to take in to consideration.

  1. vintage yarns – often the yarns used in the books will have long since been discontinued or the yarn company itself will no longer even exist. Not a problem if you are happy with yarn substitution but not good for those who prefer to knit in the stated yarn. In older patterns you may find that yarn weights are different to modern ones too or at least harder to track down.
  2. basic information – if you learned to knit recently and mainly using modern and/ or American patterns that walk you through the whole process in detail you may find these books hard work. If you are lucky you will get something that looks like a Rowan patter but often it will be more like an Elizabeth Zimmerman pattern that gives a basic recipe that requires a fair amount of assumed skills and knowledge to implement. Sizing options are often limited too, sometime with just one size being given so you need to grade the pattern yourself in order to get something other than that size.
  3. pieced garments – I grew up knitting English patterns on straight needles so making pieced garments is something I am comfortable with. If however you are from a time or place when circular knitting and seamless garments are the norm then books such as these may well push you out of your comfort zone.

Despite these minor drawbacks I still love them and it sparks joy in my heart to find them as I trawl through the dusty books shelves in charity shops and second hand stores.

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Crafting for work versus crafting for fun.

I’m finally back after a summer hiatus. Trying tpo blog or podcast with 2 small childfren demanding entertainment or food every 5 minutes does not seem to work for me so this year I gave myself permission to take the summer holidays off.

The summer holidays did leave me pondering some craft related questions though, mainly around the theme of crafting for work versus crafting for fun. There were 2 things that started me thinking about this, firstly the jumoer I am making for my brother and secondly helping to run a holiday club for children aged 6-11 during the final week of the holidays.

Now we all know that crafting (knitting, spinning, crochet, sewing, papercrafts etc) is meant to be good for our mental health through a mix of slow repetitive movements, mindfulness and providing/ sparking creativity but does this hold true for crafting for work purposes?

Whilst not strictly work in the truest sense, as I’m making it as a gift, the jumper for my brother is very similar to working on commission knitting as he gave me an idea what he wanted and a vague colour scheme and I had to design the jumper to fit with these. I am also working to a deadline with it – ok so its a very loose and self imposed deadline but as it was meant to be a gift for his 40th birthday and we are now 18 months from that date it could do with being finished sooner rather than later. I have to admit this hasn’t been as much fun to work on as a garment for myself for the following reasons;

  • the pressure of meeting the standards of others and matching the design brief rather than just knitting for me and fudging it if I need to or making it up as I go along.
  • being aware of knitting to a deadline
  • its not for me and I don’t get to wear it when it is finished so my enthusiasm for finishing it isn’t as high as with a purely selfish knit
  • the design process involves a lot of swatching and ripping back to get details right which feels like wasted time even though it is actually quite useful in the long run.

By far the biggest challenge to my belief that creafts were good for my mental health though was helping to run a 3 day holiday club for 25 children aged 6-11 years. I was in charge of planning 7 craft activities and 1 baking activity over the 3 day period, the craft activities were;

  • French knitting
  • clay modelling
  • paper crafts
  • kumihimo braiding
  • sewing
  • weaving
  • basic bookbinding/ notebook making

All activities that I enjoy doing by myself at home, teaching them to people on mass however is a different story. I began to resent the activities because I knew I would have to spend significant amounts of time preparing the materials, making samples and writing instructions which would leave me no time for working on my own projects during the evening. I also found it stressful being the only crafter in the room, sewing becomes considerably less fun if you have 7 children all wanting their needles rethreading at the same time, and needing it doing every 2 stitches! I considered whether part of this was because I just wasn’t a natural teacher but I have enjoyed teaching others individually or in small groups of 2-3 (admittedly mostly adults) how to do certain crafts so I think it must be down to something else.

On reflection I think that crafting for a living isn’t something that I plan on taking up any time soon. I will however continue with my voluntary efforts teaching small children various crafts (although this has lead me to question why when people find out you can do one craft they assume you can do all crafts and want to teach everyone else how to do them in your spare time) but mostly I will stick to crafting for fun. For me crafting for fun is characterised by the following elements;

  • it is selfish – something for me to wear/ use
  • it is solitary – something I can do alone in peace and quiet
  • it is deadline free – or at least if there is a deadline it is self imposed and relatively flexible
  • it is textile based – I don’t mind the add bit of paper crafting. clay modelling etc but textile and fibre arts are my first love
  • it is slow – not in terms of time but in terms of outlook and principles.
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The Wool Monty Show 2019

Having spent the 5 years after leaving university living in Sheffield it will always have a special place in my heart so when I heard that there would be a new yarn festival, called the Wool Monty, launching there this year I was very excited. Sheffield and wool fondling…throw in a bit of cake and that’s all my boxes ticked! I wanted to share this experience with other people, partly so I looked less frightening walking round with my “happy wool face” on but also because I knew 2 very lovely people who would enjoy it too so I took my mum and my little sister. My mum loves knitting as much as I do whereas my sister is less about the knitting but loves Sheffield (having been a student there).

I’ll gloss over the slightly traumatic start to the day, missing my bus and having to drag my OH and my children out of the house in their pyjamas so they could give me a lift to the train station instead. The train journey itself was a joy though – I’d got the slow train from Manchester to Sheffield that travels along the Hope Valley line so I had views of rolling hills, stone houses and sheep to entertain me. I’d taken a book on Victorian dress making and a kumihimo braiding project with me in case I got bored but I hardly picked up either of them as the views were so stunning.

My knitter’s radar was on high alert for other likely looking travellers also headed to the Wool Monty show. A quick glance around the carriage and I spotted a woman with knitting in her lap – a smile, a nod and a quick “I bet I know where you are going today!” and we were soon chatting away about current projects and what we hoped to buy that day. I was so busy chatting about wool that I nearly walked past my mum and my sister at the train station, much to their amusement.

Once in Sheffield we then needed to get a tram to the FlyDSA Arena where the event was being held. In an ideal world this tram would have gone from the tram stop outside the rear of the train station but unfortunately it didn’t so we had a short walk round to Castle Square to get on the right tram. It turns pout the conductor on the tram was also a knitter and was very interested when we told her what was going on at the arena and why groups of women carrying knitting kept getting on the tram looking a bit giddy.

One drawback to the venue was that the attendees were not allowed to take their own food and drink in to the arena (which ruined my plan for a fancy picnic) but being the thrifty Yorkshire women that we are we had taken a small pack up of ham sandwiches and chocolate sourdough muffins which we ate outside, stood up next to the bins when we arrived with all the class and style that we could muster. My first reaction on walking in to the main room was “where is everyone?”. The space is huge but somehow feels quite cosy at the same time. Admittedly we had arrived only a few minutes after the event had opened but I still had a panic that it was going to be really poorly attended and never run again. I needn’t have worried though as it got busier later in the morning and it was partly a trick of the space that made it feel less busy.

Anyone who has ever been to a yarn show in the UK before will probably be aware that they can be very over crowded (in much the same way as a Christmas market) and can leave you feeling claustrophobic and harassed, you get squeezed along the rows between stalls pushed along with the tide of people and have to make a concerted effort to break free and make a mad dash to the stalls where you then have to employ the use of pointy elbows and forget good manners to have any hope of fondling some yarn. Not so at the Wool Monty show! The open space was amazing, despite having 74 stalls/ exhibitors there were wide open spaces leaving plenty of room for people to walk along without feeling crowded and plenty of space for people with mobility scooters/ wheelchairs/ crutches to navigate the area freely. At the back of the arena a café area was set up with plenty of seating and a relatively quick moving queue for cups of tea. Food/ cake was also available for those not classy enough to eat their butties by the bins at 10.30am! There was extra seating scattered about the stalls too, so plenty of opportunity to have a good sit down.

A few days before the event I had been through the stall holder list and checked out all their websites etc to make a short list of which stalls I wanted to visit in case it was super busy and  I had to prioritise which ones I attempted to make my way to. In the end it was such a calm and relaxed atmosphere that we just ambled along looking at all the stalls and not feeling rushed or pressured in any way. There was a good range of stalls that catered for different tastes, from small scale, British, breed/ flock specific producers (my tastes), to commercial producers with affordable yarns suitable for making gifts for non-knitters who don’t know how to care for pure wool (my mum’s tastes), to independent designers with simple stylish patterns in block colours (my sister’s tastes).

If my budget had been endless, and my stash not already bursting at the seams then I could have bought a ridiculous amount of beautiful yarn. However I was very good and only made a small number of purchases, a sweaters worth of Warth Mill Yarn from Wooly Knit in a moss green colour. Yes I know that I could have walked the 5 miles up the road from my house to Wooly Knit itself rather than going all the way to Sheffield to buy it but it is my favourite wool to work with and my mum was buying some from there too. I even made their Facebook page as I was wearing a top knitted intheir Warth Mill Yarns at the show – lets not discuss my giddy wool face on the picture though. I also bought some fibre for spinning from Hawkshaw Sheep – a dark brown Shetland and some unwashed Derbyshire Gritstone fleece. Most of her wool and fibre comes from her own flock with a small additional amount coming from other local farmers, I have bought fibre from Hawkshaw Sheep before and really enjoyed being able to trace my fibre back to source. The fibre I got will be spun up to go with my previous handspun yarn from her and be knitted in to a shawl at some point in the future. As I felt guilty about being a bad mother gadding about fondling wool all day whilst my children stayed at home with their dad (in reality they were having their own muddy outdoor adventures and didn’t miss me at all) I bought presents for them too. I got a card for my youngest with a picture of a unicorn made from yarn on it (from Stationary Geek) and a card with a medieval style tapestry featuring dragons (from Opusangelicanum).

Although I didn’t buy much I did find quite a few stalls that I’d want to buy from in the future;

  • Brambles & Me (who has the most beautiful logo ever!) – for synthetic free, naturally dyed yarns and a gorgeous tote bag.
  • Bluebell Yarns – British, non-superwash yarns some of which are breed specific.
  • Clay and Woodwork – because I am a sucker for ceramics with beautiful glazes!
  • Hot Butter Yarns – for some gorgeous patterns.
  • Lammermuir Wool – for flock specific Shetland blend yarns.
  • Opusangelicanum – medieval style embroidery kits with vegetable dyed wools.
  • Romney Marsh Wools – British wool in natural shades and wool soap.
  • Ewe and Ply – leather wrist ruler/ bracelet.
  • Wooldale Wool – flock specific yarn from Yorkshire.
  • Wool Mouse – hand carved wooden shawl pins.

Things my mum liked;

  • patterns by Sue Stratford
  • Joes Toes – felted shoes/ slippers
  • yarns from Wool is the answer
  • ceramic buttons from Whim Wham Buttons

Things my sister liked;

  • patterns from Handmade by Kunbi
  • patterns from JimiKnits
  • basically any orange or grey wool on all the stands.

All in all it gets a big thumbs up from me and I hope it runs again next year as I would love to go back after saving up for a bit.

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In praise of the knitted skirt.

I have a feeling that knitted skirts might be a bit like Marmite, you either love them or you hate them. I am firmly in the love camp!

I do however have one caveat – it has the be the RIGHT knitted skirt!

My reflections on the knitted skirt began when I was flicking through an old copy of a Rowan Knitting and Crochet Magazine and came across the Flint pattern by Sarah Hatton. I remembered how much I had loved the pattern when I first got the magazine and considered making it now but then I thought a bit more about it and realised that a mid thigh length, 3 layer, 3 colour wrap over skirt that then needs to be felted is probably not the best option for a number of reasons;

  • my track record of felting means that my results would be unpredictable and potentially disastrous.
  • 3 layers of felted dk weight fabric which are then wrapped over each other is going to be way too much bulk around my middle.
  • mid thigh length skirts are not my friend, if I have to worry about flashing my knickers every time I move or can only wear it with leggings/ very thick tights then we have a problem.
  • 3 colours is 2 colours too many!

I then started thinking about the commercial knitted skirts that I have owned, some considerably more successful than others. I’ll start with the less successful ones. The first was a grey, textured, knee length straight skirt with an elasticated waist which ultimately just made me look like a frumpy school girl. Not the look I am going for. The elasticated waist was its only saving grace! I need more volume and more length and grey has no place in my wardrobe. The rest have really been the lower half of knitted dresses, generally a fine (lace weight at most) knitted fabric that was ribbed around the bottom and finished mid thigh. I think I have already covered the length issue but the ribbing around the bottom is a big no no and it just served to emphasise the width of my hips and the light weight fabric just seemed to show off every lump and bump and VPL.

The successful one however is a thing of beauty. It is a floor length, textured, flared  and lined skirt knitted in a heavy lace/ 4 ply weight yarn in a dark chocolate brown and it has an elasticated waist. I have worn this skirt on many occasions and at many dress sizes (including whilst heavily pregnant – it did however sit under my bump resisting on my hips at this point) and what I want it really something just like that. So what are the criteria for a perfect knitted skirt? Well for me it should be all of the following;

  • floor length
  • flared/ full
  • have an elasticated waist
  • be 1 solid colour, ideally a dark one
  • lightly textured
  • knitted in a 4ply – dk (at most) weight
  • lined so that it skims nicely over my body
  • oh and pockets would be amazing!

Essentially I want something similar to the bottom half of the Arwen Gown by Marie Wallin  but just a bit closer fitting at the waist.

Unfortunately I am rather lazy and even though I am only 5’5″ I am also currently a UK size 14-16 so the idea of knitting a skirt to fit me in a dark 4ply/dk weighy yarn makes me want to cry. It has just taken me 6 months to finish an aran weight cropped, 3/4 sleeve v neck cardigan so anything bigger will have to wait until I get my knitting mojo back properly. In the mean time though I will be dreaming of the perfect skirt pattern and wearing it whilst swishing about across open countryside filling my pockets with treasures.

 

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Holiday knitting – how many projects are enough?

As any knitter or crocheter will know planning what projects to take on holiday with you is an integral part of your pre-holiday planning. I’m sure there are even a few crafters out there like me who think about what knitting they are going to pack long before they think about what clothes they will be taking with them.

I think it is fair to say that I always want to overpack when it comes to my holiday knitting projects. I may be happy to wear the same clothes more than once and take a minimalist approach to packing clothes but the thought of only being able to work on one project makes me feel a bit panicky. Thankfully I can still retain some common sense and recognise that packing a multi-coloured Fair Isle design or a complicated lace pattern is not a sensible idea. I know that something relatively small and primarily in garter or stocking stitch or with an easily memorisable pattern repeat will be my best option, but I still want to pack at least 7 of them!

So what do I usually pack when it comes to holiday knitting/ crafting projects?

  • last year on a 10 day trip to Orkney, when space was at a premium, I packed a 3 colour garter stitch shawl using breed specific handspun yarn, a pair of simple textured socks in handspun, hand dyed Wensleydale yarn and my small Turtle Made Turkish spindle with 3 x 25g nests of spinning fibre. I worked on everything and didn’t get bored or run out of projects. It was the perfect balance.
  • earlier this year I spent a week at my parents’ house with my children and packed a crochet blanket, a crochet jumper that I was making up as I went along, a cardigan I had been working on for my mum for months and some fabric that I was hoping to upcycle in to dresses for my girls. Before I went I had almost completely lost my knitting mojo and hadn’t knitted anything for days. Whilst at my parents’ my mojo only came back enough to let me work on the crochet projects and even then I was on “just keep stitching” autopilot. In this case it was way too many projects and slightly overwhelming at times.

Then most recently on a 3 day trip to Scotland I packed a 2 colour garter stitch shawl made from handspun that I was working on for my daughter and the wool/ needles for a 2 colour lace weight vest top that I had an idea about for myself and I worked on…nothing! Yes that’s right nothing, not a single stitch on any either of my projects. Why not? Well partly this was due to swapping places in the car with my daughter. In the past I would always travel in the back so my daughter who gets travel sick could ride up front but now she prefers to sit with her sister I the back and I have to sit in the front with my partner. In the back I could knit to my hearts content but in the front I get what can best be described as “crafting guilt” and getting my knitting out feels wrong when I should be making an effort to talk/ change CDs/ navigate/ etc. I’m working on trying to persuade my daughter to swap places again but at the moment she isn’t convinced its a good idea.

So why didn’t I work on anything at the holiday cottage either? Well firstly we were only there for 2 nights so there was more pressure than usual to be out and about doing things and very little time for sitting about relaxing and knitting other than at night when the children had gone to bed. Even then my knitting didn’t make it out of my bag as space was limited so me taking up room flapping my elbows about as I knitted would have felt a bit anti-social but also partly because the people I was on holiday with opted for subdued/ dimmed lighting to create a comfy/ cosy atmosphere. Me barging in with my knitting demanding that someone put the “big light” on so I could see to knit felt a bit selfish so I worked on nothing and accepted that it would be a craft free holiday. Clearly this surprised other people as my sister-in-law was worried about me and asked if I was alright as I had gone days without knitting! The plan was to catch up on my knitting as soon as I got home however that hasn’t quite gone to plan either as a result of an incident at the end of the holiday that saw me cockle over on my ankle and end up laying on the floor in a car park outside a ladies toilet. All dignity lost and a sore wrist gained!

Taking all that in to consideration when it comes to knitting projects and how many are enough to take on holiday I guess my answer would be that it depends but I will always try and pack something just in case and it is better to err on the side of caution and pack too many rather than run the risk of running out.

How about you? How many projects do you pack and what type of thing makes the perfect holiday project for you?

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Things I have learned from Me Made May 2019

Yes I know that May isn’t actually over yet but I have been thinking about the lessons Me Made May has taught me already so I thought I would take the time to share with you what I’d learned so far. Back in 2017 I wrote a blog post on the same theme and looking back at it now it seems that some things I should already have known but others are new so its good to know that I am not just stuck in a complete loop of repeating myself!

The things I have learned this time round;

  1. I am rubbish at keeping up with photo challenges – I think I managed 4 pictures out outfits this year before I decided I had more important things to do with my time. I didn’t even post any of those 4 to Instagram so I am a bit of a fail in that respect too!
  2. I don’t wear me made clothes everyday and that’s ok – sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to wear my me made clothes. If I am getting muddy and sweaty at the allotment or crawling around on my hands and knees putting toys away after a toddlers group then there is no point in me wearing my best clothes. From a sustainability/ slow fashion stand point though these outfits still have their benefits as most of the items I wear on these days have been in my wardrobe for over 5 years (often over 10 years) and a significant proportion are also second hand.
  3. Weather in the UK is unpredictable to say the least – a strappy sun top one day and full on bobble hat and woolly jumpers the next!
  4. Most of my me made clothes already fit into a clear colour pallet – This is the selection of colours I decided to work with at the end of last year after reading The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees.
  5. Whilst the dresses I made last year are like wearing secret pyjamas they are not particularly flattering – don’t get me wrong they are incredibly comfortable they are just not “slimming”. Yes I know in the spirit of body positivity whether an outfit is slimming or not shouldn’t even be an issue but lets be honest some days it does actually matter to me. I either need to get over this obsession or at least avoid wearing such garments on days when I am over sensitive about such things, although those are probably the days when I could do with wearing the comfy over sized clothing so its a bit catch 22.
  6. I still live in my jogging bottoms – this is one of the things I wanted to get away from when I decided to increase my handmade wardrobe but I may just have to accept that there are days that these are the most practical form of clothing for what I am doing. I may have to investigate patterns for handmade versions for when my current shop bought ones give up the ghost completely.
  7. Most of my me made clothes are tops – ok there are a few more dresses now than there were last year but there are still hardly any bottoms, be they trousers or skirts. The reson behind this is that the tops and knitwear are more forgiving of changes in my weight either up or down so I can get most use out of them but I do need more separates in my wardrobe, I’m still reluctant to make fitted trousers though.
  8. I need more pockets in my me made outfits – a lot of the time when I reach for shop bought clothes over and above me made clothes is because they have pockets in and a woman needs pockets!
  9. I need more long skirts – because I can’t be bothered shaving my legs (and they are an easier fitting option than trousers and meet my need for more bottom half clothing).
  10. I need to research the options available for adjustable clothing – by which I mean properly adjustable not just over sized one size fits all. As a woman my body is always going to fluctuate in size and shape, even if it is just around my menstrual cycle so with a view to clothes that are sustainable and fit for purpose I need to have a more detailed think about how I can make clothes that account for these fluctuations.
  11. I keep being drawn to the clothes of my teenage years – I was a teenager in the 1990s and spent my time in long skirts, tie dye clothing and a lace up bodice top. I also wore over sized band t-shirts but I’m drawing the line at that! I keep finding myself thinking about these outfits and wanting to recreate them. I’m not sure what this actually says about me but I am choosing to see it in a positive light.
  12. Thigh chaffing is a nightmare! – Large thighs, hot weather and skirts/ dresses do not make for a comfortable combination. If you have skinny legs and have no idea what I am talking about then lucky you but if you have ever tried a million and one homemade interventions to stop yourself being in tremendous amounts of pain when the sun shines you know exactly where I am coming from. My solution is to invest in a pair of cycling shorts to wear under my skirts (when I have made them) really I want to make myself some bloomers but that might be pushing my eccentricities a tad too far!
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