Mum’s Christmas present

I know, it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m writing about Christmas! I had to wait until after Christmas Day to share this post because it’s about the present I made for my mum, and I didn’t want to spoil the surprise in case she read my blog. A week’s passed since Christmas, and I’ve been trying to finish two projects that for psychological reasons only, I wanted to have finished by the New Year. Haven’t managed either, of course, but one awaits only tassels and the other really only needs another day, so I’m writing this now lest another thing I wanted to do by the New Year isn’t done! Ignoring a pile of ironing in the process, of course.

I started this in October, having seen a fab fabric by Lewis and Irene, featuring farmyard animals which though cartoon versions, were recognisable breeds – belted Galloway cows and Herdwick sheep, for example. My Mum’s a Knitter (capitals intended) and I thought this would be a great fabric with which to make a knitting bag. Plus, I’ve never made a bag before or grappled with lining. I bought the main fabric and another consisting only of sheep, also by Lewis & Irene, from one website; they were discontinued. I got them all from the same manufacturer because I’ve learned the hard way from my autumn quilt that matching fabrics by different designers is hard, not just regarding colour, but also the thickness of the cotton. I wanted a third because the two blended together too much, but on a second website found another featuring pheasants which I really liked, so it had to go in even though it blended a bit, then another that was from a different Lewis and Irene range, with the same theme but with much smaller design elements, more ‘ditsy’, and which had a matching but dark teal background so acted as my contrast.

I bought a pattern from Etsy, though it was for jelly roll strips and I wanted to do squares, so I changed the sizing a bit. I cut strips with help from my husband, who helpfully pointed out that if I just went for it with the farmyard one I’d be cutting off some animal heads! I’ve been known to do that before. I made sure to cut it in the direction that would leave me pieces of the right size for the strip across the top and for straps etc. Then the fun part of cutting squares (I ended up cutting a square-shaped hole in a piece of paper and holding it over the farmyard fabric to make sure I got the best scenes! Followed of course by ages arranging the squares just so.

The squares for the two sides of the bag, sewn together:

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I sewed strips across the top, as per the instructions, and decided to make the base from the same fabric as the lining. It’s probably the least exciting of the four fabrics! Then I quilted it, just doing diagonal lines across the squares. Same as I always do, I’ve never been brave enough to try anything else. BUT this  was the first time using the new quilting foot Mum got me last Christmas after the cheap one I bought online first didn’t work well, then broke completely. This one was so much better, definitely a case of ‘you get what you pay for’. Thank you, Mum and Dad!

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Two sides and base of the bag-to-be after quilting

 

Getting the squares to meet on the side seams when putting them together after  quilting is hard because you can’t see the squares from the reverse because of the quilt line. I  had one unpick and redo, and it still isn’t perfect, but it’s okay. More annoyingly, I didn’t think to make the outside squares into rectangles, making them wider to accommodate the 3/8 – 1/2 inch seam allowance required for sewing the sides of the bag together rather than the 1/4 inch for patchwork squares, so the quilting doesn’t have continuity at the edges, which looks messy. It would never have been perfect, but it would have been less obvious.

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I didn’t have enough fabric to make the lining from a single piece, but it worked out well because using two pieces meant the sheep on each side of the bag could all be facing the right way up! No spacesheep swirling in zero gravity. I had to put a little piece in between the two, just because of the amount of fabric I had, but I think it’s okay. Unfortunately the interfacing I had wasn’t good and I had some problems getting it to stick.

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Lining

I made the pocket and the straps from the teal background with ditsy-ish hens; sewing a 1/8 inch topstitch down the sides of the straps wasn’t easy and the result a bit wobbly, but when I unpicked the wobbly one quite late at night and redid it, only to then realise it  wasn’t the wobbly one I’d just done but the okay one, I decided to pack that in and just leave it alone. Sewing on the strap ends to the top of the back within a very small seam allowance, as per the instructions as I understood them, means I don’t think it would bear much weight. My attempt at it was messy, but you don’t see it when it’s finished.

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Strap sewn to top of bag

 

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The lining pinned face-to-face with the outer bag, ready to be sewn together.

I had immense difficulty fathoming out what the instruction for the base of the bag meant. Triangles were involved, and scarily, ‘snipping’ off their points (for ‘snipping’, read ‘hacking off 3 inches of material’). I only worked it out by setting up the bag as it would look when finished and trying various origami-type set-ups til the right one presented itself. Better diagrams in the pattern would have been appreciated. It’s amazing how often I find myself puzzled by pattern instructions; I think that’s where YouTube comes in. Still not sure it’s quite right, unless the edges are meant to have a fold a bit in from where they join the side fabric:

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I left a hole in the lining and, again late at night, having sewn around the top of the lining and outer bag, with difficulty, and in a scene less bloody than ones on farming programmes but still reminiscent of calving, pulled the outer bag through the gap in the inner lining.

Only to find….

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no handles!

I’d trapped them between the bag and lining. So had to unpick it and do it again. Though I only unpicked the parts where the handles were, tied off the ends, and redid that part, thus avoiding the tricky bit where the side seams of the bag meet. I find sewing circular or tubular shaped things on the sewing machine really hard.

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More like it!

Then after the magical ‘big reveal’ of turning it the right way round, some top stitching to keep it in place, and it was finished.

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A Happy New Year to all!

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Changing seasons

We went on holiday to the North Pennines a month ago, but it doesn’t feel so long ago; so much crafting has been going on since then! Before we left, I finished this autumn jumper, in Rowan British sheep breeds boucle:

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It’s perhaps a size too big (the last two having been a size smaller than I would have liked it seems this time I over-compensated), but I like it.

I took projects with me on holiday that I can’t do on the train so don’t get much attention unless I’m on leave… an ‘extreme knitting’ rug, the quilt back and leaf shapes to do applique, and my cross stitch cushion cover. Also the pieces for the next autumn block, the wool to knit snowmen Christmas tree decorations, and even some pieces to make cathedral window Christmas tree ornaments. Good to have a choice! In the end, I focussed on the cross stitch, though mostly when on the long car journey, and the rug. Neither are finished, but are close, if I could have continued to focus on them when I got back.

Had some nice days when away…

And some less nice…

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… but it was great to be away.

When we got back, I did finish the autumn block:

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This reused the dark orange fabric in the centre that came from a block I’d dismantled, and used most of what’s left of a fabric I bought on ebay at the beginning of the project and which is best used for ‘fussy cutting’ because the motifs aren’t close together. It is an old fabric, thin and frays easily, so I’m a bit worried about how long it will last in the quilt. It’s quite hard to sew fabrics of different thicknesses together and I know this has ‘issues’! The tan coloured fabric is Moda and is very useful for autumn projects.

A last burst of colour in a London park a couple of weeks ago  (complete with dustbin, sorry!):

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Since then, I’ve been working on a Christmas present which I really need to have finished by this coming Friday, when I’m getting the train to stay with my family for a bit as sadly I won’t see them at Christmas, so if I have it finished in time I can take it with me rather than trusting it to the post. It uses the sewing machine so really I can only do it at weekends – evenings in an emergency but I’m tired when I get home from work and make mistakes – but these last few weekends have been busy, with my husband’s family visiting and other things, so it’s not gone as smoothly as I’d have liked. I should finish it by working on it these next few evenings, it’s just something I’ve never done before so I’m doing a lot of reading and re-reading of instructions!

Then these little fellows have kept me occupied… They had to be delivered to church yesterday, to be put with other items to be sold at the church Christmas Tree Festival next weekend. So early! I feel like Christmas is over with before Christmas Day is even in sight, it’s so confusing and the day itself a bit of an anti-climax, I guess that’s getting older but with no children of my own – sorry, that’s a bit depressing. I’ll have to get used to it, because that’s the way it’s going to be now, best make the most of it. My in-laws will come to us on Christmas Day so at least it’s not just the two of us. I’ll try not to stress out about the cooking, when people are older they have fixed likes and dislikes which take precedence and that makes me anxious, but I should calm down and try to get a sense of perspective, because it’s okay really. At least on home turf I can have a glass of wine with Christmas dinner, which they don’t do. Anyway, here are the finished snowmen, which took me an insane amount of time to finish, the earliest I went to bed each night last week was 11, past midnight some nights, and I get up for work at 5.50. Crazy little snowmen!

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Different fussy-cut pumpkins (and more sparkle)

I feel more inspired now that autumn is kicking in.

I was looking for ways to re-use the green and brown fabrics here that I’d rescued from blocks that hadn’t worked and I’d taken apart, so after much fiddling about with different options – as usual – I eventually came up with this one. The pumpkin fabric is from a piece I bought in the clearance section of a website and at first I’d discounted it because most of the motifs are too big for what I’m doing, but then I thought I could do as for the last block and ‘fussy-cut’ small pieces out of it. It does lead to wasted fabric, but worth it for this and not so bad when it’s on sale. Maybe the centre square could have been a different fabric, but a big block of something plain in the centre sometimes looks a bit too stark. I do realise my pattern now seems to be to use these plain pieces in shades of tan for the background of the flying geese and don’t want to do too many of them, but I think it’s okay for now.

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I’ve  made slower progress on finishing this block because I’ve been working on a machine-stitched project at home. Top secret so pictures after Christmas! I’ve got as far as making the quilt sandwich and doing one line of quilting, but ran out of thread! It was just as well because that was Sunday and this coming Saturday morning we’re leaving for a week’s holiday so I wanted to spend Sunday afternoon (after my driving lesson) choosing colours for the next block so I can sew it while we’re away, and if I hadn’t run out of machine quilting thread I might not have stopped then I would be holiday-block-less.

I’ve also bought the backing piece for the quilt. It came yesterday so I washed it and it is still on the dryer as we speak – it’s rather large so drying it on my free-standing electric dryer is awkward, but we don’t use the tumble dryer due to expense and have nowhere outside to hang things (it’s raining anyway). My plan is to applique leaf shapes on it which will be made out of autumn fabrics. That way I can use some that I bought online but have turned out to not be the right shade, or were early mistakes. I think it should look good and removes difficulties of the seams of pieces making up the back not lining up with quilting lines, but it will take a long time and is not exactly something I can do on the train, so I thought I’d get a head start and alternate doing that at home with making up blocks on the daily commute. At least, that’s the plan!

I think this is block 33 and I’m looking at a 8×10 block quilt… so only 47 to go! I don’t know if I can get my head round that.

The estate agent through whom we rent our flat is coming to do a flat inspection while we’re both out at work tomorrow. I don’t like people looking around while we’re not there but there’s nothing I can do. I’ve been on a washing, ironing, and dusting spree because I don’t want to have laundry hanging around while she’s in there, so more ironing tonight, hoovering, tidying of the baskets of fabric and piles of paperwork (and hiding of candles! Not that our contract says we can’t have them but you never know)… by the time I’ve done all that, then on Thursday and Friday actually do some packing, I’ll be so whacked I’ll probably be too tired to make the most of being away. Hope not, because we’re going north and I’m looking forward to fresher airs and if it isn’t cloudy every day seeing some stars. Too much light pollution as well as air pollution down south.

Autumn block with fussy-cut fun pumpkins

I like the term ‘fussy cutting’ that I picked up from Peggy Cooper’s lovely blog (https://peggycooperquilts.com/) – it’s something I do occasionally but hadn’t thought about it having a name – now I know it I’m going to use it more! I’m not sure if using it as an adjective as in the title is the done thing, but I’m doing it anyway…

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The flying geese round the centre square use the very last of the special autumn leaves fabric I love so much: they’re recycled from a block I didn’t like and took apart, and I’m so happy I did because they’re used much better here. I’m not convinced about the use of colour in the central triangles at the edge (where two flying geese are sewn together), but the number of variations I tried in order to get this the best I could was ridiculous! In the end I had it all except the four small squares at the corner of the sort of block-within-a-block, so when I found a remnant of the fabric that I ended up using I was really pleased. It’s one I’ve tried to work into other blocks because I like it, but it’s only ended up in one. Part of the problem is that the background’s white and bright, and the other is that the motifs on it are quite widely spaced. Hence the fussy cutting, so I could get a tiny part of the edge of a sunflower in alongside the leaf and pumpkin in two squares. I would have liked more, but there just weren’t enough on the piece of fabric. I kicked myself for cutting squarely round the pumpkin used on the top right, because it would have looked better at an angle, but I used it anyway because it’s nice to have the two pumpkins with different patterns. That fabric is very thin, not easy to work with, and a couple of the corners of those squares came out stretched when I ironed them so they don’t look their best. I now realise I should have starched them… too late!

One problem with having spent so long choosing the fabrics for this one is that I only finished sewing it together on Sunday afternoon and didn’t have time to choose fabrics for the next one, so have no sewing to do on the train for my daily commute, I feel bereft!

Stripey jumper, two new autumn blocks, and a trip to Wiltshire

I finished the jumper made from a self-striping Noro yarn (a silk mix) that I’ve been working on quite fast because I wanted to wear it when the weather cools down, but to be honest am disappointed. The colours are still lovely but I wish I’d made it a size bigger, and all is not well with the neck. I’ve included a photo from the pattern book to show what it should look like, but in reality it’s far too high and I don’t know what I did wrong; I followed the instructions!

Patchwork-wise, I’ve finished another two autumn blocks, and am pleased with the colour combinations on both. I thought the mouse one might be too ‘avocado and aubergine’, but actually it’s fine. On the other one, I wanted to showcase the rosehip fabric, following on from previous blocks when a more heavily patterned fabric stood out against plainer ones, giving a better effect. In the end some of the other fabrics are reasonably heavily patterned, but it’s still okay. The orange fabric is new and the best I could get to be close to the orange in earlier blocks that was more rusty than bright, despite being covered in gold sparkles!

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When I finished it I laid out all the blocks I’ll definitely use, and as a whole the quilt is looking much better, though sadly weeding out the unsatisfactory ones leaves only 30 blocks! Sorry the photo’s dark (though it’s really bright sunshine outside) and of course as I’m standing on a chair with the camera stretched out up and in front of me, at a bad angle.

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Of the eleven discarded blocks left, I can see how two can be taken apart and some colours changed to make them usable, two won’t be used at all, and of the remaining seven I’ll take some apart and hopefully use some component parts in new blocks, and may keep one or two as they are. It’s a pain, particularly as the awful truth is there are some fabrics I should just never have  bought or used, which is a waste of money as well as time and energy, but there’s no point crying over spilt milk – I can be  more sanguine now I’m happier with the overall project!

We went to Wiltshire on Sunday and stayed for 5 nights, one night in a B&B near Malmesbury and 4 in a self-catering cottage near Salisbury. It’s a county I’d never visited, and am so pleased I went. I wanted to visit some of the sites associated with people I studied in Medieval History, so was really pleased to see Malmesbury Abbey, which was built on the site of an ancient holy place, and Old Sarum, the site of a now-ruined cathedral and castle, as well as Salisbury Cathedral, which was built in the 13th century when the cathedral at Old Sarum was abandoned. But there was so much ancient history, too. You felt it all around you because although Stonehenge is the famous stone circle and we decided not to visit because it is such a tourist hub and so cordoned-off that there might not be much pleasure to be had, there are actually lots of other, ‘smaller’ stone circles too, as well as the white horses etched out of the hillsides which you can see just driving along. We visited the stone circle that runs through the village of Avebury, and although there are only 30-odd of the original c. 150 stones standing, the scale of them is amazing. They reckon the stones were put there in 2600 B.C.! My photos don’t do it justice, but you can see the scale from the ones next to houses and people.

 

Photos of parts of Malmesbury Abbey:

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Stunning gardens at Stourhead, designed in the 18th century (having first diverted a river and dammed some medieval fish ponds, of course!), complete with grottoes and follies. Now owned by the National Trust. Must look fantastic in the autumn!

 

Lastly, Salisbury Cathedral – great place to see stunning embroidery! I somehow managed to omit taking a photo of the central aisle down the length of the nave, which was very long. There is an incredible font in the centre, commissioned in 2008, with constantly flowing water. The Chapter house dates to 1260 and has an amazing frieze running round it, above the benches were Chapter members sit, carved in stone and showing biblical scenes.

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Rosehips block

For the next block of my autumn quilt, I wanted to make a block that showcased the fabric with the rosehips on a brown background. After the last few blocks I did with the bold autumn fabric flanked by less conspicuous ones, which I thought worked well, I thought I’d try it with another bold fabric alongside less in-your-face ones. In the end, to get colours that went well together, I included the fabric with a woodgrain background and naturalistic animals, but I hope it doesn’t detract from the rosehips too much. I’m afraid it is a bit bland, but I need some bland alongside the more, ahem, ‘interesting’, ones… I had trouble getting the points to line up, and had to redo a few of the flying geese; not sure why unless it’s because the cottons are different thicknesses, but it’s turned out okay in the end.

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I have, however, done the binding on both sleeves of the top I’m trying to sew. One per weekend! Doing one takes me a whole afternoon. Now I’ve got the remaining seam edgings to deal with, the button to work out, and the hem to do. I haven’t done edgings to date well at all, can’t manage the overstitching on my machine, so yesterday I spent a small fortune on a pair of pinking shears, which will have to be what I finish things off with, all this faffing about is not good!

Ages ago I bought a pack of cotton yarn at a knitting and stitching show in London and knitted myself a summer cardigan, then with the leftovers made a baby cardigan. I was going to send it to a school friend who had a baby but a) the baby was too old for it when I finished and b) the yarn’s a mix of colours and they came out badly spaced on a small garment and looked weird and I  didn’t think my schoolfriend would want it. It’s hung around for ages, I bought buttons for it then lost them, but then when I wanted a button for my top I bought a pack which it turned out were the right size, as well as colour, for the cardigan. My parents’ neighbours’ daughter, who’s a few years younger than me so we weren’t friends, but we grew up in next door houses as children in a friendly way, is having a baby in September so on Saturday I put on the buttons and posted it home to Mum so she can judge whether to ask if they’d like it. They don’t know if it’s to be a boy or a girl, but it’s a fairly gender-neutral colour(s). Also, the mum-to-be is an artist so may be okay with the interesting colours!

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Next weekend we’re going to Wiltshire for a few days. The county where Stonehenge is, but I doubt we’ll go there, it’ll be too busy. We’re staying near Malmesbury the first night, then near Salisbury for four nights. Both have mediaeval histories, which I’m keen on but as usual should read more about. I’m delighted to see (on Wikipedia, but I can check if it’s right!) that William of Malmesbury, the mediaeval chronicler, records that in 1010 the first ever attempt at human flights was made, when a monk called Ailmer tried to fly a hang glider off the tower at Malmesbury Abbey – made it 180 feet before crashing and breaking both legs, poor chap. All hail human endeavour, though!

Autumn block and first attempt at neck binding (unrelated!)

Something of a lowering sky when I went for a quick walk earlier this afternoon, but I saw some magnificent red kites, one swooping quite low over my head; my photos don’t do it justice.

I worked hard to finish a new autumn block this week, inspired by having a plan to use the same colours as last week’s, and by wanting to feel I’d achieved something by the end of the week if sewing the neck binding on my top didn’t work out! I’m pleased with the result:

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The more boldly patterned fabric is much thinner than the higher-quality Moda fabrics that make up the rest of the block, and I can feel how much better (for which read, easier) it would be to have fabrics all of the same quality. Unfortunately I haven’t had time this weekend to choose fabrics to put together for the next block, so will be deprived of sewing to do on the train. Might actually start reading a book, I used to read so much before I took up sewing! I’ve just finished Life of Pi and it took something like 4 months, oh dear. I listen to audiobooks all the time while sewing on the train, but don’t know if that counts the same way.

On Thursday night I tried to use the overlocking stitch for the first time. Not a resounding success, alas.

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I put the edge of the fabric up against the guide on the overlocking foot, but obviously sometimes it got too close and the edges have turned in. At least no one will see it. It went wrong near the bottom of the seam so I’m going to do that by hand.

I have spent so much of the last two weekends looking at YouTube videos! So much good advice, but people do things differently and I don’t always understand all instructions, so it’s still a lot of puzzling out what best to do. I confess that in my ignorance before I looked at these videos I thought the binding went on the outside! I now know that’s only if it’s to be a decorative feature, which in this case it most certainly is not. It took me in the end I think two and a half goes to do the binding round the neck of my top.

First time I used all these pins…

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It still didn’t work out, and I did misjudge it a few times and had to lift the needle to get a pin out then carefully put it back in the right place. The curve of the shoulder seam has  been the main problem. This was a wildly off-kilter part after my first go:

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Oops. I thought of just unpicking that section, then thought of the mess I make when I tie off an end of stitching mid-length and reneged. I thought I’d try to just add the correct stitching without unpicking this one… yes, I know, it didn’t work! So I unpicked the whole thing and tried again, this time, and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner, with basting. It still wasn’t neat like the woman in the video’s is neat, and I sewed over a few basting stitches and had fun picking them apart. But on the whole it was better.

Then as per instructions I trimmed it so the fabric was flush with the binding, and cut in little notches to help with the curve (thanks to having tried a little bit of needle-turn applique this idea wasn’t a novelty, so that was good), then turned  it inside the garment.

I saw on some blogs that some people do something called understitching, but I didn’t follow what exactly I was meant to do, and some people didn’t do it, so I decided as it seemed okay without it and my fabric’s not very stretchy (deliberately chosen for that reason) I would give it a skip. Then I basted the binding in place, by hand, then sewed it down with the machine. Again the problem with the shoulder, this time meaning I missed the binding for about 2 inches, but this time I did unpick from the  armhole edge to the offending part, and got the sewing machine needle in at the right spot and redid it. I stitched the thread ends in by hand, but don’t think it’s noticeable from the right side unless you’re looking really closely at the stitching, not if you’re just talking to me when I’m wearing it.

Having pressed in place, I think the binding’s  okay, a bit may gape in time but it’s fine for now (and for a first attempt) and for just me wearing it. A pity the two parts of the back are slightly misaligned, I really hadn’t realised until after the binding was done and I was going to take this photo. This whole thing has shown me – well, reinforced what I knew – that accuracy is so important, but also so difficult! I don’t think dressmaking is going to be my ‘thing’, I’ll make tops with the fabrics I’ve bought and I haven’t given up on making  pair of tartan pyjama bottoms in a nice thick or brushed cotton one day, but overall, I’ll stick with patchwork and knitting!

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