Category Archives: Spinning

Summer 2014 sweater update

Okay, as promised here are the rest of my notable knitting projects.

In some 13+ years of knitting, I have only made one adult sweater (a boxy men’s pullover) and a handful of kids’ and babies’ sweaters. And in the past year or so, I haven’t knitted at all! But suddenly this has all changed. I have sweaters on the brain.

First up, during the recently-mentioned inventory of my yarn and fiber stash, I discovered my superwash merino yarn. I had taken 4 ounces of blue/yellow dyed fiber, 4 ounces of purple/orange, and 8 ounces of red-purple/gold, and combined them all into one project that used the concepts in Color in Spinning to get a beautifully heathered and flecked blend of complementary analogous colors. I had 13 ounces of bouncy round purplish DKish 2-ply and knew that quantity would not be enough yardage to clothe my little girl for long. So I looked for a simple stockinette cardigan that would showcase the colors and textures of the yarn while being a fast knit, and no annoying buttons. I found a winner in Harvest, the free pattern from tincanknits that’s sized for newborn to 4XL. My gauge wasn’t quite right, but it was dead easy to adjust by knitting from a larger size’s stitch count. I started this in June, and now the body is done and one sleeve started. Not long now!



Next, I started contemplating my fleeces. I had that gorgeous gray Corrie/Merino…I started searching for long lightweight drapey cardigan patterns, and quickly rediscovered Old Town by Carol Sunday. I loved the lines, the sleeves, the lace. I knew that the funky modular construction would keep me chugging along better than a typical architecture with long monotonous sections. I spun a quick sample of my yarn and swatched it, hit gauge immediately with a semi-woolen sport weight that had amazing elasticity and made a cohesive fabric but still showed up yarnovers nicely in my swatch without blocking. I started spinning the yarn for TdF, and once I had about 8 ounces spun I couldn’t stand it any more and plied up enough to start knitting. I’m now through the yoke and ready to start the sleeves; I estimate I’m 1/4 of the way through and I’ve used about 2.6 ounces. This is going to be an airy sweater! I’ll spin up 14-16 ounces for good measure, since I’m planning to knit the tunic length.


Finally, in my quest to reduce the volume of my stash I bumped into my sweater quantity of Holiday Yarns Super Sheep DK. I’d purchased it for a cardigan KAL but when the knitting hit a snag, I realized I had never actually wanted a cardigan in this color anyway. :\ I’ve been debating for years whether to send the whole lot out to be overdyed, but this time when I pulled it out, I started mulling over a non-cardigan pattern for it…maybe something cabled, to use up as much as possible of the yardage…and I realized that for a close-fitting pullover, this color was just fine! Well, close-fitting means it has to fit my figure, and I’ve got me some curves. I knew I wanted a pattern that would accommodate vertical bust darts and other tweaks to the shaping. This search lead me straight to Amy Herzog, who apparently in my year of knitting hiatus has become THE guru of fitted knits! Her Alta pattern is textured and cozy, fitted and flirty, with the detail up the arms and the big ol’ cowl neck that should balance my figure nicely. Between my gauge (I’m knitting a little finer than the pattern calls for) and the adjustments I wanted to make for my figure, I had to do a little math, but in the end I am somewhat confident in my decision to knit the stitch count that will give me an inch or so of ease at the high bust, but add an extra inch or so of room to the full bust. I’m not actually sure if I’ll be brave enough to knit and wear that impressively large collar, but I have plenty of time to decide to adjust it to be a scoop neck. In the meantime, I’m actually kind of liking this knit flat in pieces thing! An entire arm is done — done! — and I’m probably 4-5″ into the back.


The last two sweaters in my lineup are still in the planning stage. DS has been watching as I knit sweaters for his sister and myself, and as I talk about and execute various yarn design strategies. He’s grown increasingly excited to have me knit a perfect sweater of his own. The original plan had me using scrap fiber from my stash, and DS sketched me up a design that was full of stripes and glow-in-the-dark fiber and various features included to maximize snowball fighting efficacy. But over time we’ve gotten (hopefully) more practical. I’ve accumulated a range of very soft blue wools that I will blend into a single heathered yarn. I also got ahold of some glow-in-the-dark fiber that I will blend with some assorted white wool as an accent. I might just design a simple raglan from scratch, or base it on the Wonderful Wallaby. But DS and I do both love Veronik Avery’s Magnus hoodie from the BT Kids collection. First things first: card the fiber, sample the spinning, THEN we can make final decisions on the pattern!


The last sweater is another planned stashbuster. After my baby knits business petered out, I was left with a couple of pounds of Peace Fleece inventory. I’ve thought for a while about making it into a big cozy colorwork sweater, but finally this month I started acting on this plan. I *hope* I have enough yarn to make an Elizabeth Zimmermann Three-and-One cardigan. It will be knit in the round and steeked. I will incorporate other shades of Peace Fleece and even a little Bartlettyarns if I have to on the sleeves and/or buttonbands. It will be shapeless, but with two layers of PF it will be so warm! And the colors are to die for. I have my needles set and my yarn wound and my colorwork chart copied out, but I think I’ll make myself finish another big project before starting this one. We’ll see.


Phew! I will aim for a fall knitting update and hope to show lots of progress…back to school is in two weeks! My baby girl starts kindergarten, so for the first time I may have multiple full days per week in which to accomplish household tasks and my own projects…we will see what the future holds.


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Summer 2014 knitting projects: non-sweaters

I really wanted to keep up some knitting/spinning content here so I am going to let ‘er rip with a quick summary of what I’ve been up to knitting-wise.

First, a quick note…I just wanted to record here for posterity that I entered a few handspun yarns in our area fair. I was so gratified to find that they won 4 blue ribbons! (First place, but in the Danish system, which just means the judges didn’t feel the need to deduct more than 10 points for faults — there were many blue ribbons, on many beautiful yarns.) I also won a Merit Award, which I believe was the only rosette given to a handspun skein this year. I was pretty pleased.

Okay, but knitting content. So, my knitting stalled right along with my spinning and blogging this year. But when I inventoried my fiber stash in June, I also poked around in my yarn. I remembered the dreams and plans I’d had for yarns and patterns, and started to feel inspiration well up. Before I knew it, I’d unearthed WIPs, frogged projects that had no hope of being finished, and cast on like a mad thing. When I began, I was mostly motivated to knit down stash since I didn’t want to go through the hassle of selling. But along the way I think I’ve rekindled some serious knit love, as well as shedding a lot of negative feelings (about knitting for myself, about having multiple WIPs, and so on.)

Of particular note, after 10.5 years of semi-regular knitting, I have finally cast on some sweaters for MEEE! It’s extremely thrilling.

But in the process I’ve also found that it’s pretty important for me to have a sock on the needles for every member of the family. It keeps me in mindless portable projects, which is terrific for car rides and swim lessons and doctors’ offices. Here’s the current family of socks.


For DD, some purple striped socks that *barely* fit her now, I started them over two years ago so it will be a miracle if they go on her feet at all, but I am ready to close the toe on the second one now so I soldier on. For DS, he selected this red/green/brown McIntosh colorway from Huckleberry Knits, because “it will be Christmas by the time the socks are done,” but admonished me to add plenty of growing room — his last socks had to be frogged because he outgrew them. D’oh. The Willow BFL/nylon sock base is delightful to knit. For DH, the infamous husband socks. I bought the Fiber Optic merino/cashmere/nylon at Sock Summit 2011, modified Priscilla’s Dream Socks with a manly mock cable rib, and have been working on them on and off ever since, getting bitten or attacked by the knitting as well as suffering from bouts of apathy. And then the socks for me, which are mostly handspun, yay! At Sock Summit I took a class from Judith Mackenzie called Fleece on your Feet, and took four wool samples home. For Tour de Fleece 2012 I combed and spun them all up into 3-ply worsted-spun sock yarns, but there they have sat subject to my indecision about how to incorporate them into socks: all in one pair? In several pairs? Scientific analysis with variables controlled or just something I can wear? Finally in June I cast on, planning four separate socks with the handspun covering as much as possible of the ball of the foot and the heel while the rest of the sock was made up of Damselfly Sturdy Sheep or Gnomespun Phouka (high-twist 4-ply merino/nylon that I think might actually be the same base.) In the photo is sock #3, from Wedding Cake the Lopez Special Romney X, with Gnomespun Ouranos.

I also started a little scarf with a lace border, Chic Knits Alby from Huckleberry Knits merino/bison that’s been in stash for…ugh, nearly 3 years. This may be a gift or it may not, I refuse to spoil the knitting with deadlines. I just know it will be good to have this lovely yarn used…to the right of the photo, on top of the natural colored ball of yarn, is my blocked swatch. This yarn blocks BEAUTIFULLY. The pattern is pretty clever, you knit the lace border and then pick up along the side to knit the center of the scarf/shawlette in a modified crescent. It’s designed for alternating stripes but I’ll make it solid with the natural wool, or Fibonacci stripes, since I have less colored than natural wool.


In the name of stash-busting, I gathered together all the Cascade Eco Wool I’d picked up from my local yarn store before it closed, and cast it on for a giant cozy Elizabeth Zimmermann Garter-stitch Blanket (inspired by Jared Flood’s Big Squishy Lovefest). It’s so squishy! And the garter is going fast on US15 needles. I’m nearly done with the first modular piece.


And I think that will have to suffice for today! I will add more about my 3 started and 3 planned sweater projects in another post.

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Tour de Fleece recap

I’m going to be trying to update here somewhat regularly with spinning and knitting stuffs. I love it when podcasters give their weekly overview of knitting accomplished, and I anticipate it could be a good record to look back on.

So with that in mind, here’s my very brief Tour de Fleece recap. My goals were to spin one mile of singles, to reduce the volume of my fiber stash, and to remember my love of fiber! I count success in all areas. Lots of tinkering with and adding onto small projects got done, and carding and combing projects, and knitting from handspun projects; I count these as wins for fiber love and stash reduction even though I didn’t count yardage on them. For the projects I did count yardage on, I estimate about 1.66 miles of singles spun, plus some plying into the deal! It’s amazing how much can be accomplished when one puts one’s attention to it. 🙂

Photos of handspun yarn for Tour de Fleece 2014

The photos are just projects I started for the Tour, and they include about 2-2.5 ounces spun on spindles, 8 ounces spun on the Pocket Wheel, and 4 ounces spun on the CPW.

For a couple of days during the Tour, I had a kid-free house and found that a blocked-out hour or two can be extraordinarily productive and that my fears of not knowing whether to prep, spin, or knit during any given crafting time were unfounded. I followed my heart and did what needed doing, especially what needed freedom from little people helping. 🙂 I’m actually looking a little bit forward to having some days this fall with both kids in school — and wondering if production spinning and/or making garments might not be in my future after all.

Well, that update was fairly painless, so here’s hoping that I can drop in a note about my knitting and fiber prep stuff soon as well.

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Your fingers would remember their old strength better…

…if they grasped your FIBER.

I feel like Theoden King, coming out of his ensorcelled stupor to find the vibrant world of people and things he once loved. I feel like Emmett, returning to Bricksburg through the portal and realizing that he has — possibly has always had — the ability to generate new ideas and create unique constructions from the materials around him.


Clearly, there has been another spinning and blogging hiatus. As evidenced by this blog, I do have my ups and downs but this has been a severe down. I am not sure I have touched spindle, wheel, yarn, or fiber for nearly a year. I had almost an aversion to my whole stash, I was in denial about the likelihood of pests in my wool, and I had other responsibilities that crowded out hobby time.

But a month ago, something started to stir inside me again. Tour de Fleece was coming…maybe I should think about spinning a little? If only to reduce the volume of wool being stored in inconvenient places! I braced myself, and tackled the task of inventorying my unspun fiber.

In the process, I did have to face my fears: there were some isolated collections of unprotected fiber and yarn and raw fleece that had been made unusable by infestation. Tools and materials I’d acquired from friends looked at me with accusing glares as I remembered how much I had wanted to impress and please people by making special things with these products, inciting some uncomfortable feelings. But I also was able to stir up some long-forgotten feelings of bliss and delight as I handled my beautiful wool and pondered the textiles it could become. I started picking up spinning projects, and planning garments.

I am back. And as I start spinning regularly again, I am astonished to realize just how much skill I seem to have acquired in my years of spinning. I look at singles and know how they will behave once plied; I look at fiber and know how its colors will interplay as yarn; I take yarn and I can envision exactly the garment it ought to be, and go looking for the pattern to match. I’m far from the best spinner out there, and frankly my skill is far behind others who’ve got nearly 9 years of practice under their belts as I have. But that’s okay. I’m a spinner, and that’s not bad!

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Getting my groove back

The beginning of 2012 hasn’t been good for me and fiber. I felt my interest waning a little bit in the weeks leading up to our vacation to California. Other things were SO much more fascinating than boring ol’ yarn and fiber: namely, a burgeoning interest in accounting, of all things. Given the chance to spin, knit, or read about non-profit bookkeeping — I’d choose the latter, every time. I know. Taking fickle mindedness too far!

Unfortunately, by the time I got home from California to the dreary gray February Pacific Northwest, ennui and disinterest had bloomed into an outright revulsion for all things yarn, fiber, spinning, and knitting. I looked at my stash and wheels and I shuddered at the waste of space…and then I recoiled at the complete break in my own personality I was experiencing! This wasn’t me! I now think there was something like Seasonal Affective Disorder bringing me down.

The annual Whidbey Weavers Guild Spin-In was approaching at the end of March and my attitude toward fiber still had not lightened. My parents urged me to attend (egging me on with offers of free babysitting), and I resisted at first, but at last I relented, hoping to see some friends there. And as I prepared to go, something started to re-kindle within me. I looked at my wheels and instead of complete disgust, I saw a window of opportunity…I was struck by a vision of using a petite and portable and extraordinarily quiet little wheel in the living room of my house while my children sleep. Not making unusually fine yarn or complicated or difficult yarn, but just yarn. Usable yarn. Plenty of it. So I looked at the balance in my checking account and decided I hadn’t used my “mad money” allotment in a few months — I took a check with me to the Spin-In, to put a deposit down on a Pocket Wheel. Step one of re-entry into the world of fiber bliss was complete.

As I sat and listened to the lecture (on wild silks of India) I basked in the presence of super neat fiber folks. The next day I headed back to the event bright and early, and got some shopping done. While idly browsing (thoughts at the back of my head involved a sweater quantity of dark rich brownish something or other) I stumbled across the Island Fibers booth, where I noticed the bags of fleece. The first one I beelined my way to was the most incredible deep black shot through with silver and tipped with ruddy red-blond.

sally bill lockAs a clear vision of a gorgeous heathered yarn popped into my head, I saw the tag on the fleece…in lieu of a breed it was marked simply, “Sally Bill Special”. I think my jaw dropped at this point. Just last summer, in a class on choosing and spinning fleece for socks, Judith Mackenzie had shared with us a Sally Bill fleece. Sally was a shepherdess on the San Juan Islands — on Lopez no less, an island with which I have a deep affinity and a decently long history. She imported a Romney/Lincoln flock to the island, but closed gene pool being what it is, she used any local ram to procure lambs. As it turned out, she was something of a genius when it came to selecting for the traits she preferred in a handspinner’s fleece, so even seeming-random breedings were chosen to improve her flock and she culled the remaining ewes carefully to progress her wool toward an ideal. Judith raved about this flock and held it up as an example of how a flock can excel in producing handspinner’s fleece despite its lack of pedigree. Judith! And here was one of the golden fleeces, within striking distance!

I didn’t hesitate. I nearly elbowed the customer out of the way who had been checking out when I discovered my prize. I had never purchased a whole fleece before, and I knew that the $16/pound price was a bit of a premium, but I didn’t care. I had to have it. And this was step two of rediscovering the joy in fiber. I beamed so wide I feared my face would split. I ran around finding everyone I was on speaking terms with, shoving handsful of raw smelly sheepswool locks at them. “DID YOU SEE WHAT I JUST GOT???” I shared my bliss with everyone.

The majority of the fleece went to the fiber processor on site, who happened to be Taylored Fibers. I hadn’t worked with any of their roving before, but I really liked what I’d seen and fondled at their booth in previous fiber shows. I put my faith and my fleece in the capable hands of Mr. Taylor, keeping just about 8 ounces to play with.

And once I got home, play I did. I washed the fleece and then started preparing it. I started by combing a few locks and it seemed I was exactly right, that the silvery bits and sun bleached tips would lighten and warm the black fibers into an interestingly flecked shade of deepest espresso or dark chocolate.

brown-black combed top

I spun some worsted samples from combed top, and at the other end of the spectrum I spun some woolen and semi-woolen samples from hand carded slivers.

woolen and worsted spun yarns

I loved these yarns. I remained so pleased with my purchase.

And then today, Mr. Taylor visited my island and brought my roving with him! The final tally was 4.75 pounds of roving from 7 pounds of fleece, and it is GORGEOUS.

bump of brown roving

It resembles nothing so much as my own hand combed top, it’s nicely blended and has minimal veggie matter and almost no neps. As soon as I could I grabbed a chunk and introduced it to my CPW, using my current favorite semi-woolen draw (attenuated short draw with twist in the fiber supply for a lofty and bouncy but fairly smooth and even result). Spinning it was HEAVEN. I have never, ever had such a nice spinning experience. It drafted almost on auto-pilot, it enthralled me with its dancing colors, it was so soft and touchable! The diameter and twist it wanted to spin at with my default spinning was a lovely versatile singles. I wound it off and did my oft-used sampling method of winding an Andean bracelet, then re-winding the resulting two strands into another bracelet, so that I could ply together four strands and get a round yarn from just one singles without the added complication of Navajo plying. I spindle plied about 9 yards, then finished it somewhat roughly.

yarn on leaf

I LOVE THIS YARN. I love the color. I love the handle. I love the bounce and the slight sheen, I love the evenly consistent grist. The whole experience of creating it has nearly left me breathless with the pure enjoyment of it. LOVE.

I even started a little swatch, knitting it up on US 6 needles in a k3p2 rib. Do you see the squooshy 3-dimensionality? This yarn wants to be cables! I think it might be a little too fat for the project I have in mind, but I predict a 3-ply might be just what the doctor ordered.

k3p2 ribbed swatch

So there you have it. I’m back. I am more in love with wool than ever, and I’m feeling a little more sedate about it. Instead of ambition and braggadocio, I’m feeling a quiet and steady, deep and abiding satisfaction. It’s wool…it’s all good, man. 🙂

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Always inspiration

Clearly I haven’t been back to blogging for a bit. I confess, I was pretty frustrated by the alpaca debacle. I launched what I thought would be a fun and interesting investigation in pursuit of a tidbit dangled by Judith Mackenzie, fiber expert. Instead I found myself, as well as Judith herself, to be the recipient of derision, scorn, and animosity from alpaca breeders. Doods! I am not saying that your most wonderful California or Virginia alpaca is somehow inferior! I’m just saying that I ascribed to “alpaca is prickly and drapey”, but Judith’s words made me want to challenge that assertion by figuring some things out on my own. That’s it!

Here are some things I wrote in rebuttal to comments here and in my Ravelry inbox.

“Yesterday I watched part of Judith’s DVD on Spinning Luxury Fiber…Based on that viewing, I am going to presume that when she told her Northwest audiences that Northwest alpaca is unique, she meant that North American alpaca is different from Peruvian traditional and commercial flocks, and that the Pacific climate happens to be a good place to grow high-quality alpaca fiber — but not necessarily any different from that grown elsewhere in North America by careful breeders. I also think that when she says that all alpaca fiber is medullated, she is working on outdated information. All alpaca fiber is *capable* of being medullated, but any given fiber can be completely, incompletely, or almost not medullated. In this way it differs from sheep’s wool, which was the real gist of the reason for relating medullation/wave to lack of medullation/crimp. Finally, I think that Judith is and remains an excellent judge of the qualities that make a given fiber suitable for different textiles. From novelty yarns to traditional weaving to unusual knits, Judith looks at a fiber — from any plant or animal — and sees its potential. And she wants to convey to her students that North American alpaca has a vast, unusual, wonderful and special potential to become incredible textiles in the hands of a fiber artist. It’s really frustrating to me that so many alpaca breeders I’ve come across during this discussion seem to think that this is a negative thing.”

“I think this just underscores the difference between the handspinners’ market and the commercial textile industry. We (spinners) are always searching for extraordinary fibers and using each individual fiber, each source, from each separate animal, to ITS best effect. The industry is looking for uniformity and suitability for mass production. So that might be why I hear Judith’s message to be, “Check this stuff out, cherish it because it’s local, it’s unique and worth investigating!” where you hear it as “This product is different and different is bad.””

This is on my mind lately because I’m finishing up watching the Spinning Luxury Fiber video, which I’d purchased solely to cross-reference the alpaca information during the discussion in September. But re-watching now, with the extensive information about silk, camelids, and bearers of down undercoats, I’m struck by two things. One is once more to marvel at how Judith’s entire repository of life experience serves to make her a MAGNIFICENT judge of fiber for handspinning. Be it a tent worm cocoon or a fireweed fluff or a bison undercoat or an unusual batch of bleached tussah or a new strain of Corriedale, she sees the fiber and categorizes it within an enormous mental database of fibers and how they behave as yarn and fabric. She might not be a party to the latest information on alpaca breeding trends or know precisely why the silk brick she bought has longer better-quality bombyx than typically produced by brick-makers, but when she touches and feels and spins it, she KNOWS that it is different and special.

Two is to be so grateful for the Interweave set of videos. Because do you know, nothing replaces in-person instruction. I do not regret spending hundreds of dollars to sit in hours of classes with Judith this year. But almost everything she covered, is presented in the videos. You can drop $30-some bucks and get a world renowned instructor RIGHT in your living room, for HOURS. And then you don’t have to take my word for it that she’s not just pushing some agenda in a get-rich-quick scheme or in cahoots with specific alpaca breeders. She is sharing the knowledge that will benefit the world of handspinners. And the Judith effect, that incredible spark of inspiration and sudden infusion of skill that hits any time you’re in a room with her (I spin more finely and more smoothly every time), it’s available DIGITALLY. And that inspiration is priceless. I highly recommend that the detractors who’ve been reading here, should check out at least the luxury fiber video. It’ll be a good use of your money, I truly believe it. And no, I’m not affiliated with Interweave…yadda yadda.


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Alpaca update

I’m too lazy to upload another photo of the same darned black swatch. 😛 I’ll simply report that after a couple of days hanging on my wall, the swatch did not grow in length. But after a couple of weeks, it went from 8 to 8.25 rows per inch.

So now I’m burning to learn more about the nuances of alpaca. Just how different is Northwest alpaca vs. the rest of the US vs. Peru?

There are a heck of a lot of variables to contend with and I can’t decide how many to test and how many to hold constant. Spinning technique, prep technique, diameter, number of plies. I pulled out a tuft of Peruvian alpaca top that Judith gave the workshop group back in April, and decided to spin it with the semi-woolen draw I’d used on the Northwest roving. To be honest, I think the resulting yarn is really similar but possibly a little denser. I was going to knit a swatch and compare the density per square inch, but the Peruvian yarn I spun is 4-ply, so maybe it’s not a fair comparison? I dunno.

I found a source for commercially combed Northwest alpaca top though. And for Ashford alpaca top. If I can get some combed North American top then that would round out a collection of origins keeping the fiber prep constant, which is a start. I’m also eyeing the Peruvian royal grade top, as that class of super fine fiber tends to be crimpier than other grades, per Judith. But I worry that might just confuse the issue more than necessary. I’m also thinking of comparing Northwest small-mill roving to other North American small-mill roving. But again, this might be excessively broadening the scope of what I’m trying to learn here.

I’ll continue pondering the experiment design, and scouting for fiber sources. In the end, what I’m hoping is to be able to spin some alpaca from local farms on the island, and to be able to write some marketing copy that speaks from experience in terms of distinguishing this product from other alpaca yarns on the market. I don’t want people to decline my yarn just because 100% alpaca “never has enough memory for a shaped garment”. But if I’m going to make claims to the contrary I’d like to have my ducks in a row, so to speak.

So. The plan would be to spin Northwest, North American, and Peruvian top semi-worsted into a 3-ply, knit into swatches, hang on the wall. Possibly spin Northwest and North American roving semi-woolen into 3-ply, knit into swatches, hang on the wall. What other variables should I vary and compare?

This should be fun. 🙂


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