Blog Writing Tips 1 – The Power Of Story

Once Upon A Time

Lots of people set up a blog out of a hunger to engage. I know I did. I’d been reading sewing and knitting blogs for a while and I couldn’t ignore my desire to contribute in a more meaningful way. I didn’t want to listen to the conversation; I wanted to be part of it. So, I set up a blog.

I’m sure this is a familiar story to lots of you and that you went through a similair journey. You set up your blog page, chose a name, wrote an excited first post … and then what? Fear.

  • I’m not very good at spelling and grammar – will people judge me?
  • I don’t know what to write about, or how, or when…
  • I can’t remember the last time I wrote anything that wasn’t a shopping list.

This last one is a biggie. When was the last time you sat down and engaged in a creative writing task? (Because that’s what you’re doing when you compose a blog post.) For some people, creative writing has been long left behind in the toy box of childhood. Grown ups don’t write stories. They pay the bills, hold down jobs, do the laundry, talk about how exhausting life is as they watch their children play make believe. Don’t they?

Not in my world and not in yours, either.

Grown ups do tell stories. We tell stories all the time. We can’t help it; it’s in our DNA. From the moment we were born, people were singing lullabies to us, reading us picture books, parents exchanged gossip over the top of our heads and as soon as we understood words, we started to learn the mythology of our own existence: You came out of the womb with a full head of curly hair and screaming your lungs off! We knew you were going to be a character from the start.

See? They’re all around us. And it’s my opinion that stories make the best blog posts. They’re life affirming, they’re satisfying, they can make us laugh or cry over our breakfast cup of tea. Here are some examples:

Raggy Gets A New Coat

Classic storytelling. Jane’s son, Charlie, was very attached to his comfort toy, but it needed repairing. Jane shares a touching story about what happened next. As one reader comments, Charlie is very lucky to have such a lovely mum…

Kimono Silk Wedding Dress

Sunny Gal Studio wrote a series of posts about the commission to make a wedding dress from some vintage kimono fabric. It’s a beautiful story and the ultimate example of how sewing stories have a very satisfying beginning, middle and end. I dreamt of a dress, I made the dress, I wore the dress. See? Our passion for sewing supplies us with stories on a plate. All we have to do is tell them.

Changing Guards At Buckingham Palace

This is a very old blog post from me, back when I engaged in the challenge of Me Made June – and getting photographed with a different stranger for every day of the month. (What a hoot that was! What a dork I look!) One day I wandered past Buckingham Palace and the most incredible story emerged. I had to share it.

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Being photographed with random strangers is fun! Anyone remember this?

On a bigger scale, I think entire blogs or elements of those blogs become stories in their own right. I have a running joke about The Man Outside Sainsburys – the man who takes a lot of my hard earned cash in exchange for lovely fabric. (Who, by the way, has still not set a date for our wedding. Or even mentioned our wedding. I’m wondering if I should put the wedding dress patterns back in their drawer.)

Or take a look at Tilly and the Buttons, for example. Sets up a sewing blog, gets the pattern drafting bug, appears in the first series of The Great British Sewing Bee, has a book published in over eight countries, moves into her first studio… Guys, aren’t you breathlessly turning the page to read the next chapter? I know I am!

So, what I’m trying to say is this: don’t over think your blog writing. Have faith in yourself. You DO know how to do this. Find a story and tell it. It can be the story of what happened when you set the sleeve in wrong three times or the story of the dress you made for your wedding or the story of the dress that ended up in the bin. Yeah, there are going to be those stories too.

Why does the power of story work for building a blog readership? Because you’re engaging people’s emotions. They start to care about you, they want to read more of your stories which means they’re going to come back to your blog.

Here’s my PRACTICAL EXERCISE if anyone wants to play along. Go away and have a think about a story for a blog post. Give it the loosest possible framework: a beginning, a middle and an end. Write it up and then link back in the comments below so that we can all go and read! I can’t wait to see what emerges. We’re all telling stories all the time, and some stories can become truly wonderful blog posts.

Starring me as third donkey

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The Great British Sewing Bee 3 – Interview With A Contestant!

Great British Sewing Bee

It’s time to switch off your sewing machine and put the wine in the fridge. Tonight a nation settles down to watch the third series of The Great British Sewing Bee. Who will be our underdog this year, will Patrick still be sporting a moustache, how deep will Claudia’s tan be and who shall get knocked to the ground during the stampede to the haberdashery shelves?

I hope to find out the answers to these and other burning questions this evening when I watch with good sewing friends. I’ll be gripping a champagne flute, biting my nails nervously as someone cuts into … Well, what is going to happen?

Alex of Sewrendipity has commented on this blog … and she also happens to be one of the contestants. I asked if Alex would consider being interviewed about her role on The Great British Sewing Bee, and she agreed!

So settle back, readers, and enjoy this sneak preview of TV – and sewing! –gold.

Hi, Alex. Thank you so much for joining us today of all days. First of all, I’d love to ask about the selection process. How did you become one of the contestants on The Great British Sewing Bee?

Alex: Thanks, Karen! I have been an avid viewer of the series from the beginning. I did think about applying for series two, but ended up missing the deadline. So, as I kept talking about it, my fiancé really encouraged me to apply, proof reading my application form and helping me take pictures of my projects. I hadn’t been sewing for very long and never thought I was good enough, but I really wanted to meet other sewers and share my love for making things with loads of other people.

So yes, it all started with an application form. And then one day I got a phone call (I almost fell down, I was so shocked) during which I chatted to a lovely lady (the casting producer) for over an hour about sewing. Heaven, isn’t it? It was followed by a series of really hard auditions (sorry, that’s as much as I can divulge about that), which whittled the group down to the final ten. I never believed I would end up on the programme, but I think my absolute mad passion for sewing convinced the team to give me a spot. I also think they were swayed by the crazy lengths I would go to sew the absolute best garments I can, when my fiancé told them about the insane adventure of making my own custom sewing dummy. It involved being wrapped in plaster of Paris, fainting twice, raiding a boat supplies shop, hours of polishing the resulting cast by hand and saw hacking a lamp stand for the base. All the gory details available on my blog, if you’re curious.

The judges, Patrick and May, have become the Sonny and Cher of sewing! How did you find each of them and who did you want to please most?

A: I’m really not a nervous person, but being in front of them both for the first time was really scary! And it wasn’t because they were scary, but I really wanted to impress them, I really wanted them to like what I made. It was a bit like being in school again. I think we all felt like that about them. Especially May, she very much reminded me of my favourite teachers in school, the ones that really rooted for you, wanted you to do well, but were also stern when they needed to be, and you really did not want to disappoint them. Patrick is imposing; you can tell he always strives for perfection and would never settle for second best. But both of them could also make a joke and have a laugh, which made us feel less stressed.

TGBSB is known for its challenges against the clock. Are you able to share some insights about how you coped with sewing under pressure?

A: I think this was definitely my weak point. I work in a corporate environment and I never imagined that inserting an invisible zipper would make me lose my head worse than speaking in front of large audiences or delivering events for hundreds of people. But it did! Suddenly, those tasks you think you can do in your sleep, disappear from your head. I swear I felt I could no longer read English because of the stress. One thing I learnt is that if it takes you one hour to complete a task at home, it will take two hours in the sewing room.

Taking part in TGBSB always appears to be life-changing. What did you learn about yourself during filming? Did the experience inspire you to take your sewing further?

A: I surprised myself, both in a positive and a negative way. Things I thought I would be good at (time and stress management, pattern reading) were very hard under the pressure. And what I thought I would not be good at (spontaneity, thinking on my feet), went very well.

As you can see from my blog, since the Bee, I have delved more and more into sustainable fashion, upcycling and refashioning. And if there is one thing I regret it’s that I did not talk about those things enough during the programme. We, home sewers, can work incredible magic. To save clothes from landfill, to breathe new life into an old thing at the back of the wardrobe. And hopefully, the alteration challenge can inspire people to think outside of the box and give it a go. I know that sewing gave me the courage and inspiration to look at what I already have in a new light and not buy so many new clothes. In fact, I have challenged myself not buy any clothes at all this entire year, but sew and remake as much as I can.

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Are you able to give us some small clues about a favourite make from the programme – either yours of something someone else created?

A: Oh, we made some craaazy stuff, believe me! But unfortunately, my lips are totally sealed on this one, you will just have to watch it all!

Final question! Would you recommend applying for the show to any of my readers? If so, how could they best prepare themselves?

A: Yes, yes, yes! I would love to see passionate sewing people on the telly every year for many many years to come! Even if you doubt your skills, try it. Because passion for sewing and the desire to share it with other people, to inspire them to take up this incredibly satisfying hobby can take you far! In terms of preparation, there is not much you can do. I practiced all sorts of crazy stuff that never came up and then simple things I thought I could do with my eyes closed really tripped me up! I think mental prep is more important, to enable you to relax, enjoy it and share your love with the viewers.

It was an incredible experience and there are so many good things I’ve taken from it. The most important is the friendship of my fellow bees! I LOVE them all; I feel I have made friends for life! Sewing in a room full of friends, helping each other, cracking jokes, it was one of my favourite things! The Bee also brings people together and it gave me the courage to reach out to the sewing community and start my blog, which I absolutely love writing.

So even if you spend your day in an office like me, are a stay at home mum, or retired, this series proves more than any before that anyone can do it, so fill in the application to the next Bee and don’t hesitate to send it!

Alex, Great British Sewing Bee

Thanks for such a fun interview, Alex. I am intrigued by the picture of you fainting twice for the sake of a bespoke dressmaker’s dummy! I can’t wait to see you on the programme and, like yourself, I hope that this latest series inspires a whole new generation of Sewists.

Readers – what are you looking forward to from this new series? And would you ever follow Alex’s advice and enter yourself?

The Great British Sewing Bee airs on BBC2 at 8pm, from Thursday 5 February for six weeks.

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Blog Writing Tips?

Blog Writing Tips

Can I help inspire people in their blog writing? I’ve been mulling this over for a while, unable to make up my mind.

One of the things I love about blogging is that there aren’t any rules. It’s your space, to do what you like with. Hurrah! On the other hand, I’m aware that I have a lot of experience in publishing, have authored several books and am pleasantly surprised to find that I’ve been writing a sewing and knitting blog for five years now. Surely, I’ve learnt something in that time!

If you’re looking for a guide to such things as SEO, this probably won’t be the place for you. It’s good to be aware of Search Engine Optimisation, but I’m no expert. It’s also worth being reassured that I’m not a huge stickler for grammar. I come from the school of thought that language is a living, breathing animal and I’m all for enabling over ticking off. Apart from the obvious rules of check your spelling every now and then, I don’t care so much, as long as you entertain me.

If you are looking for essays on the importance of empathy, how a single word can make or break a blog post, ways to engage your readers, what to blog about when life is uber busy, general ramblings on the topic of blog writing … maybe I can write a few posts?

At its best, blog writing is the 21st century’s answer to the short story. It doesn’t take much to learn how to compose your own miniature narratives. All you need is a camera and a keyboard. Maybe the help of a friend?

Let me know what you think, and if there’s anything you’d particularly like me to cover.

Blogging Keyboard

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Fabric Focus – Liberty Tana Lawn

Fabric Focus Liberty Tana Lawn

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Tana Lawn is named after the Lake Tana in Sudan.
  • It’s constructed from the long, stable fibres of Egyptian cotton.
  • There are over 43,000 Liberty prints in existence and…
  • 120 new designs are released each year.

Liberty lawn fabric

There’s no denying how much the sewing community loves Liberty Tana Lawn. With good reason; it comes from a rich heritage. The shop on Regents Street opened in 1875 and began importing fabrics from Japan, China and India.  A dyer and printer in Staffordshire was employed to choose colour ranges, celebrated designers (including Walthamstow’s local lad, William Morris) were commissioned to design prints, Lancashire mills were used in the production … and in the 1920s a Liberty buyer, William Haynes Dorell, hit on the idea of marketing their cotton lawn as Tana Lawn. So a whole generation of sewing bloggers owe it all to a man named Will!

Liberty lawn fabrics

Okay, okay, you’re saying. What’s really so great about Tana Lawn? Well, from my sewing experience, here are the highlights:

It’s lightweight but fine in thread count, which makes it perfect for cool summer makes. It barely feels as though this silken (yet 100% cotton) fabric is touching your skin.

There’s no fear of a harsh ray of sunlight revealing your undies.

The quality of the fabric means that it behaves fantastically during construction. Cotton is always well-behaved, but Tana Lawn is particularly obedient.

Despite how light it is, it retains shape extremely well.

The high quality also means that creases quickly fall out. I have taken my Liberty Lilou dress to a music festival, rolling it up in a rucksack and then shaking it out to wear for a day of lolling around. You’d barely have known it hadn’t seen an iron.

Which brings me to my next point. This fabric is extremely durable. How many vintage Liberty fabrics or makes have you spied?

Those prints. They’re just to die for – or dye for. Liberty pride themselves on their colour palette, quality control and designer commissions. You’re not just wearing a dress; you’re wearing a piece of art.

And if you care about such things, you’re wearing a brand that’s almost a hundred years old and iconic around the world.

ongping-sewing

Are there any disadvantages to working with Liberty Tana Lawn?

It’s on a narrow roll width of 136cm / 54 inches wide – so you need to keep an eye on that when estimating how much fabric you’ll need for a make.

It’s expensive. All that quality comes at a price – £22.50 a metre. Unless you’re able to find alternative sources. It’s likely that these alternative sources are selling seconds, but I’ve never had reason to be unhappy with my purchases. My recommended places to shop for Tana Lawn are:

  • Liberty store, Regents Street – check out for their pre cut lengths in sales. If, like me, you adore all things Liberty it’s definitely worth following their Instagram feed. Just lock up your purse first. I also recommend getting a Liberty loyalty card. Every now and then they’ll send you £5 vouchers to spend. It all adds up, peeps!
  • Birmingham rag market, near the Bull Ring. Don’t ask me which stall seller, I only get up there once a year if I’m lucky.
  • Ebay – I recently bought some gorgeous Tana Lawn from this seller. I did notice a small fault in the print, but no one else ever would.
  • Shaukat. Not known for their customer friendliness or innovative web design, but a good source of relatively affordable Liberty fabrics.

Don’t allow the lightweight nature of the fabric to fool you into making any type of garment that relies on drape. Liberty Tana Lawn is crisp and won’t drape in soft folds.

Not a disadvantage, but you might want to remember to change your sewing machine needle to one of the finer ones.

If you mess up a make with Liberty Tana Lawn, you’re probably going to cry. Probably.

Other than that, I really can’t think of any disadvantages to working with this beautiful fabric. It took me years of sewing to pluck up the courage to spend this amount of money on cotton. Then I sewed with Tana Lawn, and finally understood what all the fuss was about. This is the real deal.

Any tips to add, readers?

Dip in! There are five other Fabric Focus posts to enjoy.

Liberty Book of Home Sewing

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How To Sew With Beeswax

Beeswax

When I first started sewing, I remember being bemused by beeswax. No, scratch that and rewind. Specifically, I remember being bemused by the knots that would appear in my thread whenever I tried hand sewing. So I did some research, and learnt that beeswax would help. I just didn’t know how!

I thought I’d write a blog post about something that may appear obvious to some. To others who may be similairly bemused, I hope this helps!

So, beeswax. You can buy it in most haberdasheries. If you don’t know what it looks like, check out the above. Or ask for a shop assistant’s help. Or just wander around looking for something that resembles a giant’s gobbet of dried up snot. (Too much information?)

Here are my tips for working with beeswax.

Cut a length of thread for hand sewing. My rule of thumb is that it shouldn’t be longer than about 80 cm/ 31 inches. Any longer and it will knot, even with the help of beeswax. To guesstimate this length, I hold the end of the thread between forefinger and thumb. I stretch my arm out horizontally from my body. I then pull the spool back in my other hand until it’s pressing against my collar bone, thread extended between both hands. I imagine I’m Katniss in The Hunger Games, pulling back the string on my bow before releasing an arrow straight into the heart of an enemy. Because sewing is just like The Hunger Games.

Thread cut, I run it through my beeswax…

beeswax and thread

Very Important Next Step. I then seal my beeswax into my thread by running a moderately hot iron over it. I’ve heard people say this should only be done between two layers of absorbent cloth. Never bothered, myself. But, I have found that this step really helps strengthen and smooth the thread.

iron and threadIf I have quite a lot of hand sewing to do, I’ll cut three lengths of thread and prep them. Then I’ll gather my thread in a small container – an espresso cup does just the job! – and take it with my thimble, needles, pins, and embroidery scissors and settle on the sofa for a good, long session of hand sewing. I come from the camp that loves hand sewing. So meditative, so satisfying, so easy to do in front of the telly.

espresso cup

I use the Sunny Gal Patented Method for tying a knot in my thread. (Do click through on the link for a very detailed explanation of this small but useful technique.)

Knotting thread CollageThen I thread my needle (thoughts on needles here) and am all set for some knot free hand sewing. Thank you, bees of the world. I salute you!

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A Tale Of Two Fabrics

fabric Collage

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness

This weekend I had two very different experiences with two very different fabrics. The first was a black and gold striped loose weave knit. I bought this crazy stuff from New Trimmings (my new-to-me favourite shop, tucked away behind Oxford Street) because it reminded me of Debbie Harry, Kim Wilde and my youth.

Crazy Fabric_edited-1

Fortunately, I’d only bought a metre of the black and gold knit to experiment with. Emphasis on experiment. It was all going so well! I’d had the sense to stabilise the shoulder seams with some ribbon. I’d had the sense to use a thick ponte for the neckband.

Then it came to overlocking the shoulder seams together and … that knit fabric did what knitting does when sliced by a blade. It unravelled. Horribly. There was no saving this and it went into the bin. (If you have any advice for avoiding future similair disasters, answers on a postcard, please!)

Liberty lawn

By contrast, my second fabric was a Liberty lawn. It behaved beautifully as I cut it out. No nasty surprises. No wayward behaviour. No unsightly unravelling. It made me wonder – should I avoid the ‘crazy’ in my fabric choices and stick with the known?

My grungy knit had behaved just like my teenage self – atrociously. I kind of liked it. My pretty Liberty lawn had been the good kid, sat at the front of the class. I wasn’t going to complain about that, either. All part of the rich tapestry of sewing, right? I know, I sound so zen. Don’t be fooled. There may have been a glass of wine poured after that little experience.

Would you buy a black and gold loose weave knit? Could you forgive it for behaving abominably? And should I get round to reading A Tale Of Two Cities?

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Simplicity 1801 – My Winter Summer Dress

Simplicity 1801

Are you the same as me right now? Wrapping up in layers and then peeling them off? At this time of year I need what I call a Winter Summer dress – otherwise known as the Simplicity 1801. The print suits winter, but the fabric is cool enough so that when I sit in an airless, overheated office I’m not fanning my face.

I used a viscose twill, bought from eBay. (If you want to read all about viscose, check out my Fabric Focus here.) My fabric choice isn’t available any more, but this is from the same supplier.

Simplicity 1801 iii

The success or failure of this dress is all in the fitting. It relies on fabric with drape and there are lots of gathers at the bust, waist and back. So, it’s a good job I remembered some advice given to me years ago: Always make Simplicity dresses two sizes smaller than the pattern measurements tell you.

According to the pattern’s body measurements, I should have cut out a size 18. I cut out a size 14, and had few fitting adjustments. I shaved a bit of depth off the shoulder width (common for me), took an inch off the sleeve length, shortened the skirt by 3.5 inches and took 3/4 inch off the depth of the back bodice. It’s worth knowing that there’s a very handy back yoke seam that allows you to adjust the back fit with no tears – as long as you address this before sleeve insertion.

Simplicty 1801 back view

There are pockets included in the pattern, but I didn’t use them. I thought they’d bag out with a fabric this full of drape. One other adjustment I must mention. I raised the V neckline by about 1.5 inches. Otherwise, I wouldn’t want to bend over in this dress. Not without revealing my bra!

The sleeves are voluminous, so I’d pause to consider if that’s a look you’re going to like. There’s a side seam invisible zip and … that’s about it.

I am very happy with this dress! I’d happily continue wearing it beyond winter months. Do you have to negotiate temperature chaos at this time of year? My house is freezing right now!

Simplicity 1801 iv

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Pinning It Down

pin cushion Collage

I recently chose to take an inventory of the pin cushions in my house. My mum visited and said, ‘I could find loads of pins, Karen, but not a single needle.’ What are you saying? Then I looked closer…

  • Three – ahem! – pin cushions in reaching distance of my sewing machine.
  • A pin cushion on a side table beside my dressmaker’s dummy.
  • Pins in the head of my dressmaker’s dummy, but they don’t count.
  • Three more pin cushions on my office desk. Because you never know when you might need to pierce a laptop with a pin.
  • Two pin cushions atop a fireplace. I don’t think I’ve touched either of them in six months.
  • A pin cushion in my bedroom. Like, obviously.

I’m not even going to touch on the pins that I have found in my dressing gown, bra, bathroom, behind the sofa, bed and carpets. I shall give special mention to the pin I found on my front path. And I’m desperately trying not to think about the pin I recently spotted on the pavement outside our house. I have a creeping suspicion it might belong to me…

Sound familiar, anyone?

Pin

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Building Your Sewing Station – Pressing Tools

Sewing Station

If you think the sewing machine is the most important piece of your arsenal, you’re wrong. The iron and ironing board come a close second. We’re always told to press, press and press again. Listen! Here’s a stroll around my set up.

ironing board

Mine is one of the wider than average boards. I have never regretted a single penny spent on this longlife cover. It’s indestructible, and even makes a nice, neutral background for blog photos.

Iron

Can you believe my iron died on me just before Christmas? I had to run down to my local DIY store and buy what was admittedly a pretty expensive new iron. The good news is that it pumps out steam like nobody’s business. The bad news is that if it’s left standing for longer than ten minutes it emits a recurring beep to let you know it’s still switched on. I don’t need that nagging noise when I’m in the middle of a delicate operation at the sewing machine! I am seriously thinking of disabling the alarm. I just need to figure out how.

ham and sleeve boardI love my ham. The deeper you get into sewing the more you understand that pressing over a curved surface can be so much more helpful than pressing flat. Necklines, sleeve inserts, facings… You name it, I’m pressing over a ham. A nice, hard ham – no soft pillowy nonsense for me.

I snapped up the sleeve board from a charity shop. I try to remember the days when I didn’t have a sleeve board in my life, but it’s a struggle. How did I survive?

I also keep a press cloth (organza), butter knife (for turning corners), clapper (for pressing woollen seams) and beeswax (for hand stitching) close to my ironing board.

pressing equipment

Anything I’ve forgotten here?

Of course, you know what the really big irony is? I hate ironing…

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Are You A Planner Or A Splurger?

Blog

In five years of blogging at Didyoumakethat, I’ve never had a blog schedule. But I’m beginning to wonder if I should.

The aspects of blogging that I have always really loved are spontaneity and independence. I’ll write about what I want to, when I want to, if I want to. I do enjoy regularity of blogging – staying in contact with my readers. But this winter I’ve sometimes had to dig deep to support the hobby I love. And I do love blogging.

With about 30 minutes of natural light per winter day, the options for taking blog photos can be really limited. Plus, with a full-time job and a dog to walk, my midweek sewing time often contracts to zero. Which means that both blogging and sewing end up being weekend pursuits. As does having a life, seeing my friends, getting out of the house and sleeping in! So, you know.

I’m not alone in this dilemma. There has to be a solution, surely!

I’ve dragged a monthly planner home from the office. I’m going to attempt to use it to think ahead and plan a bit more. Within reason. I’m sure there’ll still be the spontaneous blog post written propped up in bed at 5am or 10pm. I just can’t help myself. I’m a splurger.

What about you? Are you a planner or a splurger? And do you have any tips for someone who’d like to be both?

Blog ii

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