Topping it Off: Eco-Friendly Gift-Wrapping

December 15th, 2011 § 10 comments § permalink

It’s become clear that sometime during the next few weeks or so, you may have something to give me.   Quite possibly it will be something that doesn’t cost much.  Maybe it will be free—a shoulder massage, a ukulele tutorial, a list of trustworthy sitters, your timeshare in Antrim, Ireland—in any case, since you know I am a surprise-junkie, it will likely require some sort of superawesome wrapping to ambush and wow me.

This will be easily done, I think, since it is still fall here and I’ve recently discovered some mind-blowing tutorials HERE and HERE on transforming fall leaves into crafty decorative flowers—perfect for topping off your thoughtful gift.  I understand you may be concerned that fall is coming to a close, and leaves are becoming scarce and crinkly and delicate, and it might just take longer than expected for you to figure out just how to get those leaves folded.  Just.  Perfectly.  I am here to prepare you for alternatives.

This project requires a Felted Wool Ball, needle and thread, remnant wool felt, and a small collection of felted sweaters.  First, prepare the “petals” for the project.  With sharp sewing scissors, cut the felted sweaters into long zigzaggy strips, leaving a connection on the bottom edge—pointy or rounded tops.  Cut thin sweaters into narrow strips (for inner petals) and thick sweaters into wider strips (for outer petals).

I keep a stash of these strips handy for noteworthy projects like button bracelets and collars for small lively monster friends.

Next (and this is optional) use a felting needle, felting pad and skinny wool roving to embellish the wool ball, adding spirals or dots or anything else superfancy (see Dry Felting).

With needle and thread in hand, stitch the bottom edge of one narrow zigzaggy strip around the sides of the felted ball until you meet up with the starting point.  Cut off the extra end of the strip.  Stitch a wider zigzaggy strip around the sides of the ball, matching bottom edges and overlapping the first strip until you meet up with the starting point.  Cut off the end.  Stitch a third (the widest) zigzaggy strip over the first two.  Cut off the end.

Next, cut a large leaf-shaped piece of wool felt.  Place this piece on the bottom of your flower and sew around the edges, attaching it to your flower top and covering the rough zigzaggy strip edges.  Good job.

Gift ribbons can be easily made with light cotton fabric scrap.  Cut in about an inch from the edge.  Grab fabric edges and pull away, leaving raw-edged ribbon.

Wrap your gift with a larger fabric scrap, tying with raw-edged ribbon.

With needle and thread, secure flower onto ribbon.  Ta da!


Note: don’t attempt perfection with these felted flowers.  As with other projects, quirky outcomes are preferred over conventional.  That said, remind yourself that, in nature, some flowers are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, and some even lose petals.

Celebrate the uniqueness.


Felted Sweater Mice

March 23rd, 2011 § 12 comments § permalink

Felted Sweater MouseSometimes small fingers (and old fingers) find small projects to be tricky— tying a shoe, handling scissors, zipping a zipper, buttoning a button—they all require precision and a steady hand.  As does hand sewing.  Sewing not only demands dexterity, but also requires patience.  On top of this, it adds the threat of a potential finger prick.  Followed by little watery eyes.  Yowch!

This is incredibly unfortunate, since small people frequently like playing with small friends.  Dollhouse people, finger puppets, Lego people, tiny wooden animals—they are all good company and don’t seem to eat much.  My small people have been captivated by my friend Charlotte’s small friends for quite some time now. This has been a challenge for both them and me since Charlotte’s small friends, remarkably sweet and delicate, are very very small.  They are hand-sewn mice—reflective, contemplative furry friends with strikingly large personalities.  As well, they have microscopic eyes and noses, giving them extra bonus points.

Tortured by the opposing forces of teeny, wild fingers and the love of all things small, my design team and I made futile attempts at replicating Charlotte’s mice.  In the end, we designed a simple, slightly larger pattern with exposed stitching that is just perfect for small fingers.

For this project, you will need a small collection of 100% wool sweater scraps.  Solid, striped or patterned.  As with the Tiny Birdhouse and Swittens projects, add your wool sweater to the laundry batch and wash and dry on normal.  This project also requires a needle, thread and some stuffing like organic cotton stuffing, hemp fibers or wool.  We are renowned for borrowing (well, stealing, really) synthetic filling from retired threadbare elderly friends.  Those of you who are fancy may opt to insert a small rice or bean-filled fabric bag in the base of the mouse to provide some weight.

Pattern: Size is up to you.  I recommend that you size your first mouse on a slightly-larger-than-life size (dare I say, rat size?).  As with the Swittens project, I have found that there is a significant positive correlation between successful project outcome and project size, when measured by various indicators, such as big smiles.  Don’t start out too teeny.

Cut the sweater as below.  In addition, you will need a tail.  It should be a long, skinny rectangular piece (that will later be folded and sewn).

Felted Mouse PatternSewing Instructions:  Fold the tail in half and secure with a blanket stitch.  (Just a note:  Futuregirl has a fantastic photo-filled tutorial on blanket stitching.)  With wrong sides together, stitch down the back of the body.  Stitch from the nose down, stopping about ½ inch before the end.  Insert end of tail at bottom of back and secure.  Finish stitching bottom of back.  With wrong sides together, stitch the bottom edge of the body to the oval base, leaving approximately a 2-inch gap for stuffing.

Insert stuffing into the mouse, filling the nose first.  When almost full, insert bean bag and continue stitching to close the back seam.  Fold the base edge of ears in half and secure with a few central stitches.  Flatten the seam and position the ears on the mouse head.  Stitch.  Use a felting needle and wool roving to make eyes and nose.  Use strong button thread for whiskers if you are most able.

(And, “most able” sort of sounds like “vote on Babble,” which reminds me to ask for your vote, since Mossy has been nominated on Babble for an important thingy, and if you enjoy the post you’ve read or any you’ve read in the past, or if you plan to enjoy any posts you’ll read in the future, please give Mossy a “thumbs up.”   It’s just a click.  Here on Babble.  Thank you in advance.  I will mail you a hug.)

Felted Sweater Mouse with CoatNow you have a new small friend.  And you and your family will love your friend more than you ever thought was possible.  I mean love.  More than anyone should.


The Science of Felting

March 18th, 2011 § 5 comments § permalink

Tiny Felted BirdhousesSeveral folks have expressed interest in the actual felting process—Geez, Mossy, how does it all work?

Here’s what I know.  Felt is a mass of dense wool and/or fur.  It is not woven, but rather pressed and manipulated in a centuries-old process using heat, moisture and pressure or agitation.  The result is the strongest, smoothest, most water-resistant natural fabric known.  Soap helps in the felting process.  Heat and moisture cause the outer overlapping scales along the wool fiber to open, and the soap allows the fibers to slide easily over one another, thereby causing them to become entangled.  Wool fibers are made up of a protein called keratin.  The keratin in the fibers becomes chemically bound to the protein of the other fibers resulting in a permanent bond between the fibers.  The felting process is irreversible.  Sometimes this is unfortunate if you are like me and have several unintentional child-sized sweater casualties on hand as silent reminders.

Since wool felt is not woven and doesn’t require a loom for its production, it can be made rather easily.  Because of this, felt is the earliest known form of fabric.   The true origin of felt is unknown, though I am aware of several cultures that take credit for the discovery of felt.  One Sumerian legend tells of Saint Clement, a wandering monk, who cleverly wrapped flax fibers between his shoes and feet to prevent blisters.  Upon arrival at his destination, he removed his shoes and discovered that the flax had, in fact, felted due to the heat, pressure and perspiration.  Saint Clement became the patron saint for hat makers.

The steps included in making felt have changed little over time.  Felted fabric is produced using heat, moisture and pressure to mat and interlock the fibers.  While machinery can be used today to accomplish many of these tasks, the processing requirements remain unchanged.  One exception is that until the late nineteenth century mercury was used in the processing of felt for hatmaking.  Mercury was discovered to have debilitating effects on the hatter, causing a type of poisoning that led to tremors, hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms—hence the term “mad hatter.”

What makes a good sweater to felt?  When looking for a thrifted sweater or two to upcycle for a felting project, I usually choose 100% wool.  Other animal fibers will work as well—mohair, cashmere, alpaca, etc.  Be sure the tag is not labeled “superwash,” since this “washable wool” will have been chemically treated to avoid shrinkage (felting).  Remove all buttons, ribbons, labels, etc. from the sweater, cut it apart at the seams (completely cutting away the seams), and throw it in the hot-water wash and cold-water rinse with the (relentless) laundry pile.  Often, I wash and dry twice.

Felt made with a thrifted sweater has all the benefits of wool—stability, durability, earthy texture—and has the eco-friendly attributes of being natural and second-hand.  Hurrah!


Time to Come Clean

March 7th, 2011 § 11 comments § permalink

Soap at sinkTime to come clean.  And nothing does the trick better than a handmade soap bar wrapped in softly spun and felted natural wool.  Upon completion of this practical project, you will have a novel and crafty washcloth/soap combo guaranteed to tempt even the most stubborn grimy kid into a tub.  In fact, you and your crafty little team will be inclined to make oodles of these for deserving friends, dedicated teachers, or for yourself—yes, even you are entitled to a complete body exfoliation with relaxing aromatic organically-derived essential oils and spicy touch-of-citrus scent to draw out impurities, replace minerals, improve circulation, and ahhh!  getting carried away….

Point being, you might consider keeping one for yourself.

For this project, you will need the following: cheese grater, bowl of hot water, old stocking (tights/pantyhose), wool roving (carded wool), soap scraps (if you are in a hurry, simply use a solid soap bar), and hands willing to get wet and sudsy.  As mentioned in previous projects, wool roving may be purchased online from Halcyon Yarn—check out their “Babooshka Soup”—a random mix of remnant wool batts and pencil roving.  If you plan to use a solid soap bar, a good quality medium-milled round/oval soap bar is ideal for the job.  Too hard (like French milled soap), and it will not lather.  Too soft, and it will be squashy.  Too rectangular, and it will have weak points in the felting.  I mostly use soaps made with lavender or lemongrass oils, but recently I felted a soap made by my friend Jen Kovach labeled “Oatmeal Cookie.”  Yum.  Jen makes a well-air-cured goat milk soap that is just perfect for felting.  I have found that goat milk soaps are the best—easy to felt, fragrant, long-lasting, natural—but I’m not picky.  I’ll felt just about anything.

Grating soapBefore starting, remind everyone that soap can sting eyes and that it smells yummy but tastes horrible.  Yuck! If you plan to use soap scraps, or you plan to smooth the edges of a rectangular bar, shred the soap with a cheese grater.  Collect the shavings in your hand and press together, forming a ball, oval, or organicy rock-like shape.

Tightly wrap thin, even layers of wool roving around the soap until all surfaces are covered. Criss-cross three layers of wool (as in the Felted Wool Ball project) so that the fibers will lock together during the felting process.  Different colors of wool may be used to create different patterns.  I’m partial to bright, vivid colors for this one—luminous greens and blues, shameless oranges and reds—although, somber grays can make powerful stone soap.  Beware of browns—nothing worse than washing with something damp, mudlike and wooly.  I often add a narrow piece of thin (pencil) roving or wool yarn to create a natural sediment strip in the stone and to hold it tightly.  Alternatively, a design can be needle felted with contrasting colors (see previous post on Dry Felting).

Felting soap 2Carefully place your wooly bar into the toe of your old stocking. Tie the stocking, cutting away extra fabric.  Dip your stockinged wooly soap into the bowl of hot water until it is thoroughly soaked.  Gently roll it between your hands to build lather.  Continue to agitate the wool fibers, re-wetting and squeezing and lathering the soap.  Pay attention to the tiny sides of the soap—they need attention too.

Felting soap 2When the fibers become entangled and the wool becomes firmer, roll and press harder.  If you have a washboard or a bubble wrap sheet, rub all sides of the wooly soap on this.  When is it done?  When the wool is completely felted, it should form a semi-snug casing around the soap.  The entire process should take about 10 to 15 minutes.

Felting soap 3Carefully remove your wooly soap from the stocking and run it under very hot tap water and then very cold tap water.

Felting soap 4Place it on a cookie rack or folded towel to absorb excess water.  Dry for a day or two.

Kids love this project.  It’s messy, requires little elbow grease, and is somewhat magical.  To increase the soap’s lifespan, rinse it quickly under tap water and allow it to dry thoroughly between uses.

Drying felted soapAs the soap dissolves, the wool will shrink slightly.  When the soap is no longer, dry the pouf.  Make a small incision and use as a funky fragrant coin purse, cat toy, ornament, finger puppet, or herb-filled sachet for your prized collection of unmentionables.


Holy Moly! A Giveaway!

February 18th, 2011 § 66 comments § permalink

Hairband giveawayI can’t remember what made me look, but I just checked behind the scenes for the first time in a while and Holy Moly! there are a lot of visitors checking in to this little blog.  But, why so quiet?  I didn’t even know you were here.

And so, I invite you to join me. You may secretly think you don’t have much to offer, but you do.  Write to me.  Say hello and help me plan my spring.  (It’s coming, you know!)  Tell me what projects interest you, what you want to hear about, what you already know or want to know about.  I want to hear from you.

So here’s the deal.  You may submit your “Hello” several ways:

1) via the Mossy Facebook page

2) via Comments to this post

3) or via Contact link with “Hello” as the subject

Submissions must be received by Friday, March 4th.   Readers will be able to “like” their favorites on Facebook if they choose, but ultimately, a team of highly qualified experts (my small, insightful design team) will decide on a winner.  The winner will be announced on Friday, March 11th.  And, get this:  The winner will walk away with two handmade Mossy hairbands (very similar to the one pictured above, but different, and carefully wrapped and tied with a bow).

Ask, tell, share.  Your comments mean so much to me.  Can’t wait to hear from you.  And good luck!

Felted Hairbands

February 16th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Felted HairbandWhen the snow is fresh and giant feathery snowflakes twist and twirl and can be caught or rolled into snowballs or snow forts or snow people, it’s time to bundle up and head out the door and get some pink cheeks.  But if it’s coming up on March and the effects of the first season’s storm are still visible and you’re facing the third morning of what they call a “wintry mix,” and you’re wondering if Lordy, is it too early for a drink? it may be time to regroup.  Inside.

We’ve had a zillion snow days since the end of December.  (Really, that’s the actual number.)  Because of this, we’ve been forced to be resourceful.  During this special bonding time (I suppose some might call it that), my design team and I have become really good at a few things, including completely dismantling the house.

Not to brag, but we’ve also gotten to be experts at making these Felted Hairbands.  It turns out that, once we got the Felted Wool Ball thingy down, we were itching for some sort of practical application of our newfound skill and Voila!  Note: we don’t attempt perfection.  As with all our other projects, we prefer quirky outcomes over conventional.  That said, we remind ourselves that, in nature, some flowers are more delicate, some are plumper, some grow to the right, some to the left, and some even lose a few petals.  Of course, this uniqueness should be celebrated.

This project requires a Felted Wool Ball, needle and thread, an elastic hair tie, remnant wool felt, and a small collection of felted sweaters.

Zigzaggy Strips

First, prepare the “petals” for the project.  With sharp sewing scissors, cut the felted sweaters into long zigzaggy strips, leaving a connection on the bottom edge—pointy or rounded tops.  Cut thin sweaters into narrow strips (for inner petals) and thick sweaters into wider strips (for outer petals).

I keep a stash of these strips handy for noteworthy projects like button bracelets or monster collars.  More on that later.

Hairband Sewing 1

With needle and thread in hand, stitch the bottom edge of one narrow zigzaggy strip around the sides of the felted ball until you meet up with the starting point.  Cut off the extra end of the strip.

Hairband Sewing 2Stitch a wider zigzaggy strip around the sides of the ball, matching bottom edges and overlapping the first strip until you meet up with the starting point.

Cut off the end.  Stitch a third (the widest) zigzaggy strip over the first two.  Cut off the end.

Hairband Sewing 3Next, and this is optional, use a felting needle, felting pad and wool roving to embellish the wool ball, adding spirals or dots (see previous post on Dry Felting).

Next, cut a large leaf-shaped piece of wool felt.  Place this piece on the bottom of your flower and sew around the edges, covering the rough zigzaggy strip edges.

Attach a hair tie on the leaf bottom with needle and thread.  Ta da!  Project complete.

Now you are ready to fill fields with felted flowers.  Or to, at least, wear one proudly.

Felted Wool Finger Puppets

February 7th, 2011 § 6 comments § permalink

Felted Finger PuppetsOnce you’ve perfected the Felted Wool Ball and your design team is ready to rally, see if you have the technical adroitness to make something super crafty—The Felted Finger Puppet.

For this project, you will need bowl of hot, slightly soapy water, a bowl of cold soapless water, carded wool, scraps of 100% wool felt, a needle and thread, warm water and warm hands.  As posted previously, carded wool (or “wool roving”) can be purchased at local farms, craft stores or online (e.g. Local Harvest, Etsy, Halcyon Yarn, or Peace Fleece).  Peace Fleece offers a “Rainbow Felting Pack” that is perfect for this project.

As with the Felted Wool Ball, pull off a small length of wool and divide it into many thin longish strips.—multiple thin layers will produce the sturdiest felted material.  Wrap one strip as you would wind a ball of string—in thin layers around your index finger making sure you cover the fingertip.  Wrap the remaining wool strips around the first, adding layers until you can no longer feel your knuckle. The wool should be snug, but not too tight (about 1/8 in thick when pressed).

Dip your wooly finger into the bowl of hot, slightly soapy water.  Remove your wooly finger from the water and gently press the wool with the fingertips of your other hand, squeezing gently.  Continue to re-wet and squeeze the wool until you feel the fibers become entangled and you feel the fabric becoming firmer (you will notice this within a few minutes).  When the fabric is very firm, submerge your wooly finger into the bowl of cold (soapless) water to set the fibers and rinse.  Remove excess water by gently squeezing your wooly finger.  Like the Felted Wool Ball project, if your hands are perpetually cold like mine, you will find this project somewhat challenging.  Carefully remove the wool from your finger.

After air-drying the wool for several hours, you and your starry-eyed design team must envision the outcome— cow, wolf, librarian, martian—the brainstorming starts now.  The puppets can be embellished with needle felting (e.g. bumblebee stripes, eyes, nostrils), cut wool sweaters (e.g. lion mane, dragon wings) and embroidery thread.

These little friends, as seductive as they are, often are central to my operation.  With their cheerful banter, they lure my girls into unappealing household tasks such as eating veggies, washing dishes or brushing their teeth.  These little friends are known to appreciate clean plates and good attitudes.  As well, they provide teeny shoulders for us all to cry on after challenging days.

Wool felt is the earliest known form of fabric—therefore the process of felting has been around much longer than any of us—including supertalented felt artists Marjolen Dalinda, Renata Kraus, and Irena Rudman.  Additional tutorials and inspiration for felting projects like the ones we have made here can easily be found on many blogs and craft sites like Wee Folk Art, Rhythm of the Home, Laura Lee Burch and Martha Stuart.  For those in a hurry, finished products can be found on Chickadee Swing, and in many Waldorf catalogs.

Dry Felting

February 4th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Wet- and dry-felted wool ballsAlso called needle felting, dry felting can be used to embellish your felted work.  Needle felting is used to fuse another layer of fiber onto the felted fabric.  It is slightly magical.  Little in the way of equipment is required to needle felt by hand, though it requires a bit more concentration than wet felting.  In addition to focus, you will also need one of your dry wool balls that you’ve previously felted.  Also, you will need to purchase a felting needle (get a few extra just in case).  I purchased mine online from Paradise Fibers, a family-owned and operated farm in Spokane, WA.  A felting needle is long, barbed and extremely sharp.  Be careful, particularly if you are working with a young design team such as mine.  You will also need a felting pad.  This will allow the needle to go through the fiber and beyond without damaging the needle or the surface below.  You can purchase a fancy schmancy pad, but many experienced needle felters simply use polystyrene blocks, upholstery foam or compressed foam.  I use the head of an old floor brush—this works perfectly.  You will also need thin wool roving in various colors, wool yarn, or cut out pieces of wool felt.  I use remnant wool pencil roving (it is similar to yarn, but not as tough) for most of my dry felting embellishments.

Once you have gathered your supplies, you’re ready to take the plunge.  Start simply by adding stripes or dots to your wool ball (later, you can add an elaborate design).  No matter the design you’ve chosen, you should work in smallish sections.  Place your wool ball on the felting pad before you position the fiber where you’d like it.  The best approach for needle felting is a straight up and down motion with the needle.  This makes it less likely you’ll break the needle.  Start at one end of your design and work your way around.  When is it done?  The longer you puncture the fibers with the needle, the more fused your original work will be with the fancy new wool layer.  Really, doneness is a matter of personal preference.  Keep going until you think it’s time to stop.  Once you start needle felting on a project, it can be a challenge to quit.  There are all sorts of directions you can go with this, in fact you’ll find your brain just whirling.  You’ll be tempted to add shapes, stripes and flashy jazzy stuff just because you can.

And so, at this point you are ready to branch out on your own.  Using the dry and wet felting techniques and a bit of magic potion, you and your design team are well on your way to felting just about anything—flowers, tooth pillows, tea cozies, winter car tires, a good night sleep, etc.

Wet Felting: Swittens

February 1st, 2011 § 29 comments § permalink

Sweater mittensIf you’ve perfected The Tiny Birdhouse and are considering enhancing or refining your newly-acquired skills, or you are simply looking for a more practical way to shamelessly debut your crafty accomplishments, you should consider making old sweater mittens—in our house, they are called Swittens.

Like The Tiny Birdhouse, this project requires at least one medium-weight 100% wool sweater (or two or three).  I’m often partial to snazzy colors for this one—luminous greens, saucy oranges—although, surprisingly, humble grays and browns can be powerful.  You will also need some soft fleece for the mitten lining.  Optional matchy-matchy.  A small handful of you with nimble fingers and minimal time constraints may prefer to hand sew this project.  In the interest of cold-handed project members craving speedy outcomes and post-project refreshments, I use my trusty sewing machine.  You might also need a few random buttons for flare.

As with The Tiny Birdhouse, add your sweater(s) to the laundry batch and wash and dry on normal.  The sweater is now felted and can be cut into the mitten pattern.

Pattern:  Pattern size is up to you.  I recommend that you size your first mitten batch to be gifted to (or kept for) larger hands.  For me, there is a significant positive correlation between successful project outcome and project size, when measured by various indicators, such as big smiles.  Don’t start out too teeny.  With right sides of fabric together, cut both the sweater and the fleece lining as follows.  So that one hand does not get gypped, be sure to cut out two of each pattern piece.

Felted sweater mitten pattern

Sewing Instructions:  With right sides of the sweater fabric together, match thumbs from Piece 1 and 2.  Sew along thumb from notch to notch.  Flip sewn piece right side out.  With right sides together, pin Piece 3 to sewn pieces 1 and 2.  Sew edges together, leaving the bottom unsewn.  Trim excess wool around the edges as close to seam as possible. For the fleece lining, follow the same instructions for sweater fabric.  Turn everything right side out.

Cut the sweater cuff from the cuff of the original felted sweater.  It should be 3 ½ to 4 ½ inches long.  Pin the cuff to the bottom of the fleece lining with right sides together and rough edges together.

Felted sweater mittensSew around the cuff’s rough edge.  Turn the fleece lining inside out and put it inside the mitten.  Turn the sweater cuff up and over the mitten.  To secure the cuff, sew a button or stitch around the cuff’s top edge.  Chop-chop you’re done, with an impressive finish.

Wet Felting: The Wool Bead Bracelet

January 23rd, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Felted wool bead braceletIf you have perfected the felted wool ball and have a collection of them gawking at you (that are still wet), and now have a somewhat unhealthy confidence in your felting abilities, you and your design team may feel the sudden urge to transform the balls into useful beads.  Now is the time.  Measure a wrist.  To make a bracelet, you will need just enough wool balls to go around it.

You will need the following: your cherished collection of (still damp) felted wool balls, a sharp sewing needle, a large needle with a large eye (a doll-maker’s needle is perfect for this job), and a thin elastic cord.  Pierce a hole through the ball with the sharp needle and insert a toothpick through the hole.  Allow the bead to air dry with the toothpick inside it (rusty old radiators are advantageous for drying).  After completely dry (this will take a day or two), the beads are ready to be assembled into a bracelet.  Thread the thin elastic cord on the long big-eyed needle.  String the beads on the needle, and then onto the elastic cord.  Tie several square knots in the elastic cord and conceal the knot in the hole of a bead.  C’est fini!  Feel free to incorporate smaller beads, buttons, ribbon, etc. into your design to make it flashy.

Felted wool caterpillar

In the end, your innovative design team may have its own ideas concerning final products.  This is fine.

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