New Friends…

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I had the great pleasure of visiting Fibre East last weekend at Ampthill, Bedfordshire – happily for me, very close to home.

Not usually the sort of person who enjoys big events, I was persuaded to go by the lovely lady at Art Van Go, who mentioned it in passing to me, the last time I was over in Knebworth.

We had been discussing the difficulty of finding the range of yarns we wanted locally and the demise of shops selling any worthwhile selection of tapestry threads.

And so off I went to Ampthill, armed with high hopes and a fairly bulging purse.

What a brilliant day I had! I was delighted to find that Fibre East was big enough to have a fabulous choice of suppliers, but not so huge that you couldn’t get up close and personal with the yarns and have a good talk with the stall-holders.

For me, one of the most fabulous things about becoming serious about textile art, has been discovering a whole new group of people, many artisans or very small business owners, who are producing an amazing range of threads. Access to such a variety of colours and textures is what has transformed my version of needlepoint/embroidery to the art practice it is, so I was enormously pleased to see so much variety available from people who all seemed to be passionate about their products.

It was also a pleasure to be able to touch and test out so many silks, wools, cottons and linens. Most of my purchases are made online these days, and although this works well enough, there’s nothing quite like being able to stroke the threads, and see for yourself their true colours.

One of my main objectives, was to identify suppliers that I could go back to online, throughout the year, knowing that they had yarns, strong enough for me to use for my canvas embroideries.

Of course, there were far more goodies than my purse could cope with, and so feeling a little like the woman who goes to the rescue home for dogs and wishes she could bring them all home with her, I had the horrible job of deciding which ones to bring away with me. There were many I left behind – I know there were lots of other kind-hearts/yarn-junkies, doing their own bit to re-home the entire stock, so not too guilty! And I have noted a number of people who although I didn’t buy from at Ampthill, I expect to go back to at some point.

But for the record (and as a reminder for me too) – these are the champion suppliers whose threads are even now being stitched into my latest tapestry…

Black Bat – http://www.blackbat.co.uk  – Exquisite natural woollen yarns – the lace weight Wensleydale works wonderfully as a tapestry thread!

Weavers Bazaar – http://www.weaversbazaar.com All the colours I wanted in worsted…

Midwinter Yarns – http://www.midwinteryarns.com I went a bit goo-goo over the coloured linens.

Namolio – http://www.namolio.com Another wonderful range of linens – already using these…

Whimzy – http://www.whimsy.co.ukIrresistible colours and the lovely Ling!

Thank you’s to all the stall-holders who made the event so fabulous – especially as the second day, it rained so heavily – you’re doing a wonderful job, and this textile artist for one, is very grateful x

 

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New Friends…

Summer Reading…

Any minute now – in fact almost certainly by the time you read this – the summer holidays will have broken out around here – hooray! It’s been a tough old year one way or another and I’m sure we’re not the only family relieved to have a few weeks away from the usual routine.

For most of the year, I do the main part of my reading at bedtime, but during the holidays, I feel no guilt whatsoever about reading whenever I like, so I’ve started putting together my reading list for July & August.

And the books I’ve chosen are…

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The Celtic Myths: A Guide to the Ancient Gods & Legends – Miranda Aldhouse-Green

In recent years, I’ve become increasingly interested in all things Celtic, and I keep coming across names and stories that I know nothing about. Ironic isn’t it, that I could certainly tell you much more about the Ancient Greek gods and heroes, than anything about those of our native countries. When I saw this book last week, it practically screamed at me from the shelf, to buy it. And I’m so pleased that I did – it’s a lovely ‘beginner’s guide’ – complete with pictures and – get this – a guide to pronunciation!

And it’s timely too. In September, the British Museum is opening a new exhibition featuring Celtic art and identity – I’ve booked my ticket already!

Next, I chose…

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Thomas Traherne: Selected Poems & Prose – Penguin Classic.

I have Phil Rickman to thank for introducing me to Thomas Traherne. References to Traherne crop up in several of his brilliant Merrily Watkins novels and it took me some time to find any of Treherne’s works in print. Then, on a day when I wasn’t particularly looking for it, there it was, on the shelf of the Oxfam bookshop in Berkhamsted – definitely there waiting just for me.

If you like William Blake’s work, Treherne might be for you too.

 

My third choice is the recently published…

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Field Notes From The Edge: Journeys Through Britain’s Secret Wilderness – Paul Evans

 

Now, this is a book I intend to consume in small amounts, it is so beautifully written and the mental imagery so rich, that it would be a shame to read it too fast. It’s like a fine wine that deserves to be savoured. I downloaded a sample onto my Kindle, but although I knew straightaway I wanted to read it, I felt sure I needed a hard copy. Fortunately, when I visited Toppings in Ely last week, (possibly the best bookshop outside Hay that I know), I found one to bring home with me.

Paul Evans is on Twitter if you want to find him there.

My fourth choice is…

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God’s Traitors: Terror & Faith in Elizabethan England – Jessie Childs.

I’ve actually been reading this for a while now, but things have been so busy around here lately that instead of reading at bedtime, I’ve been crashing out as soon as my head hit the pillows. But I am delighted that Jessie has written this book. Having been brought up in the West Midlands, right in the heart of Elizabethan recusant territory, and on the doorstep of Harvington Hall, one of the existing Elizabethan houses where you can still see numerous priest’s hiding-holes, I was excited to finally hear more of the story of that period in English history.

For anyone familiar with the area and the many houses linked to Catholic recusancy, it’s wonderful to have a whole book describing events, and not be confined to a few footnotes.

And my final choice doesn’t have a picture, because I have it loaded on my Kindle – it’s Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I absolutely loved watching the recent TV series, I remembered reviews from when it was first published, but somehow didn’t get around to buying it, so now I have! I think it should keep my fantasy levels suitably inflated over the summer…

Have you read any of these? Do let me know what you thought of them, or tell me what delights you’re planning to read over the hopefully long, hot summer.

Happy reading.

<3

 

 

 

Summer Reading…

Summer…

Walking the Delinquent Dog this morning, I was struck by the feeling that we are reaching the peak of the summer, moving towards the tipping point, where the strong pulsing energy of late spring and early summer finally flips over into the languid pause of August and begins to be absorbed quietly back into the land.

The bracken, which not so many weeks ago I swear you could almost see growing as you stood to watch, towers over me now, but it’s stopped getting taller. Now it stands, erect and still very green, but the energy that shot it upwards has ceased. It seems happy just to wait.

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Along the edge of the lane, colours are subtly changing. None of the gold and oranges of autumn yet, but look closely and notice the grasses, bleached pale blonde by the recent heat. In the hedgerow, the white elderflowers have gone, their stalks begin to turn reddy purple, the few remaining flowers are brown. The cow parsley that made the lane look as if it wore a fluffy lace collar, has now turned to rust and bends down as it dies.

In the fields, the grasses have been cut and baled, some are still there, drying in the sunshine, waiting to be collected. The crows are happy, hopping noisily amongst the bales and taking off when the red kites come gliding over them.

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In the wood, the horse-chestnut trees are showing tiny, prickly, conker buds, although many fall in the thundery rainstorms. The brambles and nettles have climbed all over the paths, making it difficult to follow some of our winter routes, forcing us to choose our steps carefully.

Summer is not my favourite season. I find the heat uncomfortable, I’m fair-skinned and blonde-haired, and burn in minutes, so forays outside have to be early or late. But since we’ve had the Delinquent Dog, I’ve begun to appreciate this time of year, it seems to be saying slow down, wait, stop – which of course is what so many of us do. Nature works in cycles, and we are part of nature, so it’s natural for us to be tuned-in to this seasonal round. It’s not surprising that we want to slow down for a while.

It makes me wonder how people who work especially hard at this time of year manage to do it – I’m just extremely glad not to have to.

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Summer…

Playtime…

I know I’ve said it before, but never mind, I’m going to witter on again. The thing is, when you spend most of your creative time making extremely slow art, you do occasionally have the uncontrollable urge to do something different, the bubbling juices just have to be uncorked.

For some time now, I’ve been hatching a plan to do something I haven’t done for, well, let’s just say, it was before Mrs Thatcher’s era…

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I started putting my plan into action – I bought a small selection of oil paints and a bottle of brush cleaner. Yes, I’ve decided that I’m going to spend time this summer revisiting the joy of my teens, oil-painting.

Way back then, I was so lucky to have an art teacher who let us experiment with oils, in fact he positively encouraged a group of us who were being channelled down an academic path, to relax at the end of each week in the Sixth Form, by going along on Friday afternoons to the art department, to paint for a couple of hours.

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I can’t imagine now, why I didn’t keep it up after I left school. Probably I was simply too caught up in the whole forging ahead in your career imperative to think about making art very much in those days. And at times of stress – and there were plenty of those – I turned to stitching as my relaxation.

But for a few years now, certainly since I’ve well and truly left that world behind, I’ve occasionally hankered over oil paints again.

And now, having finally managed to scrape out a tiny space in the house, where I can set up an easel and leave it, I’ve taken the plunge.

Yesterday, having started off in what I’m going to call a slightly prickly mood (you know the one, where you turn green and scaly and begin to breathe fire), I knew it was the right time to crack open the paints and the turps substitute and get down to some serious playtime.

It didn’t take more than a couple of minutes before I was that teenager all over again.

So, there you have it. My plan for the summer (apart from the three weeks in Scotland), is to reacquaint myself with the special alchemy of oils. I’m not anticipating any startling results on canvas, but if yesterday’s experience is anything to go by, I will at least expect to be smiling most of the time.

(Although, thinking about it now, I wonder if the turps substitute had anything to do with lifting my mood…)

Have you ever returned to an old arty love? Do tell.

Happy creating!

<3

 

 

Playtime…

Pilgrimage…

In which even the persistent rain couldn’t spoil the pleasure of a visit to the home of my historic hero, Bess of Hardwick…

It won’t surprise anyone who comes here often, that Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire exerts a powerful allure for this particular history junkie, combining as it does the attractions of a seriously grand Elizabethan great house, with an unsurpassed collection of historic textiles.

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Hardwick Hall – more glass than wall – as they say…

And perhaps adding the real cherry on top, is the fact that both the building and the textiles exist here today, due to the efforts and vision of one truly remarkable Elizabethan lady – the redoubtable, Bess of Hardwick.

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Bess of Hardwick, later in life when the widowed Countess of Shrewsbury

I don’t need much encouragement to go along to Hardwick, so when an opportunity came up at the weekend, off I went!

Hardwick Hall is in the care of the National Trust, which considering the nature of the building and its fragile and delicate contents, is probably a very good thing. But the downside of showing so many historic tapestries, embroideries and needleworks, is that they  keep the light-levels very low to avoid light damage. So if you have the chance to visit on a day when it isn’t raining – grab it.

Sadly, I didn’t have the option, and so I apologise here and now for the poor quality of the photos. I’ve done what I could, but as you will see, it was wet and seriously dark on Saturday afternoon, so try to go with the sepia flow…

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View from the New Hall to the ruins of the Old Hall (also largely rebuilt by Bess) and a ‘must’ when you visit the New Hall.

Anyway, I’m sure many of you know all about Bess of Hardwick (if you don’t, read about her here, or better still, read this book: Bess of Hardwick: First Lady of Chatsworth Mary S. Lovell).

If Bess’s wasn’t exactly a ‘rags to riches’ story, it wasn’t far off. Honestly, I don’t understand why dramatists aren’t all over her story – married 4 times to wealthier and wealthier men, life at the court of Elizabeth I, sharing her home with Mary Queen of Scots, arranging marriages for a brood of children, building at least 3 magnificent houses, acrimonious divorce, deaths – her story has the lot!

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My favourite portrait of Bess: Aged about 30. Oh how I wish that picture could talk…

And the best bit – Bess wasn’t some pawn in the game, she was a lead player. Time and again, Bess confronted difficult situations and worked at them to the advantage of herself and her family. She is for me, an incredible example of a strong woman, standing up for what she wanted and what she thought was right and at a time when this was certainly not the norm for women.

Luckily, much of her correspondence and her inventories remain, so it’s possible to read her own words, which make her feel extraordinarily real. She comes across as something of a cross between an extremely powerful business woman and your Grandmother – juggling the stresses and strains of a major business empire with the day-to-day upheavals of a complex and sometimes dysfunctional family life.

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The marriages of Bess’s children, celebrated in a heraldic mantel.

I’m not sure that she would have been all that easy to live with, or to work for, but of all the people in history I’d love the chance to go back and talk to, it would be Bess – she is my all-time historic hero.

But of course there’s another reason why I love her so much. Bess was into textiles. Her homes were adorned with every kind of rich tapestry, needlework and embroideries money could buy. And although much was produced by professional embroiderers, she also stitched some pieces herself – which gives me a kind of thrill when I look at the many textiles at Hardwick and imagine her running her hands over them, or even wielding her needle.

Details from the needlework table carpet – Story of Tobit (1579)

Details from a long cushion – Fancie of a Fowler – velvet with applied needlework motifs.

I stood for a long time, working out in my mind how some of these pieces were worked. And I suppose it’s seeing something made over 400 years ago, using techniques exactly the same as the ones I use today, that gives me a special thrill. Occasionally, you find yourself understanding precisely why they chose to work in a particular way, and in that moment, there’s a connection across those 400 years. You stand there and realise that if the embroiderer was standing next to you, you’d be talking the same language.

The building itself is superb, but in a way, it overwhelms me, which is why I usually find myself looking for the odd or the quirky aspects, such as the staggered windows and the worn stone stairs. It’s the sort of house that will speak in different ways to every visitor, I’m quite sure. Certainly on Saturday afternoon, it was proving awesome to many of the visitors – which is really quite some legacy, even after all these years.

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Hats off to Bess!

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Visitor information from the National Trust is here.

For a wonderful and fascinating insider’s story, follow Ellen Scarlett’s delightful and informative blog – View From My Attic – Ellen works at Hardwick Hall and gives fabulous glimpses into the life of the Hall.

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Oh, and the gardens…well, even in the rain, they’re wonderful…

Do visit Hardwick if you can, you’ll be very glad you did.

<3

 

 

 

 

Pilgrimage…

Doors open…

I’m delighted to say that the weather improved just in time for our Private Viewing over at the Mardleybury Gallery in Hertfordshire, and it was a huge pleasure to welcome so many people there to see our work – I’m sure the allure of the wine and nibbles was only minimally responsible…

I took a few pictures, to give you a feel for the show, but if you should find yourself in the Hertfordshire area during June, I urge you to go and see for yourself – I promise  you won’t be disappointed, there’s a range of simply fabulous art on view.

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To be honest, I’m still pinching myself – if anyone had told me this time last year, that I’d be exhibiting at a gallery, well, I’d have laughed.

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Can you see my pieces up on the wall there – I had some lovely feedback for visitors last night.

A small selection of the work on show…

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Ali Mesley’s work was attracting a lot of interest – not surprising, they are very special.

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The header image for this post is a detail from a collograph print by Jenny Smith-McOnie, evoking the rock pool – truly exquisite.

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I’m going to be stitching and talking about stitched-art at Mardleybury Gallery on Sunday 21st June from about 2pm. Come and chat if you’re around.

)O(

 

 

Doors open…

It’s all go…

My mind seems to have been all over the place lately.

I’ve been preparing for the Discover Original Art exhibition – more over at my website (click here for gallery details) – which starts  on Wednesday this week, 3rd June. 

I’m so pleased to have had this date to work towards, because although at times I felt as if things weren’t ever going to come together, knowing that I had to get there, eventually worked its way into my subconscious and turned things around.

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This last 12 months has seen the most amazing upheaval in my approach to making art. Twelve months ago, I had a stack of stitched canvasses sitting on a shelf, with no one except immediate family and you, my lovely blog readers, ever seeing any of them. Now, less than a year later, I’ve met and joined a local community of wonderful artists and begun to find my voice in the real, as well as the virtual world.

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In a very literal way, I’m beginning to feel as if various threads in my life are now coming together.

A year ago, I wouldn’t have dared think of myself as an artist. Now, well, it doesn’t feel too far-fetched.

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So having dates to work towards helps remind me that this is real, and at last there’s the freedom to make art without feeling guilty, which for me, is the most amazing gift imaginable.

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Keeping my head together though, with home, family and art to juggle, is helped enormously by the daily routine of walking the Delinquent Dog.

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Over the last week, everything seems to be growing at such a fantastic rate. The pictures in today’s post were taken this morning and last week – proof that however hard we try, nature just does it all so much better…

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Happy stitching…

 

 

It’s all go…

Discover us on Facebook and Twitter…

You may remember, that back in November, I exhibited with the fabulous Discover group of artists.

I’m thrilled to say that Discover is about to exhibit again, this time we’ll be at the lovely Mardleybury Gallery, near Knebworth, Hertfordshire, throughout June.

If you’re in the area, come along and meet the various artists…

demodays

 

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We also have new Facebook and Twitter accounts, so I’d be enormously grateful if those of you who use these, would pop by and ‘like/follow’ us.

Thank you x

<3

 

 

 

Discover us on Facebook and Twitter…

Green – everywhere I look…

I just don’t seem to be able to get away from greens at the moment. I suppose that this year, even more than usual, I’ve been tuned-in to greens, having been working with a green palette for quite a few weeks.

Embroidery – well the way that I do it – is an extremely slow art form, and all those hours of stitching, inevitably lead you into a very close relationship with the different shades you’re using.

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2015-05-01 09.07.03And similarly, the various textures, coarse tweeds, strong wools, fluid silks, all play differently in your hand and in the canvas – all working together in sometimes unexpected ways.

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2015-04-30 08.30.28Trying to plan what goes where I find to be a fairly pointless exercise. Instead it seems to be better to simply let each thread decide, according to what else is happening around it.

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Impossible at this most verdant time of the year, to ignore the way that the countryside changes colour. So many delicate plants appearing in the lane every day now, but all held together by nature’s tapestry of green.

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All photographs taken in the lane on the daily dog walk, over the last couple days. Follow me on Instagram for other daily pictures…

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Green – everywhere I look…

Medieval faces…

I’ve been having a few churchy days lately, courtesy of the bell-ringers in the family.

On Monday, I spent an hour at our local church, All Saints, Soulbury. I’ve been there so many times, but I still love to wander around, it’s a fascinating place. But in all the hours I’ve spent in that church, I’d never previously realised there was a little medieval treasure waiting to be found…

Have a good look at this chancel window…

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Now, the chancel windows, on either side, each has that colourful glass border. I’d never paid it any attention on other visits. But while I was there on Monday, I took a closer look.

And it appears that each of those coloured sections is a fragment of medieval stained glass – presumably from the pre-Reformation days. Most of the fragments are difficult to identify, although I spotted a few architectural features, and some fabric drapes, but suddenly, I noticed a face…

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and then another…

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And then more…

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Each one is really tiny, but has incredible, fine detail. It never fails to take my breath away when we get these little connections to people from the past. I would so love to know who painted those faces.

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Medieval faces…

Indulging the window fetish…

It’s become a bit of a family joke that I have a ‘thing’ for taking pictures through windows – my daughters now refer to any such shot as ‘one of mum’s’ pictures and have started taking them for me. Even my brother spotted my funny little habit and is now taking them too.

After the recent Yosemite upgrade, (Thank you Apple, I will get over it one day, but possibly not before I have to resort to counselling), I decided it was time to do some serious organising of my photos and while I’ve been doing that, I’ve come across lots of ‘mum’s pictures’ I’d forgotten about.

So, I thought that from time to time, I’d post them here – indulge me…

Today’s picture is perhaps my favourite bathroom window…

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It’s a room in Packwood House – one of my favourite National Trust properties.

I love the sense of humour of the person who dressed this room, take a good look in the bath, under the splendid lion-head tap…

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Fabulous!

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I wrote a post about Packwood House about a year ago, on my other blog The Mists of Time – do pop over and have a look if you like quirky old houses.

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Indulging the window fetish…

Happy May Day….

Some people regard May Day as the first day of summer – well, in some ways I agree, there’s definitely a lot happening in the hedgerow now, foliage is growing so fast, you feel as if you could practically watch it unfurling in front of you. But having spent the hour of our walk with my eyes streaming from the cold wind this morning, I can tell you, it doesn’t feel like summer just yet!

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After the last post here and my admission that greens give me problems, I realised just how many greens I see every day on the trip along the lane and through the wood. I’ve been observing them with more attention than I’d normally give it, and what I’ve learned, is that there are more shades of green that I can imagine, and Mother Nature doesn’t seem to mind how she puts them all together – and yet, it works…

I’ll keep trying…

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Happy stitching…

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Happy May Day….