Cockatoo Brae

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Yes, you did read that correctly – Cockatoo Brae. This remarkable phrase is, in fact, the name of a lane in Lerwick, Shetland, and it is also the name of the final yoke in my collection.

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This design emerged from an exciting collaboration with my friend Ella. In Shetland, machine and hand knitting go very much, as it were, hand in hand. In fact, at certain crucial points in its twentieth-century story, machine knitting might be said to have saved the Shetland hand-knitting industry from extinction. The two crafts (and they are both crafts) are importantly imbricated, and perhaps especially so where the yoke sweater is concerned.

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Hybrid yokes – where the body and sleeves are knitted by machine, and the yoke subsequently knitted on by hand – were one of the mainstays of the Shetland wool industry from the 1950s through the 1970s. I devote a chapter to this topic in my book, and you can read more about it there, but suffice it to say that, after my research I felt it was very important to include one such hybrid yoke design in my book. Cockatoo Brae is that yoke.

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On one of my recent visits to Shetland, I was very keen to learn more about machine knitting from Ella, who runs her own business centred around the wonderful machine-knitted items that she designs and makes.

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Ella’s Crofthoouse Cushions

At her studio in Cockatoo Brae, Ella introduced me to the process of creating machine-knitted fabric. Like many committed hand-knitters, I suppose I had certain lingering assumptions about what machine knitting involved (knitting by machine? surely this is the devil’s work?!) but these were quickly exploded. I discovered that the process was not only extremely skilled, but also – in the simple act of making stitches – much, much more like hand-knitting than I’d imagined. It is also quite physically demanding!

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(A swatch we knitted on Ella’s machine)

When I returned home after my visit I began designing a chart using an interesting variant of the ubiquitous tree and star motifs that appear on countless Shetland yokes. It is no coincidence that the shades I chose echoed those of the swatch we had created in Cockatoo Brae. Much of the inspiration for Ella’s design work comes from the 1970s: a decade during which Shetland knitters were producing thousands of yokes for a buoyant commercial market, but when the advent of North Sea Oil also changed the face of the Shetland knitting industry. The 1970s are an interesting moment of transition in Shetland, and Ella’s work interrogates and reflects this. I wanted the palette of our yoke to reflect it too.

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The bright green is Jamieson and Smith shade FC11 and the orange shade is 125. (This rich tomato-soup shade is one of my all-time favourite Jamieson and Smith colours – I absolutely love it!). For the main body of the sweater I chose FC58 – a wonderfully complex heathered brown that in fact has more individual colours blended in it than any other shade in the Jamieson and Smith palette. After Ella and I had settled on the chart and palette, I provided her with a pattern and she got to work creating the sweater’s machined components. (Ella will write in more detail about the process of knitting the body and sleeves on her machine, and you’ll be able to read about the process on her blog)

Some time later, I received this bundle in the post

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As machine-knit yarn is oiled, I decided to block the separate pieces quite vigorously first so I could see that the hand-knit and the machine-knit fabric were behaving the same way, and that I could be sure that my gauge would match up. After blocking the pieces, I seamed them up with matress stitch. Ella had left small sections of ‘waste’ knitting at the tops of the sleeve and body pieces that could be unravelled to create a set of live stitches. So I unravelled the waste, set sleeves and body on a circular needle, and cast on a nine stitch steek over the cardigan’s front opening to enable me to knit the yoke on in the round.
Here’s the yoke in progress.

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Here it is blocking

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and finally . . .
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Creating this yoke with Ella was a fascinating and really enjoyable process for me, and I felt I understood much more about the textile practices and history I’d been researching through the simple act of knitting this garment. Sometimes making really is learning.

If you’d like to create your own Cockatoo Brae in exactly the same way we did, I’ve included instructions for flat machine-knitting body and sleeves in the book. But don’t worry –if you’d prefer to hand-knit the design in its entirety – working the whole garment in the round and then steeking it open afterwards – those instructions are also included.

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We shot these photographs on a lovely autumn day around the lower slopes of Ben Lawers and Meal nan Tarmachan, where Tom was running a hill race. Tom ran very well, and I think the photographs he took after the race show the garment perfectly suited to its setting.

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I’d like to give a big shout-out to Tom today, who has really shared my Yoke vision, and whose considerable skills as a photographer are in evidence throughout. His images – which beautifully illustrate each garment in a separate, distinctive location suited to its style – are an essential element of the larger creative process behind this book. Thanks, Tom x.

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You’ll find more information about Cockatoo Brae here
And the book is available to pre-order here

Bluebells

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Good morning! Here is today’s yoke from my new book – Bluebells. In the 1950s and 60s, there was a particularly popular style of sweater featuring a rather narrow circular yoke. In such garments, the sleeve and body shaping tended to be a little more neatly tailored than other circular yokes, and the colourwork motifs were placed high up on the neck, necklace style. I wanted to include one of these necklace-yoked sweaters in the collection, and this is what I came up with.

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There’s really no need of much explanation for where I drew inspiration for the design.

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One of my favourite wild flowers, bluebells transform the woods and glens with their luminous glow throughout the month of May and are one of the undoubted highlights of a Scottish spring.

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Bluebell flowers seem particularly lovely to me when they flip upwards just before they turn to seed, and this is how I represented them in my chart.

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Bluebells encircle the neck of this garment like a garland, and the floral motifs are echoed in colourwork bands at the hem and cuffs.

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Jamieson and Smith shade FC37 really is the perfect bluebell blue, and the chart also features two of my all-time favourite greens – FC11 and FC24. The finished sweater is neat, simple, and easy to wear – even on a very breezy day like the one on which we took these photographs.

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These photographs were taken in late summer, above the Blane Valley, a place which in the spring is awash with bluebells. I knit this sweater during bluebell season, and loved to see how bluebells took over the woodland and darker north-facing slopes of the valley, bringing them to life with their luminous glow.

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You can find more information about Bluebells here
And Yokes is now available to pre-order here

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Keith Moon

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AHOY THERE! Today’s yoke is called Keith Moon (bear with me . . . )

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I wanted to include a sixties-inspired, mod yoke in this collection: a sweater that would be really easy for even a beginner-knitter to create but which also had the potential to look really sleek and stylish. I love the simple boat-neck shape of many sixties jumpers and thought it would be fun to combine this with the straightforward construction of a seamless yoke.

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My inspiration came from the tri-colour roundels with which British mods adorned their clothing and scooters:

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. . . perhaps most famously sported by Keith Moon, The Who’s explosively talented drummer.

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As you can see, I’ve taken the idea of the mod roundel as three decreasing rings of different colours, and applied this to the circular structure of the seamless yoke, swapping out the positions of the red and blue.

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This is one of those sweaters where the finishing really makes a difference. The hems, belled cuffs, and boat-neck collar are all creating with facings of contrasting shades, which are neatly finished off with i-cord.

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The yarn is Lett Lopi (yes, its my new favourite). I found it very interesting that a few tailored details could give a really sleek finish to a yarn that is sometimes regarded in a more, um, rustic context. How I love a facing!

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I’ve styled my Keith Moon in a rather nautical fashion . .

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. . . but I think this is a very versatile jumper with which a variety of different looks could be achieved – Mel has knitted a really striking sample in jade, black, and silver, and I also think Keith would look completely amazing worked in a single shade of charcoal or a lighter grey. As soon as I made my sweater, though, I felt that its red, blue and white would work particularly well in a maritime setting. . .

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. . . so we went to Portnahaven, on the island of Islay, where, on a beautiful, calm, sunny Sunday, the colours of the sea and boats and sky and jolly paintwork really seemed to speak directly to those of Keith Moon!

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The seals were singing out at sea while we shot these photographs around the village – it was a lovely morning.

I find that, if I block it correctly, I have no problem wearing Lett Lopi next to my skin, and here is my top tip to finish your jumper for maximum smoothness and softness: block it out in luke warm water with a solution of a good quality hair-conditioner for at least 30 minutes — I use one of the straightening kind, that is designed for human hair (though I do know someone who swears on the transformative effects of Mane and Tail – the original horse-to-human crossover.)

You can find more information about Keith Moon here.
And Yokes is now available for pre-order here

A few of you have been asking about the relationship between the print and digital versions of Yokes. Well, there are two basic options:
Option 1: Print + digital. If you purchase a print copy of the book, you will receive a complementary download code to enable you to access the digital version.
Option 2: Digital only: You can also choose to purchase the digital book separately, without a printed copy.
The book costs exactly the same for both options, and the digital-only version will be made available on Ravelry after the book has started to ship, on or just after November 17th.

Yokes is available for pre-order! . . . and here is Buchanan

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Good morning! I’m extremely happy to announce that Yokes is now available for pre-order

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. . . and while I’m at it, I thought I’d show you another design. This yoke is called Buchanan.

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One of the many aspects of wearing yokes that I thought about while researching this book was the widespread practice, in the 1960s and ’70s particularly, of selecting a yoke to match your skirt or kilt. This was particularly common in Scotland of course, but it seems also to have been the case in Canada, and elsewhere. To this day, there is a particular shade in the Jamieson and Smith Jumper Weight palette that is known as “kilt green”, and you can still purchase yoke jumpers that match Blackwatch and other common tartans from some Shetland retailers. I confess I was prompted to reflect on this practice when I spotted the Morningside Maisie buses zipping around Edinburgh some years ago

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Children’s author and illustrator, Aileen Paterson chose to draw her mischievious cat Maisie in this familiar and rather nostalgic outfit of yoked gansey and kilt, and its intriguing that, around the same time, Mairi Hedderwick chose a very similar outfit in which to dress her equally popular Scottish character, Katie Morag.

So I knew I wanted to use the colours of a kilt to design a matching yoke, but the question was, which tartan?

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Just a couple of miles from my house are the South and Eastern shores of Loch Lomond, and these bonnie banks and braes are my favourite local places for a stroll. This beautiful stretch of land was granted to Absalom Buchanan in 1225, and so I chose the rich palette of the “ancient” Buchanan tartan as the starting point for this design.

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I then got in touch with the lovely ladies at Scottesque, and asked them to make me a “midi-kilt”. (You can select your own tartan, and your kilt will be made to measure for an extremely reasonable sum). Rather than the familiar heavy pleated garment, the Scottesque midi kilt is composed of several fabric pieces, cut on the bias. I think it makes for a very feminine, flattering and striking skirt.

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I then discovered that several shades of Rowan kid classic provided a near-perfect match for the Buchanan tartan. This pleased me greatly as its a yarn of which I’m very fond – light and warm, and really hard wearing, with a lovely halo and handle. From that palette, I produced a chart.

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This is not the way I generally work when designing, as I usually have some kind of precise visual image in mind. But limiting my imagination in one way (colour) seemed to really give it free rein in another . . . I happily played around with shades and motifs until I’d created a yoke design with which I was very happy. The end result has a curiously 1920s/30s modernist feel to me, and, when I look at it, I am put in mind of the bows of cruise liners and their art deco interiors.

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Buchanan can be worn as a neat Spring tee, or can be popped on over layers as the weather cools.

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We shot these photographs at the top of one of my favourite local landmarks – the Dumpling, and I have to say I love the way this whole outfit looks against the spectacular highland landscape.

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Bruce had fun that day too.

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More details about Buchanan here

I’ll continue telling you about the remaining designs in the collection over the coming days, and the pre-order link for the book is here.

Fintry

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I wanted to include a smart, simple cardigan in my yoke collection. Something in a single colour; that might provide a showcase for a beautiful hand-dyed yarn; a garment that would be easy to wear and straightforward to knit. That cardigan is Fintry.

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Fintry is a pretty village a short drive away from my home. Though the village nestles against the north face of the rugged Campsie Fells, its direct environs have an unusually gentle feel, with verdant lanes, hedgerows and fields. There is good grazing and growing here, and Fintry’s distinctive pastoral feel provides a stark contrast to the generally rockier, boggier, woodier – much more Highland landscape – which immediately surrounds me. I find this contrast rather interesting. In summer, the landscape around Fintry is extraordinarily green and pleasingly textured – and its those features that I celebrate in this cardigan.

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Fintry is knitted all in one piece, with moss (or seed) stitch button bands, cuffs and hems framing a garment of simple stockinette. These bands of texture are then echoed on the yoke, which is shaped with short rows.

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Fintry makes simple and versatile use of the seamless yoke construction and the finishing is really quite minimal. Mel and I finished this sample with five buttons, snaps and ribbon facings, but you could add more buttons, or no buttons at all, just as you wish.

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The ribbon facing, incidentally, came from a box of cakes from Betty’s. I had been saving it for years and knew I’d find a use for it.

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The ribbon turned out to be a perfect match for the yarn, which is Old Maiden Aunt Corriedale Sport Weight. I love Lilith’s colour sense, her particular style of dyeing, and especially the interesting British yarn bases she uses to show off her skills. This Corriedale is a wonderful yarn, which takes the colour in a beautifully matt and saturated way. The tonal variations in the yarn are so subtle and pleasing, and really enhance the textural interest of the knitted fabric.

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The colourway is Ghillie Dhu, but I think Fintry would work equally well in any of Lilith’s fabulous handpainted shades.

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We shot these photographs at the courtyard cafe at Knockraich Farm in the village of Fintry itself.

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At the cafe you can sample ice cream, yogurt, crowdie, and other dairy products made on the farm, as well as some delicious home baking.

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You can also hang out with this very friendly farm cat.

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If you’d like to know more about Fintry You can find more information here.

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The shop will be open for pre-orders on Friday (7th), and we will begin shipping books in around ten days time.

A day at Sanquhar

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Have you been to Sanquhar? I am ashamed to say that I hadn’t — until Saturday.

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Sanquhar Knitting Workshop was part of Glasgow University’s Knitting in the Round project and was held at A’ the Airts, a lovely community arts centre at the heart of Sanquhar.

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At the workshop May MacCormick, who has knitted literally hundreds of pairs of Sanquhar gloves, was demonstrating her considerable skills.

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I was particularly intrigued by the finger gussets, which, as I understand it, are a unique feature of these gloves.

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My comrade-in-wool Tom of Holland, gave a great talk about Sanquhar patterns and the many different ways in which they have inspired him, from the creation of swiss-darned socks to pencil case patterns

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Then over at the Tolbooth Museum we were introduced to many intriguing items from the collection. I particularly liked the selection of gloves that had been commissioned by a local cyclist to match her different outfits. She possessed gloves in Sanquhar patterns knitted in wonderful shades of russet and gold, and must have cut a very striking figure as she zipped about on her bike.

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Her beautiful gloves were evidently much loved and used, as is apparent from their very visible mends.

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One thing that particularly intrigues me about the Sanquhar story is the relationship between the local carpet industry, and domestic hand knitting.

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Woven rugs and carpets, with geometric monochrome patterns similar to those that characterise the gloves, were created in the homes of Sanquhar folk. The gloves were knitted from the strong yarns used to weave these rugs, as well as from the drugget threads that were used in John McQueen’s Mill, a carpet and blanket manufacturer formerly situated in Crawick, near Sanquhar.

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It was a day which brought much knitterly food for thought.

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Thanks to the dedicated efforts of the folk at A’ The Airts, many exciting projects are underfoot: projects that will assure a bright future for the distinctive knitting styles of Sanquhar. I thought A’ the Airts was a very inspiring place: one of those exemplary, welcoming community arts centres which local folk really feel part of and proud of – and with reason. When you have an opportunity, I suggest you go and visit the centre and the Tolbooth Museum, and make sure you leave time to have lunch in the cafe, and enjoy some of Norma Simmon’s fantastic locally produced and home-cooked food.

Thanks to Glasgow University and A’the Airts for a great day.

Westering Home

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Here is another new yoke – this one is named Westering Home

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I developed the idea for this design across on the ferry to Islay, one of my favourite Hebridean locations. On my frequent trips there, I often find that Westering Home – Hugh Roberton’s famous 1920s song – pops into in my head, and it seemed an appropriate name for this cosy cabled garment.

If you would like to travel with me to Islay, and hear Norma Munro’s beautiful rendition of this song, press play. Warning: Watching this video may create an instant earworm and / or a desire to visit the Hebrides.

We had great fun shooting the photographs on a westering journey. We began west of our home, in mainland Argyll . . .

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. . . took more photographs on the Islay ferry . . .

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. . . and completed the shoot at Kildalton, on the island of Islay itself.

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. . .where Bruce was keen to join in the fun.

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Westering Home is a large, loose, coat-like garment worn with positive ease. To create the wrapped opening, each front is doubled to the same width as the back, and the yoke shaping is accomplished by working decreases between the cable panels.

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Carefully blocking and steaming the bottom of the garment more than the top, lends this design some swing, allowing the cable and rib panels to fall in a slightly pleated manner.

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The cabled fronts of this cardigan can be worn open or doubled across the body and depending on the amount of ease preferred, can be adjusted and buttoned to suit.

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The yarn is Artesano aran – a robust, warm wool / alpaca blend of which I am inordinately fond. It comes in some lovely complex shades and knits up into fantastically squishy cables.

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I have to say that this a yoke design I’m really pleased with – the pattern is really simple and logical to knit, it works up all in one piece, and the end result is a cosy, dramatic and versatile winter garment that should suit pretty much everyone.

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If you’d like to see more information about Westering Home, I’ve now created a pattern page on Ravelry.

For those of you who have been asking, everything is going to plan with the book, and I will activate the shop for pre-orders as soon as we have gone to print, which is looking like it will be next week.

HURRAH!

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