String Factory

String Factory

one woman’s obsession with all things Fiber

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The wool tunnel

In the last couple of weeks I’ve fallen down a wool tunnel. I started going to Wednesday night knitting at Still River Mill a couple weeks ago, brought my spinning wheel last week, got invited to join a spinning guild, and visited yet another wool mill at the subsequent guild meeting.

I snapped a few photos of the carding machine and the wall of wool at Fibers 4 Ewe this past Saturday. This one is my favorite:

Carding Machine - Business End

I am utterly fascinated with the process of commercial wool processing. The large-scale transformation of raw fleece to finished yarn seems inherently fantastical to me; it’s like a form of alchemy. Speaking of which, if you are similarly wool-obsessed and you haven’t seen the Shelter Mill Tour Jared Flood posted over on his blog over the last few days, run, don’t walk. Or, uh, click quickly. It’s breathtaking. Is there a Webby for yarn porn?

Honestly, this winter has been pretty brutal, and surprise surprise, adjusting to two babies this year has meant almost zero time for anything other than mothering. Hello, burnout! As it turns out, carving out a little space for yourself helps a whole lot, though. I hadn’t done anything out of the house alone on a regular basis since before Eve was born, and she’s two and a half now. And I guess I forgot for a while but it turns out I really love wool.

I am hoping this love of wool might eventually run in the family. This evening I was knitting while my daughter and I were snuggled down on the couch watching Blues Clues, and lo and behold, she asked me if she could have sticks and yarn like Mommy.

Eve asked me for sticks & yarn...

Is it weird that this may be one of my proudest moments as a parent? Sure, the first words and first steps were wondrous, but look! My baby girl wants to play with yarn and sticks! I am practically levitating with joy.

Wham Bam Thank You Lamb Cowl worked in Fisherman’s Rib stitch

Hello, world!

Go figure, it’s been a while. My son is nearly a year old now and I’m beginning to wonder if any of the insane chaos that is parenting two babies born 15 months apart will ever settle into something resembling normalcy. We have a blast, these kids and I, but obviously there is very little knitting-related news.

Anyhow, I realized back in December that I hadn’t knit something for myself since before my daughter was born. It’s also winter and I’m cold all the time, so I made myself a cowl:

wham bam thank you lamb cowl

I used the Wham Bam Thank You Lamb pattern by Susan Chang, although my primary inspiration was Ravelry user nysun, who made one in reversible two-color ribbing. After I made my husband his noro-striped Alberta vest last year I’ve been looking for other potential patterns for mixing some of the insane Noro colorways from my yarn stash with solid colors. For this project I chose Noro Silk Garden Chunky in #8, with a ball of very-discontinued Rowan Polar in Combat, which I was utterly convinced was gray until I started knitting with it and realized it’s actually green.

It’s really hard to take a good photo of this project because it looks totally different from every angle. But I love the thing:

wham bam thank you lamb cowl

Here are my quick and dirty fisherman’s rib knitting instructions for those of you who’d like to try this at home:

Setup: CO an even # of stitches on a circular needle, and then knit a row without joining.

Row one: *Knit 1, Knit 1 Below* in Color #1 (the same color you cast on & set up with).
At the end of the row, don’t turn. Slide your work back to the other end of your circular so you can pick up & start knitting Color #2.
Row two: *Purl 1 Below, Purl* in Color #2. At the end of the row you will have both colors of yarn dangling there and at this point you turn the work.
Row three: *Purl 1 Below, Purl* in Color #1. Slide work without turning.
Row four: *Knit 1, Knit 1 Below* in Color #2. At the end of the row, turn your work.

It seemed complicated when I started out but somewhere in the middle I realized I was able to read the stitches and I didn’t need my notes anymore. I’ve also heard Rumors on the Internets that if you knit this stitch pattern in the round instead of flat you only need two rows, not four.

Purl 1 Below is tricky at first. After frogging my nice yarn like 4 times I had a lightbulb moment and figured out the pattern with some junk yarn. The moral of the story: for the love of gourd, swatch everything.

wham bam thank you lamb cowl

What’s cooking

Since I’m, uh, one hour away from being THREE DAYS OVERDUE with this kiddo currently residing in my innards, I thought I’d take the opportunity to update Ye Olde Sparsely Updated Knitting Blog before it descends into several months of sleep-deprived radio silence in which there is milk splattered everywhere and little knitting to speak of.

Every day this week I’ve woken up feeling like that drugged kid David post-dental surgery; “Is this real life?! Is this really happening?!” I would probably only be slightly less surprised if I wake up tomorrow morning to find I’ve turned into a giant cockroach.

Planet Baby


The mind boggles. Ah, well, knitting. At least there’s knitting.

Seth-the-unwilling-blogger has taken up the needles once again and is about halfway through a pretty sweet-looking Baby Surprise Jacket for my recalcitrant critter:

BSJ in progress

I don’t have a huge amount to say about it, since it’s not my project, other than we’re both sort of baffled by it and are relying on our faith in Elizabeth Zimmermann to see it through to a finished sweater. Right now it looks like some sort of weird logic puzzle for sheep. At any rate, the Noro Silk Garden yarn in #246 is freakishly gorgeous and I am almost sort of jealous of the feto for getting such a lovely sweater when he or she doesn’t even have the decency to, uh, show up within a reasonable timeframe.

My own knitting is less interesting, but I’m trucking along here and there when I’m not sneaking in a few rows on Seth’s project. (The Noro! It’s so cracktastic!) First up is the no-longer-a-baby-blanket blanket I started back when I was waiting for Baby #1 to hatch:

big blanket, big cat

As you can see with my giant 13 pound cat in there for scale, it’s long gotten past the point of being a baby blanket, but honestly, I like having the mindless knitting available at hand so much that I just haven’t wanted to stop working on it. I still have 1.5 balls of Paton’s Classic Wool Merino in my stash, at which point I will have to call it a day (er, year or two) and cast off, but in the meantime I’m just not ready to let go.

And as always, there’s a soaker:

soaker - with steeks

As you can see, I decided to try making one with steeks instead of actually shaping legholes and whatnot. Basically I made a sack and then set up steeks for where I wanted the legholes to be. Since taking these photos I’ve cut the steeks and started knitting the leghole ribbing. The size and shape of this soaker are pretty ridiculously wrong, but I think it works in terms of being a proof-of-concept sort of thing. It seems to be entirely possible to make a good soaker this way, and hey, if my kid is still in diapers in the 3rd grade, well, I’ll have a soaker for that.

I have to say, I still get a major thrill from looking at steeks. SHAPING BE DAMNED; I WILL CUT YOU!

close-up of soaker steek

I think I might actually finally be fortunate enough to say that I’m in a good enough place with my baby butt wardrobe that I can take some time off from making soakers and maybe make a project or two I’m more interested in knitting. My dear friend Margie has taken a huge chunk of her valuable knitting time this year to create FOUR SOAKERS for my kids’ butt wardrobe, in addition to the cute little pants-and-hat set she made for Eve when she was still in utero. I feel superlatively blessed to have such a badass knitter in my life. <3

Utilitarian knitting: mittens and soaker in Lamb’s Pride Bulky

As part of ongoing new baby prep, my parents-in-law came down a couple weekends ago to help me empty out the wool room and get things ready to paint in there. As a result, I had a good opportunity to go through a bunch of stash and I’m working through some old yarns for a couple of utilitarian-type projects. This week or two is Lamb’s Pride Bulky week (or two.)

First up, mittens for my husband! It’s currently Ass Cold in New England; our first bitterly cold snap of the season, really, and I realized this weekend that my poor husband who goes to work at stupid-early in the morning was doing so bare-handed. I’m using Michelle Porter’s Easy Basic Mitten pattern to make him some stripey, bulky orange-and-green hand protection:

stripey mitten for seth

Detailed project details are this way. Seth’s hand circumference matches the pattern as written, so the only mods so far are that I’m lengthening it to accommodate his long man-fingers, although I am fudging row counts to get the 4-row stripes to fit in evenly. I have some plans to crunch numbers to make the thumb gusset on mitten #2 fall on the opposite side of the mitten, so the stripe jogs mirror each other. (I’ve been trying to do jogless stripes, but when you’re working with such big stitches it’s really hard to fool the eye completely.)

And…I’m making the kiddo another soaker. I’m knitting the LPB on size 8 needles for this, which is resulting in a totally dense bulletproof fabric I think will work great for stopping leaks. Eve’s fitted-style cloth diapers are Crickett’s in Toddler+, which work great, but with the doubler insert they make her butt huge, and the soakers required to cover such an area are rather epic indeed. At the rate she’s growing I only have a few left that fit over her diapers. The lady at my LYS on Sunday (I was in there because I ran out of black yarn) saw my soaker-in-progress asked me if I was going to felt it. ::snort:: If this thing ever does get felted I think I could use it as building material.

black bulky soaker

After this soaker is done I’m going to try and make a pair of longies out of a recycled wool sweater. I have the sewing skills of a cavewoman, but honestly, I really need a break from knitting all these damn butt sweaters.

Gordon and the Scarf

My friend Gordon came over my house today and brought me a giant wedge of chocolate cake. Definitely a very welcome gift at 8 months pregnant! Not only did he come bearing carbs; he was also wearing one of the first things I’d ever knit! It’s a giant garter stitch scarf in dark green Lion Brand Homespun:

gordon and the scarf gordon and the scarf

The scarf is huge–it looks to be just under a foot wide, and is plenty long enough for his 6′8″ frame. I gave him this scarf, for his birthday, I think, in July of 2000. When I saw it today I couldn’t believe he still had it, although upon further reflection it makes total sense. Dude never throws anything away, ever, and his estate will be the stuff of comic book and pro-wrestling collector fantasy.

gordon and the scarf

This scarf is pretty embarrassing in terms of knitting quality: I was such a bad knitter that when I ran out of yarn while binding off, I finished binding off with a random gray yarn rather than unknitting a row and then binding off. I vaguely remember being afraid that if I tried to go back I would mess everything up and unravel the entire scarf. Which, given my knitting skills at the time, probably wasn’t all that unrealistic of a fear.

That being said, it was still pretty amazing to see this thing in action today. Someday I’ll have to knit him something a bit more impressive, but in the meantime it’s nice to see something I made so early in my knitting career is still keeping someone warm.

Finished Alberta Vest

Happy Vestvember (Observed)! I finished my husband’s new sweater vest on January 19th, and finally got to snag a couple pictures of him wearing it this morning:

finished alberta vest

finished alberta vest

Here’s one more picture of him playing with our daughter this morning, who also happened to be sporting a handknit sweater:

finished alberta vest

Gotta love a well-dressed family!

The pattern is Alberta by Jared Flood, Raveled over here.

The knitting part of this project went pretty smoothly. I used TECHknitter’s tutorial for traveling jogless stripes to get the striping to look nice and neat. The only major gaffe I had was the first armhole–the instructions say to slide 12 stitches onto waste yarn and then to keep knitting on the other side, so that’s what I did. I should have broken the yarn and joined it again on the other side, however. I ended up doing a sort of messy fix involving a knot or two in the armpit area. You can’t tell on the finished sweater, but I was totally sweating the finished product for a while.

The steeking for the neck and armholes was a crazy-stressful yet ultimately exhilarating learning experience for me. I studied Eunny Jang’s steeking chronicles religiously for several days, and made a couple of rows of practice steeks on my gauge swatch to get into the swing of things.

It seems the longest part of this project was picking up all those stitches for the ribbing around the arm and neckholes. I would guess the total area of stitch picking up is 2 to 3 feet of length when it’s all said and done. The designer’s recommended tubular bind off took a long time too, but I felt it was a good learning experience and the extra effort in the finishing department really took things to the next level and made the project look extra special.

This is the video tutorial I found on YouTube that I used to learn the tubular bind off:

It’s by Deb at Beautiful Knitting, and like all of her knitting videos, it was *so* well done–good image and sound quality, just the right pace, and the instructions were very easy to follow. I hope she does a lot more videos in the future.

The last thing I have to say about knitting this pattern isn’t really about the pattern itself so much as the format it’s available in–I found having to go out and track down a paper copy of back issue of a magazine to be a huge pain in the butt, and I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t really, really want to knit this particular pattern. Wild Fibers Magazine is a beautiful magazine, and I didn’t mind buying an issue, but I would have happily paid the same amount of money for the convenience of a PDF download. I noticed I was only the 41st person on Ravelry to knit this pattern; I think a lot more people out there would give it a go if the pattern were available electronically.

fourth-quarter 2009 recap

So, I apparently only have time to update my blog every, um, several months.   The shame, it burns me.  So much has happened since I last posted I’m resorting to sub headers to keep everything straight(-ish).

Butt Knits

In my last entry I mentioned being thisclose to done on my Ecological Wool soaker.   I’ve long since finished it.  Here it is, in action:

finished soaker!

As I mentioned on Flickr, (way back in October when I finished the thing,)  I generally like to post in-use photos of my finished knits, but I think I’m going to stop doing this for my daughter’s butt knits.  I know she’s still quite small but it does feel sort of weird to take pictures of her butt for the Internet.

My final verdict on Cascade Ecological Wool for soaker knitting is a mixed one. Ecological wool is ostensibly a heavy-worsted to light-bulky weight yarn, but it’s spun so it’s light and lofty. I had to knit it much tighter than the recommended gauge to get a suitably dense fabric to act as a waterproof barrier for cloth diapering. That being said, I love my finished soaker. As time-consuming and inconvenient it was to knit with size 3 and 5 needles, the resulting fabric is perfect, will wear like iron, and I’ve got a soaker that should work for my kid through potty training.

That being said, I have a second kid on the way, and with two kids in diapers at the same time, I need a lot more soakers, and I need to make them much more quickly. My next butt knitting project is going to be knit with Lamb’s Pride Bulky, and will probably involve steeks so as to simplify the knitting process.

From Vestvember to Vestcember, and even on to Vestuary

After I finished the Epic Ecological Wool Soaker, I decided it was high time to knit something for my husband.  (After two years of marriage, I could no longer hide behind the curse of the boyfriend sweater!)  We’re both fans of Jared Flood (and more generally, dudes in sweater vests) so when I saw the Alberta vest pattern I knew it was perfect for him.  Then I heard about Vestvember on that there Internet, which really sealed the deal, so we took a field trip to Webs that weekend to pick out yarn for the project.

I already had a bag of Noro Kureyon in a discontinued colorway (#199) marinating in my stash that Seth really liked, so we decided to pick a solid color for the body and the ribbing and use Noro for the stripes.  We ended up going with Lambs Pride Worsted in Chocolate Souffle, because it was a good match for Kureyon in terms of weight and fiber, and the color looked good with all those random brights and subtle greens in the Noro.  The Noro was so busy, too, that we decided to do the ribbing in Chocolate Souffle as well, to keep the non-Noro colors subdued and perhaps lend some restraint and avoid the whole Noro Clown Vomit effect.

vestvember vest knitting progress

This photo here was taken with a flash and isn’t a really good representation of the brown–it’s really more of a richly deep, almost black color.  It looks a lot better in natural lighting, I promise.

This project was a big challenge for me in more ways than one–in addition to trying to knit jogless stripes in the round for the first time, it involved STEEKS.   STEEKS, which in time I will eventually be able to type in lowercase letters, are strategic cuts in your knitting  (really, CUTS!  LIKE, WITH SCISSORS!)  to allow for things like armholes, neckholes, and cardigan openings to come into being without actually knitting them as you go.  The vest was basically a conical tube, which I subsequently sliced open to create places for Seth’s head and arms to go.    I took a whole mess of photos documenting my STEEK process, which I will upload sometime in the near future, as the process really warrants its own blog entry.  In the meantime, I will say that Eunny Jang’s Steeking Chronicles were an invaluable resource.  Here’s a photo of my sliced-open gauge swatch, which I used for practice STEEKS before moving on to the vest:


I went with the crochet-stabilized method, obviously. Worked like a charm, despite my being a total crochet idiot. (More on this later, along with photos of the teeny-tiny scissors I bought to cut open the vest steeks.)

New Baby Prep

Lamb The Second, who we are still calling Flipper despite our rumored better judgment, is cooking along satisfactorily. Here’s a photo circa October:

face - profile

Being pregnant while chasing around a very active older baby is waay harder than I thought it would be. My daughter isn’t walking yet, and so still needs to be carried in and out of buildings and up and down all the copious stairs in my living space. (All 25 pounds of her!) As hard as it was to parent my daughter during the first trimester epic exhaustion phase, this third trimester is physically kicking my ass in ways I didn’t anticipate. That being said, I feel like we’ve hit a good stride together lately in terms of my taking care of her well and keeping her happy, so I’m trying to enjoy the easy groove of these last few weeks of being alone together before our daytimes turn into a party of three.

As part of my new-baby prep I am trying to clean out what was once supposed to be my “craft” room but never really evolved from my Boxes of Fiber Crap area. I never have time to spin yarn anymore and probably won’t for the foreseeable future, so I’ve been sorting through my spinning stash and separating out various fibers that go well together. About two weeks ago I drove down to Still River Mill (less than 20 minutes from my house!) and met up with Deirdre to give her a giant bag of white wool from the stash. Sometime this spring I’ll go back and retrieve several pounds of bulky weight polypay-merino blend yarn, which I often like to fantasize about knitting into a Sylvi.

I’m still slowly delving into my fiber collection. I’ve got a bunch of gorgeous natural brown romney wool and alpaca fibers sorted out, and I plan to throw some varied green merino and alpaca fibers into the mix to get a heathered brown and green yarn, probably in worsted weight. As sad as I am to retire the drum carder, dyepot and spinning wheel for the time being it’s fun to sort through what I have and dream about being a commercial yarn designer.

Potential Guest Blogger?

My husband Seth did some really impressive knitting recently.

seth knitting

Don’t you think this project warrants some blogging? I already know all the project details but I’m still dying for him to blog about it.

so badass!

I am going to try to wrestle a few paragraphs out of him this weekend if at all possible.

recent events: webs, rhinebeck and not much knitting

First up, my meager soaker progress:

ecological wool soaker

It only took me, uh, two weeks to get that right cuff taken care of. I hope to finish the left cuff before the kiddo’s out of diapers altogether.

What else have I been up to? After apparently missing Fiber Twist again this year, Eve and I made it out to Webs for Ysolda Teague’s trunk show. Eve was very excited about the walls of yarn:

eve @ webs

She was also really into Ysolda’s talk. Or at least, trying to go through everyone’s knitting bag during Ysolda’s talk. Also, she was so excited to be there she pooped right in the middle of it, so that photo above is the only one I ended up taking. Ah, well. I will tell you that I had sort of a religious knit-appreciation experience looking at the seamless set-in shoulders on the red Vivian sample. Damn, that girl can knit! So inspiring!

Last weekend the family trooped down to Rhinebeck for the NY State Sheep & Wool Festival, which is a lot closer to home than I remembered. I think the last time we went we drove down from the cabin upstate; this year we drove from home and it was only two hours, the middle of which we punctuated with a scenic cut through Stockbridge and Great Barrington on our way to the Taconic parkway from the Mass Pike.

I did a lot of yarn shopping but ended up not purchasing anything because I left my wallet in the car. I am such a dumbass. That aside, it was awesome to meet some of the Ravelry crew in person! Eve’s festival highlight was meeting Bob:

Eve giggles at Bob. (photo via Ravelry Jess–she took the best one!)

For real, I’m pretty sure Bobsolda was the most exciting thing Eve’s ever seen. She loves doggies, she loves wool, and OMG A HUGE DOGGIE MADE OF WOOL?!! OBVIOUSLY THE MOST EXCITING THING EVER. My only regret is being unable to book Bobsolda for Eve’s 1st birthday party tomorrow. There is no way I can ever hope to top Giant Bob of Squishy Wool Love.

Speaking of Eve’s birthday, she’s turning one year old today! Her cupcake-and-pizza party is tomorrow; in the meantime we’ll be celebrating with a round of bloodwork and vaccinations at the pediatrician’s office later today. (Poor kid!) I’m hoping to make it up to her with her favorite purple ice cream. Sadly, I will have no Bob.

finished liesl! also, i’m not dead!

Hello, Intertubes. It’s been a while. What’s been going on, you ask?

The knitting front hasn’t been nearly as productive as I’d like. Babywrangling has kept me very busy this summer. However, I managed to not fall asleep immediately upon getting the kiddo to bed enough times to finish my Liesl:

liesl front

Not without a lot of headaches, however. First of all, I hated the yarn. Hated! The Yarn! It was truly terrible. I wanted a cotton sweater to wear over summer dresses, which makes sense except for the fact that I hate knitting with cotton. Hate it! I don’t know why I was incapable for remembering this until it was too late.

Speaking of problems noticed too late, you’ll notice the neckline of my Liesl is different than the pattern. While I think the pattern mod is pretty and it definitely came out looking a lot better than I thought it would, I didn’t go into the knitting process planning for it. Oh, no. What actually happened is that I made a mistake lining up the pattern stitches in the yoke of the sweater and I didn’t notice it until i was 3/4ths of the way done.

Had I been knitting with a yarn that didn’t make me hate life, I would have frogged the whole thing and started again. However, I decided I wasn’t going to do any more cotton knitting than absolutely necessary, and I had COME TOO FAR to turn back at that point. I finished the sweater, and let the mistake lie.

I tried to be okay with the sweater at that point. Really, if you weren’t a Ysolda fan you probably wouldn’t have noticed the issue. It was small. However, it was there, and I am far too anal retentive for my own good.

So. Sweater surgery. I threaded a yarn needle with fingering weight junk yarn and went back and inserted a lifeline through a plain knit row between pattern repeats, just below the mistake in the yoke. And then, I cut off the yoke entirely. With a big pair of scissors. I was determined. The yoke needed to die. it was a gory, messy process, with little bits of cotton yarn flying everywhere.

With the yoke finally gone and all the residual yarn bits removed, I picked up the stitches from my lifeline and added a plain 5 row garter stitch neckline. I added the eyelet row in the middle both as a decorative element and so I could adjust the size of the neckline into something that wouldn’t slide off my shoulders.

Isn’t it a beautiful sweater? I’m totally into it:

liesl front detail

liesl back

liesl back detail

The weather turned chilly before I got a chance to wear it, but I’m looking forward to enjoying it next summer.

Here’s the other reason I haven’t been very productive lately:

cashew with fins, 9 weeks

I’ve got a cashew on the way! Well, I’ve got another ultrasound in two weeks, at which point I’m hoping to see something more baby-like and less bean-shaped. We’re looking forward to a fully cooked human arriving sometime in early March.

In the meantime, I’m back to soaker knitting, because two little ones in diapers at the same time is a lot of diapering.

new soaker

I’m doing that one in Cascade Ecological Wool, which is a yarn I absolutely love but I’m not sure it’s bulky enough for what I want in a soaker fabric. It looks very bulky in the skein but it’s light and airy. I want to do a pair of longies in the purple Eco+ I have, but I’m thinking I might knit them with the yarn held double. I’ve gotten down to the body of that soaker since I took the above photo, and I’m using size 5 needles to get the fabric density I’m looking for.

I’m also working on the epic blanket of mindless knitting here and there, but it’s sort of in the background right now. I like working on it when I’m too tired to do anything requiring thought.

I’m hoping to squeeze in a pair of Veyla mitts at some point soon. I bought some sexy sexy baby alpaca + silk yarn for them on Wednesday:

buckingham 1042 for veyla

I don’t have any buttons yet but I’m having a fun time thinking about them. I love buttons.

Oh, one more thing: I found a better photo of the Emporio Armani dress I drooled over in my last post:


I love it. And someday, twenty years from now, I will totally knit myself a cabled dress. In the meantime, I was thinking it might be cool to try to knit one for the kiddo. She’s much smaller than me and requires much less shaping.

Anyhow, that’s it for me. I hope to update this a bit more frequently in the future, but with mommy-type responsibilities it might be a while.

Emporio Armani A-line cabled(?) minidress

Attention All Knitting Pattern Designers: I have seen the future. It is this dress:

Emporio Armani Fall 2009 RTW

It’s from the Emporio Armani Fall 2009 Ready-to-Wear collection and I want it.  I want it bad.  That being said, I’m not sure how to construct the damn thing.  Lookie here at this close up of Anna Arendshorst modeling it:


I thought those swirly things were cables, but apparently they’re braided bands of 1×1 ribbing that are somehow sewn together, with triangles of plain knit fabric filling out the body.

Hot damn.  I still want one.  I’d knit one long enough to wear in public, or I’d knit a short one like this and wear it with pants.  I wonder if it has sleeves or straps, and what they look like.   Regardless, I would totally wear the F out of that dress.

Oh, dress.  You are so dead sexy.  Be mine.

In other, knitting-centric news, I plan to cast on a Liesel bolero later today, in the misguided hopes of finishing it in time for the Lamb’s christening on Sunday.   (I have a wearable dress for the occasion, but nothing seasonally-appropriate to wear over it.)



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