Friday, 10 January 2014

Sewing in a Shared Space


For the last four years, I’ve been a nomadic stitcher – moving my sewing gear around from kitchen to sitting room, packing away again when it’s time for work, dinner or when my flatmate came home. Later this month, due to a change in living circumstances, I’ll finally put down roots in my own dedicated sewing space. I appreciate this is a luxury that not everyone has, so before I settle in I wanted to share some tips I’ve learnt about sewing from a shared space. If you live in a small urban flat, if you’re sharing with housemates, or if you have a family to work around, chances are you’ll be sewing from the kitchen table or a corner of the sitting room whenever you can snatch the chance. How can you make this work, both for you and for the people you live with?


1) Keep it portable
The most challenging aspect of sewing from a shared space is probably the fact that you need to be able to move quickly – you wanna whip out your kit when the coast is clear and put it away again at dinner time. I keep my sewing essentials in a portable glass – tape measure, scissors, marking tools, seam ripper... It’s quite rare I need a tool that isn’t in that glass. Stash your current project in a bag or shoe box – fabric, pattern, thread and notions – so you can get it out quickly without having to rummage around. Having a lightweight machine also helps – my old Janome J3-18 is super portable, so easy to stow away on a shelf and get it down when needed. If your machine is heavier – like my beloved Janome 6600P – store it at a level that makes it easy to pick up without putting excessive strain on your back (ouch).


2) Keep it pretty
If you’re stashing your sewing stuff in the sitting room, make it aesthetically pleasing to impress your guests… and so your cohabitees can’t complain about the mess. Make a feature out of your fabric by organising it by colour – everyone loves a good rainbow. A thread rack is a really pretty (and practical) way of organising your spools. If you have a dress form, adorning it in one of your lovely makes is sure to raise a smile.


3) Keep it clean
Sewing creates mess, y’all. After a particularly indulgent day of making, if you’re not careful it can look like you’ve been burgled. So, to avoid freaking out your flatmates, try to tidy as you go along. Keep a bin under whichever table you’re sewing on, directly below the sewing machine, so you can sweep scraps and snippings into it instantly. I try to save my cutting out for when the kitchen is free, as the lino floor is soooo much easier to clean than the sitting room carpet. Sigh… thread on the carpet. The way I clear this up is to crawl around the carpet with the head off the hoover, picking up the threads and inserting them into the suction hose. If you know an easier way, please do share!


4) Keep it organised
Store your sewing stuff away tidily so you’re not tripping over everything and so you know where everything is when you need it. I keep my patterns in large plastic storage boxes which are housed on my bookshelf. (Ideally I should keep my vintage sewing patterns in a cardboard archive box, I know – it’s on my shopping list.) I also have a shelf of large plastic folders for my self-drafted sewing patterns, labelled with the pattern name so I can find them easily. A layered sewing box is great for keeping random bits and bobs such as poppers and thread wax. My fabric scraps are organised by colour palette and kept in large shopper bags. Interfacing and toile fabric gets its own shelf. And the cutting mat? Why, it resides under the sofa, of course.


5) Keep it regular
Sewing in a shared space means snatching up moments to make whenever you can. You may not have the luxury of being able to sew all weekend long, but don’t let the lack of a dedicated space stop you from getting your creativity fix. If you’ve only got half an hour before your flatmate gets home, by all means use that time. Sew for 15 minutes before work if you have to. Making things can have such a positive effect on your well-being, so keep it up, y'all!

I hope these ideas were helpful. If you sew from a small or shared space, do you have any tips to share?

55 comments:

  1. I haven't been able to find time to sew for such a long time. In the New Year break, I had a few days at home and managed to make four dresses, a couple of cushions and finish off a pair of Megan Nielsen culottes which had been sitting around in pieces for months. I felt so much better for it, and that the inspiration is back with me. I am lucky in that I have space for a sewing corner in one of my rooms, a computer desk with a pull-out desk section underneath is useful for storing cut pieces which need to be pushed back in to be out of the way, and I have a metal 3-tier trolley from Ikea which houses a lot of my fabric and all of my patterns, which is great because it's on wheels. I often cut out in the living room and have moved my dress form there as a feature, and then move pieces back to sew or to keep them out of the way when I need the space for something else / have no time to sew.
    One of my goals for 2014 is to find more sewing time. Here's hoping.

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  2. One of the most helpful tips I learned last year was from Steph@Cake which was to have a project box ie. Everything you could possibly need for sewing that particular project, in one place. It makes it super easy for a quick set up or put away when you need to get the kid's tea on on the dining table! I use an old ikea box for my fabric and pattern pieces with one of those Samla handled inserts for the haberdashery.

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  3. I used to have an old biscuit tin containing ALL my sewing notions and I have to DIG to find anything I want. But I recently organised everything using these clear acrylic containers from Muji (http://www.muji.eu/pages/online.asp?Sec=9&Sub=39). Admittedly, the 5-drawer box took up more space than my old biscuit tin, but I love how organised it is now. One drawer for cutting tools (rotary cutter, scissors, extra blades), one drawer for measuring tools, one drawer for thread, etc. I even got a divider tray so I can separate my spare bobbins, charco liner, hook & eye, etc. The clear container makes it easy to spot everything. It's a really good system. I highly recommend!

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    1. Awesome link to the Muji boxes thanks, might just get me one of these!

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    2. Ah Muji... You'd think I worked for them, the amount of times I end up singing their praises to people! Just be careful, I went in for a box and ended up with a serious Muji habit hahaha!

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  4. Thank you for these useful tips ! I really need to organise my desk (which is where I do all my sewing) so that everything looks pretty !

    I like that you put a picture illustrating each tip. It is a little silly but it makes your blog post more pleasant to read. I appreciate (and I'm sure I'm not the only one) that you take time out of your day for each post !

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  5. I find the best way to get thread off carpet is to use a rubber brush, I got mine from Lakeland plastics but you could also search on pet sites- they are used to remov pet hair!

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    1. Ooh thanks for the tip - I'll try that!

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  6. i have one of those hanging things with pockets (is there a proper name for these?). like this http://www.amazon.co.uk/OVER-STORAGE-ORGANISER-HANGER-POCKETS/dp/B001NXYIKG which hangs on the inside of a cupboard door. it is vaguely organised - cutting tools, measuring tools, marking tools, interfacing etc all have their own pockets. i was also going to mention the tip from StephC that Nicki mentions above about the sewing project box. it def saves time in finding things when you have to put them all away at the end. i also do all the prep stages at once (another recommendation from steph) so that all the interfacing, marking, notching etc is all done at once, i can put stuff away and just have the machines out.

    for thread off the carpet, those lint rollers with the layers of sticky paper (you can buy very cheaply in ikea, H&M, primark etc) work well.

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  7. Great post. Love the idea of a thread display. I also recently got my own craft room but I still like to keep things in tote bags and boxes for if I want to craft on the go!

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  8. i sit at the end of the dinner table in my own little corner so i can kind of stay at that end and pack up if we're having a lot of friends over. the only thing i can suggest is perhaps buying a new hoover! If you have to feed the vacuum then maybe its not sucking as hard as it should! I have a hairy kitty so I invested in a fancy Dyson with a motorhead so its ok to vacuum up all those naughty threads.

    as for keeping stuff pretty, i am a fan of wooden craft boxes and nice baskets perhaps with a lid if available. baskets are always nifty for storing fabric and bits and even if they're left out they still look nice!

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    1. I've got a Dyson too, but it doesn't move the teeny bits of thread lodged into the carpet. Maybe I should look at getting a new head for it...

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  9. Lovely post and congrats on your new sewing room! I recently got a dedicated room of my own, and I love it. And I think these tips are great even for folks who have a dedicated sewing room, too!

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  10. Hi Tilly,
    Great blog post! I find that sewing with two little ones in the house is a challenge! Firstly I always use glass headed pins, so if I do drop them I can find them easily! Don't want any small feet nearby! I also use Fererro Rocher boxes to store my threads although I do love your thread rack - does it comes with a cover? Things get very dusty in our house!! Also use the kiddies Clarks show boxes to store patterns, perfect size!
    One thing I haven't cracked about my sewing space id there is no room for an ironing board, so have to go down two flights of stairs to get the ironing board. Well I suppose it keeps me fit!!
    best of luck for 2014!

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    1. You can get these awesome over-the-door ironing boards. I live in Canada, I've seen them at Walmart and Canadian Tire. Not sure where else you'd be able to find them. Happy sewing!

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    2. Love the idea of using a Fererro Rocher box for your threads. For some reason I haven't noticed the threads on the rack getting dusty.

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  11. I live in a tiny studio flat and am managing well enough to sew. You have to be focused with pattern and fabric purchasing. I have the pink (large version) sewing machine from John Lewis - it's light and portable, it also looks lovely on display. My fabric and supplies take up a box in an Ikea expedit bookcase which separates sofa from bed area (although I'm soon to need a second box), patterns in a large magazine file on the same bookshelf. No one should let lack of space put you off!

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  12. The timing of this post is perfect. I had a dedicated space in my basement but , recently had a water problem that flooded the area. I have moved upstairs into the dining space until construction and clean up are completed. Thank you for the tips!

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  13. I'm currently living with family, and have no dedicated space, so have therefore put off sewing for now. I am truly inspired to dig back in thanks to you! I've searched everywhere for ideas on portable sewing, and these are some excellent tips. My (brand new!) plans for this weekend are to better organize my tools, notions, and patterns, then START MAKING! Thank you so much for such a great, helpful post.

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  14. I have just made the reverse switch, from my own dedicated sewing space (in our basement) to a shared space (our dining/living room), a price I am happily paying to get our new appartment renovated exactly the way we want it. The biggest hassle to me is when I am cutting fabric. I am a slow sewer and cutter, so I really need to consider meal times before I get out all my stuff...

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  15. As Catherine already said, you might need a new hoover. I use a Dyson and it has no problem picking up all the threads. I loved seeing how you organise everything - I bet you can't wait to get your own sewing room! x

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  16. I often have the machine at one end of the dining room table and the kids have to lump it! Woe betide them if their baked beans stray near it though! I found if I make sure to sew with them and let them have a (very supervised) go they seam to respect my machine.

    I have a trolley by my machine that is table height. I keep threads and notions underneath on level one, the machine when not in use in the middle and I have two thick towels and the iron on top of it. So I always have somewhere close to me to iron seams. I don't even need to stand up. Then when I am finished I just roll the trolley out of the way and through a blanket over it.

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  17. Great tips! I'm living in the portable sewing world too. I break out a large folding table for cutting, and then I set up my sewing machine on our little kitchen table. To keep things from getting too insane, I like to cut multiple projects at a time so I can break the cutting station down and move onto sewing. Doing bulk things in stages seems to work for me.

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  18. I'd love to see some photos on your blog of your new sewing space when you've set it up - very exciting! I use a bureau in the corner of our dining room (I just poke my head out of some sliding doors to look at the telly!) The bureau was £13 at a second hand shop and it's great for slamming shut in a hurry and hiding lots of mess!

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    1. Oh don't worry, I'll share LOTS of pictures!

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  19. What wonderful ideas! I used to set up on our dining table in our sitting/dining room and having to pack up every time that we had visitors etc... Was such a chore. Fortunately the other half finally caved in and bought me a desk to go in the computer room, but somehow I don't feel like I sew half as much as I did when i was by the TV! The egg timer is an excellent idea, so I'm going to have to go out this weekend and get myself one.

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  20. Hi Tilly, I am so excited for you to have a dedicated space! We chose our home mostly on that basis because it is so important and now you are a 'pro', I am sure you will get huge satisfaction out of being able to set up and leave it :) I was going to say that a wire brush is good for getting thread off the carpet, but a rubber brush like Linda suggested is a much better idea and I might have to get one too! Because of course when I have a lot of hand sewing or pinning to do, I drag my make into the living area so I can have company, thus leaving threads everywhere. In my younger days when I was house sharing, I always set up sewing in my bedroom. Even if I only had a little bit of space - it was easier that way. I am not nor will I ever be tidy, you see. Oh and final tip, from the quilting world - is to masking tape a plastic shopping bag to the edge of the table right by your chair and machine - you sort of fold back one handle and tape it so the opening is freed up. Then you have a handy rubbish and scrap receptacle.

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  21. Thanks for all the great tips! I've just started sewing since the new year and trying to find space has been the toughest challenge so far!

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  22. Great tips, thank you. Similar to the rubber brush - try a pair of marigolds! If you put them on and rub your hands over the carpet it should bring up the thread a treat.

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    1. Ooh I'll have to try that - thanks!

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  23. I have my own sewing space on my boyfriend's side of our bedroom. He's very tolerant of all of my mess, and when he knocked over my sewing box in the middle of the night, he even cleared all of the mess up! I think he's a keeper!!

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  24. Hair rollers on a lint roll will catch all those stray thread

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  26. I currently sew out of a walk-in closet in our 1 bedroom apartment, so keeping my stuff contained is essential. Great tips -- I love the part about keeping it pretty. I found a lovely little basket (originally meant to be a picnic basket) that I use for many of my supplies (the handles also make it perfect for travel): http://www.birds-of-a-thread.com/2013/08/sewing-basket-for-maria-von-trapp-in-you.html

    The dress form that peeks out from the closet also has the habit of creeping out my guest, so I try to keep it decently clothed :)

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  27. Yay to us sewists without a dedicated sewing space! I also have a WIP box with my current project for easy packing and re-packing, which is very handy and keeps everything in 1 place. My other tips are:
    1) Another box which contains stuff for upcoming 2-3 projects - this could be pattern + notions all ready to go, otherwise I will know if I am missing certain notions and I need to go and get some. Also helps me focus on the things I really want to make, instead of getting distracted everytime I read a shiny blog post.
    2) In terms of keeping things pretty, I have fabric covered magnets on the fridge (next to my dining/sewing table) which I love to look at. Great for scrap busting :) Next thing I need to do is cut up some inspiring images to go on the fridge (in lieu of having space for an inspiration board).

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  28. Section 1 felt like you were describing my work space ;-) I keep a small box with basic thread, seaw ripper, chalk, etc on the shelf above my desk. Next to it: Her-bird, my pincushion bird. Sewing machine has a permanent shelf above the workspace, scissor are in the drawer, patterns in separate folders. Fabric is stored in various boxes, vacuum bags.

    As for the carpet dilemma, have you tried using a lint roller? I find it works well for every textile surface.

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  29. Great tips here, thanks! I don't have a lot of space either so I spend a lot of time finding ways to keep stuff organised and easy to get to.
    I completely agree with mrs brown above - rubber gloves are wonderful for picking up thread and pet hairs because they produce a small amount of static when you rub them over the carpet.

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  30. PS. My tip: I got a hanging jewellery organiser a bit like this one - http://adoreabubbles.blogspot.ie/2011/06/hanging-jewellery-organiser.html and it's brilliant for small items like thimbles, machine bobbins, measuring tapes, and so on...

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  31. Great tips, Tilly! And congrats on your new dedicated sewing space. : ) I live in a tiny urban apartment, and my sewing "studio" literally blocks my front door and bathroom door - hence portability is key. I use a lightweight folding table that I frequently move out of the way or fold away, and my sewing machine has a permanent home on a more permanent piece of furniture (my desk). I just move it to the folding table when I want to use it. All my supplies and notions are stored in cubbies in my desk and closet, and I can easily move them to the folding table when I want to use them. It sounds like a lot of moving things around, but I can be fully set up to sew in under 5 minutes!

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  32. The best way I found of cleaning up threads is to have a hoover that's marketed for pet owners. Whilst we don't have a pooch anymore (at the moment...) we specifically bought a 'cat & dog' hoover (ours is Miele) as it's great at sucking up threads and also, if you've got long hair yourself, grabs any of those that have migrated to the floor too. No more feeding the vacuum hose with titbits of thread! :)

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  33. I really enjoyed reading this post Tilly. Thanks for all the useful tips - Helen -

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  34. Hi Tilly loads of fabulous advice - I have the tiniest of rooms where I put all my stuff but it is stuffed and I have no room to sew so use the dining room which isn't a good idea - I know how easy it is to have everything all over the place but I am trying your idea of keeping projects separate so that I can pick something up quickly and not spend time looking for this and that - the 15 min rule is my golden resolution this year as I am determined not to let my work over-rule my whole life......we will see how I get on - not done very well this week unfortunately and it is only the first week! Fabulous post as always Tilly, love your blog, can't wait for the book to come out. Big hugs to you and have a wonderful Sunday. Lots of love as always
    Dorothy
    :-)xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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  35. "Sew for 15 minutes before work if you have to" : totally agree!! It's so good to start the day by a little bit of sewing :) Thanks for sharing your tips!

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  36. And to think I have never bought a cutting board because I thought I had nowhere to put it! Under the sofa...duh!

    What is really annoying for me is that my other half has a room totally full of music in our house, and an outside room full of it too. We have a music distribution company that is run from our home (as if that makes up for it!) But the rooms are full of his own personal music, not company stuff. Not fair!

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  37. Luckily, I live by myself so I have free reign over where and when I can sew, but that wasn't always the case. When I lived at home, I was constantly pissing off my brothers and dad because I would "accidentally" leave pins on the floor, which they would step on. The tip that I definitely used was cleaning up after myself along the way. After you finish a project, the last thing you want to do is clean up. You want to bask in the beauty of your new me-make!

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  38. Excellent advice, Thank you.

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  39. Many of your readers have brought up the subject of stray threads. This is one of my pet hates, so I prefer to stop them in their tracks before they get tangled in the carpet and cling to your clothes. While sewing I place my sewing machine on top of a cutting mat. To the cutting mat (on my right) I stick a couple strips of masking tape. I fold each end of the strip back on itself which allows me to stick it to the cutting mat while also having a sticky side facing up. Any threads I cut I stick to this strip. Now the threads will not fall to the floor and when I am finished sewing I just remove the masking tape and throw it away! Simple.

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  40. For the first time, I have (ahhhhh...) my own sewing space. Now, I share it with myself, because the main desk gets used for work during the week, and I can't get into and out of the room with a full-sized ironing board up. But I can still have a machine on a tiny side table, and I finally have A BIG TABLE ALL MY OWN BWAHAHAHAHA!

    Ahem.

    But it's not as pretty as I'd like, so I'll be re-reading your tips.

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  41. Me and my sister often have 'make days' at her house, so I have to travel to hers with all my sewing stuff. I keep my sewing kit in a red leather vintage vanity case that I bought years ago. I have now converted it into my sewing box. I reinforced the lid with cardboard, covered in wrapping paper then protected it with clear tape. I use elastic to hold my tools in place (this also reminds me if anything is missing). I put my buttons in clear jars and everything is nested neatly in boxes or tied together with string. All I need to do is grab my fabric and my pattern and I'm off. Oh! and of course the sewing machine.

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  42. I keep my ironing board hanging on the wall behind my bathroom door. I recently bought plastic storage bins for my patterns and it has been so helpful.

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  43. I haven't solved the threads on carpet problem yet, and hoovering doesn't get them up, I think maybe cutting on a lino/wood surface might be the way to go, but I always pin my patterns through the pattern, fabric and into my carpet to hold them in place!!

    Hannah.
    http://surfjewels.tumblr.com/

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  44. Thanks for the tips, Tilly!

    I live in a tiny studio apartment, so our 2-person dining table is also my sewing table and office desk :-)

    I recently started keeping a small plastic bag on the table, right next to the sewing machine. As soon as I cut unwanted thread, I put it in the bag. It's a super fast and efficient way to control stray threads!

    xx Rin

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  45. Thank you very much for all those tips. I am a french woman with 2 new born babies and I need to organise my home and sewing time differently.

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  46. Why did I never think of putting the cutting mat under the sofa? You are genius!

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  47. Tip for thread on carpet: I also crawl around but I use a long strip of wide parcel tape to remove all the threads from the carpet. (works for cat hair too!)

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