Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style

Designing on the fly…or how the first pdf pattern I ever used morphed into a GG Collection original

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a planner. I plan weekly menus before I go to the grocery store. I map out an entire two-week road trip months in advance ensuring that all hotels are booked for the right days and I know the precise driving time between stops. I write outlines for everything I write, and writing is what I do in my other life (in this one, too, you might well respond – I don’t outline blog posts, though, which is probably obvious!).

To be clear, when I started my writing career many years ago, I learned very quickly that to sell a non-fiction book to a publisher, I’d need to learn to write a book proposal which is nothing short of a complete outline among a lot of other stuff. So, I learned the process of book proposal writing well enough to sell seven or eight books that way. So, when it comes to my sewing and design life, I pretty much take that same approach.

Remember my cruise collection? That started with an actual inspiration board, moved on to sketches, then I created original patterns, chose fabrics planned for specific projects (no fabric hoarding here). My Little Black Dress project? It progressed the same way as did my three Little French Jackets. So, I have no reason to think that much of my work will be on the fly. Well, you know what they say: “The best laid plans…” Let me back up a bit.

When I returned to fashion design and sewing a few years ago, much had changed in that world. For years my sewing machine collected dust between jean hemming and costume sewing projects. (I’m happy to say that the costume sewing for children’s theatre actually resulted in a child who grew up to be successful in the performing arts.) Then, the muse struck and I finally had the time to devote to a return to something I had loved as a young adult. But, as I mentioned, there were many new things.

rotary cutter
This is the one I have. I use it infrequently. 

First there was the rotary cutter. When I first saw one, I thought, Doesn’t anyone use shears anymore? I soon learned that, yes, shears are the way to go on most projects for me. I use a rotary cutter mostly for interfacing and muslin cutting. Otherwise, they’re not my thing – dreadful on silk, wool, bouclé etc. Then there were the patterns.

I had never before heard that McCall’s, Vogue, Butterick and Simplicity were now referred to as “the big four” and not in a good way. What was that all about, I thought? This led me to learn about the new “indie” pattern companies. That sounds very democratic, doesn’t it? What I found was an avalanche of half-baked patterns, generally for tent-like bags that would fit everyone and no one – I’ll leave the rest of that rant for another day to equalize out all those rants from sewers who seem to dislike the “big four” with a passion. I happen to think they do very good work. But that’s for another day. Anyway, I finally found a legitimate one or two whose patterns interested me. Style Arc was one.

An Australian company, Style Arc’s sketches were what really drew me in. And I loved the fact that not all of their patterns are for knits which means that they really do have to know how to create something that fits. That being said, I decided to try one that was for a knit first.

Terry tie cardigan
What’s not to love about this sketch? Well, I should have look more closely at the version on the right. 

The other thing that had changed was that not all patterns came in little envelopes anymore. Some of them were pdf downloads. Who knew? Well, just about everyone but me! Everyone has to have a first time, though, don’t they?

Style Arc produces both hard copy patterns and pdf’s. I decided to try my first pdf and my first indie pattern all in one fell swoop.

I used to have a cardigan sweater I loved so much it was actually worn out by the time I finished with it. t hadn’t been expensive, either, but was black (a must for a sweater that will serve me over the long term) and instead of buttons, it had a half-waist tie. It looked terrific with collared shirts, T-shirts, just everything.  It had a lot more style than the average cardigan. So, when I saw Style Arc’s Terry Tie Cardigan pattern, I was in.

stylearc pattern tie front

I downloaded it and printed it out. Then, of course, I proceeded to tape it all together, as one must. Interesting. I cut out the pattern pieces and looked for some fabric.

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Wouldn’t you think that something called “sweater knit” would be great? I did. But…well, stay with me.

There were just so many things wrong with the pattern in my view. It has these shoulder tucks—too many of them and way too small for the fabric I’d chosen. When I went back to Pattern Review to look at other people’s versions, they were all in flimsy jersey, so the tucks worked – but they were hideous. They were shapeless columns of jersey even with the belt tied. If I had looked at them first (lesson learned) I would never have chosen the pattern. But onward…

Okay, the first problem was the tucks, as I mentioned. Then, there was too much overlap at the front – and neither the centre front nor the waistline was marked by the way, a real problem with trying to get it to fit properly. The ties were too close to the centre front resulting in an odd look which was very evident on the ones done by others as I found out. Oh, and the seam allowances: you have to be very careful not to assume that they are standard 5/8 inch. They are not. The sleeves were too long (of course, this is an easy fix, but do women really look like orangutans?), leading me to think the sketch is quite misleading. So, what to do?

 

Back to the drawing board I go to try to rescue the project.

  • First, redraw those shoulders without the tucks.
  • Then, move the belt so that it is farther away from the centre front (which I had to find).
  • Then, as I went to sew it, I realized that the belt was going to be butt ugly so I ditched it.
  • Ditched the belt and took in the waist darts, extending them to the hem for a better fit.
  • Put it on Gloria junior, and began to redesign it on the fly.

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Actually, I really enjoyed the “semi-draping” process. I redrew the pattern and it no longer resembles the original in any way.

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It’s not at all what I had originally envisioned, but I’ll love it on cold days next winter. I left all the edges serged only. 

What I learned about myself is that designing on the fly might not be such a bad approach, and that I think I would enjoy learning draping as a design process.

I love it when I learn something from every project!

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Posted in Couture Sewing, Little Black (French) Jacket, Style

My Little French Jacket: Underneath it all

chanel 1960s 2Whenever I see a fantastic jacket of any sort, I always wonder exactly what is underneath that beautifully finished exterior. What does it look like between the lining and the fabric? What precisely is it that keeps those edges straight? How is it that the sleeve cap is so perfect? Oh, I know all about underlining, seam finishing, sleeve setting and all the rest, but putting it all together to achieve a specific finish – well, that’s the thing. And that’s why the stabilizing and other aspects of what goes between what the world will see – the lovely bouclé – and what I will feel – the even lovelier silk charmeuse – is at the heart of my next step.

Everything is cut out and marked. Now I have to consider what will support that beautiful exterior. But before I can even get to that in its totality, I have to deal with the buttonholes. And this begins with stabilizing the fabric to support buttons and button holes, a step that I have not had to take previously.

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A close-up of the stitches in the edge stabilizing step in my LFJ #1.

The first thing I have to do is stabilize the front open edge (I’m also going to stabilize the front neck edge while I’m at it.). So, I use the silk organza selvage along the front and attach it as I have learned to do before: a slip stitch along the fold line and a catch-stitch to hold it down. Then I have to underline just the centre front of the jacket – centre front to the princess seam. Chanel-type jackets are meant to be soft and pliable with no firm interlining to stiffen it whatsoever, but when dealing with a buttoned up front, it needs a little something. I am using silk organza because after testing a few interfacings (which is what it’s called in the pattern, but given the construction technique, it’s really more of an interlining or underlining if you prefer) I decide that the silk organza changes the hand and drape of the fabric the least.

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I cut it out roughly and lay it on the wrong side of each of the front pieces. I then baste it on with large diagonal stitch lines (and my Japanese basting thread!) to hold it in place. Then, following the instructions in the pattern (Vogue 8804), I machine quilt it to the boucle using a 35 mm stitch – I’ve already done several test pieces which are essential for me.

I have had to read the instructions for this at least four times, because it didn’t really make a lot of sense to me: normally, those machine quilting lines would be through the silk lining as well. But I do as I’m told here and later realize that it’s because the quilting line would have been too close to the front and the buttonholes. I also cut out little pieces of fusible interfacing and fuse them to the right front under where each buttonhole will be.

As I’ve mentioned ad nauseum previously, this jacket differs from my previous two in that it actually has buttons and buttonholes at the front and sleeve vents. And I’ve decided to do them the Chanel way: hand bound. Dear god! Have I lost my mind? Maybe. Anyway, I’m determined to give it a try. And I have to do it at this stage if I’m going to follow Claire Shaeffer’s instructions with Vogue 8804. The buttonholes are completed first and then a faux welt is done behind them where they will be hand-stitched to the lining.

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My little sample piece for practicing hand sewn buttonholes

I have my supplies at hand: I couldn’t get silk buttonhole thread so I’m using another suggested option, in this case a cotton button thread, beeswax and a gin and tonic. I review the online video I discovered to be the best instruction available – from The Yorkshire Tailor – prepare my samples to replicate exactly the fabric I’ll be doing it on (bouclé, fused interfacing pieces and silk organza underlining) and take a deep breath.

 

 

She makes it look so easy and tidy, right? And the stitches themselves are fairly easy. I’ve waxed my thread exactly as suggested in the video and I’m making my first sample buttonhole. It is hideous and I’m acutely aware that there is an expectation that one needs to complete 30 before really getting them right. Thirty? I do another. And another. And another. They are so hideous that I can’t even bring myself to take photos. This will not be happening. I am not a Chanel worker and this is not a Chanel jacket, after all. It is an homage and I want to be able to wear it. With my hand buttonholes, that would not be possible! But I need another plan of attack for those pesky buttonholes before I commit to completing the lining. (Maybe I’ll practice them over the winter!)

So, I get out my buttonhole attachment for my machine and prepare a few samples that also include the lining. I use silk thread in the bottom on the silk side and start experimenting. I have a lot of difficulty with getting them the right size because of how the fabric feeds (or does not feed) between the two pieces fo the buttonhole foot as it normally does. After removing the bottom plate and just letting it feed over the machine plate, I have a buttonhole I’ll be satisfied with. However, since it is also through the lining, I won’t be doing them until near the very end of the project.

At least I can move on. So I complete the stabilization of the neck and hem edges of the body (I’m completely avoiding the sleeves until I get to that point when I’ll stabilize, construct and quilt all at the same time.) I can sew a few seams and get ready for the fun part: quilting the silk to the bouclé!

Posted in Style

Adventures in fitting the bust: Or why commercial patterns don’t fit (me)

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At least the back fits at the muslin stage!

It occurs to me that a bodice that fits like a glove across the bust is the holy grail of fitting (of course, I have yet to properly create a pant sloper, so I might stand to be corrected). As I make my slow and not-so-easy way through another so-called fast-and-easy pattern, I realize that I just have to suck it up: a perfect-fitting bodice takes time. It further occurs to me that bodice fitting has been important throughout the history of women’s fashions, even if the shape has changed often dramatically over the years. (I write historical fiction in another life so historical research is kind of my thing!)

Take for example bodice fitting in the time of Henry VIII. In those days, women were made to fit into the clothing rather than having clothing made to fit the woman. Just imagine having to get up in the morning and be laced into your corset so that your waist was tiny, your bust smashed flat and your back kept so ramrod erect that you could hardly move let alone breathe. Only then would you be able to fit into the dress you were required or wanted to wear. And never mind the health impacts of fitting into your clothing rather than the other way around. There’ a fascinating history of corsets on the web site Fashion in Time – which I love for its insights into how far we’ve come in fashion.

 

The truth is, though, that this fashion was a regression of sorts if you consider the functionality of the looser, more flowing clothing sported by both men and women in ancient Rome and Greece. It was during the medieval period that clothing began to have a lot more structure, but there is structure – that terrific fit we all seek – and there is prison.

Bust lines seem to have been important to women for centuries. I always thought that the bra was a nineteenth century pheonomenon, but it seems that we’ve been wearing them for much longer in one form or another. Early bra-like garments date back to ancient Greece when women tried various kinds of strapping to hold up the girls. But in an even more fascinating discovery, it seems archeologists have unearthed what appear to be 600-year old bras with cups and straps and the whole nine yards![1] So I know that I’m not the only one who cares about this fit issue!

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A 600-year-old bra! [photo credit “Fashion in History” see footnote]

Fashion in the twentieth century waxed and waned between loose (the flapper dresses of the thirties) and the structured (Dior’s ‘New Look’). That Dior-esque silhouette influenced much of the mid-century clothing until Gabriel Chanel’s approach to design gave women back their comfort along with beautiful tailoring. The 1960’s brought a revolution in dressing: all those shift dresses that fit everyone. For me, though, the Chanel look is the holy grail of fit that I seek since it is based on individual proportion, coupled with ease of movement. It is tailored clothing with ease. So that’s where I begin.

At the end of last week’s sewing and fitting adventures I was the midst of creating a muslin/toile/calico fitting garment for Vogue 8886, a design I loved mainly because of the lovely boat neck band which turned out to be an enormous collar – but I digress. I’m focusing on bust line fitting here.vogue-8886-sleeve-variations

I was a bit irritated by the fact that this pattern is supposed to be a “perfect fit” pattern that includes separate pattern pieces for A-B-C-D cups. So, as I already mentioned, I cut for the D and found that it was HUGE! Of course, it had never occurred to me to put together a whole lot of sewing and fit intelligence to conclude that this wasn’t really what they meant. Let me go back.

Since returning to sewing, I had stumbled upon the FBA (AKA full bust adjustment) on more occasions than I can count. Evidently, it’s a general secret of the sewing intelligentsia that if the potential wearer of the garment is more than a B cup, then said wearer needs to have the pattern adjusted for that larger cup size. Indeed, the scoop is that commercial patterns are drawn for a B cup regardless of size. Okay, I thought. I need to learn to do this. Not so fast.

As I perused the online instructions (there are many very good ones) it began to dawn on me that I my over-bust measurement being only 2 inches smaller than my full bust one (not to mention that the under-bust measurement is way smaller) the FBA instructions didn’t seem to apply. It never occurred to me that this might also be the case with the pattern that offered several cup sizes. I simply recognized that I wear a D cup and cut that one. After doing many adjustments to approximate perfection, I went back to the pattern instructions which is when I found this:

perfect-fit-not

 

But even if I had read this before I started, I would likely have thought that it must be wrong. How in the world could a B-cup pattern fit me? It seems that if I’m 32-D and not 40-D, that’s different, but no one told me. I should have followed the FBA instruction advice from the outset and simply left the B-cup pattern as is. I don’t qualify for the FBA. You live and learn I guess.

Summary: just because you wear a bra cup size above a B does not necessarily mean you need to do a FBA. Nor do you need to cut the appropriate cup size in a sized pattern. What it means is that if you (I really mean I) want a well-fitting bodice, I’ll have to use my—a personalized sloper to fit the commercial pattern and do a mock-up – every time. Which brings me to my understanding of why commercial patterns don’t fit. Everyone’s body is different.

Taking measurements around a body does not in any way account for the differences of how those circumferences are distributed. It doesn’t account for the fact that someone with a narrow back and large bust can measure the same as someone with a wide back and not much in the way of breasts at all. Those two women could hardly be the same size. So, commercial pattern companies have their work cut out for them. And that’s why many of the designs are loose and unfitted. General results with those pieces will be better. At least if you like loose clothes all the time. I don’t so I continue to take the slow and methodical way forward!

[Getting closer to what I want – shoulder fitting fine; left side of the princess line coming – one more tweak and I can use this side to make the pattern. But those sleeves! Too long to really be 3/4,and I think I’ll add a turn-back cuff if the fabric can handle it…but all of that will have to wait. I’m off to LA & Phoenix next week to escape the Toronto weather for a bit. Hoping to make a pilgrimage to Mood Fabrics! PS Anyone know a terrific fabric store in Phoenix?]

FYI: I love this fascinating web site on fashion history: Fashion in Time.

http://www.fashionintime.org/fashion-history/

 

 

[1] Medieval “Lingerie” From 15th Century Castle Stuns Fashion Historians http://www.ecouterre.com/medieval-lingerie-from-15th-century-castle-stuns-fashion-historians/

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing

A knit sloper that fits to perfection! And my advice on learning to make slopers

img_1412When I finished my bodice sloper designed for woven fabrics (A bodice sloper at last!) I looked at it closely, examined my current lifestyle and considered the kinds of fabrics I love to wear. I concluded that a bodice sloper/block that will be the basis for my design ambitions (designing my own capsule wardrobe – oh, yes, that’s the plan!) has serious limitations if it’s only to be used for woven fabrics and looks like the bodice of a dress with a waist seam.

I mean, I cannot remember the last time I willingly wore a dress made from a woven fabric (with absolutely no lycra) that was designed with a sewn-in waistline and darts of one sort or another. First, I wear dresses only to weddings and funerals (and even then I’ve been known to choose a beautifully cut jacket with equally well-cut pants and pumps), on cruises (and then they have to be the kind that can withstand packing – so no wovens), and on hot summer days (linen please, with no waistline). With all of this in mind, I began to wonder what precisely I might do with the sloper.

Well, I do like what is called “stable knit” fabric. Some sewers ridicule the very idea of a stable knit, believing that a knit by definition isn’t stable. But I do recognize that some knits are more stable than others and I like the stable kind. So, I suppose I might be able to use the block to fit stable knits that might have princess seams or French darts. And I think I know how to get rid of that waist seam. God, I hope so, because I can’t see when I’m going to need it. Peplums are out of the question in my wardrobe! If I can master that, then it’s likely that I can design myself some tops and tunics – once I learn how to draft necklines and sleeves, though. So, it will have that usefulness. However, it’s best use seems to me to be as the basis for making a knit sloper, which is what I did this past week.

The Suzy Furrer Craftsy course I’ve been using to learn to fit moulages and slopers concludes with a piece on design options for slopers, and a section on using my sloper to create a knit sloper by getting rid of darts and waist shaping. It focuses on adding negative ease to the sloper meaning that the body would fill out the knit and then some. I decided that since I don’t really like my knits skin tight I would err on the side of less negative ease than she suggests. Big mistake.

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A well-fitting knit sloper? I think not!

 

The first attempt at the sloper resulted in a sloppy mess. I had bought some cheap (and it has to be said supremely ugly) knit fabric at the moving sale at Fabricland in Toronto. It’s not my favourite store in which to buy fabrics since they tend to stock so many less expensive synthetics and I like natural fabrics or at least blends. But they do have a terrific selection of notions and threads all of which are currently on sale, and very cheap remnants. But I digress.

My husband often tells me that I tend to buy my clothes too large, seeming to have an inflated notion of how big I am. He was entirely correct in the case of fitting my knit sloper. Since I had only this piece of fabric in which to make up the proto-type before putting the final sloper on poster board, I went back to the drawing board and re-drafted the sloper from the beginning using the instructor’s directions this time, and tweaking a bit based on my own observation of shoulder slope issues (yet again). Then I unpicked the first sloper and hoped I could re-cut the same fabric smaller. It seemed to work.

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Seam ripper at the ready! (It is a hideous colour, n’est ce pas?)

 

When I whipped up the second sloper I was delighted with the fit. All that was left was to put the sloper on poster board. As I hung the it in the closet with the woven one, I realized just how much I had learned about the process of fitting and pattern-making. After so many years of slavish devotion to commercial patterns and continual moaning about fit issues, I believe that I have the basis to move forward to better fitted garments – both from commercial patterns and ones I plan to create!

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My six best pieces of advice for learning to make slopers/blocks:

  1. If you’re taking an online course, using a textbook, or following someone’s online tutorial, watch, listen to or read the entire process before starting anything. Get an idea of the overall process.
  2. Assemble the equipment you’ll need: a flexible ruler, a curve, tape, fabric shears and scissors to cut fabric, a good pencil (and eraser), a roll of pattern paper (lots of it), a bolt of muslin or other cheap, plain fabric. I noticed that many of the students taking my course used left-over quilting material etc. with patterns on it. It’s difficult to see details of problems/issues and how to fix.
  3. Prepare yourself mentally for doing it again and again until you get it right.
  4. Keep your eraser and seam-ripper handy and use them often.
  5. Focus on the process rather than the outcome. If you can’t do this, the process will soon drive you crazy. The process can be very meditative.
  6. When you’re finished, take stock of all of the elements of fit and pattern-making that you now know that you didn’t before you started. You’ve come a long way, baby!

youve-come-a-long-way

 

Posted in Couture Sewing, sewing

My quest for the perfectly fitting bodice sloper (block) continues!

You know how there are times when someone says something and it sticks with you while everything else just seems to slip away? Well, the instructor I’m following on the Craftsy online platform’s “Patternmaking Basics: The Bodice Sloper” class said something that stuck with me – only now it seems that for me it’s not true.suzys class

After she had finished showing us how to draft our personal sloper from our perfectly fitting moulage, she said that she usually doesn’t even make mock-up muslin of the sloper since she knows that if the moulage fits perfectly, then the sloper will as well.

I hung onto that thought as I worked through her drafting instructions, and when I had finished the sloper pattern, I looked at it and thought, “You had better sew one up just to see.” So, that’s what I did. I was so certain that it would be right that I picked a blue sateen fabric rather than muslin then cut it out and made it up with front and back vents, an invisible zipper and bias-finished armholes and neckline. I had some silly notion that I might actually be able to wear it. Well, that didn’t go so well.

When I tried on the blue-sateen fit garment, it most certainly was not simply my moulage with wearing ease – a term I have now learned to differentiate from design ease.[1] And it was clearly not a garment that I would wear in public! It had ease galore in the high hip (an odd bit of excess curvature), but worse, it now had those upper body wrinkles again that I had worked so hard to get rid of (successfully) in the moulage. Good lord! What a mess.

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OMG! Just look at those wrinkles! If I used a sloper like this, every single piece I design in future will look the same!

 

I figured that I knew how to fix the hip issue, but the cross front issue was tricky. So, I posted photos – as embarrassing as they were – in a question to Suzy Furrer the instructor, crossed my fingers that it might be an easy fix, and waited, hoping for the best.

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Suzy’s very articulate and helpful response.

She did seem a bit perplexed herself, but suggested that I unpick the shoulders, try it on again and see if redoing them on a different angle might help. I sighed, looked at my overly optimistically applied bias binding (and finished seam allowances no less) and started clipping and unpicking. When I tried the thing on again, and asked my trusty assistant (my husband) to clip the shoulder seams together for me, it was clear that we had a problem. At the end of shoulder there was a one-half inch gape that when pinned in place showed the need for a significant change in the shoulder slope.

 

Now, I don’t know about you, but whenever I buy clothes, especially tailored tops and jackets my preferred style, I often find that they don’t fit as well as I’d like across the shoulders. I’ve noticed through my life that although I have very good posture (40 years of yoga will do that!), but my shoulders themselves are sloped. It made perfect sense that any bodice block I’d create would have to emulate that. What I couldn’t figure out is why the moulage seemed to fit so well. But it does occur to me now that as you move through the drafting process there are many opportunities for error even though you may try hard to be precise and accurate.

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This is how much more sloped I had to make the shoulder!

 

Anyway, I set to work completely redrafting the sloper with the shoulder change, but I knew that this alone would give me another problem: If I lowered the shoulder without doing anything to the under arm, and thus the bust line which in the case of a sloper follows the underarm, I would have a serious armhole problem. So, I lowered the armhole and consequently the bust line a half-inch as well.

I now have a new sloper draft and have copied it and cut it into a new pattern. Later today I’ll cut it out and sew it together – in cheap muslin! Geesh, I hope it fits this time. I’m dying to get on with a bit of dart manipulation on the next leg of the journey to designing a few pieces from scratch.

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Sloper #2 pattern ready to try out!

 

 

[1] Craftsy has a really good blog post on the different kinds of ease at https://www.craftsy.com/blog/2015/04/ease-in-sewing/

Posted in Style

Random Friday Thought

As I prep for my weekend fashion/style/sewing activities, I was strolling down Yonge Street this morning (before the mercury hit 33C) and thought this might just be the thing to get me through my  next challenge.

Hope it makes you laugh!

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