english girl at home

A Crafty Blog, Made in Birmingham, England


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Fashion Designer Autobiographies

As a sewist, I’m fascinated by fashion designers. I’m fascinated by their designs, their design and production processes, and – simply because I’m nosy and love an autobiography – their lives.

I’ve read quite a few autobiographies by designers lately. Phil is in Liverpool for a football match so I thought I’d curl up with a cup of tea (or two, this is a long post) this Saturday and write a review post in case anyone else is looking for a new book and fancies some fashion related inspiration.

Dior by Dior book

Dior by Dior: The Autobiography of Christian Dior

If you’re interested in the personal life of Christian Dior then this isn’t the book for you. This is probably the least personal autobiography I’ve ever read; Dior gives nothing away. In fact he states at the very beginning of the book that this is an autobiography of Dior the couturier, not the private individual. What Dior does cover, in great detail, is the fashion industry of the 1940s and 50s. As a result the book can be a slightly dry read, although Dior has a nice turn of phrase. The book does give a real insight into the life of a couturier at that time, and is great on the terminology and intimate details of haute couture. The sections on the design process at the studio (which included a huge staff), on the role of the mannequins or models, the showing of the collection (including restrictions on the press, who were not allowed to make any drawings) and the fitting of wealthy clients, are all fascinating from a historical perspective.

It is also interesting in terms of understanding the system of fashion houses, where a designer has the financial backing to experiment and develop, and to focus on being a designer. This is in striking contrast to a couple of the books below, where self financed designers write about constantly struggling, and devoting huge amounts of time, to financing their next collections.

Overall, read this book if you’re interested in how, in the 40s and 50s, a dress went from a drawing by Dior to being fitted on a client. However, I would recommend reading it alongside a more prying biography of Dior, to give a sense of his personal life, and of how other people viewed him.

DVF The Woman I Wanted To Be book

The Woman I Wanted To Be, Diane Von Furstenberg

This book is the exact opposite of the Dior book above, this is an especially personal autobiography. By that I mean that DVF doesn’t just tell you what happened, she also tells you how she felt, and devotes quite large sections of the book to talking about her emotions, relationships and mental state.

DVF has had a fascinating life, and in this book she comes across as an inspiring, talented, powerful woman. You get the sense from this book that you would love DVF if you knew her in person.

The book covers both DVF’s career and her personal life. In my opinion it chops and changes between the two a little too much. For example, DVF will write about a period in her life, focusing on her relationships at that time and her personal state of mind, and then, in a later chapter, she’ll write about the same time period, focusing on what was happening professionally. I would have preferred the book to have told a more liner story, with the personal and professional stories told at the same time, for a better balance. My only other criticism is that the book can be a little ‘luvvie’ (in the theatrical sense); It isn’t that the book is insincere, but DVF spends large sections of the book talking about how great life is / love is / how we should be thankful for what we have. Not that I’m disagreeing, but somewhere within these sections there will often be a mention of a private plane,weekly facials/massages at home, celebrity friends, multiple homes, boats, etc.

Don’t let that put you off though. DVF is an interesting and inspiring woman and, as well as being a good read, this book will motivate you.

DVF The Wrap Book

Diane Von Furstenberg: The Wrap, Andre Leon Talley

This is a tiny book. It contains a very short biography of DVF, followed by 27 photos. The biography is magazine article length, and isn’t especially revealing. The photos are a mixture of photos of Diane, and DVF catwalk or advertising photos (a number of which are also included in The Woman I Wanted To Be). Due to the tiny amount of content included I wouldn’t advise buying this book; I borrowed it from the library:)

Helen Storey Fighting Fashion book

Helen Storey Fighting Fashion book

Fighting Fashion, Helen Storey

Helen Storey is a British fashion designer who had her own label in the 1980s-90s. Helen now co-directs the Helen Storey Foundation, a London based not for profit arts organisation, which organises multi-disciplinary projects or exhibitions which bring together fashion, art and science. She also supports the development of young fashion designers as a Professor at University of the Arts, London.

Helen’s autobiography tells her story as a designer, first working for other fashion houses and then establishing and running her own label, until it eventually went into receivership. Helen’s illustrations and photographs which are included allow you to get a good sense of each of the collections Helen writes about designing. The title of Helen’s book is appropriate – this book is about the battle, and constant struggle to run your own label. Not just the struggle as a designer to innovate, develop and appeal to your audience. But the struggle to administer a multi-million pound business, while also being creative, and having a personal life. When every collection has to pay for the next, it places a huge pressure on the company and its staff, not only for the collection to be profitable, but also to receive the income as soon as possible as you are constantly short on funds to invest in the next collection.

Fighting Fashion is also a very honest account of supporting a partner through a long battle with an invasive cancer.

It’s a book about what training and support designers need, and how the British fashion industry needs to change in order for young designers to succeed.

It’s one woman’s account of all of the above, and well worth a read.

The Biba Experience book

From A to Biba: The Autobiography of Barbara Hulanicki

(Photo from ‘The Biba Experience’, as I forgot to get a photo of ‘From A to Biba’)

Ok, I saved my favourite until last; I love this book. In the UK, Biba is a part of our consciousness. It’s the brand your mom tells you was on her wish list as a teenager, it’s the brand mentioned in any article or documentary about British fashion or London in the 1960s and 70s, and it’s one of the labels included on permanent display in the fashion gallery at the V&A.

Like Helen Storey, Hulanicki writes about the difficulty of financing a small business. Hulanicki tells great stories, such as desperately trying to locate pink gingham fabric, because Biba sold a huge volume of dresses via mail order before obtaining the fabric or anyone to produce the dress (because the potential number of orders was a total unknown and those mail order payments were needed to fund the fabric, and the production). Hulanicki conveys the atmosphere of being the ‘it’ store of the 1960s, patronised by celebrities and a favourite hang-out of teens. She tells the story of what it means to be a successful brand, and to keep identifying opportunities to expand – from the original mail-order company to Big Biba, a huge department store that was one of London’s most popular tourist attractions with up to a million visitors a week. And of the increased pressure this expansion places on a business, and the necessity of seeking outside funding, which eventually led to Hulanicki loosing control of Biba.

Reading From A to Biba will make you love Biba, it will make you wish you could shop at Big Biba, and it will send you to ebay to calculate the cost of purchasing a vintage Biba dress (p.s. not cheap).

Phew that was a long post, hopefully you’ve been inspired to visit the library or browse Amazon. When I’ve read a few more biographies I’ll let you know.


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Quilted Jacket from Basic Black

Quilted Zip-up Jacket, from Basic Black by Sato Watanabe

I did the insane blogger thing and took these photos outside while it was snowing (not very heavily) today. I spent the day faffing around and left it until the last 30 minutes of daylight to get these pictures – roll on spring and decent daylight hours! The photos were taken on the patio just outside our garden door, as Phil sensibly stood inside the house and took these photos through the doorway, while I stood in the snow! Smart man.

This is the Blocked Quilting Zip-up Jacket from Basic Black by Sato Watanabe, made in size small.

Basic Black by Sato Watanabe

The pattern doesn’t include instructions for quilting the jacket, instructing you to use a quilted fabric, which is what I did. I bought my fabric from Barry’s. The fabric is actually slightly stretchy and is a bit lightweight for a jacket (you can see it stretching in some of the pictures below) but with a lining it’s just substantial enough. The fabric also pulls easily, I had to be careful pinning it during construction, so it may not last too long without getting caught on something…

Quilted Zip-up Jacket, from Basic Black by Sato Watanabe

The book includes fairly brief written instructions (6 steps for this jacket), but most steps are illustrated, often with multiple illustrations, so you’ll get on better with the book if you’re a visual learner.

The only changes I made to the pattern were reducing the width of the shoulders slightly, and reducing the height of the collar, as I initially found it too high and knew I’d never do it up.

Quilted Zip-up Jacket, from Basic Black by Sato Watanabe

The patterns included in the book are provided on two pattern sheets. Pattern sheets are double sided, and pieces are overlapped, so patterns need to be traced. The major pieces for each pattern are included, although seam allowances aren’t included and need to be added on; for simple shapes (i.e. squares and rectangles) the book instead provides measurements. For the lined clothing items, including this jacket, the book doesn’t include separate pattern pieces for the lining, but provides instructions on how to re-size the main pattern pieces. Measurements are included in centimeters and inches – which is helpful for someone like me who chops and changes between both systems!

Quilted Zip-up Jacket, from Basic Black by Sato Watanabe

I am a bit lazy when to comes to tracing patterns so initially skipped the lining in order to avoid creating the pattern pieces. However, my fabric was too lightweight to get away without a lining, thus forcing me to be good, so I created the pattern pieces and cut a lining in the end.

Quilted Zip-up Jacket, from Basic Black by Sato Watanabe

Quilted Zip-up Jacket, from Basic Black by Sato Watanabe

The theme of Basic Black is clothes made in black fabric (which I obviously ignored when I picked my own fabric!). With such a broad theme, the 26 patterns included in the book cover quite a wide range, from simple tops and skirts to jackets, shirts and coats.

Basic Black by Sato Watanabe

The biggest disadvantage of picking black clothes as a theme is that black is difficult to photograph. The book does suffer from this a little, as it’s difficult to make out the more intricate details on a number of outfits.

Basic Black by Sato Watanabe

Patterns are included in four sizes (S, M, L, XL), and only a finished size chart is included. It would be worth checking that one of the four sizes will be a decent match for your measurements before ordering the book, although a lot of the patterns have a looser silhouette which allows for a little leeway.

Basic Black by Sato Watanabe

I was impressed at the number of more complex patterns included, including coats (2 patterns), jackets (3), and shirts (3). The book also includes a pattern for a coat dress and a simple Cheongsam, although this is unfortunately one of the patterns where it is difficult to make out the details in the photo.

Basic Black by Sato Watanabe

I also love the final pattern in the book, this gorgeous raglan coat.

Basic Black by Sato Watanabe

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of Basic Black in exchange for a review; all opinions expressed are my own.


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Barbie – Sewing Blogger

Images from Barbie Fashion, Sarah Eames

The library at the university where I work has some interesting books. My especially random find of last week was Barbie Fashion by Sarah Sink Eames, a pictorial catalogue of all Barbie outfit packs made between 1959-1967. Obviously, it was immediately checked out.

Images from Barbie Fashion, Sarah Eames

A quick look at Barbie’s wardrobe from the 60s suggests she’d fit in pretty well in the sewing blogosphere.

She’s already made up a Rigel Bomber for Jacket January.

Images from Barbie Fashion, Sarah Eames

Inspired by Lauren, she’s made up Vogue 1419 in red wool.

Images from Barbie Fashion, Sarah Eames

She’s joined in with the Ginger jeans making spree, finishing with some lovely top stitching.

Images from Barbie Fashion, Sarah Eames

She sewed up an amazing ensemble for Oonapalooza.

Images from Barbie Fashion, Sarah Eames

She’s even purchased a copy of the Secrets of Sewing Lingerie and may have gotten a bit carried away…

Images from Barbie Fashion, Sarah Eames

Yep, Barbie would make a pretty impressive sewing blogger.

I’ve run out of comparisons, but do enjoy some more adorable outfits from the book!

Images from Barbie Fashion, Sarah Eames

Images from Barbie Fashion, Sarah Eames

Images from Barbie Fashion, Sarah Eames

Images from Barbie Fashion, Sarah Eames

Images from Barbie Fashion, Sarah Eames

Images from Barbie Fashion, Sarah Eames

Images from Barbie Fashion, Sarah Eames

Images from Barbie Fashion, Sarah Eames

Images from Barbie Fashion, Sarah Eames

Images from Barbie Fashion, Sarah Eames

Images from Barbie Fashion, Sarah Eames

Images from Barbie Fashion, Sarah Eames


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Oslo Cardigan Strike 2

I’m a bit slow posting this Oslo Cardigan, which was a Christmas present for my mom. Now that I’m back at work, Christmas feels ages ago. My first week back at work went very, very slowly, but no doubt I’ll be back to my normal routine soon.

Black & White Wool Oslo Cardigan

This is my second Oslo (which was one of the patterns included in the first issue of Seamwork). My first version, which I made for myself, was a test run, prior to making this for my mom. Both versions were made size small, in woven fabrics. The fabric used here is a lovely thick wool, from Barry’s Fabric. I bought all of the fabric left on the bolt, around 2.5 metres I think, so I’m hoping to squeeze a skirt out of what I have left.

Black & White Wool Oslo Cardigan

I think the Olso pattern – although designed for knits – works really well with a thick woven. The result resembles a casual jacket more than a cardigan.

As with my first version, the only tweaks I made were leaving off the cuffs, and making a matching fabric belt.

Black & White Wool Oslo Cardigan

I’ve had a bit of a wool-buying binge lately. I’ve pre-treated all of the wool fabrics, including this one, by shrinking them in the tumble-dryer. I placed the wool in the dryer on a high heat with two old towels that had been dampened with boiling water. I’ve used this method on both wool-blends and pure wools, such as this, and it’s worked perfectly every time.

Black & White Wool Oslo Cardigan

I took these photos on Christmas Eve, before wrapping the Oslo and giving it to my mom on Christmas day. Is it wrong that I’ve started to think about Christmas 2015 gifts? I seriously LOVE Christmas.

Maybe I’ll actually try making the Oslo in a knit next! And I really want to try the Manila leggings pattern from Seamwork issue 2.

Black & White Wool Oslo Cardigan

Black & White Wool Oslo Cardigan

Black & White Wool Oslo Cardigan

Black & White Wool Oslo Cardigan


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Small Stories Exhibition at the Museum of Childhood

Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls' House, V&A Museum of Childhood

Before going back to work – and back to normal – this week, me and Phil spent a couple of days in London. We shopped the Christmas sale (Phil did very well in the Paul Smith sale shop), visited the Horst photography exhibition at the V&A, and visited the current exhibition at the Museum of Childhood (which is also part of the V&A): Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls’ House.

I had a dolls’ house as a kid and have always loved teeny-tiny furniture. Everything looks cuter in miniature.

The exhibition runs until 06th September 2015, and I would most definitely recommend it if you’ll have a chance to visit. The Museum generally is also worth a trip; they have a lot of 1980s toys that really appeal to me, as they provide a great opportunity to spot toys you forgot you used to own, or missed out on owning as a kid!

The Small Stories exhibition focuses on 12 dolls’ houses which cover a timespan of 300 years. I especially liked the modern houses, a large white villa from the 1930s (complete with swimming pool and tennis court), and an adorable high-rise from the 1960s.

Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls' House, V&A Museum of Childhood

Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls' House, V&A Museum of Childhood

Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls' House, V&A Museum of Childhood

Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls' House, V&A Museum of Childhood

The most exciting part of the exhibition, for me, was the Dream House art installation. For Dream House, the Museum commissioned 20 contemporary designers from a variety of disciplines to decorate a small wooden box or room. The result is amazing! I got a few photos of some favourites, but do check them all out in person or on the Museum website.

Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls' House, V&A Museum of Childhood
Wilderness Dreams, by Orly Orbach

Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls' House, V&A Museum of Childhood
A Night in the Studio, by Ina Hyun K Shin

Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls' House, V&A Museum of Childhood
Home Is Bear the Heart Is, by Mister Peebles

Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls' House, V&A Museum of Childhood
Library (A Recent Plan), by Emma Mawston and Keighley Shepherdly, Liberty Art Fabric Interiors

Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls' House, V&A Museum of Childhood
Llama Dreams, by Donna Wilson

Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls' House, V&A Museum of Childhood
More Is More, by Jessica Hayman, Rosa and Clara Designs

Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls' House, V&A Museum of Childhood
Molly’s Favourite Things, by Molly Meg

Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls' House, V&A Museum of Childhood
Offline Hideaway, by Dominic Wilcox

To finish, I’ll leave you with a few photos from the Museum’s permanent collection. It includes a number of sewing and knitting related toys.

V&A Museum of Childhood

V&A Museum of Childhood

Lots of very cool toys (me and my brother used to play with my dad’s toy fort as kids, and it was one of our favourites):

V&A Museum of Childhood

The collection includes some really creepy toys too, that must have given children nightmares..:

V&A Museum of Childhood


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2014: A Wrap-Up

Happy New Year everyone!

National Day fireworks in Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong
National Day fireworks in Hong Kong

Makes

I started this blog over Christmas, back in 2011. That was mine and Phil’s first Christmas in our house, so 2014 marks our fourth Christmas living together. I often start new hobbies and projects over the Christmas break; last year I took up knitting and since then I’ve completed the projects pictured below. I’ve just made a start on my next knitting project – a vintage inspired sweater – which I’m knitting as part of the instagram #sundaysweaterkal hosted by Jen (@grainlinestudio), Jess (@shoplamercerie), & Amy (@seamstressandtheband).

Hand Knitted Baubles      Myrna Cardigan Andi Satterlund      Handmade Knitted Rug      Knitted Lavender Bags      Handmade Kate Davies Owls Jumper      Hand Knitted Fox Draft Excluder

This Christmas, my main project has been making a coat for Phil, I just have a few finishing touches left before it’s complete. Although I’ve had this blog since 2011, it started off as a general craft blog, and it was only during 2013 that I really began to focus – in both my crafting and blogging – on sewing clothes. During 2014 I managed to complete all the projects below, which are also listed on my My Makes page, plus a couple of projects I am yet to blog. My sewing has come on massively in the last year and I can see huge improvements just since the start of the year. I set myself the loose goal of sewing three new-to-me items of clothing during 2014, trousers, a swimsuit, and a coat, and I met my goal.

Madrid Tote Bag      Blue Wool Blend Oslo Cardigan      Francoise Dress, Tilly & the Buttons in Purple Wool      The Dolores Batwing Dress, So Zo, in Ghent, Belgium      Casper & Wendy Bag from Handmade Bags in Natural Fabrics by Emiko Takahashi      IMG_6516

Waxprint Maya Dress      Hand Printed Fabric Swap Lou Lou Dress      Sew Over It Silk Cami      Kimono      Closet Case Files Bombshell Swimsuit      Lou Lou Dress Version B

Lou Lou Dress Version A      Dolores Pocket Skirt in vintage fabric      Colette Sorbetto Top with Turkish Cotton      Vintage Simplicity 3688 19040s Trousers      Handmade Colette Patterns Zinnia Skirt      Handmade Tilly & the Buttons Mimi Blouse

Handmade Vintage Dress      Handmade Afternoon Blouse      Homemade Star Trek Mini Skirt      Homemade Star Trek Reversible Bag      Handmade Leather Bag      Pink Victoria Blazer By Hand London

Handmade Tilly and the Buttons Coco Dress      By Hand London Anna Dress in Horse Print      Homemade Detachable Collar      Handmade Burda Waterfall Top      Grainline Studio Archer Shirt

Etsy

My Etsy shop had it’s best year so far, with 53 orders received. Quite a few of those orders were received in the run up to Christmas keeping me busy making and posting pandas. This year I received my first orders from Saudi Arabia and Columbia, in addition to orders from the UK, US, Australia, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Hong Kong and Ireland.

Meet-Ups

As we all know, one of the best things about the online sewing community is when we get the chance to meet in person.

Back in October, I organised the #SewBrum meet-up. Around 56 sewists attended to visit the fabric shops and market in Birmingham, and Guthrie & Ghani in Moseley. In addition to having a good shop and natter we raised £320 for Parkinson’s UK.

SewBrum Meet-Up

I attended a number of meet-ups: #NYlon2014 in May organised by Rachel, #CCBloggers meet-up in Derby organised by Sam and Kat, and the Paris meet-up in November organised by Carmen. I took part in a few sew-alongs, including the Francoise Dress and Archer Shirt, and finished my first knitted jumper as part of Kat and Sabs’ knit-along. I also pattern tested for indie designers this year for the first time.

Pattern Design

During 2014, I also designed my first sewing pattern, the Lou Lou dress, as part of the Monthly Stitch’s Project Indie competition. I rushed to get the pattern ready for the competition so made quite a few changes afterwards, before it was submitted to my lovely pattern testers in October. The pattern will eventually be released once I finish working through the tester feedback received.

Home & Work

During 2014, me and Phil visited Paris twice, Brussels, Istanbul, and the Lake District.

Paris, April 2014Brussels, BelgiumSpice Bazaar IstanbulVintage Simplicity 3688 19040s Trousers

Back in August 2013, I started a new job at a different university (I’m a project manager within higher education). The job involved fairly extensive travel (much more than was advertised) and between August 2013 and November 2014 I traveled to Istanbul approximately 18-19 times for work. It learned a lot from the job and it was good to have a taste of an international role, but it wasn’t for me long term. I’ve always been someone who books lots of tickets in advance for the theatre, movie screenings, etc. and it made it impossible as I never knew when I’d need to travel at short notice. I also lost quite a few weekends travelling, which meant losing precious crafting time. At the end of November 2014, I started a new job with the same employer but in a different team and it’s been a great move – the job and team seem great, and I no longer need to travel regularly. I’ve already booked tickets for three plays and a Video Games Live concert (which is amazing by the way; I saw it in Manchester a few months back) for early 2015:)

Massive thanks to everyone who reads the blog, and for all comments received. I’m not very good at replying or at commenting on other people’s blogs but I hugely appreciated all comments received & I love reading what everyone else is up to (I follow A LOT of blogs). I’m looking forward to the next 12 months of sewing, blogging, and chatting – online and in person.

Now to finish that coat, while watching the end of Bugsy Malone.


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Handmade Christmas – Gifts Given & Received

Screen Printed Tee

While I’m still feeling suitably Christmassy, and before the cards and decorations need to come down, I thought I’d post about the handmade gifts I gave or received this year.

I like to make Christmas gifts for close family and friends, but I normally combine these with bought presents, to avoid having unrealistic amounts of presents to make.

The tee pictured was a gift for Phil. The tee is RTW; I screen printed the text on the front, which is a snippet from a Barenaked Ladies song. To do this I typed the text in Word and altered the size and font until I had what I wanted, then printed a copy. I attached the print-out to an A4 sheet of acetate and carved the letters out to create a relatively sturdy stencil. I then used the stencil with my printing frame and fabric ink to print onto the tee. To save Phil from needing to pose in it, it’s pictured here on my dress form.

Screen Printed Tee

For three friends, I made Linden Sweatshirts by Grainline Studio, in identical fabrics but different sizes. Both the jersey and ribbing used were purchased from Minerva Crafts. The Linden is a good pattern to make as a gift as it isn’t too fitted.

Linden Sweatshirt by Grainline Studio

Linden Sweatshirt by Grainline Studio

For my two Grandmothers, I used the Madrid tote pattern from the first issue of Seamwork. I simplified the pattern slightly due to available time and missing a few supplies. I made these totes in plether and wool-blend, with a wax print for the lining and handles.

Madrid Tote Bag

Madrid Tote Bag

Madrid Tote Bag

I also took part in two online secret Santas this year: the Bloggers’ Secret Santa organised by Dino Princess Char and the Crafty Secret Santa organised by Kat. I sent buttons, ribbon and handmade baubles.

I received an amazing selection of Tiger goodies from Sarah in the Bloggers’ Secret Santa.

Bloggers' secret Santa Christmas 2014

And some lovely fabric from a mystery Santa:) in the Crafty Secret Santa.

Crafty Secret Santa 2014

I also took part in the Christmas Decoration Swap organised by Marilla Walker. I was paired up with Fiona, who sent this gorgeous decoration.

Christmas decoration swap

In return, I sent two knitted baubles. I made quite a few of these in different wools using a pattern included in Mollie Makes. I like the baubles made with multi-coloured wool best as you get a great effect with no effort. The white and red baubles below were made with wool which included glitter and sequins – it looks suitably festive but was a pain to knit with as the glitter thread had a tendency to snap and the sequins could get caught in the wool.

Hand Knitted Baubles

Hand Knitted Baubles

Hand Knitted Baubles

I have one more present to show, but I’m saving that for its own post.

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