Tag Archives: Vintage Sewing Machines

Ra to the rescue!

Ok, so if Osiris is my husband, Ra would be his father, right? Damn, now I gotta go check my Egyptian mythology. I was always more into Sumerian, personally. Ereshkigal FTW.


Kids at the zoo

My brother-in-law, crafty sister-in-law, their fourteen-year-old daughter, and my father in law, pulled one on us (this time) and showed up Thursday night unanounced to visit for easter (they live a good 7-hr drive away). Since one of Osiris’s favourite things in the world is to do the same thing to them, I can’t complain about this, despite the fact that I try very hard to keep my in-laws from seeing my house in its natural state (I probably needn’t bother, I think after this long they’ve figured out I’m not Martha Stewart). So we had a great, busy, albeit largely sewing-free Easter weekend, complete with creek-visiting, baseball, Bass Pro shop, zoo, Value Village, and snow.

Yes, snow. I don’t want to talk about it.

Moving on.

The White, which was not sewing.

Possibly best of all, my father-in-law—let’s go with Ra—is a machine guy (Well, technically he’s a retired auto mechanic, so something like a sewing machine is probably beneath him, but I batted my eyelashes), so I got him to look at my poor, no-zoom-go White.

He turned the fly wheel, and all of a sudden it worked fine again. This is, unfortunately for my pride, typical of the little mechanical problems I’ve brought to his attention over the years.

However, he explained to me that the source of the problem was apparently not within the foot pedal, but within the electric motor itself. And then proceeded to pull the works apart, show me the offending bit (a copper thingy that spins between two little brushes). We polished that up as there was some black gunk going on that might be interfering with the connection and put everything back together.. and still every once in a while it mysteriously won’t go, but a little twitch to the wheel gets it started again. And now I know that little bit more about the insides of my sewing machine. Unfortunately I was a little too wrapped up in remembering which teeny-weeny screw went where that I didn’t think to take pictures, and I’m not desperate enough to pull it apart again on my own just for photos.

There has been a little slip progress. I can’t go into specifics quite yet, but here’s a wee smidge of eye candy:


And, since I haven’t much more to show, further zoo photos:

Syo, with plants.

She seemed considerably more enthralled with the plants than the animals.


Notice how my photos are all of the green inside bits? SO DONE with winter…

Ok, here’s what outside really looks like right now.

ZOMG it's a giant kangaroo!

Hope you all had a great long weekend, and got to spend some time with family, if that’s your thing!



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My mother is many things…

Not least of which is an enabler.

"New" Pfaff 360

Thank you, Mom. Merry Christmas.

This is a Pfaff 360. Some time in the 60s, it was a top of the line embroidery machine—that little colourful wheel thingy gives you the settings for the various stitches. My mom bought hers in the early 70s, second-hand, for about $250; this is still what a lot of them go for, from some quick googling. It’s the machine I learned on,  and measure every other machine against.

When I saw the case with the ribbon tied to the handle, I nearly had a heart attack, and had to open it up right away and check the attachments to make sure it wasn’t her machine. Fortunately, no. This is the machine a friend of my mom’s has been sitting on, but not actually using, for a while now.

This one has had a bit of a rougher life than my mom’s, I think. It’s a bit dinged up and the automatic threader is missing (not that I even knew it had one before Mom mentioned it.) The tension is giving me a bit of grief, although I think it’s just a little sticky and probably needs cleaning. I already messed around with some free motion satin-stitch embroidery and it sucked considerably less than I thought it would.

Every sewing machine feels a little different to “drive”, y’know? Some are zippy and light, some are sluggish, some are powerful. The Pfaff 360 isn’t as fast as my new Janome (or, for that matter, the old Army Machine, which when it’s going, goes like crazy), but it’s solid, powerful, and can chew through anything you can fit under the presser foot. And most importantly, it feels right.

The accessory box isn’t as extensive as my mom’s, (and in fact is missing some key pieces, like a zipper foot) but it does have a few that were missing from my collection—there’s a funny little keel that fits over the regular zigzag foot to work as a stitch-in-the-ditch foot and a buttonhole-measuring foot that had me thoroughly puzzled until Mom told me what it was. And it’s another low-shank machine, so the bits should be interchangeable with everyone else except the Army Machine.

Merry Christmas, everyone! I’m thoroughly overflowing with turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, so I’m off to bed. Have a great night!


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All Machines All the Time (Part 2)

Domestic. Army.

(I promise more sewing posts, fewer machine posts, in the future!)

The Domestic Special—AKA the Army Machine

In breaking news, she sews! Yay! And my gawd, what a beautiful stitch it is, too. Nothing like the wannabe zig-zag of the White*. And fast. The only limit to the power is that the motor turns a rubber wheel which turns the flywheel, and this rubber wheel is old and hard and a bit worn down, so sometimes you need to give the flywheel a nudge to get it started. Presumably it’s possible to replace the little rubber wheel at some point. (Incidentally, the belt on my Featherweight slips similarly, so it should be adjusted or possibly replaced as well. Someday when I’m a little more secure about this vintage machine thing ;).)

Fortunately, she uses a standard needle, that goes in sideways, exactly the same as my Featherweight.

Except that the Featherweight threads right to left, and this one threads left to right. Which was a bit of a WTF moment, but we got past it.

In terms of functionality, it’s similar to the Featherweight. There’s a lever for the stitch-length/reverse, just like on the Featherweight (this one’s very stiff, though. I need to figure out if it’s possible to oil it.) The tension/threading apparatus is quite different, though—it has a lever, too, and there’s no disc to wrap it around. I figured it out, though! The system of threading is fairly sketchy—there’s a lot of places the thread is kinda left to do its own thing, and it rubs against the case of the machine in a number of places. On the other hand, the up-and-down-arm-part (the manual calls this the take-up) has a hole with a covered slot you can kind of floss the thread into, rather than just a plain hole like most vintage machines (of my acquaintance, which is admittedly limited). (My new Janome has kind of a slot in this as well, but the way the slot opens occasionally the thread slips out of it which can be a pain in the butt.)

I want to thank both Peter and Claire for suggestions of manuals and comparable machines. I actually tracked down a teensy bit of information about Domestic sewing machines here, and they have three different manuals. This is the one closest to my machine, although I think it’s a slightly newer (or perhaps just more expensive) version than mine as it has a tension dial rather than lever, and a slightly more advanced-looking stitch length mechanism. There’s no date on the manual, but the font looks sort of 50s to me (I know, so precise). I’m guessing late 40s or 50s for this machine—I’d be surprised if it was as late as 60s (but then, they were still making Featherweights through the 60s). Vintage aficionados care to weigh in?

Also, just because I’m obsessive that way, here’s more photos (in no particular order) of the various feet and attachments than you can shake a stick at. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Fortunately, most of these are covered in the manual…

*Toodling around on the yahoo wefixit group led me to this post about sewing machine stitch formation, which basically advocates stitch acceptance. I still think something’s up with the White, though, as the stitch is WAY more zig-looking than my other machines, even with the straight-stitch needle plate in place. That being said, it does a mean zigzag, so I’m not really complaining.


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All Machines All The Time!!! (Part 1)

Are you bored yet?

All shined up

Sorry to witter on (I LOVE that word, it’s not part of my native vocabularly but I am totally stealing it) about my new/old machines. I’ll get back to the actual, y’know, making stuff pretty soon.

With its very own bobbin case!

I swung by Sewing World a day or two after I brought the White home, and they did indeed have the kind of bobbin case I needed. For the low, low price of $14. Yup, half again what I paid for the bloody machine, and two to three times the online prices (although those would’ve had shipping added on. Thanks to everyone who made suggestions!). But it was in my paws instantly (as opposed to some random time in the next month) and supports my local sewing stores, yadda yadda. The manual is available for a download for another $10, which I may get around to shelling out at some point.

Anyway, with bobbin in hand I sat down to give her a basic clean. I’m no JillyBe with the full sewing-machine spa, although I wish I was. I just pulled the machine off her base, took toothbrush and kleenex and cleaned out the dust, broken needle bits, pins, and chunk of waistband elastic that were inhabiting it. Then I set to de-fuzzing all the bits of machinery I could easily reach. There was a moderate amount of lint, but not terrifyingly so (I’m sure my Janome was worse off when I took her in for her tune-up last summer). I oiled the moving bits—the previous owner(s) seems to have been fairly heavy on the oil, so there’s a fair bit of sticky residue, but that’s probably better than the alternative, right? More fuzz came out when I swapped the needle-plates to try out the straight-stitch, so I now feel like I have a pretty well-cleaned, well-oiled machine. That and a bit of judicious adjustment of the bobbin tension, and the stitches have improved to the point where the straight and plain zig-zags are almost as good as my Janome’s, although the straight stitch still has a bit of zig or twist to it or something, even using the straight-stitch plate. This is why people love their straight-stitch machines, folks.

Stitches and zigzags and buttonholes, oh my!

While playing with the various fancy stitches and figuring out how to do a 4-step buttonhole (not so hard as I’d feared, especially on plain cotton 😉 ), I determined that the main issue she has is that the reverse stitches aren’t the same length as the forward stitches. The reverse (left) leg of the buttonhole is a long, loose zig-zag if I let the feed dogs do as they will, while the forward leg makes a perfect satin-stitch. (My Janome has a similar issue, although not this extreme) In a buttonhole you can compensate for that by man-handling your fabric, but it also affects the neatness of the fancy stitches. I’m not sure if this is something a tune-up would fix (I’m not super keen to give my $10 machine a $100 tune-up…) or if it’s just something I have to live with. Further sleuthing around the sewing-machine-repair sites/groups may be in order.

The feet that came with her are fairly basic—straight stitch, narrow hemmer, standard zig-zagger, wide-toed zig-zagger. There is this adjustable zipper foot with quilting guide (I’m as confused as you)

zipper foot with quilting guide

And this teensy little guy. I thought it was some kind of quilting foot, but the plastic bit on the bottom is textured and makes it really hard for fabric to move underneath it, so I’m kinda at a loss about how it should work.

Weird little foot

bottom of weird little foot

So that’s where she stands, folks. I’m going to be trying my hand at (ulp) applique again fairly shortly here, and I think I’ll use this machine as the zig-zags seem a little nicer than my Janome’s.

I'm scared. Are you?


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Yup, I officially have a problem

Look what followed me home...

Hello, my name is Tanit-Isis, and I have a thrift-store sewing machine problem. I made it one whole week without buying a machine.

The evil masterminds at Value Village had this out to tempt me. What really put it over the top is the little box of accessories—hemmers! binders! RUFFLERS! not shown in the picture because it was in my hot little hands waiting to be pawed through. Also, it has its bobbin-case and everything in place.

Wish me luck. The motor runs and things go up and down, but I’m not convinced I can even thread this one. I’ve found threading diagrams for older Domestic models but none exactly like this.

Tyo has dubbed it the “Army Sewing Machine,” and despite giving me well-deserved crap when I showed it to her, spent the rest of the evening opening it up and cleaning it out. Perhaps I can train her to be my very own personal sewing machine mechanic?

I got a new bobbin case for the White, as well. I’ll give an update on her pretty soon.

This has to stop. Now.

Unless a nearly-new, fully-functional serger or coverstitch shows up, anyway…


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How much is that bobbin case in the window?

Reckless seamstress behaviour

Hello. My name is Tanit-Isis, and I have a problem with sewing. It’s been 15 minutes since I last sewed a stitch…

So, I just did a slightly reckless and potentially self-destructive thing.

I was at the thrift store tonight (killing time during Syo’s dance class). The supply of fun vintage notions that kept me entertained over most of last winter seems to have dried up (I hypothesize that it was all part of one big stash) and I’m trying to be good on the fabric front, and the patterns have been abysmal since they purged a bunch before Hallowe’en. But as I wandered in a half-hearted manner through the electronics section (and there are few things sadder than a thrift store electronics section, I have to say) I realized that there were, not one, but two sewing machines.

Ah, you see where this is going.

The first machine, a middle-aged Kenmore, didn’t thrill me. I was unenthused by a Kenmore as a child (yes, I was a Pfaff snob at the age of nine). But the other caught my eye.

First, there was the blue. A splash of colour on a vintage machine always warms the heart. The price, $10, didn’t hurt. The visual depiction of 24 stitches across the top showed a nice array including plenty of pretty decorative ones that my almost painfully basic Janome doesn’t have, as well as proclaiming her a “White Super Deluxe Sewing Machine.”

There were the two mysterious boxes tucked under the harp arm—accessories! Now I was really getting excited.

I am not a complete rube. I have been around the vintage-sewing-machine block before (possibly even twice). I ducked around the shelves until I located a plug-in and plugged the machine in. Hesitantly, I gave the pedal a squeeze.

Whirr! Motor purrs (and doesn’t sound bad, actually). Needle goes up and down!

Sold. I slapped the carrying-cover back on and sauntered off to the checkout.

Machine footies!

Ensconced with my prize in the car (but still killing time), I dove eagerly into the accessories. A modest but nice array of feet, including several kinds I don’t have. They are low-shank feet, the same as my other two machines, which is nice. Most niftily, there’s a separate straight-stitch throat plate. (Also, the feed dogs drop! This is my first machine with drop-able feed-dogs. They have three settings, down, low, and high.)


The second accessories case turned out to house the cams for all those fancy stitches. Good thing they’re there! I would’ve been seriously choked to discover the machine could only do straight-stitch because the cams were gone.

No manual. Ah, well. I’m sure I can find one online if I need it.  And no spare bobbins.

It occurred to me to wonder what kind of bobbins the machine might use. After a bit of fiddling, I figured out how to slide back the metal panel that covers the bobbin area.

And discovered just why the machine was probably at the thrift store in the first place.

Bobbin housing---empty

No bobbin.

No bobin case, either.


So it looks like I’m going to be hunting for the bobbin case for a White 967. Presumably they can be found. I’m guessing eBay*, though I’ll check if my local sewing-machine/repair/expensive scissors crack-store deals in Whites.

So here’s the thing. Looking at the bobbin housing (y’know, the part where the bobbin case fits into), I thought it looked pretty much exactly like my Janome’s. So, being an experimental kind of girl, I pulled out the bobbin case from my Janome and popped it in the White.

It fits. I don’t know if it fits perfectly, but it works.


So I got to test out my new machine after all. I will still need another bobbin case, since having to switch it back and forth between machines pretty much defeats the purpose of having two machines, but in any case. Stitches are formed. Fabric moves around (once I remembered to raise the feed dogs). I won’t say they’re the best stitches I’ve ever seen, and I still have hardly pushed the envelope on how the cams work (though I did figure out how to switch them in and out properly.) Not to mention I haven’t done any of the basics like cleaning out the lint and oiling. But at least she sews.

So if three makes a collection, I now officially have a collection of sewing machines. Oops. I can’t help feeling like I’ve crossed some invisible threshold… that now my sewing machines will begin multiplying, until my sewing-room is overrun with archaic, half-functional machines and my husband leaves me because he can’t stand their looming presence spilling out into the basement…

Ahem. I got a new machine!

*After I wrote this, about 30 seconds on eBay determined that “Kenmore White” bobbin cases that at least look right can be had for under $10. Should be doable.


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How to thread a Featherweight (and other adventures)

The Little Lady

I didn’t get a chance to try out my new machine before I left. Not looking a gift sewing machine in the bobbin-case, as the case may be. Anyway, naturally the first thing I had to do once I got in the door (after kissing my husband, anyway) was run downstairs to play with my new toy.

First order of business: threading.


Now, there’s a vast amount of material out there on the internet concerning Featherweights. Probably everything you could ever want to know. But really, I learned on a vintage machine, albeit not quite this calibre  of vintage, and I could already see that the basic threading was pretty familiar. Nothing like my mother-in-law’s drop-in bobbin, sideways-spool-holding Janome that made my brain fall out.


The bobbin orientation, which is 90 degrees to the left of what I’m used to, was a little odd, but everything else about the bobbin casing and the bobbins was familiar enough. Fortunately or not, the machine came with its bobbins still wound with a small rainbow of thread (glad to know I’m not the only one who does that!) so I didn’t have to figure out how to wind a bobbin right off the bat. I love how easy-access the bobbin is—just lift up the folding platform at the left and it’s right there.

Bobbin rainbows.

So, I loaded up a bobbin, got the thread up to the top, inserted a scrap of fabric under the foot, and…

The engine whirred, the feed dogs moved, the needle sailed up and down,a nd within about three stitches I had a hopeless tangle and the thread fouling on the bobbin casing had sliced through itself.

Trying not to panic, I removed the bobbin from its case, put it in the other way, re-threaded, tried again.

And again.

And again.

So pretty

After ten or so tries (thinking all the while about that definition of insanity as repeating the same action expecting a different result) I reluctantly came upstairs to google “how to thread a featherweight”. But no great surprises revealed themselves. I had had the bobbin inserted properly the first time; the top thread ran through its  hooks, holes, and tension assembly just as I had thought. My stomach sank. Was something (ulp) wrong with my machine? Was the timing off? (My serger acted similarly when its timing was thoroughly blown, everything moving but somehow the stitches just not forming properly) Was something even more dire amis?

Then I reached the last, the very end, of the threading instructions.

The one major difference between the Featherweight and the other machines I have used before now. The needle (like the bobbin) is oriented at 90 degrees to the front. Instead of the eye of the needle going from front to back, it passes from right to left.*

As I’m a lefty and it was easier to get at, I had without any particular thought threaded the needle with the thread entering from the left and exiting from the right. It never would have occurred to me in a million years that THIS was the one tiny thing that could throw the entire stitch off. But there it was, in the instructions, scanned from some original manual. Thread the needle from right to left.

I rushed downstairs and switched my thread.

She sews!

And lo, she stitched. With a minor tension adjustment, she stitched beautifully. She stitched with top-stitch thread. She stitched with the buttonholer attachment. She stitched layer upon layer of denim.

Stitch-length lever. Lift to stitch backwards.

Eventually, I figured out how to backstitch (move the stitch-length lever all the way to the top). I haven’t quite wrapped my mind around not having to hold on to something to keep it stitching backwards.

Some fun details:

My mom purchased this machine through the antique shop where she works, in my home town. The machine belonged to the mother-in-law of the woman who lived next door to us when I was little.


A plaque on the front of the machine declares 100 years of Singer excellence. This makes me think the machine was probably made in 1951. The serial number begins with EF, which this website suggests means that it was manufactured in the UK (Scotland, to be precise) in 1949. The motor, on the other hand, says it was made in Canada and has some notation that includes “AU 61” which makes me think August, ’61. Obviously the motor could have been replaced… anyway. I’m inclined to go with 1951 for the year, at least.

The motor

It came with neither attachments nor manual, but it did have a few cute extras in the box:

Vintage Singer needles

Several packets of needles.

Un-cleaning set

The original cleaning set. I don’t think any of these will be getting too close to the machine. That’s an impressive amount of rust, especially when there’s none at all visible on the machine itself.


Receipts for repairs done in 1980. There’s some notes about earlier repairs stapled to the back.

Also in my home town, my mom found another Greist buttonholder at Value Village for $1.99. This one had a box of additional templates tucked in with it. She’s keeping the buttonholer, but let me have the extra templates. A shorter keyhole (yay!) but no eyelet.

More buttonhole templates! (yes, they fit)

So in short, I’m ready for my next project!

Next project! Summery capris

*Those of you who know Featherweights probably all know what I was doing wrong by now. Hush, don’t spoil it for the rest.


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The Grand Old Dame

The Pfaff 360

Long, long ago, but not so very far away, a young girl sat at her mother’s sewing machine, fiddling with the knobs. This one changed the stitch length—long and short. That one changed the width—straight to zig-zag to wider zig-zag. Another one—but that’s a story for another day.

This is the machine I learnt to sew on, the Pfaff 360. At the time of its

The Case

manufacture, sometime in the 1960s, it was a top-of-the-line embroidery machine. My mother bought it second-hand in the early seventies, complete with manual, carrying case (it’s “portable”), and more feet than you can shake a stick at.

I can’t recall particularly clearly how I learned to sew with this machine. I remember watching her sew on it,

Coming out of her shell...

explaining that you needed to backstitch at the start of a seam. I remember at some point her showing me how to clip seams. She must have showed me how to thread it, too, since I’m quite sure I didn’t figure that out on my own, and I have vague recollections of learning how to wind a bobbin. That was about the end of my sewing instruction.

Then, when I was nine or so, my best friend and I started making doll clothes. I think it began with the paper dolls, but it spread fairly quickly to our Barbies. Our tastes were decidedly mediaeval: we started with

the accessories.

tabards, moved on to T-tunics, eventually experimenting with vests, jackets, and pantaloons and even front-opening shirts. At the height of my doll-sewing I attempted a few fitted dresses and circle-skirts. Everything was closed and cinched in with belts; there were no other fasteners (beyond a few ties), no darts, no real gathering. Seam allowances were 1/4″, seam finishing was nonexistant (except for external, decorative zig-zags), and hems were usually just zig-zagged for a tight, embroidered contrast finish. The fabrics were anything I could salvage from the scrap bag or steal from my mother’s modest stash.

The manual, which is the closest I came to real sewing instruction for well over a decade. Unfortunately, like most manuals, it describes the mechanics without hinting at the myriad little difficulties that crop up...

And I sewed them all on my mother’s Pfaff. My friend’s mother’s machine was a 1980s Kenmore, and I never liked it half as much—the tension just wasn’t as even. Although it didn’t weigh quite as much as Lady Pfaff.

I never did figure out how to make her do the myriad of embroidery stitches illustrated on that round card, which were her specialty. It takes twiddling of a number of dials, as each stitch can be modified for width, length, and “side”, and then there’s another lever that basically engages or disengages all the embroidery settings (which is only mentioned in the last paragraph of the manual talking about them, and not illustrated). Too bad, because I would’ve had a lot of fun.

The Barbie clothes may not have been spectacular, but they left me with one major legacy: the powerful misconception that I could sew.

This misconception has stood me in good stead through the years since. When I took up bellydance in later high-school, it never occurred to me that I might not be able to make my own costumes (and, with the aid of the creative ladies I danced with, it turned out I could). It helped that tribal bellydance costumes, like the barbie-clothes, are often based on traditional, economical patterns (i. e. lots of squares, rectangles, and triangles). I still remember the moment I realized why “real patterns” had such wide seam allowances. (rrrrip! By the way, there have been many such lessons I’ve had to learn the hard way…)

The Ruffler

Which brings me to the ruffler foot.

I love this thing.

One of the major articles of tribal bellydance gear is the tiered skirt. Three or more tiers of gathered rectangles, adding up to at least 10 (but often up to 25 or beyond) linear yards of fabric at the hem. I wanted to make my own, and I didn’t want to gather it all by hand.

Some online research tipped me off to the existence of “ruffler feet”. They were apparently terrifyingly complex, unpredictable creatures, but capable, under the right circumstances, of creating instant ruffling without fuss or fidgetting. I had never seen one (nor a picture), but I set off to see if my mother’s machine had such an attachment. I pawed through the box (I still don’t know what half those feet are for, though my score is improving), and picked out the biggest, most frightening foot I could find—the one above. I had no idea how to even attach it to the machine, nevermind whether it was the one I was looking for.

I poked. I prodded. I figured out that the weird upper prongs fit around the screw that holds the needle in place (wtf?) and… I figured out how to ruffle. And pleat.

Once you’ve conquered the ruffler foot, surely there is little left to terrify you in the world of sewing-machines.

Well, maybe sergers, but anyway.

These photos were all taken in my mother’s upstairs hall because, against all

The crochet lampshade cover

expectations, we made it home for New Years! (and boy did we surprise them good 🙂 ). Tomorrow we drive back and Real Life resumes (/sniffle), but before that I thought I’d share the beginning of my sewing journey with you all—I’m just sad I wasn’t able to set her up and demonstrate some of those nifty stitches (or the crazy feet!)

And, to thank my mom for making her run up and down stairs hunting for the machine yesterday (and because I think it’s super cool), I want to show you her latest crafty creation: a crochet lamp-shade cover. Isn’t it gorgeous? Her own pattern (aka trial and error). Which just proves that she has way more patience than me!

An Antique Button Adventure

Coming soon: the fine line between “vintage” and “antique” and when stash becomes time capsule.


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