Thursday, 30 January 2014

What time is it? It's KAL time!

...well, almost! As we missed out on an autumn kal, our last knitalong finished five months ago! That's far too long. It's time to decide what should be the theme for our first KAL of 2014, so we can start planning.

So far we've had a couple of pattern-specific kals (Stripe Study Shawl followed by Color Affection), then the Next Step Sock Knitalong which was about personal progression (that was my favourite so far) and most recently the hugely popular Pick-a-Boo kal which was designer-specific and produced some amazing FOs. So what do you fancy next? 

I have a few ideas of my own but would love to hear what you all think. You can either leave a comment below, or head on over to the Ravelry group where there's a new thread. Can't wait to see what you come up with!
I found that great photo here, artist unknown. I am sure all the kal participants are at least as glamorous as this while knitting along! 

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

WIPs & Books: To cast on, or not to cast on... THAT is the question

With one pattern and sample very nearly finished I'm itching to cast on another. The new design is sketched, swatched and yarn has arrived (in fact there are two different yarns to give it a completely different look - you can see them below) but I've been trying to hold off. It would be lovely to finish one thing before moving on but being polywipamous, there is only so much monogamy a girl can stand and I'll probably cast on before the week is out (startitis usually occurs at this time of year). 
WIPs & books.
Another spinning/dyeing book, Yarn Works, arrived for review and it's looking like a really informative and helpful text, from what I've read so far. It'll be featured in the next few weeks as part of Spinning Show & Tell, so keep a look out for that if spinning is your thing.

The startitis isn't limited to knitting - I've started reading Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn and downloaded the next book club novel - Sisterland - plus an old favourite from my teens which was free to borrow from the Amazon Prime lender's library. There's a new audio book too - oh my! Where will I find the time? I'm linking this post with Ginny's Yarn Along where you'll see lots more WIPs and books which people may have actually read! 
Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Spinning Show & Tell and a new book on Spinning and Dyeing

Following my post-Christmas thumb injury and illness, I finally got to spend some time with my new spinning wheel over the weekend. As you know, I have no experience with a wheel so it seemed like a good idea to have a fiddle - that's a technical term, you know - with the adjustable parts while using up some 'practice' fibre. The outcome was not as important as the process which is fortunate - as you can see below, I made a complete mess. This pile is all destined for the inside of a toy, but it was definitely a useful (and fun) thing to do. 
Spinning wheel practice. Step 1. Trying a bit of 'this & that'
With more of a feel for the wheel, and the ability to somewhat control it (!) the next step was to try spinning more evenly, something I found much harder than with a spindle...
Spinning wheel practice. Step 2. Trying to maintain more of an even thickness and twist
And finally, an attempt to ply some singles I'd previously made on a drop-spindle. I thought I had everything just so, but while changing the bobbins, managed to alter the tension and the speed so that I lost the little bit of control I thought I had. Despite going into this thinking that the outcome was irrelevant, I can't help feeling disappointed with this - it's terrible!!!!! 
Spinning wheel practice. Step 3. (Terrible) plying
So LOTS more practice needed - I might even try plying together some of the 'too hideous to use' random yarns that seem to have accumulated in the bottom of my stash. On a more positive note, it's all a learning curve and so progress has in fact been made - mistakes are good teachers.

For inspiration I'm turning to a review* copy of the new Ashley Martineau book, Spinning and Dyeing Yarn: The Home Spinner's Guide to Creating Traditional and Yarn Artwhich comes out in hardback on February 20th. The book is hailed as "the ultimate resource for home spinners and enthusiasts" and it really is a great point of reference, especially for a new spinner like me. It covers all aspects of the process including types of fibre, preparation and tools, various dyeing methods, spinning techniques (using drop spindles, kick spindles and wheels) and how to set the twist. There is an entire chapter at the end about 'going professional' including great advice on the best ways to photograph and sell your finished yarns, although I don't think I'll be needing that just yet, do you?
Images from Ashley Martineau's book Spinning & Dyeing Yarn - review on Crafts from the Cwtch blog
Covering such an enormous topic in 200 or so pages means that while there is a lot of information to get you started, further reading may be necessary for more in-depth coverage of specific areas, but there is plenty here to make this a great addition to the spinner's library. The
 fantastic DIY tutorials are a particular highlight - the author shows exactly how to make your own drying rack, niddy noddy, a spindle from a CD, a light box and even a home-made spinning wheel! Having made my own Lazy Kates (v1 and v2) this was really interesting, although not something I can imagine doing myself.
Images from Ashley Martineau's book Spinning & Dyeing yarn - review in Crafts from the Cwtch blog
As well as being informative the book is a visual treat, whether you are a beginner like me, or an expert spinner. Saying it would work well as a coffee table book is to deny the wealth of information and experience that has clearly gone into it, but the pictures of different yarns are stunning.  Overall I'd say this is a very useful book, and reading it has made me want to be more experimental and to realise that there is a lot more fun to be had than just spinning 'perfect' even yarn.

If you'd like to learn more about the techniques in the book, you may also like the author's blog and her Etsy store where you can download patterns and video tutorials for various kinds of art yarn. Finally, if you'd like to leave a link to your own spinning post, please do so below. Happy spinning!
*The book was provided by the publisher but the review is completely honest and entirely my own. Images from the book used with permission of the publisher.
Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Fun - a WIPs & Books update

When you're hurtling through the final months of your thrities, juggling the things you have to do with the things you want to do, and spending most of your time looking-after or cleaning-up-after other people, there isn't always a lot of fun to be had. Today is an exception. 

The sun is shining, I had lunch with one of my lovely friends and.... I'm over half way through knitting the sample for my latest pattern!!! I can't show you as it's for publication in a magazine (my first!) so it'll be a while before you get to see it, but it's such pretty yarn and it's knitting up beautifully - and quick, I started it just a few nights ago and have knit over 500m already! I love it when a project comes together like that - especially when it's something that started out as a sketch in my notepad. Needless to say, that's my only 'work in progress' for the moment. 
Fun (gi)
As for my book update, hmmm. There comes a point at which it can be fun to ditch books that you really aren't enjoying, and today I've made the decision to delete TWO in-progress books from my Kindle. The first is Cross Stitch (Outlander 1). I just can't read it. I know most of the comments last time were about it getting better and being great and worth reading, but.... I just can't do it. One minute the main character is with her husband in 1940s Scotland, then she falls through some rocks (!!?) and goes back hundreds of years, and within a matter of weeks is having it away with another bloke. The 'romance' is not at all engaging and I could not care less about any of the characters or the 'historical' elements of the story. I realise that this is the minority opinion (it's set to be huge on the big and small screen very soon), but I simply can't waste another minute on the book, which feels wonderfully liberating. The second book I'm ditching is this month's Book Club choice and I have struggled with it to the point that the day before we meet hardly any of it has been read. Luckily I'm not alone in this as only one of the group has actually managed to trawl through it to the end. This is most unusual and suggests it's not just pernicketiness on my part.

It's surely a co-incidence, but at the same time these uninteresting books have stopped me reading I'm LOVING the TV series Dexter. It's the third time I've tried to watch it (I was pregnant when it first aired and didn't want to watch a serial-killer, and the second time just didn't get into it) but am thankful my mum and sister convinced me to try again - I'm completely hooked. Yes, it's about a serial-killer, but he's actually a good guy and there's no gore, in fact there's a lot of humour and some really great characters - especially his sister Deb who provides much of the light relief. I pointed out to D a few days ago that watching entire shows on Netflix (all eight series are available) is much like reading a book - you can keep going until you want to stop, and in the case of Dexter, the episodes flow seamlessly so it's easy to become completely engrossed in a way that is not possible watching weekly installments. In fact as soon as I've hit the "publish" button, I'm getting back to it, but first a reminder of the Unravel 'preview evening' ticket giveaway which you can find here - there's still time to enter!

Ok, so that's the end of my update. If you're wondering about the picture - fungi was the closest thing I could use to illustrate a post entitled "fun" and these beauties really did catch my eye on a woodland walk at the weekend - aren't they incredible? They made me think of Leigh's amazing knitted creations - definitely worth a look, if you haven't seen them.  
Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Spinning Show & Tell: Guest post from Alicia Landi

My name is Alicia Landi and I blog about knitting, spinning, and designing over at Woolen Diversions. I’ve been spinning for about 2 years on spindles and 1 year on a wheel. While I’m no expert, I tend to research the heck out of whatever I’m interested in and have been doing lots and lots of reading up on spinning. One of my favorite resources for spinning tips and tricks is the fairly new Ply magazine. The Winter issue was all about woolen spinning and it inspired me to give different drafting styles a go.
Different kinds of fiber preparation
The different types of yarn you can spin begin with different preparations. Worsted yarns are prepared and spun so that the fibers are aligned and twist is tightly controlled, resulting in dense, drapey, sleek, and shiny yarns (depending on fiber content, of course). Woolen yarns are prepared and spun so that the fibers criss-cross, they are misaligned on purpose in order to trap air, and the resulting yarns are bouncy, elastic, fuzzy, and extra warm. You can spin either type of yarn from many kinds of fiber but different preparations make the results easier to obtain. In the photo above, the left-most fiber is an unwashed lock of wool for comparison with the other preparations. The center fiber is mill-carded roving, if you look closely you can see that the individual fibers are all over the place in a fine mesh. To the right is commercially combed top, where the fibers are all neatly aligned. If you’re not sure whether you have carded roving or combed top, break off a little chunk. Roving will form a sort of peak where you tore it off while top will break almost straight across.
1- Combed top, 2- Pre-drafted top, 3- Over the fold, 4- Carded rolags
For my little drafting experiment, I took a braid of 70% superwash Merino wool / 30% Seacell hand-dyed commercial top from The Wacky Windmill and prepared the fiber in three different ways. First, I slightly pre-drafted the fiber by splitting a section of top in half and gently tugging a bit on each end. In picture 2 above, the undrafted portion is in the center and the longer, pre-drafted portion surrounds it. Pre-drafting commercial top helps it spin smoothly as it can get a little compacted from the dyeing process. Picture 3 shows a chunk of fiber fluffed width-wise a bit and then held over my finger, all set for spinning from the fold. This method misaligns the fibers when you spin as the twist enters them at an angle. Picture 4 shows a bunch of hand-carded rolags. Carding is a post for another day but it is much simpler than it seems and produces a light, airy preparation with fibers going every-which-way, perfect for woolen spinning.
1- Pinching off the twist during short forward draw, 2- Spinning fiber from the fold, 3- Allowing twist into the drafting zone during longdraw
After fiber type and preparation, drafting style is what determines whether your yarn is worsted, woolen, or something in between. In picture 1, I am spinning a section of pre-drafted top using short forward draw. For this method, the job of the twist-controlling hand (the one nearest your wheel or spindle) is to keep the twist from entering the drafting zone until you are ready for it. This is the inchworm method of spinning: pinch a bit of fiber, draft it forward a little, then slide your fingers back towards the fiber supply, smoothing out the yarn after allowing twist into the fibers you just drafted. Repeating this process produces a smooth, worsted yarn.
In picture 2, I am spinning from the fold. Twist enters the fibers at an angle so they are no longer perfectly aligned. I practiced this method two ways: 1)  using short forward draw and smoothing the fibers down, and 2) pulling back on the fiber supply and not smoothing down the fibers after allowing twist into them.

Finally in picture 3, I am spinning a carded rolag with the longdraw method. (That was an interesting picture to try to take!) For this method, your twist-controlling hand does not smooth down the yarn or follow your fiber supply hand. Instead, it opens and closes in place to let twist into the drafting zone as the fiber supply hand pulls back and drafts against the twist. This allows the twist to grab the misaligned fibers willy-nilly, trapping even more air and producing a warm and bouncy woolen yarn.

The results of our experiment!
After spinning a bit with the 4 different methods, I Andean-plied the singles into 2-ply sample skeins. Can you see the differences between the methods in the results above? The skein on the left is the woolen sample. It was spun longdraw from the carded rolags. Notice that the yarn is a bit plumper than the other skeins and it is not as shiny. Since the fibers are misaligned, they reflect light in a scattered way that changes the luster of the finished yarn. The skein on the right is the worsted sample. It was spun with short forward draw from the pre-drafted combed top. Notice how much shinier and sleeker this yarn looks. It is also thinner than the woolen skein and when knitted up will have less bounce and more drape. The two in between were spun from fold. On the left is the yarn that I drafted back against the twist and didn’t smooth down while spinning, which makes it more woolen-like (but not a true woolen because it was spun from combed top). On the right is the yarn that I spun with short forward draw and did smooth down while spinning, making it more worsted-like (but not a true worsted because the top was spun over the fold, misaligning the fibers).

I hope you enjoyed my little drafting experiment! I encourage you to give different styles a try, if you are a newer spinner you may discover that you greatly prefer one style over another. For instance, I had the hardest time drafting yarn evenly while spinning on a spindle until I tried spinning from the fold and it made a world of difference. If you have any questions, feel free to drop by my blog or send an email to alicia at woolendiversions dot com. I’ll end with a big thank you to Sarah for having me as a guest blogger for her Spinning Show & Tell, and happy spinning!

Please add your spinning links below:
Monday, 20 January 2014

Centre-pull yarn balls

Most of my yarn is hand dyed or handspun and so it tends to need winding into balls before it can be used, but even when I buy ready-balled yarn it is typical for me to re-wind it into a centre-pull ball. Someone recently asked me why I go to this trouble which makes me think this post is over-due. 
Centre-pull yarn ball
The "Why"
There are many reasons to wind yarn in such a way that it can be used from the inside of the ever-decreasing ball, these range from the purely practical to the more scientific. 
  • It doesn't roll around when you pull working yarn from the ball - this is especially useful if you have a cat, dog or small child prone to chasing colorful things that move across the floor. 
  • The above point instantly makes your project more portable - you can pop the yarn in a pocket or bag and work from it very easily. 
  • Commercially wound balls can sometimes collapse when only a small proportion has been used, resulting in a great big tangle (and a high probability of profane language) and requiring more time and patience than I have.   
  • When winding the yarn before using it, one has the opportunity get to know it and what to expect so there are no surprises mid-project. It's possible to see how the colour changes work, whether there are any unwelcome knots or joins and how it might be best used for the planned project - one end of the yarn may look nicer than the other if used to cast on, etc. 
  • Wool can stretch, so if a ball is wound tightly before knitting, and is then used from outside of the tightly wound ball, it may relax after washing.... resulting in shrinkage! Pulling from the centre of the ball means the yarn is given a chance to relax before being used*. 
The "How"
It's simply a case of winding the yarn so that (a) the inner-most section can easily be pulled from the centre of the ball, and that (b) the end is easily accessible to do so.  There are a few different ways you can do this. A large knitting needle or cardboard tube work well enough and if you don't have those handy, you can even just use your fingers - all of these are shown in this video:
Alternatively there are tools which are specifically designed for this purpose. My personal preference is a Nostepinne, a simple wooden tool which can be used for any amount of yarn - large or small. Plastic mechanical winders are very popular, although they usually need to be attached to a suitable surface so are not always practical, and having broken two (!) in the few years I have been knitting I definitely prefer nostepinnes.  (They are also 2 to 3 times cheaper and don't have breakable parts, as well as being easier to carry in a knitting bag.)

That's really all there is to it. If you have any other benefits that I've missed from the list, or any other tips you'd like to share on this topic, please leave a comment. 

*This is one of the many tips I picked up from Elizabeth Zimmerman's 'Knitting Workshop'. 
Friday, 17 January 2014

Adding a splash of colour (... a little "cosmic order")

You've heard of the law of attraction and cosmic ordering? Well I'm not so certain about those, but I as far as my own obsessions go, a statement of intent seems to be the first step to getting them. You may recall some of my other obsessions (tattoos, cars, dreadlocks and dogs, to name a few). After obsessing about these, they all happened in one way or another, and so with this in mind I would like to introduce my latest obsession plan... brightening up my Cwtch. It's a high priority for 2014.

Ever since spotting Pip's gorgeous Pompom Advent stick, I've been thinking about adding colour...

... but the obsession started in earnest when I saw this colourful Ian Snow Retro Kantha Nest chair
Ian Snow Retro kantha nest chair £397 on Amazon
Image source: Amazon
I absolutely love it and think it'd look really good with the retro yarn cupboard and shelves (the backing paper on the shelves is ripe for a makeover too). I can imagine a big basket of yarn next to it (and the obligatory Schnauzer sprawled across it). Of course I'll also need accessories to make it fit in with the rest of the room - there are lots of lovely things available and I seem to be making quite an extensive Amazon wishlist (including a felted rug, a throw for the sofa, a lovely mug and more). 

This Mary Kilvert Colourful Sheep Fine Art Print would look great too, wouldn't it? I have been coveting it for so long it has to appear this year.

Yes, it's definitely time for more colour. Without the funds to simply splash out on the lot, it may take a while... but I'll keep you posted. 
Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Plotting, planning and an Unravel Giveaway!

Thanks for all the lovely get well wishes last week. I'm pleased to report that I'm around 90% back to normal, and not quite so happy to be approximately 200% behind on my list of things to do. That list mostly involves plotting (my next designs and a secret birthday gift - so I don't really have anything to show you today) and planning... for Unravel 2014! 
Illustration by Kate Sutton, commissioned by Farnham Maltings
The annual Festival of Knitting at Farnham Maltings is the highlight of my knitting calendar for several reasons including: 
  • LOADs of great exhibitors, talks (free but limited spaces) and workshops 
  • Did I mention the exhibitors? - It's yarn/fibre/button shopping heaven.
  • It marks another year of Crafts from the Cwtch - the first post was about my first visit!
  • It's a fabulous place to meet up with friends - old, new, and 'virtual'.
As I realised last year, this annual trip to Farnham has become as much about the latter as anything else when I got to meet various people I 'know' from Instagram, other blogs and some regular readers of this blog. It was great to finally get to say hello in person.  

This year I am very excited to be attending with a couple of good friends, who I only know because of this blog. Gilly (Tickety Boo) came last year after winning tickets in my giveaway and we got on famously! We decided to do it again this year, but that it would need to become a proper "girls' weekend" and so the fabulous Wink from A Creative Being is coming along with us too - all the way from the Netherlands - and we're making a little adventure of it. I can't wait!
Photo credit: Lulu Locket Photography
There is going to be a 'craft and natter' area which we will be frequenting at various points on Saturday and Sunday so we are hoping we can get to meet up with more of you there for a cuppa, and I'll also be tweeting and Instagramming (is that a verb yet?) live from the event for those who would like to see what's going on, but can't make it in person. 

If you would like to read more about the Festival you can find my previous posts here, visit the Farnham Maltings Craft Festival page for all the details, and book tickets here. In addition to the usual Saturday and Sunday opening, this year sees the addition of a Friday Preview evening so you can be amongst the first to browse the stalls (with a complimentary glass of wine or soft drink). Tickets for this are strictly in advance and limited, but two lucky readers can get a pair of tickets simply by leaving a comment below telling me your favourite thing about Unravel (if you've been before) or what you'd most like to see (if you haven't been). Be sure to leave an email address or Ravelry username so I can contact you. Winners will be randomly selected on Monday 3rd February 2014. Good luck! 
Thursday, 9 January 2014

If I'd been here...

Just popping in quickly to say hello and have a little catch-up. I've been struck by my bacterial nemesis - tonsillitis - and have spent most of the week sleeping, taking medication (some of which I was allergic to), watching Netflix (Dexter!!!) and generally feeling sorry for myself. I've spent very little of the week knitting, eating, or blogging. 

If I'd been here yesterday I'd have told you that there's a new hexipuff knitalong on Instagram which prompted another little binge before I got sick. If you'd like to join in, post your pics on IG and tag them with #hexipuffkal2014.
Hexipuffing again
If I'd been here you would also know that I finished the neon pink thing for Little Miss... but I haven't taken any pictures yet. It's on the (long) list of things to do. 

Yesterday I'd also have told you that I started the first book in the Outlander series. At 30% I'm not really loving it so far but am persevering (a) because SO MANY people have recommended it and (b) because I paid full price for it and I usually buy novels that are on offer! The jury is definitely out on this one at the moment, but I'm hoping it'll improve soon.

Finally, thanks to the spinners who have already contacted me to be a part of the 'Spinning Show & Tell' guest post series this year. If you missed the shout-out, you can find it here
Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Spinning Show & Tell: Back to square one

Just as I was starting to feel comfortable with a spindle - generally able to control the amount of twist, the thickness etc - I've taken a gigantic leap back to "absolute beginner" status with the unpacking of my wheel. (It's a Schacht Ladybug which D treated me to for Christmas from The Threshing Barn. You can see the little ladybug in the picture, each wheel has a bug in a different place so we had to hunt for it!) 
Ladybug Spinning wheel
It required only minimal assembly, but having never used a wheel before it took a combination of the instruction manual, YouTube and a shout-out on Instagram to get it set up and ready to use and, eventually, I tried it out for the first time. Oh dear! 

My friends will testify to my poor co-ordination skills, so operating the treadles with my feet whilst at the same time drafting the fibre was quite comedic! It reminded me of the only time I ever tried playing the drums (at school to the raucous laughter of my classmates). Doing different things with my hands and feet is definitely not something that comes naturally, however the spindle experience has been useful. I was completely hopeless at that too, when I first started. It took almost 200g of fibre to get the hang of using the spindle properly, so I'm working on the basis that once I've spun badly for long enough, it'll just all fall into place and seem more natural. Unfortunately the day after getting started, I injured my right thumb (unrelated) and it's still very painful to make a pincer grip. If it's not better soon I might have to try drafting with my left hand - that should be interesting!

You may recall before Christmas the children asked to learn to spin, and in their stockings were some custom notched spindles - not too heavy, and which they could decorate themselves. I was imagining nicely painted patterns or something, but this one has turned into a Doc McStuffins spindle. LM is delighted with it. 
Of course, they are having to wait patiently for my thumb to recover to begin their lessons but I'm hoping we might all have something to show you next Tuesday. 

As well as updating on my own spinning progress, I've lined up some guest spinners who will be joining in with 'show & tell' this year too. If you're a spinner and you'd like to be considered for a guest post please email me. In the meantime, if you have a spinning post you'd like to share please leave the link below (if you can't see where to put the link, open this post in a regular web broswer). 
Friday, 3 January 2014

Flashback Friday: My favourite posts from 2013 - part 1

If you read A Creative Being blog, you'll have seen the first part of Wink's review of her top posts from 2013. I enjoyed it so much that I thought it would be fun to do the same thing. So here are my favourite pictures and posts from January to June 2013 - click on the pictures to visit the original posts. 

January was a great month, I finished a long-standing project, launched the Next Step Sock Knitalong, learned to knit two-at-a-time socks, and posted a receipe for a crochet headband:
February was all about Unravel! It was awesome, but very different to my first few visits which highlighted how much I'd changed during that time:
In March there were various finished objects and several reviews but my pick is the post that includes my all-time favourite photo from this blog:
April included Knitting & Crochet Blog Week and there were lots of posts that were fun to write but I especially liked writing about my 'mascot' project:
In May a new obsession was born when I started spinning
There was also a lot of spinning in June and the Pick A Boo Knitalong was launchedI had to introduce lots of bright color into my projects to combat the weather:
That was a great six months, I hope you enjoyed looking back on them too. I can't wait to show you my favourites from July to December in part 2!
Thursday, 2 January 2014

Q: When is a lucky dip not a "lucky" dip...

A: When you end up with eight balls of bright pink acrylic yarn!
You might think I'd know better, but sometimes the lure of an online bargain is too much and so earlier in the year I found myself throwing a large bag of this (unseen) "lucky" dip yarn into the bottom of my cupboard.  Please tell me I'm not the only one to have done this!

Whilst in the midst of the Christmas Eve blackout I was looking for something that could be seen easily by candle-light,  and it didn't look quite so bright when I cast on. It's going to be something for Little Miss. She doesn't seem to mind the colour ...... and I'm knitting it double to use it up quickly. 

I have a painful bruised thumb at the moment (it started when we were at the beach and I'm not sure what I did to it), so there's not much knitting happening actually, and I have barely been able to use my new spinning wheel either, but I'm hoping to be back to 'normal' next week. Have a great weekend. 
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DISCLAIMER: Crafts from the Cwtch is part of the Deramores, Craftsy, Etsy, Creativebug and Amazon Affiliate programmes and works with a few carefully selected sponsors. Where posts or projects are sponsored, the opinions will always be entirely my own. You can find out more about affiliate links and blog sponsorship here.

Hello and welcome. If it's your first visit you may like to start with my most popular tips & tutorials, or the patterns. You can read more about me on the 'Hello' page and you may also like the CftC pages on Ravelry, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Etsy. I hope you enjoy your visit! Sarah

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