Hello! It is my turn on the Stylecraft Blogtour. I love this annual little jaunt with all my Stylecraft Friends. We get very excited when the yarn is revealed to us. This year I was delighted that we were given Bellissima yarn to design with. What I really love the silky texture of the yarn and I chose the Autumn Leaves colour combination which has 5 fabulous rich shades.

This year I knew immediately what I wanted to make. I have been creating this quick and easy toy bear for a couple of years, but never wrote up the pattern. The time was nigh. The pattern is super simple and would make an excellent festive present. But then I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cute to create a matching bag?’. The idea is that any proud owner could take their bear with them on a high adventure.

Bellissima - Billy - Bear- Emma-Varnam

Toy making tips

If you are new to amigurumi and toy making with crochet this pattern would be an ideal starting point. I have made the pattern available for free during the blogtour. I often get asked if the yarn I use splits. Good Point! When you make toys you tend to have a tighter tension and you need accuracy on where to put your hook. If your yarn splits it becomes very very frustrating. Fortunately for a silky feel yarn, the fibres say nice and neat. I have just been making up another design this week and I have returned to the Bellissima again – which shows you how much I like it.

Worth saying on this design I did line my bag strap with a lovely grosgrain ribbon. Recently when I have made bags I have found it useful to either line the inside or reinforce the handles with ribbon. Then ensures that the bag does not stretch. You can either attach your lining with some small sewing stitches or use your sewing machine – as I do. I have found the sewing machine very handy and quite forgiving. You can hardly detect the lines of stitching amongst the yarn rows. These are the little touches which really finish off your makes and give your work a long life-span.

Well if you have been following the blogtour so far – you will have seen the wealth of beautiful designs using this yarn. Tomorrow, Phil from Twisted Thread will be sharing her fab project.

If you would like a copy of the Billy Bear and Bag you can download the free pattern below.  (Offer ends 15th October 2018 – Midnight BST)

Billy Bear and Bag

You can also WIN one of the Autumn Leave yarn packs, just click the link below to enter. (Open until 10am BST on 6th October 2018)

Autumn Leaves Giveaway

 

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Dare I say it? Are you already making for the festive season. Seriously I think you might be. I know it seems madder than mad, but I have been designing Christmas treats since May. Can you imagine?

It is worth me pointing you in the direction of two of my patterns. Firstly I have an adorable Project bag – the Dorothy Granny Square Bag which is published in the month’s Inside Crochet Magazine. If you admired my Beach Bag back in July, then indeed I am so sorry I have not written up the pattern yet. Don’t despair. This little beauty will be right up your street. Plus it uses glorious Stylecraft Special Aran.

 

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So chunky and quick to make. I saw that a few people had commented and and said it would make a great Christmas present. ‘Good point – well made’. So do swing by and pick up a copy.

Quick Stockings

Also worth mentioning is the Christmas Stocking Crochet along in Lets Get Crafting – Knitting and Crochet magazine. Each month in the run up to Christmas will release quick and easy 8 stocking designs. Rather fabulously you can download the first eight patterns from their website. As I am writing now I am getting excited for the weekend and the opportunity to pick up my hook!

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If you have a favourite festive pattern please do tell me. I would love to know. Have a great weekend x

 

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cornwallis-rowan-emma-varnamcornwallis-rowan-emma-varnamcornwallis-rowan-emma-varnamcornwallis-rowan-emma-varnamcornwallis-rowan-emma-varnamcornwallis-rowan-emma-varnamBy any sort of measure, I should not have made my new Cornwallis Jumper. Firstly – yellow is a very difficult colour to wear, anybody will tell you that. Think about it, apart from the glorious Seasalt Jacket that revived our love for Souwester-chic, you won’t see many people sporting sunshine yellow. Mustard, now mustard is a different thing. It is on the very edge of chic, but is worn by the brave and the knowing, along with orange and fuchsia.

Secondly I have had plenty to do on the crochet front that it was almost irresponsible to start another project. At the very least, naughty. Finally – stripes. If you know me at all, you know I love a Breton Stripe. I always have. I have had Breton stripe t-shirts in my wardrobe when the only place to get them was…. Brittany. Way before the high-street shops made them wonderfully accessible.

But you know what? I know I really shouldn’t wear stripes. Or if I do, I know that I need to be a bit careful. Let’s not be too coy, a slightly lumpy lady can look even more ‘bumpy’ in a horizontal stripe. I know this fact and flagrantly disregard it.  So there was incredible sense of inevitability about this pattern. I knew that one day I just had to make it. Like a bar of your favourite chocolate sitting in the fridge.  You try to be ‘good’ but then one day you succumb and devour in one sitting.

If you knit or crochet, you might be aware of the hypnotic power of the ‘must-do’ project. An idea takes hold and you ‘must’ cast on and begin. I don’t sleep walk, but it has occurred to me recently – do I sleep knit? I had all the yarn I needed for this project in my stash. The pattern was designed few years ago by Martin Storey for Rowan. The pattern has featured in Rowan’s 40th anniversary magazine.

I don’t remember what time of day it was, or what I should have been doing instead of mucking about with yarn. But before I knew it the stitches for the back were cast on. I had the yarn in my stash, Stylecraft Special DK. If you are interested I have used Cream, Navy and Mustard. I chose to work 4 rows of garter stitch at the hem-edge and cuffs to try and avoid the inevitable roll of stocking stitch hems. It hasn’t totally worked, but I don’t regret my choice.

You might believe that stripes would be boring to knit. I actually find the reverse. Pattern knitting can via between ‘challenging’ needing ultimate concentration,  or be rather encouraging. Unlike a plain knit, you can see that you are making progress. A stripe marks the gradual growth of the project and has a mindful repetition. You can hear your self thinking…’just two more rows’.

In all, interspersed with other projects, the jumper took me about 3 weeks to complete. The sewing up can always be a bit of a concern. A sweater can be ruined in these last details. A lazy alignment of seams can take you from success to woolly mess. Perhaps due to my ‘fashion fast’, I was keen that the finished looked as good as possible. I blocked it twice. Once before the joining of seams and then again when I had knitted the neckline.

Final judgement

Am I pleased with it? Will I wear it? Yes I think so. This is not a random or ridiculous question. Many makers will tell you that even though they spend hours making an item of clothing it is with GREAT trepidation that they finally wear it and look in the mirror for the great judgment – has it worked? I am frustrated that the arms are a little too long. Has it taken me all these years to realise that I have short arms?

It is rather jaunty and I do like the texture jump at the yoke from stocking stitch to garter stitch. I did wear it last Sunday and I might wear it again today. As the days grow colder here I feel that I will benefit from an additional snuggly item. Bouncing into Autumn, I am not sure I will have time to add to my ‘homemade’ wardrobe before my self-imposed fashion fast is over. The Cornwallis might tide me over into Winter and there is still plenty of old winter clothes I can discover to ring the changes. I am so glad that inevitable jumper became a reality. Make when you can – wear with pride – and just occasionally try to wear a colour you would never normally wear. You might be surprised.

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I just love how the yarn community, knitters and crocheters alike are so generous. So many of you will make and create to support local and international charities. Your generosity is inspiring!

Free Pattern

When I was approached by the UK Hand Knitting Association to contribute to their ‘Commit to Knit’ campaign, I immediately said; ‘Yes’. I have donated one of my crochet toy patterns to the collection of free patterns. I love Portland Bear – he was made for a recent Teddy Bear exhibition at one of my favourite museums in the North West of England – Portland Basin Museum. Now Portland has returned home, I am happy to share this pattern with you so that you can make him for all your charity projects.

I didn’t realise that there are at least 6 million people who can knit or crochet in the UK. Can you imagine if each of them made one item for a charity. This would mean a massive boost in items to sell, to raise money, and for charities to distribute to those in need of warm clothes and blankets in this country and abroad. I think that is a wonderful idea.
portland bear - emma varnam

Who needs help?

To celebrate Commit To Knit, the UK Hand Knitting Association has collected  7 specially designed patterns.  These include blankets, mitts, a hat, Christmas stockings and my cheeky teddy
If you decide to make him, will you send me photo – I would love to see him. If you would like to find out which charities accept donated items. Have a look at the charity section on the UK Hand Knitting Association website has lots of information for you.

 

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blankets-emma-varnam

I recently posted the picture above on my Instagram account. This image gained more like and love than any image I have posted before. How crazy is that? It made me wonder why. In essence I think the picture speaks of comfort, of colour and home. In a challenging world, these are all feelings and emotions that we crave.

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When I am thinking of new projects, especially in the Autumn and Winter months my mind turns to new blanket designs. We really don’t need any more blankets in our house. Seriously. But then again…who can resist making just one more? When you crochet a lot, collecting blankets become an accidental hobby. As I design blankets, the samples return and become encompassed into our life. There are some that fit in with our home interior – there are others which simply don’t.

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In recent years the complex blanket patterns have become more and more popular. The addictive nature of building the techniques. The fabulous designs by the gorgeous  Jane Crowfoot are not my skill set. But I know so many crocheters who have built an impressive collection of beautiful blankets. Every stitch has some invested love. Some I think are too valuable to give away.

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Getting better

Looking through my collection I can see how my technique has improved – one of my first crochet attempts was the utterly classic Sunshine Day Afghan by Alicia Paulson. looking closely you can see how all the ends are poking out. Basically it is slowly unraveling. Since then I have been fastidious with my finishing. I weave my ends in three ways. Weaving my tapestry needle one way, back in the same direction and then I make a final pass back through in the opposite direction. Too much time is spent with the yarn and the hook to find those hours undone by my own sloppiness.

I have to admit, not all my designs succeed. Seriously – there are some failures out there. This lovely lovely blanket was designed for Black Sheep Wools. I had this idea that being ‘bi-textural’ (a knitter and crocheter) I could make a blanket that used both skills.

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That was fine for my tension. But when other people tried to make up the blanket their tension for both crafts differed. We could never make it work. It breaks my heart but I think my version will remain a sample that never made it to the published pattern stage.

Time commitment

Blankets are a bit of a time commitment. This mitered square knitted blanket is definitely a work in progress. It sits on the back-burner and I return to it when I have some idle time and no pressing commissions. It uses Stylecraft Special Dk and is based around the colour scheme of my Vintage Blanket in Granny Squares Home.

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Some blankets I have let go, it is not easy. You really need to love the person you are making a blanket for to invest that time. It seems that only people who knit or crochet get this. (I imagine if you made a quilt, this would be true also). Until you have spent hundreds of hours making something for someone, you will not ‘get’ the love which a homemade blanket represents. The blanket below comes from Granny Squares Home.

This year

This year has been quite ‘blanket light’. I have made the lovely Life DK blanket for Stylecraft Yarns and the Little River Blanket for Black Sheep Wools, but no more. Compared to last year when I made about 6 blankets for my books, I seem quite lazy.

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There are many hours of hooky time invested in these beauties. All of which I enjoy to snuggly under. The nights are drawing in and we all need to make Autumn plans. Most of my ongoing projects are toy based at the moment. It might be October before I venture again into blanket territtory. But I would urge you before the temperature drops, find your favourite pattern, grab some of your yarn stash and getting making. As your creation grows so your lap stays warm. The perfect project for cosy evenings.

 

 

 

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I have been thinking about making toys recently. As you know, often I can be beavering away in the background, making something secret I cannot share. You will imagine that it will include toys – toys for babies, toys for toddlers, toys for play, toys to amuse and in some cases toys that adults love. Well I know that there are really three important factor that make a great toy.

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Make it stand the test of time

Firstly, it needs to be hard-wearing. A really successful toy is not just admired – it is loved. Indeed the ultimate goal of a toy is to be ‘the one’. That means lots of imaginative play, lots of trips to unknown places. Lots of adventures in the garden, lots of holidays and even being flung out of bed in the middle of the night. Very undignified. Toy making began in earnest for me when I learnt to crochet. I discovered something. Working in the round; amigurumi, meant there were fewer seams. That meant there was less chance of having arms, legs ears pulled off in enthusiastic games or just from general wear and tear.

Do you know that this little monster was the very first crochet toy I ever made for my boy. At the time it sat neatly in his hand. Now he has enormous hands and this little chap seems very very small. In Cute Crochet Animals I suggest that you attach the arms by incorporating the last stitches of each arm into the rounds of the body. This means that the limbs become part of the whole piece and won’t fall off or unravel. This is my very favourite technique and I use it whenever I can.

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Be inspired

Some my very favourite designs or makes have been inspired by small conversations. Chatting away to children or friends you get to know what they really love. I tell you nothing, absolutely nothing is more wonderful than a home made treasure which someone has made specifically for you. It is not only the time and effort it takes to make that object, but the added value of listening to you, hearing and noting your passions and then turning that conversation into an idea.

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I have designed many penguins over the years – for one simple reason – my son loves penguins. His love of these comical birds has changed our family. Who knew there were so many species? I have watched more films, cartoons and documentaries about penguins than I dreamed possible. They have infiltrated my design work – and I am so glad they have. But I make Penguins because I love him and I want to delight his heart – I am sure I will make more

Emily-Cute Crochet Animals-Emma-Varnam

Look for the cute

The last bit of making a toy is the very most vital part. Placing the features – I have three pieces of advice for you. Firstly, relax. Homemade toys – are meant to look like just that – homemade. They are not made by robots – they are not made in their hundreds. They are unique and therefore should look different and bespoke. Secondly if you pour love into the process then your toy will reflect that love and care. I can’t explain it – but it is like a small sprinkle toy-maker’s magic dust. The care, the time, the joy comes seeps out through every stitch.

Placing

Finally do take your time. I might place the eyes in several different places before I finally settle on their lasting position and fasten them. Even though I have made hundred of toys I will rip out noses, mouths and ears and start again. If in doubt – rip it out. But do finish it.

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It occurred to me recently – when my boy is all grown up – will I stop making toys? I don’t think so, because you know who gets the most joy from making these toys – the biggest kid – Me!

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Emma-Varnam-Stylecraft-Life-Changes-9559

It is such a strange way that designs seem to time travel. You design, make and create in one season and then they are shipped off to their final destination. In another season they reappear and you have almost forgotten when and where you made it.

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Holiday Project

Well whilst we were away in the last few weeks my new design for Stylecraft Yarns has been launched. I created a new blanket and cushion design for their Autumn season using some bright shades of Life DK and a lovely gray tonal yarn – Life Changes. I was actually making this blanket in the depths of our chilly February holiday. We were all poorly – but sat for hours watching the Winter Olympics. Nothing could be more cosy than making a blanket when you need some comfort.

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Getting Prepared

In the middle of our heatwave here in Britain it might seem a bit odd to be thinking about your autumn projects – but get ready because before you know it you will want to be under a lovely homemade creation. I hope you like the look of the design. The blanket would be perfect for a beginner.

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I try really hard to create designs that I would like to have in my own home and match in with contemporary interior trends. All the brights are a lovely little highlight and then the tonal grays of the Life Changes yarn provide a modern look.

The pattern will be available for the normal Stylecraft stockists in the Autumn and the design code is 9559. Tell me what your think

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Friday-Beach-Basket-emma-varnam

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If you are a passionate crafter, you will recognise the urge. Two Fridays ago I got home from a very busy week and knew that I just ‘had’ to create something new. I needed that total crochet escapism – to make without ceasing. Waiting in my stash was a full range of Stylecraft Linen Drape colours. I picked out some of my favourite colours from the range – cranberry, coral, natural, lime, peacock and wheat.

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What to make?

I knew exactly what I wanted to create – a fun beach bag for our summer holidays. You might think that having written two books on Granny Squares in the past twelve months, I might have had my fill of the old crochet vintage classic. In fact, once you have started thinking about creating patterns like this, more and more possibilities open up.

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Anyway I quickly worked up two basic granny squares. The final row of the square was a double crochet row. I then swapped my colourful yarn for the muted raffia tones of ‘wheat’. I worked three sides of each square in a linen stitch. Working backwards and forwards. I then worked a single stripe in each colour using double crochet. This ended for both sides with a row of cranberry.

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I joined both sides of the bag together using a slip stitch in the cranberry yarn.

Handles

Next I began working the handles. I am going to be honest I toyed with some bamboo or plastic handles, but thought better of it. It seemed better to go for the simplest solution. So I worked about 5 rows of double crochet. Then I made a hole by working 25 chain stitches and missing 25 stitches. I worked a further 5 rows in the wheat and then changed to the cranberry. The first row of the cranberry lining was through the back loop of the previous row. When all this was finished I wove in all the ends.

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Finishing Touches

Through personal experience I really do like to line my crochet bags. Recently I have found it so handy to use felt to do this. There is no fraying or worry about seams. Once I had sewn the lining I attached a lanyard inside, underneath the handle – a handy addition to attach keys or scissors. With all this in place I used the sewing machine to sew in the lining and then attach the handle placket over the top.

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Ta dah! What do you think? My advice is when the urge takes you – have a go at creating a little project for yourself on the fly. I started the bag on a Friday evening and was frantically finishing it off on the following Friday morning so that it was ready for the weekend. That kind of joy and energy really reminds me of my childhood enthusiasm for craft – it is good for the soul. Have a happy, joyful making weekend.

 

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emma-varnam-garden-shawl

Colour choice can be such a difficult thing. I think we feel the need to fit within fashion. We might like reds and greens but know that currently grays and dusky tones are the most fashionable. I have long since recognised that I am attracted to bright, strong colours.

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I like them in our house and I love them in the garden. It is these colour choices which appear in my crochet designs as well. I admire more subtle shades. I can appreciate them. But they do not make my heart sing.

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When I am making something for myself I feel free to play with colour. In the last few weeks I have been balancing design and writing my new book and completing a few commissions. I don’t know about you but I usually have about 3 or 4 yarn projects on the go. This year my default project for the handbag is a pair of socks. I think I am now on pair number 6.

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Then I have a few long-term knitting projects: a blanket and a jumper. It occurred to me that it might be useful to make a shawl for our summer holidays. I have dreams of sitting outside early in the morning or late at night with a cosy shawl around my shoulders. Deliberately I wanted it to have a festival vibe, and decided the best inspiration would be found in our garden.

Colour Choice

In essence, the colours I have chosen do not make sense – reds, pinks and oranges. Yes from the same side of the colour wheel, but lots of clashing tones. But there, right there is the beauty of crochet. It looks more inkeeping, more itself when there is just little hint of vintage madness.  The yarn I used was Stylecraft Special DK. This is perfect for a garment which is going to be hardwearing. The yarn stays soft even after a trip to the washing machine.

I love our bright and colourful garden. It is more cottage style haphazard than the white style of Vita Sackville West. But then I cannot do without red pelargoniums, pink roses and purple allium. If you ever feel stuck about colour choice, my best advice would be – look to nature. Find a garden, a picture or a pattern that makes your heart sing and match your yarn choice to the tones you find there. You will make something that brings a smile to your face and a song in your heart.

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Dear Lovelies, if you pop by my blog for crochet and knitting news this is one of the few non-yarn posts. If you pop by regularly you will know that since the New Year I set myself a challenge. Not to buy any new clothes in 2018. No small feat for someone who enjoys fashion and can be tempted by a quick supermarket or on-line purchase.

Slip-up

Well we are now at the beginning of month six – and I have survived! In the spirit of full disclosure, we did have one crisis. Staying with my folks around Easter I found that I had completely packed the wrong things and my husband rather wonderfully bought me an emergency blouse….as an Easter Egg present. I happily wore it and in-fact had eyed it up in Marks and Spenser’s. However due to a feeling of guilt, I haven’t worn it again.

If I am honest I am surprised I have lasted so long. As predicted the summer months have proved more difficult. The hot weather we have enjoyed here in the last few weeks has really challenged my creativity. Like any addict, I have found the best way to avoid temptation is not to put myself in temptation’s way. I have only occasionally drifted by clothes shops and am rather relieved that new privacy laws here in Britain mean that I will not receive quite so many emails from favourite shops.

Make-do

Making my own things seems to keep me out of trouble. I resurrected my old school craft skills and made two macramé necklaces with parachute cord. I really like them. They work well with a Breton stripe t-shirt. I have also made a lovely festival shawl which I will share with you on another post. But I thought it might be quite fun to share with you what I might have bought if I was not under my self imposed fashion fast. I have not had any payment or associated sponsorship for this post – it is quite simply an honest round up of my window shopping.

Up first is a lovely Cornish stripe t-shirt. You know and I know I have no need for another striped t-shirt. But I must admit I might have room in the wardrobe for this lovely red and white number from Seasalt.

Workwear Dilemma

Workwear is particularly difficult. How to look smart and elegant without ‘glowing’ under a suit. Not easy for men, not easy for women. Still with Seasalt this Freshwater dress caught my eye. It is just the style which I find forgiving and flattering. I would also be tempted in the sales by Boden. The Phoebe dress has particular resonance for people based in Manchester and its classic shape would carry me through a few seasons.

In addition I might also think about a simple pencil skirt in this bright and joyful pattern but matched with a simple blouse. I do love this flower pattern and both would work well with some killer heels.

If I didn’t think I could stretch to those prices but wanted a summery colour I have spotted this skirt in Sainsbury’s – my quick buy downfall. A lovely alternative.

Aspirational

For at-home outfits I have spotted a very ‘me’ blouse in the Toast sale. I love Toast, but these are long-lasting heirloom purchases. This ruffle blouse is right up my street. I have also found a lovely, lovely shop based in Cheltenham, Olive which has proved to fabulous eye-candy. My new go-to evening outfit is a jumpsuit and in a different year I might be tempted with this cheeky number. I would of-course need very tanned legs. Ah well.

So some of these choices are rather aspirational in price – but you can dream when you window shop. My solution, which if I can find time to sort out is to think about making a work dress. Now that is aspirational. I have purchased a pattern from the utterly fabulous Makers Atelier and we will see if it is a success or a disaster.

What are you buying and wearing this summer. If we are all fortunate it will be summer shorts and t-shirts. Simple and cool.

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