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Art, Entropy and a Bobble Knit Bangle

I may have mentioned this before…but I really don’t look forward to winter.

I turn the clocks back with a heavy hand, and heart, making mental calculations of how many weeks until spring.

Yes, I know that Autumn can be a beautiful season, and there is much to celebrate with Michaelmas and Harvest Festivals, Halloween and Bonfire Night. But for me, especially this year, I inch towards November with a swarm of red admirals avoiding hibernation in the pit of my stomach as I watch Mother Nature slowly decay.

Melancholia, however, is not something I revel in and so today I am reminding myself that the darker months bring with them their own unique gifts.

During a recent walk around the Ted Ellis Nature Reserve at Wheatfen, on the Norfolk Broads I was greeted by thousands of bright and cheery little beacons of colour in the hedgerows, undergrowth and trees. Nature was bedecked in her most brilliant, yet transient, jewellery and her ebony and ruby red beads shone in the October sun.

Wheatfen 2

Wheatfen

Wheatfen 4

Her seasonal decorations will leave no trace; they are biodegradable, environmentally friendly and carry the seeds of a new generation. They cost nothing, are labour free and won’t be exhumed from a landfill site in 1000 years from now.

I love my craft and the community of makers I feel a part of – but I make no apologies for not feeling the urge to yarn bomb a tree, or decorate a hedgerow with knit graffiti.

I can’t help it – I am hot-wired with the Modernist Manifesto. Beauty in Function and Ornament is Crime are carved into my heart and, for me, the natural process of entropy, brings with it its own poetic, unadorned, beauty.

I know a place where nature and art encounter each other perfectly, and it’s in the work of Anja Gallaccio.

A carpet of 10,000 decaying roses; 2,000 gerberas gradually decomposing and trees strung with apples shamelessly performing their entropic autobiographies.

red on green

Image creditgallaccio 3Image credit 
gallaccio 2Image credit

This is the work that stops me in my tracks. This is what reminds me that life is short, time is precious, nature is beautiful…..and art is profound.

So I’m going to stop looking at the clock, drag my eyes away from my naval, and look again at the big picture……

Wheatfen Broad

I’m feeling inspired. Now where’s that lovely red wool?

red wool

I’m going to make a bobble knit bangle just as soon as I’ve climbed off my soap box.

red bobble knit bangle

 

Look out for Issue 25 of The Mercerie Post – I’ll include the pattern for the bangle…..it’s super simple!

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The Folklore Shawl CAL

I’m so excited!!

I’m going to be running The Mercerie’s very first CAL project in 2016 – and it’s going to be our gorgeous Folklore Shawl. WAHAY!!

It will be launching in the new year as a series of 4 crochet patterns that I will email directly to you over a period of 6 weeks.

Worked in our own gorgeous DK merino yarn this shawl has two very different colour ways to choose from and we will be selling yarn bundles for each colour option  in our online shop very soon.

I’ll be posting further details on how you can sign up, so come back soon or sign up to our newsletter and I’ll tell you all about it…..

BLACK COLOUR OPTION

Folklore Shawl CALCrochet Shawl CAL

WHITE COLOUR OPTION

Folklore Shawl CAL

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Crochet, Penelope and the Art of Unmaking

Close your eyes and imagine the joy of seeing a new design emerge, and that buzz of excitement when it’s finally complete, and it is more beautiful than the picture you’ve held in your mind for so long.

This is what drives me to start a new project; this is my addiction. I am a #crochetaddict.

Penelope and UnmakingPenelope and Unmaking

But recently I’ve been struggling with conclusions. I’ve been working on a new crochet project, and I’m very excited about it; except I’ve been working on it since January and it’s very resistant to completion.

I must have made, and unmade, this design half a dozen times now. Each time there’s something not quite right. The flowers don’t lay as they should, the shape is all wrong, and that shape’s wrong too. It’s not big enough, it’s too big, it’s too dense, it’s too lacy……

unmaking the purple crochet flowersunmaking the yellow crochet flowers

With each design scenario I find a reason to undo it. I spend hours taking back days of work. Evenings are spent undoing and redoing; unmaking and remaking; destroying and mending; brutalising and healing.

I feel like Penelope, the archetypal dutiful wife who for 3 years spent her days weaving and her nights un-weaving in a cycle of procrastination. My own making and unmaking has also suspended time by a thread and it is still resisting conclusion.

Penelope weaving and unweavingPenelope image credit

What is this cycle of making and unmaking? Where is the truth and meaning in this process?

I don’t know.

Perhaps there isn’t one.

Perhaps this period of unmaking has been about a conversation with my work.  And it was a difficult subject to discuss.

crochet design

I’d better get on with it. #crochetinglikeamadwoman

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Crochet Flowers for Memories

Flowers for Memories

I am getting increasingly excited about Yarndale this year, and one of the things I am most looking forward to is seeing the display of knitted and crocheted Flowers for Memories. Just as the mandalas did last year, these flowers are going to be breath taking, and given their significance – extremely moving.

The crafting community need little excuse to pull together and charities can be a powerful mobilising force. I was reminded of this last year when I saw The Knitted Flower Pergola and more recently the Craftivist Collective have introduced a #wellMaking Craftivists Garden.

It seems that the convention of floral tributes has been embraced by crafters and makers all over the world; those generous people who give their time, skills and resources to all kinds of good causes.

I wanted to contribute to the Yarndale project again this year, but also wanted to draw people together to work collectively on this. Making is always more fun with other people – and cake!

Rebecca at Norfolk Yarn very kindly offered to host a workshop, so yesterday I met with some lovely, generous women and we worked together on our collection of crochet Flowers for Memories.

We were gathered for all kinds of reasons and we all managed to finish at least one or two flowers. As we worked our conversation ebbed and flowed as some of us remembered our own family members who had lived with dementia

How many of the flowers made for this community project represent real people loved and lost? Perhaps they are all ‘forget-me-nots’ in their own way.

Thank you to everyone that came to the workshop, I loved meeting you all and I will be forwarding your work to Lucy at Yarndale – perhaps if you visit you’ll be able to spot your work…….

Crochet Flower Workshop

Crochet Flower Detail

flowers for Memories

If you’d like to brush up on your crochet skills or simply learn the basics, we’ve got a whole programme of classes at Norfolk Yarn this Autumn, and we’d love you to join us!

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Crochet Shawls, Strangers and other Norwich Stuff

Crochet Bohemian Shawl

If you head north east out of London for about a hundred miles, just before you get to the North Sea, you’ll find Norwich; a fine city. Once an impenetrable gated community, Norwich is now circumnavigated by the ring road and the crumbling remains of a city wall.

Like many people, my historical knowledge of the place where I live is sketchy, anecdotal and riddled with holes and questionable facts. 365 pubs (one for every day of the year) 52 churches (one for every week) rivers running red like blood (the madder dyes) and a cockerel as big as a donkey (on the top of the cathedral spire – according to my grandmother)

In geographical terms, Norwich is rather off the beaten track but it is possible to trace a route through history to a time when it was a city second only to London and a thriving textile hub.

Knowledge and evidence of our grand textile history has become rather threadbare over the years but I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently and I wonder how many of my ancestors might have spent long hours weaving in their dimly lit garrets, or suffered the dire consequences of working with toxic mordants in the dye houses of sixteenth century Norwich.

I wonder how they might have viewed the new community of ‘strangers’ –  the highly skilled Dutch and Flemish weavers invited into the city to mobilise and modernise the city’s ailing textile industry, and to escape religious persecution.

Like all new immigrant communities The Strangers brought with them many things that impacted on the City. The Flemish brought with them their pet canaries (canary breeding became so popular in Norwich we named our football team after them) and even the Norwich dialect is said to have been influenced by this community, who at one time made up almost one third of the city.

The greatest impact, perhaps, was made on our textile output. They introduced revolutionary technical changes, mixed fibres and improved finishing processes.

The Norwich dyers were also prized for the quality of their bright, clean, colourfast dyes. Red dyes were particularly prized and one red dye became known as ‘Norwich red’ produced from the madder plant which was grown locally and later important from Turkey.

The new fabrics were lighter, silkier and had strange names like camblet, Say,Tammy, Callimanco, mockadoes, Fustian of Naples, Bombasine, stamin, serg, and dornix. Collectively they became known as Norwich Stuffs.

As the fabrics became more delicate, like the fashionable ones on the Continent,  the need for a big warm shawl increased and Norwich was to become hugely important in the production of the very fashionable ‘Norwich Shawl’. Not to be confused with the Paisley Shawl – no really – don’t EVER make that mistake. I did once – and was told off very severely by a textile historian. Paisley is in Scotland. Norwich is in England. You see – they are different!!

Shawls were manufactured in Norwich from the 1780’s but by the mid 19th century Norwich was producing some of the most exquisite, and expensive shawls in the world – inspired by the beautiful textiles imported from Kashmir

Norwich Textiles

Image: http://locutus.ucr.edu/

Much of the history of Norwich is wrapped up in a beautiful wool shawl and I’m very pleased to see shawls, wraps and oversized scarves return to the contemporary fashion scene.

Shawls make the perfect knitting or crochet project if you’re one of those people who can never quite get the fit of a jumper right, or if you’re rather too impatient to work a third tension square….shawls always fit!

I recently added The Bohemian Shawl to my collection of crochet patterns and it takes more than a hint of inspiration from the textile history of Norwich.

Bohemian crochet shawl

I may wear it one evening soon and take a walk through the city, past Strangers Hall, the Maddermarket Theatre, The Woolpack, The Dyers Arms, Canary Way, and, finally, down Weavers Lane, and  think about the rich history of this very fine city.

I shall also be running a three part crochet masterclass in Norwich this Autumn where you can make your own version of this gorgeous shawl. We will cover a huge range of stitches and techniques and you can choose your own colours from a range of Debbie Bliss yarns at Norfolk Yarn wool shop.

crochet shawl design

Crochet shawl

Crochet Shawl Bobble Trim

Full details can be found here

Oh – and I’m going to include the instructions on how to work the lovely pom pom trim in the next issue of The Mercerie Post!

You can register here.

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Colour Stories and Chromatophobia

colour workshop

Do you suffer with Chromatophobia?

What’s your relationship with colour like?

Are you slightly afraid of it; not really sure how to approach it in case you do, or say, the wrong thing?

Or are you living a comfortably safe existence? Is it habitual, something that you don’t really think about until you realise that almost everything you own or wear is grey? maybe you’re worried you’re just a little bit too passionate; a ‘more is more’ approach, hiding your true colours under a layer of rainbow brights and deafening your friends with your extremely loud colours.

Perhaps your love of colour just needs rekindling; a little poke here and there to check that it’s still alight.

Colour is a subject/concept that fascinates me on every level. It’s a triple science subject; biology, chemistry, and physics. It’s metaphysics. It’s natural, manufactured and available in every shape and form. It’s animal, vegetable, mineral and every conceivable hybrid in between.

It’s a reflection, a memory and a trace with the power to ignite associations and flash backs.

It’s on trend, off colour, retro and ‘the new black’. It’s classified, organised, registered and theorised.

It’s all an illusion, it’s smoke and mirrors playing with our perceptions and confusing our senses.

Joseph Albers spent a lifetime exploring the Interaction of Colour and his work is a visual reminder that nothing is fixed; perception is all about context. Just like people, colours adjust their behaviour according to who they are sitting next to, or talking to.

Consider #thedress and the media facination with how and why its colour apparantly appears different to different people and in different environments.

This is all beginning to feel like a heavy load, there are rules, authorities, the fashion police and queues of ‘other people’ just waiting for us to make a ‘colour faux pas’ so it’s easier just to stick to a nice pink and purple combination because that always works – doesn’t it???

Well maybe it’s time to lighten up a little and see colour as an exciting new plaything. It’s there to be enjoyed, not feared.

So let’s play a game…it’s called Colour Associations and anyone can join in – in  fact the more the merrier. It works better with friends. And wine.

Think of a colour then simply list everything you associate with that colour. It might be food, an emotion, a landscape, a smell, a piece of clothing, a favourite auntie…..that’s it. You could also say wherther you like a particular shade of that colour –.

I’ll get the ball rolling…..(it’s a big red bouncy ball BTW)

RED

Lipstick, blood, apples, tomatoes, anger, passion, bull fighters, nail varnish, Red Army, Red Cross, Red Tent, red shoes, red knickers, FIRE! STOP!

Phodophobia; is a fear of the colour red.

Red Collage

 

ORANGE

Get ready to go; marmalade, ginger hair, life bouys, ginger toms, guantanamo detainees, Tango (drink not the dance) sunsets, fake tan, nicotine stained fingers…..not sure I like the way this one’s going…..

Chrysophobia is a fear of the colour orange.

October is Orange

YELLOW

Sunshine, yellow ribbons, submarines, *smiley face, smiley face, sad face*, custard, egg yokes, baby chicks, scaredy cat…. jaundice…er, lets stop there.

Xanthophobia is a fear of the colour yellow.

yellow collage

GREEN

GO! My favourite colour (as everyone under the age of 10 knows – you MUST have a favourite colour by which you will be judged) chlorophyll, new shoots, eco warriors, naive, green tea, jealousy, sea sick, green cross code, my favourite charity shop cardigan that I literally loved to pieces and couldn’t bear to get rid of, pool tables, the green green grass of home, Greensleeves, the dress they always put the red head in…..

Chlorophobia is a fear of the colour green

green collage

BLUE

Steady now… loyalty, precaution, my horrible school uniform, any uniform, big sky, oceans, blue moon, blue movies, big blue eyes, forget-me-nots, the blues, baby blues, black and blue, flashing lights and sirens, another uniform….ello, ello, ello….what’s gong on here then??

Cyanophobia is a fear of the colour blue

blue collage

PURPLE

The Colour Purple, velvet Jackets from the 1960’s and 70’s, purple hearts, parma violets, purple haze, purple rain, the Biba lipstick I bought in Top Shop in 1979, my childhood bedroom, royalty, Victoriana, mystics, lavender, residential homes for elderly people.

Porphyrophobia is a fear of the colour purple. (I think I may be borderline)

purple collage

PINK

Sherbet, Brighton rock, fluffy mohair jumper (mine in 1982) ballerina’s, pink ribbons, in the pink…..OK. I’m bored with pink.

And I can’t find a word for the fear of pink. Does that mean it’s the least scary colour??

pink collage

You get the picture?

The next part of the game is to get your paints out and paint as many different variations as you can of each colour – that’s possibly a step too far for most of you, but I thoroughly recommend a ‘hands on’ appraoch when it comes to playing with colour.

If you’d like to have a go at mixing colours, and creating beautiful and inspiring colour combinations I’m running a 2 part Master Class in Norwich starting on June 3rd. You can find all the details here.

But if you can’t join us, just gather a few friends round, open a bottle of wine (after arguing about what colour it should be) and share your colour stories.

I’m sure you’ll all enjoy hearing each others personal anecdotes about why they can’t stand bottle green, lemon yellow or candy pink.

Such fun!

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The Journey of Creation

Today I’m delighted to host a guest blog post by The Mercerie’s brilliant lifestyle photographer Boo Marshall;

Ive watched the creation of The Mercerie grow from the seed of an idea to a successful and vibrant creative company. As someone who has been lucky enough to be asked to photograph the major seasonal collections, Ive been there, witnessing the birth of a design idea –  something simple like colour choices wound round card, or some crochet motifs still on the hook, or a half knitted bag. Then later, much later, I see the finished samples, and I gasp – every time –  with delight.

Lifestyle Shoot

 For those of us who love wool, who adore colour and whose fingers have a physical yearning to make, The Merceries designer, Sue, has managed to meet and satisfy our creative needs. The need within us to create is almost as strong as the need to breathe. Who has not whipped open their new package to reveal their choice of wools and colour palatte and not sighed with happiness? Although the process of creation can be fraught with anxiety, or frustration, the satisfaction of completion makes us forgot those moments of frogging or the doubt that appeared in the night over our choice of colour. Rather like the birth of a new baby, the arrival of our completed project is worth every day of angst, sickness or even pain.

 But the final result doesnt just delight because it is complete; rather, it invites you to continue your journey –  because during this one, you may have learnt a new technique, or perfected an old one, or because you want to try it again with different colours. And that I think is the key to successful design –  that it pushes you on, again, into a new part of a continuing journey.

 Last year, engrossed with the art of creating, I set up a new business with a fellow photographer, Jo. Both of us had experienced purposeful creation of aspects of ourselves, our personal and our business lives –  and decided to share our experiences in Create The Moment. We recognised that within a vast majority of women, we shared a feeling that wed lost control of aspects of our lives, even of our characters –  in our ability to make choices and to decide what we wanted and how we wanted to live in our futures.

 After running workshops, we adapted our ideas into an online 6 week course, showing how it is possible to return to your past to choose what you want to stay, and how to use the amazing strength we all have, to choose our future.

Create the Moment

 Having spent weeks writing and editing the course documents, I suddenly saw how the process it invites you to go through, is similar to the process of creating. It has all the initial excitement that is familiar in the new start of any creative project. There are many, many moments in it that will bring you close to tears –  but throughout it, there is always hope – and finally, the end promises not just completion –  but a brand new start. And therein lies the real comparison to creating –  that an end is just another start, to a phase in another journey.

 Readers and newsletter subscribers of The Mercerie have a special code allowing them 20% off the full price of the Create Your Vision online course. Use code Mercerie20 when you book using this link. Next course starts 1st June 2016.

 

Boo Marshall is a photographer and film maker. (Eliza Boo Photography and Dynamic Dog Productions). She is also co founder of Create The Moment with Johanna Garlike, photographer at Summer Love Photography.

 

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EOS, Easter and a New Dawn.

As Easter approaches and the green shoots of spring finally appear I can, at last, welcome the season of renewal and rebirth.

I love the anticipation of this time of year with it’s promise of warmer months and longer days, and I’m fascinated by its spiritual mix of Christianity, paganism and ancient Germanic Goddesses.

Eostre may well be a modern myth whose roots go no further than new age paganism, but she still has a presence in our Easter mythology; one that seamlessly combines rabbits, chocolate eggs, tricksters, fertility festivals, parades, bonnets, the crucifixion, the resurrection and  glorious new dawns.

Whilst Eostre and Ostara may be little more than the goddesses of romantic conjecture, this month I have been reminded of the Titan goddesses Eos; the goddess of dawn and the female spirit that dissolves darkness under a shower of light.

Eos rises from the river each morning in her golden chariot drawn by winged horses, and with her rosy fingers she opens the gates of heaven so that the sun may rise and disperse the mists of night.

Eos enables the light to come streaming through and she accompanies the sun, Helios as he travels across the heavens. The Titan goddess signifies beautiful new beginnings and recently I was reminded that every day begins with a glorious dawn and ends with the promise of resurrection.

EOS Programme

This month I finally committed to the Eos programme, a course of self discovery and personal regeneration, and I think I’m beginning to see some light –  over there on the horizon.

Eos is a 2 part programme for women designed to reframe your thinking, kick your negative thought habits, and move forward towards a brighter, more fulfilled future. It is intense, liberating and empowering and after just one day I felt like I’d finally got a handle on my internal dimmer switch and could begin turning the lights up.

It’s a straightforward programme and beautiful in its simplicity. Much of what is covered seems like common sense, but it’s alarming how blinkered we become, and how deafened by the noise in our heads that we are no longer able to listen to our own intuition, as we attempt to navigate our way through our complex modern  lives.

After just one day feel I have been given permission to take control of my life. No- one had taken it away from me – I’d just let go of the steering wheel.

EOS Programme 2

Jenny Eaton, who presented the session, is an engaging speaker whose knowledge, skills and serious intent are delivered with humour and empathy fusing psychology, philosophy and anecdotal evidence with a recurring theme of……. men’s pants.

Thank you for that visual metaphor Jenny!

We discussed the ways we think, how we measure our successes, personal responsibility and our own self image and as we shared stories and discussed scenarios and considered our values I think each of the 10 women in the room experienced a light bulb moment. Not the startling glare of a 100 watt flash light; more of a slow turn of the switch enabling us to gradually get used to the light that was starting to illuminate our thoughts.

It was a long day, and I felt exhausted, and rather emotional when I got home.

One week later, with time to reflect, I feel different. I feel calmer, lighter, empowered; my thoughts are clearer and I’m very much looking forward to Part Two.

Thank you Eos for opening the gates.

Happy Easter!

You can find full details on the Eos programme, seminars and 1-1 coaching here.

Image 1 (clockwise from left)

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

 

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Crochet Motifs: Pattern and Repetition

Crochet flower motifs

I’ve been rather busy lately, working on some new designs and planning some new crochet workshops. Progress has been slow though, mainly hampered by my inability to stay on task and focus on the patterns I’m trying to develop.

I just can’t help it though! How is it possible to stay on task when you’re presented with a myriad of pattern possibilities?

One of the things I love about making little crochet motifs is that each one is a small, but perfectly formed (*cough*) object of beauty and completion. It’s very satisfying to finish something – however small it might be but if you can make one – you can make one hundred and then you have the potential to create something absolutely amazing!!

A single object can be nice, good, interesting, beautiful even. But multiply it by 10, 100, 1000 and then you have something extraordinary, fabulous and magnificent and I just can’t stop myself playing with these thoughts.

crochet motifs

 

Crochet motifs 2

Crochet motifs 3

As humans we naturally seek out pattern, repetition and order. There is something inherently satisfying in placing things in order, in sequence, in a pattern –  it is this simple, primal urge that prompts designers to play, explore and repeat a motif.

If you study decoration from any historical period, and any culture and you will find yourself in the repetitive realm of tessellations, mirrors, rotations, drops and half drops. And I can lose myself for far too long meditating with the rhythms of pattern repetition

escher

islamic patterns

quilts

I’ve been thinking a great deal about how to explore these ideas in my own work, and how to answer the question I’m often presented with – ‘what can I do with all these crochet motifs; how can I join them together?”

So I’ve been working on trying to resolve this…and rather enjoying the results and the possibilities. (with a little help from photoshop!)

Joining Crochet Motifs

Joining Crochet Motifs 2

Why stop at ‘nice’? There’s power in numbers. Aim big, be ambitious, and make something amazing.

You just have to do the same thing again and again and again……

If you’d like to explore the possibilities of pattern repetition and discover exciting new ways to piece together your crochet motifs why not join us for a masterclass at Norfolk Yarn in Norwich on March 18th?

We’re also running a rather lovely flower class too…..

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Red Threads at the Wool Shop

It’s nearly Valentines day and once again I’ve been busy working on a themed window display for the Norwich Lanes Valentines window competition. Some of you may remember last years display – and this year I was thrilled to be asked to work with the fabulous wool shop Norfolk Yarn in Pottergate.

A stash of wool, some red thread, a spinning wheel, a few nails and a roll of rose print wallpaper all feature in this years display, and I’m very grateful to Rebecca at the shop for humouring my rather loose  interpretation of the Valentines theme!

Wool, string, or thread of some description was always going to be the essence of this work. It describes the shop and defines my self.

As a child of the 1970’s I was threading string around nails in a fashion that was eventually unravelled, rewound and reworked into the most beautiful and evocative artworks of contemporary artists such as Chiharu Shiota and Debbie Smyth.

String art

Image 1 Image 2

There is something very emotive about red thread. It features in many different cultures as a metaphor or signifier for emotional  ties and familial relationships.

The Red String of Fate is a myth with its roots in East Asia and the story goes that the gods tie a red string around the ankles, or the little fingers, of two people that are destined to meet and become soulmates. The magical cord may become stretched, or tangled over time, but it will never break.

The tug of an invisible thread reminds us of our connections to others; our heart strings are strummed, we’re bound by duty; it’s time to cut the apron strings; there’s no strings attached, it’s a long drawn-out affair, who’s pulling your strings? I can’t seem to string this sentence together….. String Art   String Art   String Art Crochet Valentine hearts pattern   I can’t finish this post without the promise of a little Valentines gift……….so if you rather like the look of the little crochet hearts in this display – I’ll give you the pattern in Issue 20 of The Mercerie Post!

You can Register here: The Mercerie Post Issue 20

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