The 5 W’s of a Sewing Retreat: Who, When, Where, What, Why

Upcoming Sewing Retreats and Events 

That’s Sew Monica and Stitched with Style

Project Sew Atlanta: one day workshops can give you a feel for if you like retreats or not. 

An Afro Modern Quilt Weekend with Carole Lyles Shaw 

A Wine Lover’s Quilt Retreat hosted by Lisa Shepard Stewart of Cultured Expressions


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00:14 Lisa: Hello, stitchers. Welcome to Stitch Please, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where black lives matter. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast with more than 20 years of selling experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation, so sit back, relax, and get ready to get your stitch together.

00:53 Lisa: Hello stitchers. Welcome to the Stitch Please Podcast, the official Podcast of Black Women Stitch, and I am coming to you live. Well, not live. I am coming to you pre-recorded for an episode that will be played during Beach Week. This is Black Women Stitch Beach Week this year. It’s taking place right now. We're very excited to be there, it's a wonderful restorative time. And I thought this could be a great opportunity since I am currently getting ready for Beach Week to talk about sewing retreats and some of the ins and outs. Who, what, when, where, why how? Maybe just the W’s, because I would like to continue my preparation for Beach Week so that when I'm there I can actually be there and get the work done. So I wanted to talk a bit about sewing retreats and to go over some information about why I really like them and why I decided in some ways to do my own, though, that's a different, deeper type of conversation. This is all, this is pretty much surface, but hopefully, can give you some ideas, if you wanted to plan an event, a retreat in your area. And I highly encourage you to do so. If you have questions about this, about this topic or you wanna follow up with me, feel free to shoot me a DM, I'm happy to get on a call, a polo, a live, you know some kind of communication medium if you're interested in some advice, but...

02:21 Lisa: So today's episode is the who, what, when, where, and why of a sewing retreat. So let's start with the who. Who do you want to invite to your retreat? How do you want your retreat to operate? And so, traditionally, retreats were offered through guilds, like sewing guilds, quilt guilds, maker guilds, because it's provided an opportunity for people to get together beyond the regular work week and to have time to concentrate exclusively on the sewing. Normally, because many of us have to squeeze in sewing as part of our regular lives, those of us who don't create full-time as a job, don't often get to sew during the 9 to 5 traditional workday. Even folks who are sewing professionally might work on client projects from 9 to 5 or from 9 to 9, but find times only rarely to squeeze in for their own projects. And so that's something that a retreat gives you the opportunity to do. And so you can have a retreat with a guild, you can have it with a group of friends, you could have it with a club, it can be a meet-up, but also then a retreat for me, involves I guess that'll take us to the what in a second, but it involves being organized around a particular singular idea in a time and space that allows you to focus on it, and so the who for that needs to be the people who are gonna be doing that.

03:58 Lisa: I remember once I was, when my kids were much younger, I was involved in a mom's group, which after my second kid, I kinda got out of every mom's group I could imagine because I just found them really stressful. I'm not sure if those who have young kids or those who remember having young kids in this digital age, people organize, of course, around things that they care about, just like Black Women Stitches organized around centering Black women, girls, and femmes in sewing. There are lots of niche communities out there, but I think the mothering, the mother blogs, the mother groups, diaper groups, all of these different things were one of the first ways for people who might be isolated all across the country to come together. Well, of course, we did that and people did that locally, they did that in my community here in Charlottesville, and what I always found is that it was like a lot of stress. Like maybe it's just the cumulative effect of reading about everybody's problems, but I was just like, Oh my gosh, these people are stressing me out, and so I had to step away. But there was one group about moms who sewed, and I was in that for a while, and they wanted to have a retreat, which I thought was a great idea because I've always enjoyed retreats. But their retreat they were gonna bring their children and that kids would be welcome at this retreat, and I was like, that by definition is not a retreat for me. If I'm bringing my children to a sewing retreat, I am not gonna get any sewing done. I could do the exact same thing at home with my kids and go and then I'd be yelling at somebody else's kids instead of my own. so I do remember that very...

05:40 Lisa: fondly, in the sense of going, Oh, hell no. That is not something I'm gonna do. And so when you think about the who, for me, when retreats that I've done and been to they are for quilters, they are for sewists, they are for apparel sewists. And so people can do their own thing, but ideally, you just want folks there who are doing the sewing and doing the making, and not just extra people, and that's something that I really appreciate. So the who is focusing on the sewing, which is great, and I actually just saw a retreat when I was looking up some information about this for men who quilt. I don't know how current this is, but I thought that was a great idea. I could totally understand why men who sew would wanna get together with other men who sew and enjoy each other's company and get each other’s feedback and not have to deal with the comments that they might hear when they are in the larger sewing community of women. And I feel the same way about Black Women Stitch, of having a retreat space and venues and events for Black women, in the same way, that groups find solidarity and likeness among each other. And it's not about rejecting anybody as much as it is about centering and celebrating and being able to breathe and operate in ways that don't require code-switching and things like that. So that is the who. So a guild, a group of friends, a club, you could also organize around a particular project. So if everyone's gonna come together to work on, let's say the raffle quilt, that'll be the project for the weekend, and everybody works on a block, everybody works on cutting,

07:30 Lisa: everybody works on trimming or whatever. And at the end of the weekend, you have a thing, and that's pretty cool. So that's gonna take us to the what. What do you do at a sewing retreat? I remember this, I ask this question because my sister, one of my sisters was like, that sounds like the most boring thing I have ever heard. But you love it, so if you like it, I love it. She's a real live and let live type of person. And so she was like, I wouldn't wanna go. It wouldn't be my thing. But you love it. So, I've always described it as a slumber party for women. A grown up women slumber party with chocolate and sewing and kekeing, and just really great social time. But there are also ways to organize that you have to decide what you wanna do. Do you want the retreat to be an open sew retreat? Do you want it to be an open studio, everyone brings their own projects and does their own thing? Do you wanna invite a teacher to come in and give instruction where everyone follows instructions for this project? Do you wanna do classes where I've been on retreats where it's a weekend-long or four days long, and then there are like six classes offered throughout the weekend or throughout the long weekend? Do you wanna do something like a sampler block, so everyone takes their own projects but they contribute fabric to another project that everyone sews up the same kind of thing.

08:55 Lisa: I've seen those kinds of events where everyone makes a caftan, for example, and they all model the caftan. Or everyone makes this particular quilt block, or everyone gets this one piece of fabric and you have to incorporate it in whatever you're making for the weekend, and that's just kind of like a fun way to organize. I think a retreat because it just kind of everyone's doing their own thing, but then everyone also has one kind of thread that holds people together. But the what, I think the focus is, what I believe that I find so motivating about retreats is that once you get a group of sewists together in the same space, you essentially pool some immense creative resources, and that's why I think group sewing is so fun. You get the brainpower of all these people who have different forms of knowledge, different approaches, things that you might find difficult or impossible, somebody's already figured it out, and so they can show you. So that kind of... each one, teach one is really great and really memorable. It's really like a think tank for sewists. That's how I think about retreats because I might get stuck on something, I'm like, I don't understand why this isn't working. It's like, okay, check your measurements and check this and did you undo that and then where if I was home, I'd probably throw the whole thing in the trash, but because somebody is there who has this knowledge that I didn't have, and they gave me a chance to practice a real solution.

10:31 Lisa: not only did I save that garment, I walked away with that knowledge that I didn't have before. And so the idea of the sewing retreat, creating a de facto type of collective sewing studio or even a lab, it's pretty cool, and you get to learn about some new toys. I have had so much fun going to retreats and seeing what everybody else has, and leaving there with a list of new things I wanna try, or things that I'm adding to my Amazon wish list. I learned about the felt tip frixion colors, which is... I talked about in the episode a few weeks ago about the frixion pens. I learned about those at a retreat, and so now I own about 50 of them, I absolutely love them. I learned about using... and these are the things that I thought that I should have known by now, right, but I learned about using a curve to grade between sizes. Which of course you would think... why don't I know that already? But someone helped me just last year, I learned about your breast point, and if you're a woman who has breasts and you wanna wear a jumpsuit, for example, or a dress, you need to measure from your shoulder down to your bust point. And make sure that  matches up with the bust point of the sewing pattern, because if they're off, the garment isn't gonna look right, and it's not that difficult of a change or an adjustment to make to measure your bust point at the fullest point from your shoulder down to the front of your chest, but it's just one extra step that I had not thought about, and I don't know...

12:15 Lisa: and just really makes your shirts and dresses and all your garments look really nice. And also... I know that most people call it your bustpoint, I just started calling it titty drop, which I thought was very funny, and I still think it. But it's like, Oh, I gotta go put on a bra so I can measure my titty drop. And I think that everybody should call it that from now on. You're welcome. So that's another thing, and also people bring... Like I said, they bring their notions, I bring books, I brought several books, we actually a pretty extensive library at the fall 2019 retreat that had books from Sandra Betzina. It had almost all the books that we referred to in the holiday gift guide episode from 2019. The holiday gift guide episode. I think I still have the link tree in my profile, and you can look at the long list of products that I have there, and those are things that I actually use, and some of them are things that I learned about at retreats. So that's one example of why... That's one example of the what... Of the sewing retreat, that gives you an idea of...

13:25 Lisa: just so many resources that we have. And some of the things too that I think that many of us, and I guess I can't... I should not say many of us, I should say Lisa Woolfork tends to over-pack, so even if you are having a retreat at a place that doesn't have a sewing store nearby, the chances are very good that whatever you need, somebody else has. It's bizarre. Does anybody have a drawstring threader with the double eye in red? Yes, I do, I do have my double-eye drawstring threader because somebody had to bring it with them for a project. So when we come back, we will talk more about the why, where when of sewing retreats. We've already covered the why, and we've covered the who, we've covered the what, and next, at the other half of the break, we'll talk about the where, when and why. I was so, I retreat. So stay tuned.

14:47 Lisa: Here at Stitch Please, the official Podcast of Black Women Stitch, we talk a lot about sewing, but if you want to see and not just hear about some of the things we've been discussing, feel free to join us on the socials, you can find us at Stitch Please, on Facebook, and

15:06 Lisa: you can also find us on Instagram at Black Women Stitch. You can find photos of projects that we've been working on, really interesting social commentary, and on Thursdays at 3 PM Eastern Standard Time, you can join Black Women Stitch for a live Instagram chat. Again, that's every Thursday at 3 PM. So, find us on the socials, follow up with us, we are happy to hear your direct messages, you can reach out to us at the Black Women Stitch page on Instagram. It will help you get your stitch together. Welcome back to this Stitch Please podcast, where we're talking about the who, what, when, where, and why of sewing retreats. Right now, as you are listening to this, I am hopefully luxuriating in a fantastic sewing community that we come together to create twice a year and to just be together and have a great, great sewing time. In the previous part of the break, I talked about the what of a sewing retreat and the who of the sewing retreat, and now gonna transition to talk about the where, when, and the why. So where do you wanna hold your event? You should talk about... or think about what kind of location would be best, there's lots of different ways to have a successful event, and venue is, of course, important, but it's not the most...

16:41 Lisa: I would say absolutely crucial thing. I think the thing that absolutely matters most is the who and the what, and the where is important. I think that beautiful scenery, I’ve been to retreats that are by the ocean. I've been to the retreats in cities, I've been to retreats that are in actual retreat centers at hotels. I've been to retreats that are much more kind of cabin-like and rustic, and all of these are possible venues for retreats. One of the things you wanna think about logistically is just basic simple things like the number of outlets,  how old or new a building might be, and is it up to code for a lot of appliances. Or when you get there, you can always decide we're gonna limit the number of irons because those pull too much power. I know that happened in a retreat that I used to attend, and the power would go out for half the room or something. So these are the things that you don't really think about off the top of your head, but I think that they are kind of important too, because of course, if you're sewing with a machine, it needs electricity. But for the most part, if you're having it at a modern event center, if you're having it a hotel conference room, if you're having it at a house, if your having it at an Air BNB, if you're having it at all these different places that they'll be options and opportunities to make that...

18:07 Lisa: To make that work. One could also be a case of traveling... I know, for example, Alethia Hudson's group, I'm trying to think of the name. So much talent, she's doing, I believe, her second annual retreat, and she did one, which I believe was in Atlanta or outside of Atlanta. I talked to her about this on the podcast and on her own page, and so she had that retreat down in Atlanta and it was cool, it had like field trips and stuff, and now her second retreat is coming up, and that's gonna be in New York City. And it's gonna be like a shopping trip, and there's theater, and they're going to visit places and museums, and it sounds like it's gonna be a really good time. So that's another way to think about the venue, about having like, I guess what one could call a movable feast on that one year you have in one place and one year, you have in another place. So when you're thinking about the where, just think about making sure that the location is compatible with whatever your goals are, and so that's gonna go back to your...

19:15 Lisa: what. What are you going to do if you wanna have a place for 40 people to sit and sew then you're gonna have to have something that's gonna be really big. Do you want to provide meals, do you want people to get their own, or are you gonna have teachers, how much is gonna cost? Like all of these things are things that you'll want to think about. I think the when is important to think about as well, and this I believe is certainly a challenge. And by when, I mean where in the weekday calendar do you have it and where in the season of the year do you have it? So for example, for people who are working, a retreat that's on the weekend starting on Friday and ending on Sunday, or maybe even ending on Monday, people can get a couple of extra days off is really ideal that people don't have to sign off from work, they don't have to miss much work in order to attend the retreat. For people who have more flexible schedules, I remember when I was doing a lot of retreating with a guild that had a lot of retired people, they would do a retreat from Monday to Friday, and then they would go home for the weekend. And I was like, well, I can't...

20:23 Lisa: that's really hard for me, and that makes for a different kind of experience. So you wanna think about also do you wanna do it in the summer? If you're doing it in the summer, and you have people who are teachers, for example, they're not teaching in the summer, so that gives them more flexibility about being able to attend. And at the same time, everybody's pretty busy in the summer, or if they have plans for the summer holidays or Labor Day, or all of these things, and some folks do plan retreats around these kinds of holidays because people tend to have those times off. But also they have those times off in conjunction with other family or friendship or other travel obligations for example. So, I think that's just something to think about. Do you wanna do it? Sometimes if you have a place that's like a really popular place, like a ski resort, for example, ski resorts tend to be down off-season, like in the summertime, and so it's possible to get good spaces at those kinds of places for reasonable prices because they're not being used in the same way. If you wanted to have your sewing retreat at a ski resort in November, which could also be really fun, like a ski resort, ski weekend, and a sewing weekend.

21:42 Lisa: That sounds fun to me, and I’m saying it sounds fun, but I've only skied once or twice in my entire life. And I liked it, fine, I didn't love it, but I imagine there’s people out there listening who really like to ski and really like to sew, and like to do those things together. So you can build that and let me know how it turns out. You don't have to invite me, I won't be offended if you don't invite me. But maybe I will be offended if you don't invite me, but I probably will not come, So that's the when of it is to think seasonally, thinking around and through holidays, and then thinking about the days of the week and about what is accessible. One of the things that I did notice and that I always found frustrating is that one of the guilds that I was with would have their retreats, like I said, Monday through Friday, or Friday through Friday, or Sunday through Sunday, or something like that. The week-long ones I love, I do love that because people can plan for that like a year ahead of time, but I think a Monday to Friday retreat is very difficult for many people, and it sends a message that this retreat is really only for people who don't have jobs or who have jobs that are really flexible enough that they can get time off way in advance, but I think including a weekend is always a good option if you can manage it.

22:59 Lisa: And so that's what our fall retreat does. Beach week is a week, but the fall retreat is a long weekend, it goes from Friday until Tuesday, and we have the dates for that if you're interested. I guess that can go back to the when, is that we have one coming up for the fall, and that's gonna be October 9th through October 13th. So if you have your calendar nearby that the Black Women Stitch fall retreat is from October 9th through October 13th. And so if you're interested, you can send me a message and I will put you on the list to complete an interest form, and once the screening through the interest form has happened, you will be invited to register. So that's just something about the when, and we have an actual date, which I'm very excited about for 2020 fall retreat, and right now, Beach Week is happening, and my hope is to do an IG live from Beach Week tomorrow. A pretty short one, just to say, hey and to check-in. The last thing I'd like to talk about today is the why. We talked earlier about the who, we talked about the what, and just as a reminder about the who is of course, you can do this with guilds, you can do this with a group of friends, you can do this with a club, you can do this around a particular project, everyone gets together and we're gonna make these blocks. So we'll come together to do that, those people who do that will come to one spac. The what is imagining what your goals are? Decide on your goals.

24:35 Lisa: What are included, are you going to do a workshop, is it gonna be classes, is it gonna be open studio. What is the what of what you're actually gonna be doing? And then thinking about the where we talked about venues. Are you gonna do it at a hotel, are you gonna do it at Airbnb, are you gonna do it at a vacation rental, are you going to do it at a community center? Are you gonna do it at a place where lodging is attached in the same space, or people have to travel from lodging to the sewing venue? So thinking about that in terms of the where, we talked also about the when and what days of the week versus what days of the weekend, and what part of the actual calendar. From my retreats, they tend to correspond with my personal academic calendar, because as a professor, there are times in the year when I have time off, and I like to use those times off for this, especially now that my kids are so much older, but I have done that even when they were little. One of the great things about my wonderful husband is that I wanted to go to is that he's just really a good person, and I remember one of the kids, my youngest was, I don't know, he was maybe six months old, three months old.

25:58 Lisa: Oh, he might have been three months old, and he was completely breastfed, completely breastfed this baby, he was completely breastfed at three months old, and I really wanted to go to this sewing retreat, this quilt retreat. And it was an hour away, an hour and 10 minutes away. And so I told my husband, I said, you know what, I really wanna go to this retreat, but I don't think I can do it. I don't think I can go. Because you know the baby... And I'm gonna be so far away. And his first words to me weren’t, “are you crazy?” His first words to me were, “how much milk can you pump?” And I was like, I don't know how much you think you need. He's like, you know, I think 20 bags could be good if you can make 20 bags of milk, you should go. I'm telling you, y'all, I was pumping milk. You would have thought I was opening my own dairy operation. I mean, we could have made breast milk cheese, breast milk  milkshakes, breast milk ice cream, breast milk is yogurt. I had so much doggone milk, but I was able to go to the retreat, the baby was fine.

27:03 Lisa: While I was at the retreat, I would pump milk and put it into the freezer bag to have it for later, because if you all have done that, it's like the doggone breast milk is pretty precious. But yeah, so he was able tomManage the baby as well as the four-year-old on his alone with no problems. And he's the kind of guy that's like, he really hates it when people, when dads describe themselves as babysitting their own children, he hates that. He's like, you are not baby-sitting. You are their father. That is your job. So he's awesome. And so again, what was that point? Was it about th when?. Yeah, it was the when. That was a kind of a rambling story that I hope you find interesting, but now I'm gonna shift to talking about the why. Why would someone do a sewing retreat? Why would someone plan a sewing retreat, which again, I'm happy to talk more about later or answer individual questions. And also why would someone attend a sewing retreat? I attend sewing retreats because I absolutely love sewing in community. I love group sewing, and one of the reasons why I created my own was because that group sewing environment, based on the people that I was with became increasingly harmful and not tolerable.

28:33 Lisa: It became a place where I felt exposed and just tolerated, and I decided after a series of  unfortunate events or also known as racism, that I was not going to put myself in a position where I had to in exchange for doing something that I loved, I had to also put up with racist harm that I also found in other parts of my life. And so I just wanted to make sure that I didn't replicate those conditions and that when I'm planning retreats that I’m very deliberate about every aspect. Again, not that I'm trying to control everything, of course, but I wanna set up an environment, a community of trust and mutual care, where things are transparent and open and obvious and deliberate. So the why of that for me is because I think there is just, I just absolutely love sewing. I love sewingg, I love doing it. Even when I'm exhausted, even when it means that I have to be up until 4 o'clock in the morning and have to get up again at 9 o'clock, I'm happy to do it. And sewing retreats, one of the great reasons I love having a retreat that's all in one, in the sense where the sewing space is next to the sleeping space, is that I can...

30:07 Lisa: sew in my pajamas all day and then I could go to sleep for a few hours and come back, and sew in my pajamas some more. So that is one of the wonderful things about a retreat is to just to really sink into the sewing, to learn, to share, to laugh, to grow. This is something that I really appreciate about sewing retreats. Yeah, you have to ask yourself if this is the kind of thing that you are interested in. Not everybody is. I've gone to retreats where people are complaining that things are too loud. I'm like, if you wanted to sew in your own sewing room by yourself, you could have saved the money and stayed home. Or people who don't want... I'm trying to think about how to say this. I'm trying to think about the experiences that I've had over the two decades that I've been doing retreats as an attendant, as a participant. They just aren't interested in any kind of communal activity, or It's clear that they're just very uncomfortable. I'm not sure why necessarily. And so you have to come with the spirit of adventure and flexibility, because if you come in that spirit, then you really are gonna have a really good time.

31:34 Lisa: Because blessed are the flexible. So I think that I love Beach Week. I love the Stitch Please retreat that happens in the fall, and it's because it's an opportunity to come together and it's an actual literal and figurative example. You've been listening to the Stitch Please podcast, the official Podcast of Black Women Stitch. And today's episode is in celebration of Beach Week, that's happening right now for Black Women Stitch. It's a restorative wonderful time. It’s one of my favorite times of the year, and I just wanted to share a little bit of motivation behind that event or related event you might plan on your own. If you have additional questions about this, go ahead and drop me an email at, or on the DMs on Instagram. So again my goal tomorrow is to have an IG live at 3 o'clock, just a short one, an IG live at 3 o'clock talking a bit about Beach Week and answering any questions people might have. And again, it's probably gonna be a short one because I really wanna focus on the restoration and the community aspect of the retreat and not feel like

32:45 Lisa: you know how when you go on a trip, you spend so much time like taking pictures of everything or recording everything that you don't really lean into and then sink into and enjoy the moment. And that's something that I really cherish about Beach Week, so I will have my live. My plan is to have my live at 3 o'clock on Thursday, which is Tomorrow, 3 o'clock Eastern Standard Time, but it will probably be a short one because I just want to, it will be the day before the last day, and I just wanna probably just sink into getting stuff done and resting, recuperating, and gearing up for the rest of 2020. And if you are interested in other retreats, again, Black Women Stitch will be having a fall retreat in 2020. You are welcome to contact me about that. I believe I mentioned the dates as being the 9th through the 13th of October, as well as we have plans from Beach Week 2021, which is also gonna be, I believe the 6th through the 13th of March 2021. And a few people on my live asked about where they could find information about sewing retreats, and I just wanted to share with you that Lisa Stewart of Cultured Expressions in Rahway, New Jersey has two events coming up. One is the Afro Modern Quilt weekend with Carol Lyles Shaw, That's gonna be on May 29th through the 31st, and it's a workshop weekend, and Carol is amazing. Well, Lisa is amazing as well.

34:17 Lisa: And so that's gonna be May 29th through the 31st, and then Lisa has a retreat that is in Denver, Colorado, what's called The Wine Lover's Quilt Retreat and Sojourn in Colorado. The dates for that are August 5th through the 9th of 2020, so you have these two opportunities if you are looking for a retreat. Here are two opportunities, and I will include links to Lisa's page, the Cultured Expressions page in the show notes. Thanks for

34:48 Lisa: Listening. Thank you for joining us for this week's episode of the Stitch Please Podcast, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group, where Black lives matter. There are a variety of ways that you can support the program, and you're doing it right now by listening to the podcast. It does help us grow. Another way to do that is to rate the podcast, review it, subscribe to it. All of these things are ways that you can support the podcast without having to spend any money at all. If you would like to spend some money to support us, there are ways to do that as well. You can make direct donations to our Patreon site for monthly contributions, as well as one-time contributions to PayPal, Cash App or Venmo. And finally, we have another cute, very adorable way for you to support the Black Women Stitch project. It's a pin, an enamel lapel pin. That's very cute. It's about two inches wide and one and a half inch tall, and it's of the Black Women Stitch logo. And that is 15 dollars with free shipping to the US. And so if you drop 15 dollars in the PayPal, Venmo or Cash app accounts, and then send me your mailing address to my email, either at, or you send me a direct message on the Black Women Stitch Instagram page, we will put the pin in the mail to you. Again, free shipping, 15 dollars for the pen, and all of this goes to support the Black Women Stitch project.

36:40 Lisa: Thank you again for joining us this week. Come back next week and we will help you get your stitch together.

Hosted by Lisa Woolfork

Lisa is a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast who learned to sew while earning a PhD in African American literature and culture. She has been sewing for more than twenty years while also teaching, researching, and publishing in Black American literature and culture.

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