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Posts Tagged ‘embroidered binding’

  1. Catching Up With Hannah Brown // No. 5

    April 30, 2017 by Erin Fletcher

    For the final installment, I asked Hannah Brown about her binding of Love is Enough by William Morris. Just like The Tempest, shown in the previous post, Hannah used fair calf and an array of colored leather onlays. The design includes four beautifully embroidered birds and five beetles. At the points of intersection on the trellis, Hannah has attached twenty-eight gold plated brass pieces. Smaller details in the design have been blind and gold tooled.

    The cover design is complimented with a patterned endpaper. The book lives in a teak box with a frosted prespex lid, which allows you to view the book.

    I had the chance to see this binding in person, while visiting last year’s Antiquarian Book Fair in NYC. First I want to say that it is absolutely gorgeous and I may have stared at it for an awkward length of time. The embroidery on the birds, is some of the most detailed embroidery I’ve seen on your work. As your work evolves the embroidery is becoming more painterly and reads more traditional in style. For the final question of the month, I’d love for you to talk about how your think you’re previous work has informed the way you build a design today, particularly how you’ve grown from simple machine embroidery to complex and layered hand embroidery.
    Thank you for your comments! It was an absolutely wonderful text block to be commissioned to bind. I am starting to see my embroidery work more like “painting” with thread. Through various social media channels I am now aware of more embroidery artists who are inspiring me to develop my embroidery skills further. I love the way that colour can by built up so subtly with the threads whilst adding a pleasing texture to the surface of the leather on a binding.

    One thing that I am very careful with though is durability, books are made to be used so I have to be very mindful of this when placing my stitches. The difference between utilising embroidery techniques on bindings in comparison to general embroidery on things like wall art is that is has to be designed to be handled. I make sure I tether down my stitches as well as possible to avoid the design catching or being abraded prematurely over time and take extra care when placing stitches over the board joints.

    During my time working at the V&A Museum I had the pleasure of looking at a variety of embroidered bindings from the National Art Library’s collection (the library housed within the museum). It was wonderful to see how the stitching had held out over time, on some better than others due to the amount of handling!

    Machine embroidery has its purposes and is good for producing lines quickly but to me now looks too rigid due to the way it punches the holes in the leather and the regularity of the stitches created. I love the layers than can be built up using hand embroidery as it has far more depth and accuracy to it and following years of practice my fingers are now toughened to it. I have a feeling that binding by binding my work will continue to evolve in this way, especially as my collection of threads grows and grows in size! I have started to teach some classes in embroidery techniques for fine bindings and hope to grow on this and therefore spread my knowledge further in this field.


  2. Catching Up With Hannah Brown // No. 4

    April 23, 2017 by Erin Fletcher

    Last year, Hannah Brown created this impeccable binding of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Bound in full leather, Hannah first dyed the fair calf in a mottled effect, which provides the perfect stormy backdrop. The rest of the design is comprised of a variety of colored onlays, silk embroidery and blind, carbon and gold tooling.

    The endpapers have a similar mottled effect as the leather cover. Yet Hannah achieved this decoration by placing the paper over  textured surface before rolling on gold letterpress ink. The book is housed in an oak box and frosted acrylic lid.
    This might be one of the most ambitious designs you’ve created thus far. First, I’d love to know how you kept track of all those little onlays as you were working.
    I worked word by word and made sure there was no draft to blow the pieces away once they had been cut out! The key to ease of cutting was to regularly change my scalpel blade. As the words got smaller and smaller they became too tricky to pierce from leather so I embroidered them instead which gave me more control.

    Many of your bindings are done in goatskin, but The Tempest is bound in a hand-dyed calfskin. Did you find the calf to be more susceptible to scuffs during the embroidery process?
    Yes, this was my first time working with calf. I bought this skin as fair calf and it was dyed in a stippled pattern which I thought might help mask any possible scuffs that would occur during the embroidery process. I always make sample boards ahead of working on a binding so I was able to test whether this was going to be an issue ahead of working on the actual covering leather. Fortunately I had no issues with scuffing of the leather and since then have gone on to bind another binding in fair calf with even less margin for error!

    I will definitely use more calf in the future as I felt the smooth nature of the surface lent itself well to being embroidered. It was tough to back-pare and work ahead of applying the embroidery but I was very pleased with the end result.


  3. Catching Up With Hannah Brown // No. 3

    April 16, 2017 by Erin Fletcher

    Hannah Brown covered this binding of David Mitchell‘s Cloud Atlas in dark blue goatskin. An embroidered outline of a world map expands across the entire binding. To create contrast between land formations and water, Hannah blinded in a short line tool in a dense sporadic pattern.

    The longitude and latitude lines are gold-tooled and cross at six points across the map. These points are marked with brass tubing, which are inset into the boards, giving the viewer a peek of the endpapers. As you open the cover, the same longitude and latitude lines appear in gold. The background is decorated with watercolor altered by salt crystals, then painted with acrylic. The book is housed in a Rosewood box with a frosted acrylic lid patterned in the same fashion as the book.

    Lately, I’ve been thinking about the many ways a book can be exhibited. If displayed fully open, the viewer has an opportunity to collect more information on the binder’s concept. However, when parts of the book are hidden from view, how does that change the viewer’s perception of the binder’s work? When I look through your portfolio it is common to see a detailed cover paired with a custom interior that plays off your design. While working on the design are you conscious of how the different planes of the binding work as individual sides and as a whole?
    Absolutely, I love the fact that there are so many dimensions to a book, with new aspects of the design revealing themselves as you open it up – it gives a lot of scope for illustrating the content. There are so many skills required to make a successful binding, it is a three dimensional object and therefore needs to be planned and executed as such. However with that I feel you need to be a master of so many trades, especially using the variety of materials that I do on one binding paired with it’s box; a designer, a printmaker, a draughtsman, a carpenter, a juggler…the list goes on!

    I always try and make my endpapers marry in some way with the book design, whether they are just a similar colour palette or perhaps directly inspired by an illustration within the cover design, I feel it is important there is some connection between them. On a number of my previous bindings I have incorporated holes cut through the boards in the cover design so part of the endpapers can be seen. This is the case with Cloud Atlas to some degree with different diameter brass rods inset into the boards through which you can see the painted cloud endpapers. Another example of this on a larger scale was on a binding I did of, William Blake’s Watercolour Designs for the Poems of Thomas Gray where a cat was illustrated on the endpapers and also, Randall Davies and His Books of Nonsense with hexagonal viewing holes.

    In terms of the actual displaying of bindings, without mirrors or walk around cabinets it is very difficult to show all aspects of the book as a whole. When I worked as mount-maker at the V&A Museum I used to make a lot of book cradles for displaying open bindings in exhibitions. I always found it incredible that the cradles had to be made not just specific to the book, but to the actual page of the book that was to be open. They were rarely able to be reused again due to the fact that the profile of the book would change if opened on a different page.

    For Cloud Atlas in particular, how does the interior design speak to the cover?
    The design of this binding I found to be very challenging as there are so many stories and themes running through the book. The novel consists of six interconnected stories, however the main characters do not directly interact with one another but their lives are infinitely connected and affected by the actions of the others. The first five stories are broken into two parts – each being interrupted or halted at a pivotal moment. After the sixth story, which is completed in one central section, the other five stories are closed, in reverse chronological order, and each ends with the main character reading or observing the chronologically previous work in the chain. The main characters are also linked in spirit through the reoccurring image of a comet-shaped birthmark which are also depicted at crossing points on the cover.

    The cover design is based on a map of the world, the points marked by the crossing of the longitude and latitude lines are placed where each of the six stories within the book are set. Each longitude line on the cover design has an additional design element running along it to tie in with the theme of the stories as follows (from top to bottom); a train track (the character travels by train between London and Hull), stylised musical notes (the character is a composer who writes “Cloud Atlas Sextet”), typewriter letters (the character is a 1970’s journalist), troughs and peaks (the character travels across seas and over mountains), quote marks in a futuristic font (the story is based in the far future) and finally the embroidered words of the very last quote of the entire book to tie it all together, “Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”.

    As well as being able to “spy” the clouds on the endpapers through the brass rods inset into the cover, I chose to also run the longitude and latitude lines through onto the endpapers and doublures and also show quotes from each of the stories on them. The atlas of clouds in the sky ties all the stories together therefore was a key part of my design choice.


  4. My Hand // Into This World

    October 18, 2016 by Erin Fletcher

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    I recently completed a French-style fine binding around Natalie Goldberg’s Into This World. The letterpress printed text is paired with woodblock prints both carved and printed by Clare Dunne and hand-tinted by Sialia Rieke. The texture of the prints were my inspiration for the design for the binding. By combining the natural texture of the buffalo skin with embroidery and leather onlays, I hoped to capture the pops and cracks between the layers of color.

    With this plan in mind, I used a single print as my inspiration to lay out the design. For the embroidered elements of the design, I chose to play with the technique in two new ways: an embroidered title and embroidered paper doublures.

    The script used for the title mimics the author’s own handwriting taken from her signature on the title page. The title was drawn onto tracing paper and taped in place, overlapping the white buffalo back-pared onlay. I tend to pre-punch the holes for embroidery, especially when I am trying to achieve something exact. For the pre-punching, I put a thin embroidery needle in my pin vise and placed the leather onto a piece foam. Then I used the tracing paper to guide my pin vise.

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    The embroidery for the title happened in two steps: back-stitch to spell-out the letters with french knots for the i’s dots and then I wrapped the stitches to create a raised, more defined line.

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    After the title was completed, several seed stitches were scattered around the binding with the majority of them appearing on the back cover. I used the same technique to pre-punch the holes for the seed stitches, this time using the full-scale template. The title and seed stitches were sewn with 2-ply cotton thread in an ochre yellow.

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    The second embroidered element in the binding are the edge-to-edge paper doublures. The prep for paper doublures is very similar to the set-up for leather doublures; for paper I allowed a wider turn-in as I trimmed out, this would ensure a smoother surface under the paper. Below you can see the turn-ins post covering and with the leather hinge in place.

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    After scoring a frame around the board and spine edge, I began to trim off the excess leather at a slight bevel. In order to create a successful doublure, several layers are added to the board (one at a time) and sanded to make the board as smooth as possible. The first layer (shown on the right in the image below) was a piece of 10pt. card, first sanded along all four edges and attached with a PVA/methylcellulose mix. After allowing that layer to dry under weight for an entire day, I sanded the edges smooth (which is the state visible in the image below).

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    In between these stages, I began working on the embroidered paper doublures. Referencing the same print used to inspired the covers, I traced an outline of the figure from the image. I felt that her pose embodied the sentiments of the text perfectly. Using the tracing paper once again as my guide for punching the holes, I placed the paper onto a piece of foam and poked through the tracing paper into the doublure paper.
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    Once the paper pieces were fully embroidered, I carefully sanded the backside of the paper to create a smoother feel along the edges once glued down to the board. Below you can see the board in it’s final stage. After sanding down the 10pt. card, I attached a medium weight smooth paper. This piece was slightly oversized on three edges and sanded down on the spine side. After allowing it to dry under weight, I sanded it down smooth. The embroidered paper doublures were attached with MIX and put under weight for a day in order to dry thoroughly and to prevent the board from cupping inward.

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    And here are the final results. I am so pleased with the outcome of the embroidered paper doublures, it will most certainly be a technique I use again on a future binding. To see more images of the binding and it’s embroidered quarter leather clamshell box, click here.

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  5. My Hand // The Nightingale and the Rose

    February 16, 2016 by Erin Fletcher

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    This binding was featured very briefly on the blog last year in my review of the North Bennet Street School’s 2015 Student and Alumni Show. After the show, I sent it off to England for the Society of Bookbinder’s International Competition. Just last week, I was finally reunited with this macabre little binding. Its presence on my bench reminded me that this binding needed a proper post documenting the steps involved in its creation.

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    This edition of Oscar Wilde’s The Nightingale and the Rose was printed by Rebecca Press in 1985 and includes wood engravings by Alan James Robinson of Cheloniidae Press. My design for both the nightingale and the rose are drawn straight from Robinson’s engravings. The text block was sewn on two flattened cords and rounded and backed in a job backer. Which was a bit excessive for such a tiny binding, but offered me a bit a humor. In lieu of a backing hammer, I used the flat, rounded side of my bone folder to achieve the rounded shape of the spine.

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    Once the forwarding on the book was complete, I could focus on the design. I photocopied the image of the nightingale and rose from the text; enlarging them to the desired size. These photocopies became my guide for drawing out each shape of the bird and flower. Beginning with the bird, the first onlays attached to the base leather were a silhouette of the body, the beak and feet. In order to get some depth and texture to the bird’s feet, before cutting out the two shapes I laid feathered onlays of maroon goatskin over thinned out terracotta goatskin.

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    Although I would normally use PVA to place my onlays onto the leather, I chose to use paste because I was worried about staining the tiny pieces of leather when applying the PVA. After the the onlays went down, I pressed the skin between acrylic boards. Then I back-pared the leather. In the image below you can see the shape of the onlays on the reverse side of the leather (the change in color appears because more flesh is being pared from the areas with onlays, this creates a smooth transition from onlay to base leather on the surface.)

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    After paring the leather, I was free to begin with the embroidery. When I embarked on this task, I had very loose plans and approached it in a very free form way. I would build up the image with embroidery and then switch to adding feathered onlays, then more embroidery until I felt satisfied with the look of the bird. You can see this progression below (please forgive the poor photography and variation in color).

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    With the design of the bird fully assembled and embroidered, I prepped for covering. After pasting out the leather, I laid down any stray tails from the embroidery beside a stitch to hide its appearance from the front. Then I progressed with the covering, formed the endcaps, wrapped the turn-ins around the cover boards and pleated the corners. After setting the boards, I put the book to rest between a small scrap of felt in my small wooden press.

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    Once the book had dried, I carefully opened each cover and began the steps to prep the inside for the leather doublures. The back doublure was embellished with a multi-onlay and embroidered rose. The steps involved in creating the rose mimic those used to create the bird. The tricky part here happened while back-paring. It was impossible to pare to the desire thickness for doublures without slicing through the rose onlay. So the rose is not a true back-pared onlay, it actually sits on the surface of the leather. I was worried this extra thickness might impact the neighboring flyleaf or the way the book closed, but neither became an issue.

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    The Nightingale and the Rose is a tale about a nightingale who chooses to give her life so that a young man may find love. By piercing her breast into the thorn of a rose, her blood stains a white rose red. This part of the story is illustrated with a tiny wood veneer inlaid “thorn”. The red goatskin Ascona onlay runs from the top of the thorn across the spine (at the “I” in Wilde) and to the rose on the back doublure.

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    The book is housed in a miniature quarter leather clamshell box. I used the same tan goatskin on the spine of the box which was used on the doublures. The rest of the case is covered in a paper I made using cotton and leek skins, also used for the flyleaves in the binding. The author name is stamped in matte grey foil on the spine and the title is stamped on a Mohawk label that sits in a recessed well. The trays are covered in granite colored Cave Paper.

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    The trays are lined with a light grey Silsuede fabric. I prefer using a faux suede to line boxes for embroidered books and veneer bindings, I think it offers a bit more cushion and less chance of wear on the binding.

    I’m really proud of this little binding. My embroidered work is definitely evolving and I like the direction it took with The Nightingale and the Rose. I have a few fine bindings lined up to complete this year and I look forward to sharing their designs and techniques with you.


  6. My Hand // Field Book of Western Wild Flowers: Part Three

    October 31, 2013 by Erin Fletcher

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    Part One can be read here
    Part Two can be read here

    I need to backtrack a bit. Part two ends with the covering of the matching leather doublures. The remainder of the design elements that are going to be explained in this post were applied before the doublures were pasted down. Part two has been revised accordingly. 

    The final steps to completing the design included the addition of a gold border and the title. In the early stages of designing the cover, I wanted to create the gold border through surfacing gilding. Which would have been done before covering because I didn’t want to risk getting gold leaf on the embroidery stitches. However, after a few tests I decided my supply of gold leaf was too yellow against the dusty pink buffalo skin. The border was therefore painted onto the leather with a fluid acrylic pigment. This is the same technique I used on the fine binding for The Songlines

    The title has been tooled with handle letters in the typeface Gill Sans. Buffalo can often feel spongy under the tool and requires slightly more pressure to achieve a crisp impression. I’ve found that buffalo will not blind in the same manner as other animal skins and can be a bit more finicky to tool. So with a bit more patience, the title was gilt in gold leaf one letter at a time. 

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    With the completion of the binding, I was set to make a custom clamshell box. The box reflects the binding in terms of color and design. The spine of the box is covered in matching leather that has also been embroidered. The design is derived from an illustration in the book and includes similar onlays from the book’s cover. The stem was embroidered freehand and Margaret Armstrong’s name has been hand tooled with gold leaf. 

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    The trays are covered and lined with the same handmade paper from Katie MacGregor that are used as the endpapers in the binding. The rest of the case and joint are covered in brown Canapetta bookcloth. A layer of Volara foam was added to the outer tray as protection for the embroidered stitches. 

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    I am really pleased with my first attempt at an embroidered leather binding. I plan to continue experiments with this technique, as well as incorporate other sewn elements. I recently had the opportunity to showcase this binding at the Standards of Excellence Conference in Washington, DC. Through the ‘Mix & Mingle’ event, I got the chance to speak with and meet many new bookbinders while discussing my binding on top of receiving wonderful compliments and suggestions. 

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    Finished binding next to clamshell box.

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    Side profile. Detail of edge decoration and hand-sewn headband.


  7. My Hand // Field Book of Western Wild Flowers: Part Two

    October 15, 2013 by Erin Fletcher

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    If you missed part one, you can find it here.

    After hours of embroidery work, I was finally ready to cover the binding. The book itself had been removed from its original case binding, taken apart signature by signature and resewn. Once rounded and backed with boards attached, the edges were ploughed and sanded down in preparation for edge decoration. At this point, I had been filling in for Jeff Altepeter at North Bennet Street School and conveniently the students already had everything set up for edge decoration and gilding. I spent the day perfecting the edge, experimenting with the application of gouache through various brushes and sponges. Finishing off the edge with the sprinkling of gold leaf. 

    The hand sewn double-core French headbands came next. I love sewing my headbands in an asymmetrical pattern and by extracting colors from the binding. Sadly, I didn’t take any in-progress photos of these two steps, but you can see hints of the edge and headband in some of the images to follow. 

    Now, back to covering. 

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    After applying a healthy dose of wheat starch paste, the embroidered leather was wrapped around the binding, being folded and tucked and squished into place. The leather had expanded after paring more than expected, so covering became difficult to keep the shape of the design within the confines of the board. 

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    The covered binding was put to rest under control weight between a bed of felt and acrylic boards. The next day I eased open the boards. Once the finishing design elements were added to the front cover I was able to line the inside of the boards and joint with matching edge to edge leather doublures. The handmade paper fly leaves are a perfect color match and came to me by happenstance from papermaker Katie MacGregor at Standards last year. 

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    Part three coming next week…


  8. My Hand // Field Book of Western Wild Flowers: Part One

    October 8, 2013 by Erin Fletcher

    During my first year at North Bennet Street School, I stumbled upon this underrepresented category of bookbindings referred to quite accurately as embroidered bindings. Embroidery has been an interest and hobby of mine since I was a child. My research into this style of binding led me as far as Cyril Davenport’s Book of English Embroidered Bookbindings, which is one of a handful of books written solely on embroidered bindings. 

    From my research, I set out to create an embroidered binding using similar materials and techniques. I bound The Crucible in 2011. The overall layout and imagery on the covers are inspired by traditional outlines and iconography seen in historical embroidered bindings. The Crucible was a success (landing me Best Binding from the OBMI Chicago Public Library Exhibition) and ever since embroidery has been a technique that I’ve been wanting to translate onto a fine binding.

    Entering for the first time to the most recent Society of Bookbinders International Competition, I decided to bind a copy of Margaret Armstrong’s Field Book of Western Wildflowers. Margaret Armstrong is notable for designing covers for Publishers’ Bindings during the 1920s. As an illustrator, she also enjoyed drawing life-like representations of wild flowers. Margaret published Field Book in 1915, surveying wild flowers throughout the western hemisphere of the United States. The book includes 500 black and white illustrations and 48 colored plates. For the design of my fine binding I wanted to capture Margaret’s fame as a designer and skill as an illustrator. The cover on my fine binding is inspired by Margaret’s design for Henry Van Dyke’s Out of Doors in the Holy Land.

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    Beginning with a detailed sketch of the cover design, I labeled each onlay with a number and color. Each flower is taken directly from one of Margaret’s illustrations. The onlay leather ranged from goatskin to buffalo, the colors chosen to best represent the natural color of that specific species of flower. The leather was pared down to almost nothing, the illustrations were then pasted down to the leather and carefully cut out.

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    I carefully arranged each piece of leather onto the sketch as a means to keep order to the mounting onlays, which came out to a total of 93 itty bitty pieces.

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    I cut down the base leather to it’s final size, I chose a dusty pink buffalo skin both for it’s soft, muted color and texture. I glued down each onlay one by one with PVA, pressing it between acrylic boards as I went. Once the onlays were in place and secured, I pared the entire skin to it’s final thickness. While paring the blade is removing more flesh from the areas with onlays creating a ghost-like silhouette, thus the technique of a back-pared onlay. This allows for a smoother transition between the base leather and the onlay leather.

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    At this point, the leather was ready to be embroidered and this became my favorite part. Each flower onlay was outlined with a floss that best matched the color of the leather. Additional colors were chosen to add highlights and shadows. Stitching through leather was surprisingly easy. However, a misguided needle could leave a lasting hole, so it was very important to accurately pierce through the leather. 

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     Part Two coming soon…