Sunday, March 29, 2009

Diane Ricks at 2009 Glendale Quilt Show

Yesterday at the Glendale Quilt Show I examined the quilt that won First Place for Innovative Quilt and found it was done by Diane Ricks. I took Microwave Dyeing for Cotton and my cousins took Needle Felting with Diane Ricks at IQF Chicago in 2008. In fact, all the non-sparkly hand dyed fabric in my Gwen Marston Liberated Stars is from that dyeing workshop. We even did shibori in the microwave!

Ms. Ricks just happened to be passing by, so I took her picture with her quilt. She was so proud! The quilt is named Ghost Dance. Ms. Ricks described it like so:
The book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee inspired me to make this series of small quilts joined into a triptych as honor to their memory. It is dye painted, free hand drawn, and screen printed on rusted cotton with free motion quilting featuring images of the fallen warriors in the quilting.
I wonder if she intended the complementary color scheme of the orange from her quilt set off by the blue of the background drapery. Genius!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Gwen Marston Unleashed

A few Fridays ago I took a fun class on Liberated Stars with Gwen Marston, a quilt historian and renowned quilter in her own right. She has to be one of the most prolific authors on the subject of quilts with both popular and scholarly publications.

The workshop was put on by the Flying Geese Quilters Guild. Gwen's name on their schedule of presenters (along with Katie Pasquini Masopust's) was one of the reasons I joined this particular guild. As always the guild members were friendly and interesting and just so darned fun to spend a day with. Also as always, the workshop took place in the lovely large classroom at Material Possessions Quilt Shop. Think global, sew local: support your local quilt shop!

Unlike Katie Pasquini Masopust's workshop, in which every moment was accounted for and there were exercises and group critique sessions, Gwen Marston's class was almost entirely unstructured. Recounting the instructions given would make the class seem much less interesting than it was. Really it was about spending the day picking Gwen Marston's brain.If you want to make a Liberated Star quilt, get thee to the library and pick up Gwen Marston's out of print masterpiece Liberated Quiltmaking. It is also part of The Parts Department section of Collaborative Quilting. She mentioned that a forthcoming book, possibly Freddy & Gwen Collaborate Again: Freewheeling Twists on Traditional Quilt Designs, would have updated instructions for many of her previously published design/methods including Liberated Stars. My friend R.J. recently wrote that she found the previous book's precursor Collaborative Quilting inspiring.I must admit, I checked Liberated String Quilts out of the well-stocked Monroe County Public Library in Bloomington, Indiana, last year and found myself vaguely dissatisfied. I didn't understand Gwen Marston's approach. I wasn't open to the idea of looking at a series of historic quilts and developing axioms about their creation. I guess I struggle with the idea of reducing these historic quilts to "patterns" for the modern quilter. This is not a reflection on Gwen, but a reflection on the quilting-industrial complex's obsession with kit-able units. Her current book Ideas and Inspirations: Abstract Quilts in Solids, which she published outside the traditional quilt book publishing establishment, seems to be the truest to her sensibility - no "patterns," no "lessons," no "projects." Just images of beautiful quilts intended to inspire. The product description on Amazon (which I believe is in Gwen's own words) sums it up nicely:
This is a book for grownup quilters. It's a book for the many accomplished quilters who are not looking for yet another project book with pages of detailed elementary instructions on how to make someone else's quilt.
Seeing Gwen Marston in action and hearing her stories addressed my concerns and converted me to her fan club.While piecing our liberated stars we talked about Gwen's favorite quilters. Of course she discussed Mary Schafer, about whom Gwen has authored two books Mary Schafer, American Quilt Maker and the currently out of print Mary Schafer and Her Quilts. Additionally she mentioned Susan McCord and Emily Adams (I might have written down the latter incorrectly - but The Quilt Index does have a number of quilts under the name Emily Adams Hubbell). She talked a lot about Susan McCord's work, noting that it is housed in the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan. She was especially taken by McCord's use of four unique applique borders on one quilt as well as her use of three, two, or even one border. She specifically mentioned a turkey tracks quilt by McCord with one applique border with sensational, exquisite, detailed applique that probably could not be sustained for four borders. She liked the idea of exerting the same amount of effort your might put into all four borders, but concentrating it all on one amazing border.Her favorite style of American quilts are folk art quilts. She started making pieced traditional quilts. She said, "As most young quilters do, I thought I knew a lot about making quilts." [As a young quilter I don't take offense, particularly as I don't think I know much at all about making quilts -- not to mention my whole Buddhist beginner's mind approach, but this isn't about my issues.] Through extensive research into actual early quilts she discovered that quilts didn't conform to the 1970s ideal of the traditional quilt. Real early quilts (as opposed to idealized traditional quilts) had borders chopped off, borders that were not the same, points that didn't match, fewer than four borders, and all sorts of characteristics that "traditional quilters" would categorize as flaws.In studying folk art traditions including but also beyond early American quilts, Marston noticed some universal folk art characteristics including lack of set patterns, frequent color substitution, and the free placement of elements. She specifically focused on the transmission of design elements among craftspeople, the appearance of design elements across cultures and media, and the transmission of wisdom through folk art. For example, the traditional design elements in kilims from Anatolia were passed down from weaver to weaver the same way traditional quilt block designs like churn dash were passed down from quilter to quilter. People then interpreted these design elements as they saw fit. Some design elements appear across cultures and media. For example, she found flying geese designs in a kilim as well as an Uzbek ceremonial horse blanket. Folk art tends to convey wisdom from one generation to the next. For example she has an example of Ghanaian applique which conveys parenting advice, "Don't tell a child not to eat hot peppers. He will find that out soon enough." Another Ghanaian applique depicts a man on the ground lying on top of a gun with a leopard on his chest. The moral of that story, "If you shoot the leopard and do not kill the leopard, it would have been better not to shoot the leopard."

She admonished the collected quilters that Picasso wasn't worried about coloring within the lines. In other words, precision does not equal artistic success. A good lesson for quilters, young and old.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Darjeeling Limited: Border Numero Uno - Part Numero Uno

This is partly the story of the first border of my medallion quilt inspired by the Wes Anderson film The Darjeeling Limited. It is also partly a song of praise for Jinny Beyer's book Quiltmaking by Hand: Simple Stitches, Exquisite Quilts. Don't let the title fool you, this book is about so much more than making quilts by hand. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is the most comprehensive resource on how to draft pieced quilts from blocks to borders. The book applies the tips and tricks of drafting to quilting. This can be intimidating to the math averse. But she explains her math thoroughly so it's not too difficult to follow along at home.

Jinny Beyer (who is totally one of those people whose first and last names you have to say together) is known for, among other things, her medallion quilts. In fact her quilt "Ray of Light," one of the One Hundred Quilts of the 20th Century, brought medallion quilts to the attention of the quilting revival of the 1970s. So it's no surprise that her book goes into great detail describing how to draft the kind of pieced borders that appear so frequently in medallion quilts.

Now, as quilt historians like Gwen Marston will show you, pre-20th century quilters didn't get overly fussy about planning their pieced borders to make sure that the same portion of the design falls in exactly the same place at each of the corners of the quilt. Often borders just ended where they ended. But as a challenge to myself I wanted to see if I could piece a border where the design did fall exactly the same place at each of the corners of the quilt. I also thought it would be easier to test drive a pieced border on a small quilt rather than a large quilt. So, while the effort will be ENTIRELY lost on the infant recipient and their parents, I am doing it anyway . . . for me . . . for the experience.


If you'd like to follow along, turn to pages 150-156 in Quiltmaking by Hand: Simple Stitches, Exquisite Quilts. First, the unfinished size of my center (as measured through the centers of the center, not along the edges) is 24 inches long by 12 1/4 inches wide. That makes the finished size of my center 23 1/2 by 11 3/4 inches.Second, the border unit looks like this. It is a non-directional symmetrical, square unit (though it will be pieced out of quarter square triangles, because what is life without a challenge). Because it is a non-directional symmetrical unit the edge of a full unit or the edge of a half unit could fall in the center.

Corner Unit
Designing a pieced corner unit seems really difficult until you draw the two possible endings (full units or half units) at right angles to one another. Then you just play around with how those units would continue. For example, if the pieced borders end with a full unit, the corner might look like this.If the pieced borders end with a half unit, the corner might look like this.

Determining Border Unit Size

Beware: this way there be mathematics!

Getting a pieced border to fit the center of a quilt is THE challenge of pieced borders (unless you take the traditional pre-20th century "wherever it lands, there shall the border end approach"). How many border units will fit along the sides of the quilt? About how big would you like each border unit to be? In my case, I'd like each border unit to be about 2 inches (my border unit is square so the width and height will be the same). Let's start with the shorter finished dimension of my center: 11 3/4 inches. If I divide 11 3/4 inches by 2 inches, I find that 5 7/8 units fit along the short side of my center. 7/8 unit is not going to cut it. So I can either go down to 5 units along the short side or up to 6 units along the short side. Either way, the size of each unit will have to deviate from my ideal size of 2 inches in order for the pieced strip to end with a whole or half unit.

Let's imagine I want 5 units along the short side of my center. If I divide 11 3/4 inches by 5 units, I find each unit will have a finished size of 2 7/20 inches.

Let's imagine I want 6 units along the short side of my center. If I divide 11 3/4 inches by 6 units, I find each unit will have a finished size of 1 23/24 inches.

Now, neither of those measurements are going to show up on your standard ruler. And neither of them are my ideal 2 inch unit size. So how do you pick between the two? In a rectangular quilt like mine, it's easy: see which unit size fits best along the longer side of the quilt.

Let's imagine I want 5 units along the short side of my center. We determined that the finished unit size would be 2 7/20 inches. If I divide the finished length of the center's longer side, 23 1/2 inches, by the finished unit size, 2 7/20 inches, I find that exactly 10 units fit along the longer side of the center.

Let's imagine I want 6 units along the short side of my center. We determined that the finished unit size would be 1 23/24 inches. If I divide the finished length of the center's longer side, 23 1/2 inches, by the finished unit size, 1 23/24 inches, I find that exactly 12 units fit along the longer side of the center.

Well, huh, both ways it works out to be a whole number of units. All things being equal 1 23/24 inches is closer to 2 inches than 2 7/20 inches, so I'm going with a unit size of 1 23/24 inches, which results in 6 units along the short sides and 12 units along the long sides.

Now, this is not the end of my problem. I have the finished length of the hypotenuse of a quarter-square triangle. So how do you draft a template for a quarter-square triangle whose finished hypotenuse is 1 23/24? Now, part of me wants to skip it and just draft one with a 2 inch hypotenuse. But over the twelve units of the long side, that would be off by half an inch. If you were a drafting rockstar like Jinny Beyer, you'd probably plug the decimal version of 1 23/24 into your little CAD program and churn out a template.But I just used ye olde pencile, papere, and rulere to draft a 1 23/24 inch square. Then I drew a line 1/4 inch outside one edge. Then I drew lines through the corners of the square through the external line. Measuring the distance between the intersection of the diagonals with the external line gave me the length of the square I would have to cut to make quarter-square triangles with 1 23/24 inch hypotenuses: 2 1/2 inches.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009


So I was ready to make a quilt sandwich for the Underground Railroad doll quilt when I discovered all the batting I have is either way too big to waste cutting up or just a wee bit too small. Rather than buying a crib sized quilt bat, I attached strips of batting that I'd trimmed from previous quilts to the four sides of a slightly too small piece of batting. More specifically I used a flat joining seam to sew together a Frankenbatting. MWAH HAH HAH HAAAaaaa!

How to Make a Frankenbatting

Bernina owners, turn to pages 38-39 of Mastering Your Bernina Sewing Machine (here's a link to a PDF version of the whole honkin' thing if you've lost your copy). On a Bernina 440, use stretch overlock stitch (No. 23) and presser foot No. 1.

Stretch Overlock Stitch No.
bernette 55: 10
bernette 65: 13
bernette 80e: S5
bernette 90e: S5

Bernina 1008: 11
Bernina 220: 15
Bernina 230PE: 17
Bernina 240: 19
Bernina 440QE: 23
Bernina 630: 13
Bernina 640: 13
Bernina 730: 13

If you are not blessed with a Bernina, you could use a stretch overlock stitch (if the needle were square dancing, it would take two steps forward, two steps to the right, two steps to the left, and repeat-- Do Si Do your pardner!--sorry, spring was square dancing time in my elementary school gym class). If you have a bare bones machine, a wide zig-zag will probably work just fine.
I pinned the layers of batting together just so they wouldn't get away from me. I overlapped them about 5/8 inch, but I just eyeballed it.
Be sure to keep the edge of the overlapped batting right along the inside edge of the presser foot so the stitch will sew just over the edge of the top layer on the right swing of the needle.
I didn't pin for the second row of stitching as the first row and its fuzziness kept it where it needed to be. Also, I used the mirror stitch function so I could keep the narrow side of the batting running under the arm, but if you don't have the mirror stitch function, just roll up the extra batting to move it through the arm.
The finished flat joining seam!
If you're concerned that the stitches will show through a light top or backing, you certainly could use a lighter thread color. I just happened to have gray thread in the machine. But I ran out of bobbin thread and switched to bright yellow. You can see in the picture above how a different color thread blends in much better with the batting.

No Igors were harmed in the making of this Frankenbatting.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Underground Railroad Quilt Top

About a year ago I took a workshop with Kathleen Tracy through the Bloomington Quilters Guild of Bloomington, Indiana. The class was basically making the Underground Railroad doll quilt from Ms. Tracy's book American Doll Quilts: 16 Little Projects That Honor A Tradition. The quilts in the book are divided into the same eras as the American Girl Dolls and are sized to fit said dolls.

The class was kitted so I exerted pretty much zero creativity in the design of this quilt, which may explain why it's taken me so long to finish. Luckily my mother has a friend whose daughter is into American Girl dolls, so this quilt has an owner all lined up . . . which may explain why it didn't take even longer for me to finish.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Darjeeling Limited: Background Audtions

No, this isn't a casting call for movie extras. I'm trying to decide which of three fabrics I should use as the background to the diamond in the center medallion of my quilt inspired by Wes Anderson's film The Darjeeling Limited.

The topmost fabric is a shot cotton, which means the warp is a different color than the weft resulting (by means of optical mixing) in the viewer perceiving the fabric as a third color. It is almost impossible to capture the awesomeness of shot fabric in pictures.
The above background fabric is a print that was on INSANE sale at Material Possessions. I bought this in case the other two options I bought were too blue and insufficiently green. That is CLEARLY not the problem. And the mottling is too busy to serve as a calming backdrop for that eye-searing center diamond.
Though this picture doesn't quite do it justice, this background fabric is a VERY subtle ombre. In this picture the ombre travels from top to bottom because I just laid out the pieces I have on top of the uncut yardage. Unlike the diamond fabric, this ombre only has three changes and it only changes among three saturations of the same hue. Also each change occurs over about six inches, instead of the one inch increments in the diamond fabric. The changes only occur along either selvage edge.
I laid out one corner with the ombre parallel to the edge of the diamond, which you can barely make out in this picture. For the small area it would have to cover, the ombre is too large to see all three color changes. Also the color change is so subtle it is almost imperceptible in this small space. I think I'm going to save this ombre for a larger area where I can really make the most of it.

The winner is: shot cotton (the top photo). Thank you for letting me work through this with you.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

C&T Publishing Love

I just have to share with you my completely disproportionate glee that Megan Wisniewski over at C&T Publishing's blog linked to my post about Katie Pasquini Masopust's workshop.

Imagine me holding a bouquet of fat quarters in the bend of my elbow as I regally wave (elbow, elbow, wrist, wrist) and cry like the prom queen I never was . . . because that's what I'm doing right now. Thank you!

Darjeeling Limited: Center Medallion

This is the story of how I translated my inspiration - the Wes Anderson film The Darjeeling Limited - into a quilt. At least, it's a chapter in that story. I started by watching the film with my trusty notebook in hand. When I saw images that I was particularly inspired by, I hit the pause button on the DVD player and sketched. As you can see on the example above, I noted color placement and color scheme. Occasionally I noted the subject matter. In this case I believe it was one of many designs painted on the side of a white bus that comes to pick up the main characters at Dhelana.
Once I had settled on the idea that this diamond would be the center of a medallion quilt, I sketched it again filling in possible colors with colored pencil. More important that the color, this sketch helped me determine the proportions of the diamond.
Theoretically, one could strip piece the center diamond out of a set of solid colors ranging from red-orange to yellow. But when I originally saw the diamond in the film it reminded me of some of the amazing ombre fabrics available. I had been looking for an opportunity to work with ombre for awhile. I knew I'd need at least four repeats to get the four long edges of the diamond. I bought a half yard, figuring the sides of my diamond wouldn't be any larger than 18 inches (using the Pythagorean Theorem I figured if the longer center line of the diamond were 32 inches, and the shorter center line were 16 inches, that would make the sides about 17.89 inches - but don't let the math worry you).
From the reddest stripe to the yellowest stripe was 5 inches. Since I want the entire yellowest stripe to show along the outside of the diamond and I want the entire reddest stripe to show at the center of the diamond, I could have figured out the size of the right triangle I'd need for the template using a lot of geometry I've mostly forgotten.
Instead I made a right triangle out of scrap paper that was larger than what I would need, but the correct proportions (the short leg half as long as the long leg). I lined up the right angle to where I wanted the finished inside corner to land: so the whole reddest line would show. Then I lined up the hypotenuse parallel to the lines of the ombre. I lay my trusty clear ruler down along the edge of the yellowest line and marked the paper. I cut the paper template along that line. The resulting paper template was the exact finished size of the right triangles I need to assemble to make my diamond. Look Mom, No Math!
Next I broke out my handy translucent template plastic. I put it on top of the paper template. Using my trusty transparent ruler which is marked off in quarter inch increments, I drew lines exactly a quarter inch outside the paper template. I cut the template plastic out along those lines. Then, using a 0.1 Pigma marker I used my ruler to mark lines on the template a quarter inch from each edge and extended to the end along the hypotenuse. This allows me to line up the template along the ombre and know I'm going to get the whole reddest line and the whole yellowest line in my finished piece.
Usually when you use templates you flip them over and trace them onto the back of the fabric. But the ombre print on this fabric wasn't visible from the back, so I marked on the top of the fabric. This is no big deal so long as you don't let your pen lift up your template and jog across your finished sewing area. I used a green Ultra Fine Point Sharpie to make a visible line on this eye-glazing fabric. For the diamond, it's important to remember to trace two triangles in one direction, flip the template, and trace two triangles in the other direction.
I used my super-sharp Gingher scissors of doom to cut along the marked lines. Here you can see what I mean about two triangles in one direction and two triangles in the other direction.
Here are the pieces of the central diamond laid out and ready to go!

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pachyderm Parade

I am working on a much longer update about my Darjeeling Limited inspired quilt. Meanwhile I thought I'd share a parade of pachyderms which I fussy cut from a scattered print of elephants (discussed here) and sewed together into four borders.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Baby Quilts

Thusfar in my quilting career the vast majority of the quilts I've made have been in celebration of the birth of a baby. The following are a few thoughts on baby quilts, especially how their function determines my design and construction decisions including size, shape, backing fabric, fabric color, fabric preparation, washing and drying finished quilts, machine or hand sewing, and the subject matter of prints.

I think of baby quilts as utilitarian art. So the primary questions I ask myself when I design my baby quilts is what will this really be used for. One possible use, especially if your quilt will arrive between birth and about three months: swaddling. I've heard the optimal size for a swaddling blanket for up to a pudgy three month old is at least 42 inches square. I've also heard that square is the optimal shape for swaddling. For more on swaddling, check out Dr. Harvey Karp's The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer. With this in mind, most of the baby quilts I've made have been square rather than rectangular. Looking back, it seems the trend is for the quilts I finish closer to birth to be square and quilts I kinda knew from the start I wouldn't finish until after the swaddling stage were more likely to be rectangular.

Another possible use to which a baby quilt might be put: play mat. Either parents are getting weird about letting their progeny play on the floor or the infant industrial complex has perpetuated some parental paranoia about the evils of flooring such that they can market nonsense like pack-n-plays. Regardless, the end result is Junior needs something between him and the floor. Your quilt will likely be it. So I like to make the back out of a durable fabric with a print that will hide dirt.

Short of a wall hanging (and even then, not near the changing table), the use to which a baby quilt might be put will invariably lead to stains and dirtiness. This leads me to my almost compulsive paranoia about using fabric with large areas of white in quilts for kids, which I've previously discussed in the comments to my post about selecting fabric for a particular baby quilt. I feel like any white will show every stain or speck of dirt that will inevitably be part of a baby quilt's life. I'd hate to give a parent something that they would feel guilty using for its intended purpose. I've even contemplated overdying fabric that is really awesome, but too white, in my opinion, for a baby quilt. In fact, one of the reasons I laid off a pretty intense '30's reproduction fabric collecting habit was because of the prevalence of white backgrounds, particularly in kid-themed prints.

Along with getting dirty, I assume all the baby quilts I make will be machine washed, probably with hot water and detergent, and then thrown in the dryer. So I prewash all of my fabric for baby quilts with hot water and detergent on high agitation. Then when I'm done with the quilt, I wash it again in hot water with detergent and I even throw it in the dryer to dry it. I can wax poetic about the importance of prewashing any fabric for WAY too long. But I prewash baby quilt fabrics on hot to shrink them and with high agitation test their durability. If they're not going to survive less than an hour in a washing machine, they're not going to survive the first day with a baby. I wash the quilt again when I'm done partially to get out all the schmutz with which the quiltmaking process endows its subject. But in the case of a baby quilt it's also to test my stitches, particularly to binding, to make sure there aren't any weak points that need to be reinforced.

Which leads me to another point, while I have hand appliqued and hand quilted portions of baby quilts in the past, now I only machine piece, applique, and quilt baby quilts. Hand stitches are too easy for little fingers to pop. And, more annoyingly, in my experience, when a parent realizes you made the quilt literally by hand, they wrap it in archival paper, place it carefully in an archival box, and gently tuck it into the topmost corner of the topmost shelf of the least used closet in the house. Then they forget about it and wonder why you were so rude as to not give their baby a present. OK, that only happened once and I'm not going to name names, but I really should NOT have been surprised. But now when I give away a baby quilt I emphasize not all the work I put into it, but how durable it is. I tell them I already machine washed it on hot with detergent and ran in through the dryer so they shouldn't be afraid to treat it the same way. Somehow arming them with this knowledge frees them to actually let their kid touch the quilt.

Recounting that nightmare story about the handmade quilt, which I'm pretty sure the kid never even laid eyes on, reminds me of another story of neurotic parents who have changed my approach to baby quilts. Again, I don't want to be too detailed because someone someday might figure out who I'm talking about and I really do love these folks even if, or perhaps because, they're nuts. As I was at the design wall stage of making a baby quilt for boy, I got the word that the parents were adamant that everything for said baby be extremely masculine, including the colors of everything this kid might ever see. Well, the quilt I was working on was a scrappy, '30's Repro, one-patch which I had painstakingly arranged on my design wall in diagonal rows in sort of, well, a rainbow pattern. First, I had to pull all the pinks and lavenders. Next, I had to pull all the prints with flowers and girls. Then, I had my husband, who is not the macho-est man but can pass in a pinch, to look through the remaining patches for anything that might be construed as "feminine." Mind you, I was working from a few charm packs, so it's not like I had unlimited options. Well, by the time we'd done our butch best, the one-patch center had shrunk significantly and the borders grew a few inches wider all around. And the one-patch arrangement become randomly arranged rather than by color. Now I'm waiting for a very girly girlfriend to have a girl so I can use up all my '30's repro pink, lavender, and femme themed prints. So with that in mind, I now ask parents what the color scheme of the baby's room is going to be. This is a pretty subtle way to see which way they're leaning on the whole "gender stereotypes in infant interior design" spectrum. And if I don't know or can't get a straight (pardon the pun) answer, I go with green and yellow abstract prints.

Now that I've shared my "rules" for baby quilts, I'm sure all of the baby quilts I blog about will break every one. Isn't that what rules are for?

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