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Elephant + Gator Appliquéd Pillow Pair
The call of the wild! This adorable pillow pair features a Gregarious Gator and an Amiable Elephant. You’ll find all the steps below to place them on 20” x 12” lumbar pillows using three different appliqué techniques: outline and stitch, raw edge, and reverse.
Thanks to our sponsorship from Janome America, all the templates are available as free downloads. We go through the technique options in our recommended order, but once you read through and understand how each effect is achieved, you’re welcome to choose the option(s) you like the most and that best fit your machine’s features and presser feet. For example, we give you specifics about all the adjustments we made to specific Janome built-in decorative stitches to get details like the Bird’s legs, the Elephant’s tusk, and the Gator’s eyes; but you are welcome to use your own stitch and appliqué options or even hand embroidery to achieve the same look.
We used the Janome Open Toe Satin Stitch foot (F2) for the twists, turns and sharp angles of the smaller pieces as well as for the decorative stitching that forms some special characteristics, like the Gator’s nose, the Elephant’s tusk, and the Bird’s beak. You will also love how we used embroidery floss in combination with decorative stitching to create the Elephant’s tail!
All the fabric is standard quilting weight cotton. We’ve detailed our specific color choices from within the Kona Cotton collection so you can get a perfect match to our design. However, as always, you are welcome to experiment with your own color palette.
If you’re new to appliqué, you might find this project a bit advanced for your debut. But that said, never shy away from trying something new! The detail below really does take you every step of the way. The key is to spend the time to practice first! You’ll see in the photo below some of our own practice scraps. It’s always important to try things and adjust as necessary before breaking out your final fabric.
As a Janome exclusive studio, we never have any worries when it comes to stitch precision. If you’ve not worked with a Janome before, we encourage you to give it a try. A machine can have all the bells and whistles in the world, but if it isn’t reliably precise – none of that matters. You want and need a machine that performs day in and day out, forming one perfect stitch after another without you even thinking about it. We call it: “frustration free” sewing. It’s when you are so confident in your machine’s performance, worry disappears and all you need to concentrate on is creativity.
You’ll notice our clever critters sit on a two color background designed to simulate the Sky and Earth, giving a bit of perspective and depth to the two-dimensional surface of a pillow. These colors are echoed on the back of each pillow with a classic overlapping button closure. The back panels also feature a horizontal binding in the same fabric used to create the custom perimeter piping. It’s S4H, so you know we have full instructions for all these accents, including links to additional how-to tutorials if you’re brand new to piping or buttons and buttonholes.
As mentioned, our appliqué is explained within the steps below, but we’ll take just a minute here for a brief overview of the three types of appliqué we’re using. Outline and Stitch is probably the most familiar. It means a shape is fused in place and then a decorative stitch is selected to run along the outer edge of that shape, covering the edge for a smooth finish. You can see this on the outer perimeter of both the Elephant and the Gator; we used the Janome Blanket Stitch. Raw Edge is similar as the piece is fused on the base fabric, but you are not running your stitch to cover the edge of the shape; instead, your stitching is done just inside the shape’s outer edge. It secures the piece, but without the dense finishing outline. We used it for the quite a few of our elements, including the Elephant’s cheek and the Gator’s teeth. Finally, Reverse appliqué is the technique of cutting your shape(s) as a window and then adhering a second color behind that window so the second color peeks through to the front. A line of straight stitching then outlines each window within the base fabric. This outline is optional, but is usually recommended to prevent excess fraying along the edges of your windows. We used it to great effect for the Gator’s belly scales and the Elephant’s spots.
Make one or make both. These pillows would be so much fun in a kid’s room or nursery, and they would make a lovely baby shower gift. Of course, we kind of want them in our room!
Our thanks again to Janome America for sponsoring this pillow pair and thanks to their machines and feet for making them fun to sew! For more information about how a Janome machine can make your new or continued sewing adventures more fun – and frustration free – visit the Janome America website or contact your local Janome America dealer.
You can also find Janome America on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and with lots of great videos on YouTube. Plus, if you follow S4H on Facebook or Instagram, be on the lookout for our monthly live video chats with both Janome America and Janome Canada.
Each pillow finishes at approximately 20” wide x 12” high, excluding the piping.
Sewing Tools You Need
- Sewing Machine and standard presser foot
- Automatic Buttonhole foot
- Wide Groove Beading foot or Zipper foot for the piping
- Quarter Inch Seam foot
- We recommend a see-through foot for appliqué; we used the Janome Open Toe Satin Stitch foot, which is a standard accessory with most Janome machines. This foot is clear, so you have a better view of your stitches and it has a wide opening in the front so you have a clear view of your work.. It also has a slightly recessed bottom, which allows it to easily travel over a dense satin stitch. And, the bright red arrow at the front of the foot provides an excellent stitching guide as you twist and turn. Other options include: the standard Janome Satin Stitch Foot, which has a bright red arrow at the front of the foot provides an excellent stitching guide as you twist and turn. The bottom of this foot is also slightly recessed, like its Open Toe Satin Stitch cousin above. Another helpful foot is the Janome Appliqué foot. This foot is shorter than average, making turning and pivoting easier. Your sewing machine should have similar options.
Fabric and Other Supplies
NOTE: Cuts and supplies are shown for the TWO pillows.
- Scraps or yardage cuts cuts of solid color cottons for the appliqué; we used the following:
Elephant Background “Sky” + Back Overlap Panel – Kona Cotton in Bluegrass: ½ yard
Elephant Background “Earth” + Back Underlap Panel – Kona Cotton in Curry : ½ yard
Elephant Body – Kona Cotton in Shadow: scrap or ⅛ yard
Elephant Ears and Spots – Kona Cotton in Pewter – ½ yard
Bird Body + Elephant Cheek – Kona Cotton in Primrose – scrap or ⅛ yard – if making both pillows the ¼ yard specified below leaves plenty for these two little cuts
Bird Wing – Kona Cotton in White – scrap or ⅛ yard
Alligator Background “Sky” + Back Overlap Panel – Kona Cotton in Wasabi – ½ yard
Alligator Background “Earth” + Back Underlap Panel – Kona Cotton in Jungle – ⅝ yard
Alligator Body – Kona Cotton in Celadon – ¼ yard
Alligator Tail Ridge – Kona Cotton in Sea Mist – scrap or ⅛ yard
Alligator Cheek + Belly Scales + Plant – Kona Cotton in Primrose – ¼ yard
Alligator Teeth – Kona Cotton in White – scrap or ⅛ yard
- ¼ yard of 44”+ wide quilting weight cotton in a coordinating print for the perimeter piping and back flange of BOTH pillows; we used a yellow diamond print from our S4H Stash originally from the Simply Color collection by Vannessa Christenson for Moda
- ½ yard of 45” wide + fusible fleece; we used 45” Pellon Thermolam Plus
- ¾ yard of 20”+ wide lightweight fusible interfacing for the back panels; we used 20” Pellon Shape-Flex
- 1½ yards of 18”+ wide paper-backed fusible web for the appliqué fusing; we used 18” Pellon Wonder Under
- TWO 20” wide x 12” high pillow inserts – also called a “lumbar” pillow insert
NOTE: Today’s pillow inserts tend to be so puffy they distort your pillow cover, especially when – like this pillow cover – the front has a detailed appliqué or embroidery design. We recommend carefully opening a seam in the insert (some have a zipper making this step even easier) and pulling out up to a third of the stuffing so your insert is flatter and smoother. You can always re-use the excess in a stuffed animal project later.
- 4 yards of ¼” cotton piping cord for BOTH pillows
- SIX apx. 1” buttons – THREE for each pillow; we used matching wooden buttons
- Scrap of black embroidery floss, apx. 8” for the Elephant tail
- Wax free tracing paper or similar for tracing the shapes onto your fabric
- All purpose thread to match ALL fabric colors
- See-through ruler
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Tiny sharp scissors or X-Acto knife for cutting the reverse appliqué windows
- Rotary cutter and mat
- Iron and ironing board
- Straight pins
- Hand sewing needle
Getting Started and Template Download
- Download and print the TEN Animal Pillow Template Sheets which have been bundled into ONE PDF file to make the download easier.
IMPORTANT: Each template sheet is ONE 8½” x 11″ page. You must print the PDF file at 100%. DO NOT SCALE to fit the page. There is a guide line on each page so you can confirm your final printout is to scale.
- For both the Elephant and the Alligator, you have Left and Right facing templates to assemble. This gives you both a template for tracing shapes directly onto the fabric (facing in the finished direction) and a template for tracing onto the fusible web, which has to be in the opposite direction so when the appliqué is applied, the animal is facing in the correct direction.
- Butt together the pieces and tape, do not overlap, to create all four templates: Alligator Left and Right, Elephant Left and Right.
- From the fabric for the Alligator front Sky panel and back overlap panel (Wasabi in our sample), cut the following:
ONE 21” wide x 5½” high rectangle for the front Sky panel
TWO 21” wide x 5” high rectangles for the back overlap panel
- From the fabric for the Alligator front Earth panel and back underlap panel (Jungle in our sample), cut the following:
ONE 21” wide x 8½” high rectangle for the front Earth panel
ONE 21” wide x 20” high rectangle for the back underlap panel
- From the fabric for the Elephant front Sky panel and back overlap panel (Bluegrass in our sample), cut the following:
ONE 21” wide x 8½” high rectangle for the front Sky panel
TWO 21” wide x 8” high rectangles for the back overlap panel
- From the fabric for the Elephant front Earth panel and back underlap panel (Curry in our sample), cut the following:
ONE 21” wide x 5½” high rectangle for the front Earth panel
ONE 21” wide x 14” high rectangle for the back underlap panel
- From the fabric for the piping and back binding (yellow diamonds in our sample), cut the following:
TWO 1” x 21” strips for the back binding strips
FOUR 1¾” x 44” (WOF/Width of Fabric) strips for the perimeter piping
- From the fusible fleece, cut TWO 20” x 12” panels.
- From the fusible interfacing, cut the following:
ONE 20” x 4½” panel for the Alligator overlap
ONE 20” x 9½” panel for the Alligator underlap
ONE 20” x 7½” panel for the Elephant overlap
ONE 20” x 6½” panel for the Elephant underlap
- Cut the piping cord into TWO 72” lengths.
- The fusible web will be cut as you go.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
NOTE: We will be showing the majority of our steps for the Alligator pillow with appliqué differences indicated after that for the Elephant. Many of the steps are similar.
Create the front background panel
- Find the Sky and Earth panels.
- Place the panels right sides together, aligning the 21” raw edges. Pin in place.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch together the panels.
- Press the seam allowance open and flat.
- Place the sewn panel right side up and flat on your work surface.
- Find the tracing paper. Layer enough tracing paper at the center of the panel to cover the area on which the animal will sit. The paper side of the tracing paper is up, the coated side down. Pin in place.
- Place the animal template, in its finished direction, right side up on top of the tracing paper. We are showing the Alligator. When done, Mr. Gator is facing Left so this is the template we are using to trace our outline. Pin the template in place.
- Using a tracing wheel or a ball point pen trace the outline of the animal onto the front sewn panel. In addition to creating an outline, the tracing paper may leave some dust behind. Not to worry! It brushes away with no problem.
Prepare and adhere all the Alligator appliqué elements
- Find your roll of fusible web and the animal template facing in the opposite direction to the one you just used for tracing. For example, we located the Alligator facing Right template.
- Place the template right side up and flat on your work surface.
- Place fusible web over the top of the template – fusing side down, paper side up. Don’t be stingy with the fusible web. You want plenty to work with in order to completely cover the template. You can pin or tape both layers in place to help prevent any shifting while you trace.
- Trace the perimeter of the Alligator and all his belly scales. You’ll notice this Right facing template does not include the tail ridge. This is correct; we’ll address why below. There’s also no need to trace his teeth, cheek, eyes, or nose at this time.
- Trim around your drawn image so you have a manageable piece of fusible web with which to work.
- Find the fabric for the Alligator’s body (Celadon in our sample). Place the Alligator outline onto the right side of the fabric,
- Using tiny, sharp scissors or an X-Acto knife, cut out the Alligator along the drawn outer line. Then, very carefully cut out each of the Belly Scales to make a set of 15 little “triangle windows.”
- Cut the remaining fabric colors AND fusible web to fit the following elements:
- For the Alligator’s Tail Ridge – a piece of Sea Mist.
- For the Alligator’s Belly Scales – of piece of Primrose large enough to cover ALL the scales with one piece.
- For the Alligator’s Plant – a piece of Primrose.
- For the Alligator’s Cheek – a piece of Primrose.
NOTE: You can trace all the Primrose elements on one large piece and then cut it apart after the fusible web has been applied.
- For the Alligator’s teeth – a piece of White.
- Collect the necessary templates. The quilting cotton is see-though enough that you can overlay the fabric onto the paper template and trace each of the shapes.
- Trace the Tail Ridge.
- Trace the Cheek.
- Trace the Plant.
- Trace a wedge to cover ALL the Belly Scales
- Trace the Teeth
- Here’s a photo of our collection of Alligator elements.
- You’ll notice we also drew in the placement for the Alligator’s round Cheek along with guidelines for where his Teeth will intersect with the Cheek.
- The Alligator’s body already has fusible web applied, but you now need to apply fusible web to the back of all the other pieces you’ve traced. As with the body piece, don’t be stingy. Cut a piece of fusible web to fully cover each of the fabric pieces on which you’ve drawn.
- Find the sewn front panel, which has the Alligator outline traced into position. Place the panel right side up and flat on your work surface.
- Peel away the paper backing from the Tail Ridge piece and the Plant piece. If you grouped elements onto the Primrose, cut them apart so you are only working with the Plant.
- Using your traced guidelines, place the Tail Ridge into position and pin in place. Do not fuse with heat.
- Place the Plant into position in the bottom left corner. The base of the Plant should be about ¼” up from the bottom raw edge of the panel and the left most edge of the Plant should be about 1” in from the left raw edge of the panel. Pin in place. Do not fuse with heat.
- Thread the machine with thread to best match the Tail Ridge Fabric. Attach an Open Toe Satin Stitch foot if possible.
- Using a straight stitch, carefully follow the draw outline of the Tail Ridge. You are stitching through the Tail Ridge fabric and the front sewn panel.
- When complete, using your tiny, sharp scissors, trim close to the stitching. You can trim away the excess because you have not yet activated the fusible web with heat; you’ve only finger pressed and pinned it in place. Aren’t you smart?!
- Re-thread with thread to best match the Plant fabric and stitch the Plant in place in the same manner, trimming away the excess when complete.
- Peel away the paper backing from the wedge shape cut to cover the area for the Belly Scales. Place it in position on the front panel. We used the front panel outline as a guide, but also double-checked the position by laying the Alligator body, with all its cut windows, into position as well.
- Peel away the paper backing on the Alligator body. Following your drawn outline on the front sewn panel, place the body into position. Place it down lightly to start so you can adjust it as needed. The color the the Belly scales should peek through all the windows and the Alligator body should overlap the Tail Ridge. This is why you stitched the Tail Ridge separately. You have a beautiful curved finish over the “spikes.” Pin in place
- Following manufacturer’s instructions for heat and pressure, use your iron to activate the fusing and permanently adhere all the elements in place.
Specialty details and stitching for the Alligator
- Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the Alligator body. Continue to use an Open Toe Satin Stitch foot if possible.
- With a straight stitch, go around each of the 15 Belly Scale windows. If a feature on your machine, use a lock stitch to end each window’s stitch line. This will give you the neatest finish. It is okay if your window stitch outlines slightly overlap one another.
- With the Open Toe Satin Stitch foot still in place and the machine threaded with thread to best match the Alligator body, select a decorative stitch for the outline appliqué stitching. We used the Janome Blanket Stitch – an appliqué classic with the stitch adjusted to 3.5 in width and 3.0 in length. The final choice is yours, but for this design we would not recommend a super dense zig zag stitch. Although also a classic appliqué stitch, it is too “heavy” of a finish to blend well with the reverse and raw edge appliqué.
- With the perimeter stitched, find the fabric piece with the Alligator teeth, which should have the fusible web applied to the back. Peel away the paper backing, and using the corner guide you originally sketched in place next to the Cheek circle, place the teeth into position on the Alligator body. You can certainly use the original paper template to draw in additional guidelines if you’d like. Pin in place. Do not fuse with heat.
- Re-thread with thread to best match the Teeth fabric and stitch along the drawn lines as you did with the previous elements, trimming away the excess fabric close to the stitching when done.
- Finally; re-thread, place, stitch, and trim the Alligator’s Cheek circle.
- When done, fuse in place with heat to permanently adhere the Teeth and Cheek.
- Using the original paper template as your guide, draw in the Alligator’s Eyes and Nostrils with a fabric pen or pencil.
- Re-thread with black thread in the top and bobbin.
- We used a tiny straight stitch with a center needle position and a 1.8 stitch length.
- … covered with a narrow zig zag (we used 1.0 width and 0.30 length) for the Alligator’s Eyes, carefully following the drawn curved lines. This double-stitching technique traps the thread ends behind the zig zag for a super clean finish.
- The Nostrils were formed by adjusting a single Decorative Half Scallop Satin Stitch to a 4.5 stitch width and 0.20 stitch length. The image below shows our actual stitch selection.
Prepare and adhere all the Elephant appliqué elements
- Although a different animal, the majority of the appliqué and stitching techniques used for the Alligator are repeated for the Elephant.
- The Elephant’s Spots are done with the reverse appliqué technique, but rather than a piece of the darker color cut to cover the entire body area, individual circles (just a bit larger than the window) were cut and adhered behind each Spot window. The Spots are far enough apart that this works perfectly. It also helps keep the main layer flatter and smoother.
- The Elephant Ear, Cheek, and Trunk accents are all done with the same raw edge technique as done on the Alligator.
- The perimeter stitching is the same Blanket Stitch.
- The Little Bird Body also uses the Blanket Stitch outline. Within the Template pages, you’ll find the Bird outline facing both Left and Right so it can be placed in the same manner as its larger friends, the Elephant and Alligator.
- The Bird Wing is done with raw edge appliqué, and the Spots on its Body are formed by adjusting a single Boat Shaped Satin Stitch adjusted to 4.5 stitch width and 0.20 stitch length. The image below shows how we programmed out Janome machine to create a single adjusted stitch pattern, knot off, and cut.
- With these elements complete, use a fabric pen or pencil to draw in the Elephant Eye, Elephant Tusk, Elephant Tail, Bird Legs, Bird Eye, and Bird Beak.
- The Eyes for both the Bird and the Elephant are done in the same manner as the Alligator Eyes.
- The Bird Legs are also done in this same manner, but his Feet are the same adjusted single pattern used for the spots.
- The Bird Beak is a standard Satin Stitch adjusted to stitch from wide to narrow and elongated. Again, this programming is easy to do on many of the Janome machines featuring decorative stitch libraries. Below shows our programmed stitch.
- The Elephant Tusk is done in the same manner just with a longer finish and with a slight upward curve.
- Find your length of black embroidery floss for the Elephant Tail.
- Fold the length of floss in half and place the center fold in position at the back of the Elephant, using the original paper template as your guide. We put the needle down and slipped the embroidery floss behind the needle, then brought it forward and started the stitching.
- Re-thread the machine with black thread in the top and bobbin Set up the machine for a narrow zig zag, we used a 2.0 stitch width and 0.30 stitch length. It should just cover the two strands. This is another great process to practice to confirm your best settings and technique.
- Holding the strands together, zig zag across both strands to adhere.
- Stitch down about 2” and lock your seam. Trim the loose ends about 1” below the end of the zig zag and fluff up – just like a real Elephant Tail.
Create the back overlapping button closure
- Find the TWO overlap panels, the overlap interfacing panel, and the 1” x 21” binding strip.
- Place the interfacing panel on the wrong side of one overlap panel. Place the interfacing panel on the wrong side of one overlap panel, centering it so there is ½” of fabric showing beyond the interfacing on all sides. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place
- Place the binding strip right sides together along the top 21” edge of the non-interfaced panel. Pin together.
- Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the fabric in the top and bobbin.
- Re-set for a standard straight stitch. Attach a Quarter Inch Seam foot if possible.
- Using a ¼” seam allowance, stitch the binding strip to the panel.
- Press the binding up and away from the panel.
- Place the two overlap panels right sides together, aligning the top raw edge of the binding strip with the top raw edge of the interfaced panel. Pin together.
- Again using a ¼” seam allowance, stitch together the two panels.
- Press both panels away from the center binding strip.
- This means, from the back, the two seam allowances will meet in the middle behind the binding strip.
- Bring the panels wrong sides together so their side and bottom raw edges are flush and the binding strip folds in half. Press again so your finished overlap panel is super smooth and flat.
- Find the underlap panel. Fold it in half horizontally, wrong sides together, and press to set a center crease line. Find the underlap interfacing panel. Place it against one half of the underlap panel on the wrong side The top edge of the interfacing panel should be aligned with the center crease and there should be ½” of fabric showing beyond the interfacing along both sides and across the bottom. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.
- Find the overlap panel. Mark for three evenly spaced buttonholes along the bound edge. We placed one at the exact center of the panel and one 5½” to either side of center. The bottom of our buttonholes are ¼” up from the binding strip.
- We used the amazing Janome Automatic Buttonhole foot, which made getting three identical buttonholes a snap. It was even able to handle our rather thick buttons without a problem. When finished, we like to run a line of seam sealant down each stitched buttonhole prior to carefully cutting it open.
NOTE: If you are brand new to stitching buttonholes, we have an overview tutorial you can review prior to starting the project.
- With the buttonholes sewn and carefully cut open, overlap the panels so the finished size of the overall panel is 21” wide x 13” high. Pin the sides at the overlap. You can leave it with just the pins, but we often recommend machine basting the overlapped panels in place so you can more work with the back as “one piece” for the final construction.
Make and attach the piping
- Find the front panel and the matching panel of fusible fleece.
- Place the fleece on the wrong side of the front panel, centering it so there is ½” of the fabric showing beyond the fleece on all four sides. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.
NOTE: This single layer of fleece helps give the finished front a soft, smooth finish. It’s a layering trick we also often use with embroidered front panels.
- Find the two long 1¾” piping strips and the matching length of piping cord.
- Stitch the two lengths together with a ¼” seam. Press this tiny seam open and flat.
- Wrap the piping strip around the piping cord right side out. Make sure the raw edges of the strip are flush with the cord running down the middle.
- You can certainly pin the fabric in place around the cord, but it is almost easier to simply hold it in place as you stitch.
- Re-thread the machine as necessary with thread to best match the piping fabric in the top and bobbin. Attach a Wide Groove Beading foot or a Zipper foot. Set up the machine for a basting stitch. If using a Zipper foot, you may also want to move your needle position to the left to run your seam as close to the piping cord as possible.
- Wrap and stitch the length of the cord. Trim away the excess fabric top and/or bottom so the fabric is flush with cord.
- Place the finished front panel right side up and flat on your work surface.
- Starting at the center bottom, pin the piping to the right side of the panel, aligning the raw edges of the piping fabric with the raw edge of the panel and leaving about 1-2” free at both the head and tail.
- With the piping pinned in place all around, baste the piping in place all around. We continued to use a Wide Groove Beading foot; a Zipper foot with the needle moved to the left is another good option.
- At each corner, you can clip into the piping.
- This allows it to more easily curve around the corner. Be careful to not cut too deep; keep the snip below the basting.
- When we got back to our starting point, we overlapped the free ends and folded them down into the seam allowance to finish – a classic upholstery finish.
NOTE: If this is your first time working with piping, we have a full tutorial you can review prior to starting. It includes other finishing options.
Stitch together to finish
- Place the front and back panels right sides together. All four sides of both panels should be flush with the piping sandwiched between the layers.
- Pin in place all around.
- Stitch around all four sides, running your new seam directly on top of the piping’s basting seam. Go slowly and carefully around each corner to keep a smooth curve.
- Turn the pillow cover right side out through the back overlap.
- Use a long, blunt tool to gently round the corners. A chopstick, knitting needle or point turn works well.
- Allow the two panels to naturally overlap.
- Insert a fabric pen or pencil through the exact center of each buttonhole to mark the position for each button on the underlap panel below.
- Thread a hand sewing needle and hand stitch each button in place.
- Insert the pillow form through the overlap opening, fluff it out in the corners, and button closed.
- The Elephant pillow’s back overlap closure is made in exactly the same manner. The only different is that the wider panel is the overlap and the narrower panel is the underlap.
Project Design: Anne Adams
Sample Creation and Appliqué Plan: Michele Mishler
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