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Hanami: Flowers and Fun!

Cherry Blossom Viewing - from Famous Views of Osaka - 1834

Hanami Festival in 1834

Do you like spring?  Of course you do!  Do you like parties?  Who doesn't?  Then you would love a visit to Japan during the Hanami festival!​

Hanami is the Japanese ​tradition of enjoying the beauty of flowers ... specifically the cherry blossoms called "sakura."  The flowers are pretty, but more importantly they are a metaphor for life - they appear in a burst of beauty then quickly die, reminding us that life is short and we should enjoy the beauty of our own lives, now!

The tradition is said to have started around 700 AD.  The first blossoms to be honored were plum blossoms, but soon cherry blossoms took center stage and the Hanami festival became synonymous with cherry blossoms. 

In the early days it was believed that spirits, called Kami, lived in the cherry trees, and during the Hanami festivals offerings were made to the trees and spirits.  In addition, the blossoms were used to predict the success or failure of the upcoming rice planting season.  The offerings were followed by food and sake, a rice wine that was served with great ceremony.

Emperor Saga (reigning from 809 to 823) gave the festival a more artistic flair, encouraging writing poems in tribute to the blossoms' beauty, a tradition that still continues today. An artistic kind of guy, he was also a calligrapher and a poet and is said to be the first Japanese Emperor to drink tea!

by Chiyoda Ooku Hanami - 1894

Hanami Festival in 1894

The first Hanami celebrations were only for the aristocrats, but within a few generations it became a festival for the people.  Today it is celebrated with food, sake, music and poetry writing.  Think of it as an outdoor music festival - with flowers!

Hanami Festival

Modern Hanami Festival

Japan is a long and narrow group of islands, with very different climates in the north versus the south. The cherry blossoms of Japan don't all bloom simultaneously, earlier in spring in the south, and later in the north.  So how does one keep track of the budding trees?  Weather reports on TV and in newspapers include the "Cherry Blossom Front" reporting on where the blossoms are blooming and predicting when they will blossom in your neighborhood.  The Cherry Blossom Front is serious business, with 59 specific sample trees selected across the country (and "junior trees" on call ready to be promoted to "sample tree" if a tree unexpectedly dies or becomes damaged).  The Day of Opening is announced when the sample tree has five or six opened flowers, and the Day of Full Bloom is when 80% of the sample tree's flowers have opened.

When the Day of Full Bloom arrives there is a rush to find the perfect spot under the cherry blossoms.  In crowded modern cities some people arrive at public parks hours or even days ahead to stake out the ideal location.

If you can't make it to Japan this spring you can enjoy the cherry blossoms in Washington DC.  In 1912 Japan gave 3,000 cherry blossom trees to the U.S. to celebrate the friendship between the two countries.  They were planted in Washington DC, and in 1965 another 3,800 were gifted to the U.S. Washington DC celebrates annually with the four-week National Cherry Blossom Festival

The best way to celebrate the beauty of the cherry blossoms is by wearing your Spring in Japan socks ... the first sock in our new World Traveler Sock of the Month series!  These delightful toe up socks feature an exquisite blossom lace pattern that runs up the front of the sock, with a smaller blossom running up the back.  And you don't need to follow the Cherry Blossom Front report - you can wear them every day!

Happy Knitting! ... Scout

Stinky Snails and the Color Purple

Queen Elizabeth I in Purple - Unknown Artist

Queen Elizabeth I royally dressed in purple.

Purple has been the color of royalty since, well,​ pretty much forever.  In the ancient cultures around the Mediterranean Sea, purple was the color of kings, nobles, priests and magistrates.  The tradition continued through the centuries, and Queen Elizabeth I forbade anyone but royalty to wear purple.  The truth is that the rarity and cost of the purple dye made it unlikely that anyone except royalty could afford to wear it anyway. 

Purple dye comes from the Bolinus brandaris, a small sea snail that only lives in the Tyre region of the Mediterranean Sea (which is why purple was often called "Tyrian" purple).  The snail secretes a milky mucous that is clear underwater but becomes a deep purple when exposed to air.  The snail uses the mucus to sedate prey, and it is also secreted when the snail is disturbed or scared, similar to an octopus' cloud of ink.  Dyers can collect the mucus by "milking" the snails by poking them and then collecting the mucus.  It's labor intensive, but doesn't hurt the snail.  Or the dyer can crush the snail, which is easier but also kills it. 

Now, repeat that 9,000 times.  The Bolinus brandaris snail is small, and it takes about 9,000 snails to collect just one gram of dye.  No wonder purple dye was prohibitively expensive!

Extracting the dye from the snail is a slow and stinky process.  How great would you smell after "milking" sea animals all day?  And archeological evidence suggests it was more common to extract the dye by allowing the snails to die and then decompose.  In ancient times, dyers set up their vats of decomposing snails on the edge of Tyre, because the smell was so awful it couldn't be allowed in town.

In 1909 Harvard anthropologist studied the history of the purple dying process and reproduced the ancient method himself, stating that the purple dyed cloth he studied had a "disagreeable ... strong fishy smell, which appears to be as lasting as the color itself."  The stench of the dying process (and the dyer!) was so disgusting that the Talmud allowed Jewish women to divorce a husband who had become a dyer after marriage.  

Queen Victoria in Purple - The_Secret_of_Englands_Greatness_Queen_Victoria_presenting_a_Bible_in_the_Audience_Chamber_at_Windsor - by Thomas Jones Barker - 1863

Queen Victoria in 1863. Even after the invention of chemical dyes made purple dye widely available purple still remained a royal color. 

If purple dye is so difficult and expensive to produce, how is it that us commoners can wear it today?​  You can thank William Henry Perkin, who was quite possibly the world's first chemistry nerd.  In 1856, at age 18, a professor gave Perkins the challenge to synthetically produce quinine, a very expensive malarial treatment made from the bark of a tree.  He failed in his attempt to reproduce quinine, but one of his failures created a deep purple substance.

Perkin was also a budding artist, and immediately liked the color and saw the potential of the substance as a fabric dye.  It turns out Perkins was also a shrewd businessman.  He patented the process for making purple dye and mauve dye (an entirely new color!) and was commercially successful.  For the first time ever, inexpensive purple fabric was available to anyone.

Do you want to look as regal as a queen draped in purple - but without stinking like decomposing fish?  We can help you!  The Queen's Shawlette is an elegant shawl with simple cables and an easy mesh lace, knit with the glorious hand dyed Mountain Color's Fever River Lite yarn.  The Queen's Robe colorway is royal purple with hints of spring green and fuscia - and not a single stinky snail was used in the dying process.  You'll look great and smell great in the Queen's Shawlette!

Happy Knitting! ... Scout

Amelia Earhart’s Flight Around the Globe

Amelia Earhart - March 1937

Amelia Earhart in March, 1937

Amelia Earhart was famous for many things.  She was an aviation pioneer who was the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.  She was a member of the National Women's Party, a supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, a charter member of the Ninety-Nines (a professional organization of women pilots), and a career counselor to women students at Purdue University. 

But what she is best known for is her failed attempt to circumnavigate the globe by air in 1937.

She had been planning the attempt for a few years, and although it would not be the first time a person had circled the globe by air, the route she choose would follow the equator which would make it the longest route.  Amelia first made the attempt in March of 1937, when technical problems forced her to give up the attempt.  For her next attempt she choose a new plane, a Lockheed Electra 10E, which was modified to fit a larger fuel tank. 

She wasn't flying alone.  It was important to have a navigator along.  Air navigation maps were new and often inaccurate.  So who would be best qualified to help navigate an airplane across the ocean?  A ship's captain.  She selected two:  Captain Harry Manning, captain of the transatlantic ship the President Roosevelt which had brought Amelia back from Europe in 1928 after her flight across the Atlantic, and Fred Noonan, a licensed ship captain who had worked for the pioneering airline Pan Am, where he was responsible for navigating the route and training the pilots for the Pacific Ocean air routes between San Francisco and Manila.  The plan was to fly the Pacific portion with Noonan, the Atlantic portion with Captain Manning ... and the final leg by herself. 

The flight started in Oakland, California on May 20, 1937, and the plan was to triumphantly return to Oakland on July 4th.  There were planned stops for rest, refueling and repairs, and for the most part the flight was progressing successfully. 

Amelia Earhart, 1928

Amelia Earhart, 1928

With the trip almost completed, on July 2nd Amelia and Noonan left Lae Airfield in New Guinea, headed for Howland Island, a small uninhabited island ​about halfway between Australia and Hawaii.  The United States Coast Guard ship The Itasca was stationed at the the tiny island, ready to guide her in by radio and then allow her to refuel. 

But Amelia never made it to Howland Island. 

Amelia Earhart Flight Route

Amelia Earhart Flight Route

Radio transmission was difficult and sketchy, and it's been suggested that the different equipment in Amelia's plane and The Itasca made it impossible for them to communicate on the same radio frequency.  The Itasca couldn't hear her well, and when they heard her say "We must be on you, but cannot see you - but gas is running low.  Have been unable to reach you by radio" they knew that she couldn't hear The Itasca at all.  At one point Amelia started whistling over the radio, hoping that The Itasca could locate her better with a continuous signal.  The Itasca used their oil fired boilers to create black smoke, hoping that Amelia could see the black puffs of smoke in the air to help her locate the island, but if she saw it she didn't give any indication that she did. 

So what happened?  Nobody knows. The search for Amelia's plane officially began just one hour after her last transmission, and the search lasted for 17 days, until July 19th.  After the official search ended her husband paid for additional private searches.  New theories and "evidence" occasionally pop up, but no conclusive clues to her disappearance have ever been found. 

It is most likely that Amelia ran out of fuel and crashed into the water, or landed on another island and either died on impact or survived for a few days.  During the search some reported hearing radio signals for the first few days, but there were so many planes and boats searching for her that it is impossible to know if the signals came from Amelia or from fellow searchers. 

Several theories have surfaced over the years ...

She was shot down by the Japanese ... and they captured her airplane to copy the technology for their own. (This was before the start of World War II, but while international tensions were rising). It was also reported that she had been kept alive and years later was one of the many "Tokyo Rose" women, American-sounding women used by the Japanese to send demoralizing messages to American soldiers over the radio during WWII. The theory was accepted enough that Amelia's husband listened to the Tokyo Rose recordings, but said he didn't recognize any as his wife's voice.

​Another theory is that she faked her own death then moved to New Jersey, remarried and changed her name to Irene Craigmile Bolam. This theory was proclaimed in a book published in 1970. It was later disproved, and Mrs. Bolam was not at all pleased with the attention she received from the false allegation. The publisher quickly removed the book and paid a private settlement to Mrs. Bolam.

We like this theory ... ​She was captured by aliens. ... 'nuff said!

Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart.  Because of a gap between her front teeth, she was advised to smile with her mouth closed for formal photos.

Amelia left a letter to her husband, to be opened in case the flight was her last, stating: "Please know that I am quite aware of the hazards.  I want to do it because I want to do it.  Women must try to do things as men have tried.  When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others." ​... It seems that she knew her failure could be just as inspiring as her success.

Would you like the excitement of circumnavigating the globe - without the danger?  FiberWild!'s new Sock of the Month: World Traveler series is called Around the World in 12 Socks.  You'll visit 12 exciting places around the world and knit a new sock inspired by the landscape and culture of each location, all without ever leaving your favorite knitting chair!  The odds of you mysteriously disappearing while knitting around the world are fairly slim, and the only equipment failure you will experience is that awful "ping" you hear when you drop a knitting needle on the hardwood floor.  

Pack your bags (I mean your knitting bag, of course!) ... and let's fly!​  Happy Knitting! ... Scout

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