Cool Toes for Flip Flops!

Doctors in early America realized that yellow fever was more prevalent in warm climates and cooler weather reduced the number of cases.  So the thinking was that cooling the air would cure yellow fever ... but how could one cool the air during the heat of summer?

Cutting Ice

A 19th century ice team cutting ice.

In 1844 Dr. John Gorrie, a Florida doctor, experimented with air cooling systems. He hung trays of ice along the ceiling of his sick rooms.  Warm air rises and cold air falls, so the warm air would rise to the ceiling where it was cooled by the trays of ice.  Then the cold air would fall, where it cooled the patient in his sick bed.  As the ice cooled the room Dr. Gorrie assumed he would cure his patients of yellow fever.

His air cooling system required a lot of ice, but it's not easy to find ice in Florida! It was common in the northern states to cut ice from ponds and lakes in the winter, then store the ice in a well insulated building called an "ice house" for use in the summer.  Dr. Gorrie purchased ice from the northern states and had it shipped down to Florida.  The time and labor involved in cutting, storing and shipping the ice made it very expensive.  When supplies ran low and prices went even higher, Dr. Gorrie decided to create his own ice. Following vapor compression technology that had been developed in the 1830s, he created an ice making machine in 1844 and received a patent for his invention in 1851.

Ice House - The Official Gazette of the US Patent Office - 1895

Plans for a very well insulated Ice House, 1895.

Everyone was cured of yellow fever, right?  Well, no.  Dr. Gorrie's primitive form of air conditioning made his patients more comfortable with the cooler air, but they were not cured. His patients were dying just as frequently as the patients of doctors who didn’t use his air cooling system.  Today doctors know that yellow fever is a virus spread by mosquitoes.  Yellow fever is more common in warmer climates because mosquitoes thrive in warm weather - not because of the air temperature itself. 

Dr. Gorrie's ice making machine made him an enemy of the wealthy and powerful "Ice King" Frederic Tudor.  Tudor was an American businessman who became a pioneer in the international ice trade.  He made his fortune by cutting ice from his home in New England and then shipping it to the Caribbean, Europe and India.  An ice making machine would drive Tudor out of business!

At the same time Dr. Gorrie also received moral criticism for his invention.  Only God could make ice - did Dr. Gorrie think he was better than God?  How dare he make man-made ice instead of using the natural ice that the Good Lord had provided for us!  It has been suggested that Frederic Tudor may have been behind the moral objections to Dr. Gorrie's ice making machine.

Considering himself a failure, Dr. Gorrie died in 1855 almost 100 years before air modern conditioning became a part of everyday life.

Do you want cool toes?  You could hang trays of ice from the ceiling like Dr. Gorrie, but a more attractive solution is to knit the Flip Floppers toe-less socks.  Show off a pedicure, play "This Little Piggy Went to Market", and wear your favorite flip flops with this cool summertime project! This KAL starts July 6th with Katie Rempe!

Happy Knitting! ... Scout

Bredmose Woman’s “Sprang” Bog Cap

Bredmose Woman Bog Hairnet

Bredmose Woman Sprang Cap

A "bog body" is a human body that has been mummified in a peat bog.  The acidic water, lack of oxygen and cold temperatures of the bog preserve bodies remarkably well​ - some still have well preserved skin, eyelashes and even beard stubble!  The oldest bog body is thought to have lived around 8,000 B.C.  While the bog bodies themselves are interesting, what is really fascinating is the stuff found along with the bodies. 

In 1942 the "Bredmose Woman," also known as the "Arden Woman," was found in the Bredmose bog in the Parish of Store Arden, in Denmark.  She is thought to have lived around 1400 B.C and was around 20 to 25 years old at her death.  While many bog bodies show signs of violence, she did not.

Her hair was dark blonde and formed into two braids that were coiled around the top of her head.  Over her hair she wore a "sprang" cap.

You don't hear of sprang work very often.  It looks somewhat like knitting, and it is possible that early archeologists who discovered sprang work misidentified it as knitting (keep in mind that the first archeologists in the 19th century were mostly men and generally not knitters).  While sprang looks similar to knitting, it has more in common with weaving.

Sprang is done on a loom, and it has warp rows only, no weft rows (up and down rows only, no side-to-side threads).  The warp rows are twisted, similar to the child's game of cat's cradle.  The work is done in the middle, and as the warp rows are twisted it creates identical patterns at each end.  If you let go the whole thing will unravel, so a stick is used in the center to keep the twists from unraveling.  A stick is also used to beat down the work, moving the work closer to the ends so there is room to continue working in the center. 

Sprang on Loom

Sprang on a loom,
with a stick holding the tension.

The work is complete when the desired design is achieved, or because there are so many twists that there isn't room to twist any more.  The center is then secured so it doesn't unravel, leaving a seam.  This seam is a telltale sign that the work is sprang and not knitting, crochet or anything else.

Very few people do sprang work anymore, and the few that do tend to be historians or historical reenactors ... people who are interested in recreating an old garment not for any practical reason, just for the thrill of reviving a lost art.  I mean, really, you don't see anyone wearing a bog cap for a night on the town or even just for a quick run to the grocery store. 

So while creating a sprang work bog cap might be fun, a more practical pursuit would be to honor the Nordic roots of the Bredmose Woman with Tahki's Nordica yarn ... and the perfect project is Patty Lyons' new Soho Slip Stitch Sweater KAL.  It is often said that school children loose a lot of learning over the summer and start the next school year about three months behind where they were at the start of summer.  That's not a concern for you, because this summer project is more like an online class with fun how-to's and instructional videos to keep your knitting skills sharp through the summer!

And as an extra bonus, the Nordica yarn is a 100% Virgin Extrafine Superwash Merino wool.  Since it's machine washable, you don't have to worry if you just happen to fall into a bog while wearing your new Soho Slip Stitch Sweater!

Happy Knitting! ... Scout

Tip Toe through the Tulips

Our local farmers grow corn and soy beans.  An aerial view ​of Northwest Illinois is a quilt-like pattern with drab squares of various shades of green, brown and yellow.  It's neat ... but can't compare to the awesome, vibrant colors of the tulip fields of Amsterdam!

Tulip Fields

Tulips Fields

Think of tulips and you think of Holland, but it wasn't always so. Tulips are believed to have been first cultivated in the Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey).  They were brought to Holland in the sixteenth century, but didn't make much of a splash until they caught the eye of Carolus Clusius. 

Born in 1526, Clusius was a trained medical doctor who became a pioneering botanist and horticulturist.  Doctoring and gardening seem like very different trades today, but during Clusius' time a doctor was expected to understand the medicinal properties of plants ... so doctoring and gardening were rather closely related.  In 1573 Clusius was appointed prefect of the imperial medical garden in Vienna by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II.  But, being a political job, he lost the position just three years later when Maximilian II died and a new Emperor was crowned. 

Despite his demotion, Clusius remained a well known botanist.  The University of Leiden (still teaching today and recognized as the oldest university in the Netherlands) established a garden for the medical students called the Hortus Botanicus, and in 1593 Clusius was appointed as prefect.  He was a scientific horticulturist, and his notes and planting lists were so detailed that, in 2009, 400 years after his death, the Hortus Botanicus created the "Clusius Garden". The Clusius Garden recreates the Hortus Botanicus of the early 1600s and it is still open for tours daily).

Carolus Clusius - 1585

Carolus Clusius, 1585

Hortus Botanicus in Leiden, 1610

Hortus Botanicus, 1610

In addition to his medical botany, Clusius enjoyed the beauty of tulips, and his writings on tulips made the flowering bulb famous.  Western Europe was entranced by the flower's bold colors, and impressed with the tulip's early blooming - a cheerful burst while so much of the outside world still appeared to be dead from the winter.  The tulip was so well regarded that Western Europe was overcome by "Tulipmania."  Prices were so high for tulips that speculators bought futures on bulbs (not just the flowers, but the bulbs), creating the first economic bubble and bust.  (Think back to the Beanie Baby boom in the 1990s, where beanies that were once bought and sold for thousands of dollars now are set out in a "Free" box at garage sales). 

Our tribute to the beauty of tulips is the Tulips Fields sock, the newest member of our World Traveler Sock of the Month series.  Non-knitters will look at these socks and say "Oooo, so many pretty colors!" and knitters will look at them and say "Agh! All those colors!"  But relax ... you do not have to change colors every two or three stitches because the tulip rows in the leg are knit sideways, in long horizontal stripes.  Much easier than you would think at first glance!

Tip toe through the tulips of Amsterdam - without ever leaving your favorite knitting chair.  ​

Happy Knitting ... Scout!