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The history of the cable knit sweater

Posted by Dan Holmes on

Have you ever wanted to know about sweater history? Good. We got you covered.

Where did cable knit come from?

The cable knit has a classic look, which is a large part of the appeal. It seems like a garment that's been around a long time. Cable knits have been worn for centuries, right? Wrong. The cable knit is actually only about 100 years old. The origins can be traced back to a tiny group of islands in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Aran Islands are a speck on the map to most people: three small islands off the west coast of Ireland. The islands are dotted with cliffs near the shore as well as expanses of limestone jutting from the ground. A freak of geography allows the islands to have an extremely unusual temperate climate for such a northern location. As a result, the Arans enjoy one of the longest growing seasons anywhere in northern Europe.

The first folks to live on the Arans were exiles from mainland Ireland, fleeing wars and the like. They eventually gravitated toward fishing, the seas filled with tasty catches. That's one of the reasons the cable knit sweater was born in the Aran Islands.

The fishermen in Ireland

In the 1890s, mainlanders introduced a top called a "guernsey jumper", which was used by fishermen to stay warm on the water. According to wikipedia, "these guernsey jumpers have similar stitch patterns, though usually only on the yoke, and are worked in fine wool not available to the Aran Islanders." The locals soon started using "thicker local wool, all-over patterning, and different construction such as saddle-shoulders, rather than the more usual gusseted drop sleeve."

The "Aran jumper" became popular with the locals on the Aran islands, available in cardigan styles and pullovers. The stitching increased in complexity with more stitching patterns, some of them thicker, or "cabled." No one was yet calling them cable knits, however, that would take another few decades.  

The woman who gave birth to the cable knit

How do you become a world famous knitter?

One stitch at a time, people. One stitch at a time.

The most famous knitter in history was Elizabeth Zimmermann, a British-born woman who emigrated to the United States in the 1930s and went on to host her own knitting show on PBS in the 1950s. Zimmermann advocated many new knitting styles and impacted trends in the industry for decades.

By the 1930s, the "Aran jumper" had migrated to the mainland of Ireland and in the 1940s, World War II

In 1958, influenced by the Aran cable process, Zimmermann knitted the first Aran (cable knit) sweater ever featured in a U.S. magazine. The sweater appeared in Vogue, and a pattern was included. Shortly after, American women were copying the pattern and Aran-inspired cable knit items were appearing on this side of the ocean. It quickly became popular with people from all economic groups, not just the rich, which had been the case in Europe.   

Vogue magazine makes the cable knit popular in America

When Vogue published their cable knit article in a '58 issue of their magazine it sparked an interest in the garment in America. Fairly quickly, the cable knit sweater started to make an appearance in the U.S. as a popular cool-weather option. It also became a fashion statement.  

Pop icons and the cable knit sweater

Close your eyes. Think of a cable knit sweater. Now think of a famous person wearing a cable knit. Do any come to mind? There are probably a few.

Maybe the most iconic cable knit from a motion picture comes from The Truman Show starring Jim Carrey. In the final scene, a culmination of Truman's search for independence, he wears a dark cable knit sweater as he sails a small boat to get out of his "world."

Others known for wearing a cable knit sweater are actors Grace Kelly and Robert Taylor, both fashion icons.

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How to Choose a Bean Bag Chair: A 5-Step Guide

Posted by Dan Holmes on

So you want a bean bag chair? Here's a five-step guide to choosing a good one.

  1. Step 1: Select a Size
  2. Step 2: Select a Shape
  3. Step 3: Choose the Insides
  4. Step 4: Choose the Outsides
  5. Step 5: Check for Quality & Service

Step 1: Select a Size of Bean Bag

What size bean bag chair do you need? How many people are going to be sitting on it? Where will you use it? Answer these questions first.

If you're replacing a couch, consider choosing a bean bag lounger. A lounger is shaped more like a couch, longer as opposed to round like a typical bean bag chair. A lounger will typically seat two or three or more depending on the size.

If you're seeking a bean bag to take the place of a recliner or to provide single seating, get a round bean bag. A 4-foot is a good place to start. If you want more room, go to a 5-foot chair. A 6-foot is good for two people to have some room.

Keep in mind that the bigger you go the more space you'll need but also the chair or lounger will be more cumbersome to move.

Step 2: Select a Bean Bag Shape

Most bean bag chairs are round or a traditional tear-drop shape. Those chairs are designed to wrap nicely around one person, sort of swallowing them up with a big hug. But premium bean bag manufacturers offer loungers as well.

A bean bag lounger is longer, shaped more like a jolly rancher (without the stickiness). A lounger is more like a couch, providing seating for multiple people, while also offering a place for one person to stretch out. One person can lay down on a lounger and have their entire body suspended by the bean bag, like stretching out on a couch.

Which shape do you need depends on how you want to use the bean bag. Many of our church and school customers choose loungers because they want to offer seating for many young people.  

Step 3: Choose the Insides

Bean bags can be filled with nearly anything. Originally bean bags were stuffed with synthetic polyvinyl chloride beads, or PVC. Those things eventually became known as "beans" and the name was born. But beans don't really amount to a hill of beans.

Chairs filled with beans are cheaper and will not last as long. The chairs you probably see in department stores and on shelves, that cost $89, those are stuffed with the synthetic beans. They won't last long, which is why they cost so little --- they're basically throwaway items. But premium chairs are much better made.

The best bean bag chairs aren't actually bean bag chairs at all. That's because they're filled with foam. The better the foam, the better the chair.

Foam is softer and more durable than beans. Furniture-grade foam is the same foam that's used in the arms and cushions of your sofa and recliner. Furniture-grade foam will not flatten like beans. It will take years and years before furniture-grade foam flattens at all. If you want a chair that lasts, walk past the beans and choose a chair with foam.

Step 4: Choose the Outsides

The first bean bag chairs were leather. While leather is durable and classy, it's not what you want to lounge on for hours. Most quality bean bags have an outer shell made with quality fabrics like twill and microsuede. The covers are manufactured with care so the zippers and seams are durable.

You can also find specialty fabrics, such as polar bear fleece, cableknit, and other soft fleece or shag options.

Make sure you get a bean bag that has an inner liner. The inner liner secures the foam, while the cover slips over the top of the inner liner. That ensures that your foam (or other filling) stays secure and does not spill when you want to remove the cover.

Premium bean bag companies will make their product with a removable washable cover. 

Step 5: Shop for Quality and Service

Lastly, investigate the manufacturer before purchase. is the retailer the manufacturer? Do they offer a warranty and how long is it? What does the warranty cover? How long has the company been making bean bags? Are they committed to making quality products or are they simply making cheap bean bags for mass consumption? What would you rather have, a cheap bean bag that will break down, leak beans, and have a torn zipper, or a premium bag that lasts years and is hand-stitched and filled with high-grade foam?

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Xorbee sells premium bean bag chairs filled with hand-sorted furniture-grade foam. Our covers are removable, washable, and hand-stitched in the USA. We offer a lifetime warranty and we've been making bean bags for more than 20 years. We believe in providing only quality products to our customers. Many of our customers have been with us for years. Browse our bean bag collection.

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A complete, cuddly history of the Teddy Bear

Posted by Dan Holmes on

When Theodore Roosevelt came upon a bear that was trapped (or some reports say he was tied) to a tree, his hunting party urged him to shoot the animal. The U.S. President would have none of it. He insisted it wouldn't be sporting.

A newspaper subsequently published a cartoon depicting the incident. Spurred by the cartoon, which showed Roosevelt turning his back (and his gun) away from a cute little bear cub, an enterprising entrepreneur made a fuzzy toy and dubbed it "Teddy's Bear." That was 1902 and it was Christmas, and the entrepreneur, a man named Morris Michtom, eventually established a toy empire, largely built on what would be called the teddy bear.

A little bit of housekeeping: Roosevelt's hunting trip was a political maneuver to appease the Governor of Mississippi, who had been having a rough time after some unpopular decisions. The Governor, a dapper man with a bushy mustache named Andrew Longino, hoped that the beloved Roosevelt would shoot lots of animals in the woods of his state and garner press attention. Roosevelt shot lots of things. Secondly, Michtom was a Jewish-American immigrant who scraped together enough money to open a candy shop in Brooklyn in the late 19th century. A man of inspiration, when he saw the cartoon of Roosevelt (drawn by famed Washington cartoonist Clifford Berryman, the fella whose cartoon of the explosion of the USS Maine helped start the Spanish-American War), he got his wife Rosie to stitch together the little stuffed bears he designed in the backroom of his candy shop. Lastly, President Roosevelt had many nicknames: some people called him TR, his close family called him "Teedie", his children called him "Papa", but he hated the nickname "Teddy".

As often happens with these things, a second inventor created a "teddy bear" at the same time as Michtom. His name was Richard Steiff, a wildlife artist living in Germany. Steiff was one of those young men who found himself daydreaming a lot while he tried to figure out what he wanted to be when he grew up. As an art student in Stuggart, he often spent the time he should have been studying at the zoo, where he liked to sketch the bears he saw there. When he saw the Berryman cartoon he was prompted to design a prototype for a stuffed bear with moveable limbs. In 1904 he sold 12,000 of his Teddy Bears at the World's Fair in St. Louis, which was opened by Roosevelt and attracted nearly 20 million people in seven months.

Two other milestones helped increase the popularity of the Teddy Bear. In 1905, Seymour Eaton launched a book series titled "The Roosevelt Bears", which sort of became the Harry Potter of its time; and in 1907, composer John Walter Bratton penned a song called "Teddy Bears' Picnic", which became a hit. Bratton reportedly hated the song (he wanted a mainstream hit and considered the tune to be for kids), but he didn't balk when checks started coming in.

In those first few years, Teddy Bears were made to look more like actual bears, with long snouts and small eyes. Many were made to look like black and brown bears, grizzly bears and panda bears, and even polar bears. Later, through the popularity of Steiff's design, the bears had larger eyes and small noses and were formed to be huggable. The fur evolved into the light, fuzzy brown that we know today.

History of the Teddy Bear

In 1926, British author A.A. Milne wrote "Winnie-the-Pooh", which was followed quickly by "The House at Pooh Corner" and two other collections of stories about a boy and his teddy bear who comes to life. Once Disney purchased the rights to the series they produced ten films starring Pooh starting in 1966.

In both World War I and World War II, soldiers were known to bring teddy bears into the battle zone with them, either for comfort, as a reminder of home, or as a mascot. In the popular television show M*A*S*H*, Corporal Walter "Radar" O'Reilly slept with a teddy bear during his time in the Korean War.

By the 1950s, Teddy Bears were so popular that they'd become one of the ten best selling toys annually. A new word was coined: an "arctophile" is a person who loves teddy bears. In subsequent years several teddy bears entered pop culture, including Paddington Bear, Corduroy, Teddy Ruxpin, and The Care Bears. They became prominent in advertising (Snuggle bears), food (gummy bears) and even horror ("Dolls" in 1977 and the horrifying "Teddy" in 2011).

Today, the Teddy bear industry is worth more than $1 billion annually. Teddy bears are all over the place, and still delighting young people all around the globe.

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See our foam-filled bean bag chairs with a Teddy Bear fur covering.

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A complete History of the Bean Bag Chair

Posted by Dan Holmes on

Pizza, eyeglasses, the ice cream cone. All wonderful things, right? You can thank the Italians for those three items.

The bean bag chair too.

The first bean bag chair was invented fifty years ago by three Italians for a company called Sacco in 1968. A lot has changed since that first bean bag was mass produced. Today, most sensible people realize that it's much better to rest on a chair filled with foam. Beans aren't worth a hill of beans when it comes to seating.

The First Bean Bag Chair

First Bean Bag Chair

Piero Gatti, Cesare Paolini and Franco Teodoro were commissioned by Sacco in 1968 to design a new type of chair that would appeal to a young demographic that desired new materials and counter-culture. They called it the "shapeless chair" and it was completely different. The chair was tear-drop in shape with a spot for sitting and a tall back support. The Sacco shapeless chair was filled with synthetic polyvinyl chloride beads, or PVC.

The leather shell paid homage to the great leather craftsmanship that Italy was known for, and the stitching on the Sacco shapeless chair was superb, which assisted in creating a consistent seating surface.

The Hippie Chair

In the late 1960s, the hippie counter culture was in full swing. Hippies wanted to opt out of traditional society, seeking new experiences and new items for their lifestyle. The Sacco bean bag chair was popular with hippies in Italy: the young, apartment-sharing college students and dropouts who flopped themselves onto the new piece of furniture. It was also popular because it could easily be tossed in the back of a car or van.

The three Italian designers believed that their new chair would be popular because it created a symbiotic relationship with the user. When no one was sitting in a traditional chair it still held its form as a chair. It looked like a chair, it acted like a chair, and it was a chair once and always. But a bean bag wasn't truly formed into a chair until a person sat on it, when it worked in unison with their body to become a chair. It needed a person to become what it truly was.

The 1970s: The Golden Age of Bean Bag Chairs

Bean Bag Chair History

After its popularity in Italy in the late 1960s, the bean bag chair was soon available as soft seating almost anywhere in the world. In the 1970s, bean bags were popular in Europe, Asia, and in North America, where they boomed on college campuses.

But the first commercially successful bean bag chairs were not like the original Sacco bag created in Italy. The popular bean bags of the 1970s were cheaper products with lower quality covers and beans that flattened rather quickly. They were inexpensive, and millions were sold.

The bean bag chairs of the 1970s matched the aesthetic of that era: bold, bright colors and lively prints. 

The Great Exodus

In the 1980s many companies shifted their manufacturing to China and other foreign countries where material costs were very low and labor was cheap. The only thing manufacturers cared about was how cheaply and quickly they could make bean bags. Mass production of low-quality products was the craze.

During this period and into the 1990s, bean bags were stagnant. The sales of bean bag chairs flattened, just like the expanded polysterene (EPS) they were filled with.

It seemed as if bean bag chairs might go the way of lava lamps, pet rocks, moon boots, and other fads. But a big change was around the corner, and that resurgence was called...

Foam-Filled Bean Bag Chairs

Xorbee Bean Bag Chair

Most "bean" bag chairs are filled with polysterene beans. Those little "pellets" are cheap to make and easy to blow into any shape. But they don't last long. Eventually, after being squashed and sat on many times, they will flatten. It's science.

But quality furniture doesn't flatten that easily because the "comfort" part of a comfortable arm chair or couch is made of foam. About 20 years ago, a few companies realized that a "bean" bag chair was much more comfy without the beans. Foam also lasted much longer. The future was filled with foam. 

Once people realized that bean bag chairs could be very comfortable and last a long time, they wanted them made to high standards. Luckily, at the same time, there was a consumer-driven trend toward better quality, (often hand-crafted) products. In many ways consumers were forcing manufacturers to look backwards to find better ways to make things.

The high-quality foam-filled bean bag chair, like the one made by Xorbee, has furniture-grade, hand-sorted foam inside. It has an inner liner to secure the foam against spills and to allow the cover to be removed and washed. The covers are hand-stitched and expertly crafted so they stand up against wear and tear.

Bean bags of the 21st century offer many cover choices, such as twill, suede or microsuede, leather, and fur. These high-quality foam-filled chairs are more stylish, making consumers more likely to show them off. The modern bean bag chair has graduated from the kids room and the dorm room to the living room and home theater.

At the same time, foam-filled bean bag chairs with quality covers are more durable. That means the consumer has a choice between the cheaper $90 bag and the premium bags available from Xorbee and competitors.  

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9 things you didn't know were made of foam

Posted by Dan Holmes on

Foam isn't just for cups anymore. It's used in countless products, and it pops up in places you probably didn't know about.

Movie Props

How does George Clooney still stay cool after a bad guy hits him in the head with the butt of a revolver? How is it possible that Tom Hanks can take a frying pan to the head and live to tell about it? It's movie magic and it only happens because the production team uses a foam prop.

Movie prop experts can craft almost anything out of foam, for example many guns used in films (that don't need to fire) are actually molded from foam. You can get frying pans, cement blocks, hammers, and even baseball bats that look like the real thing, but are actually harmless foam props.

Even more ghoulish: the severed hands and other body parts in "The Walking Dead" are made from foam.  

Whipped Cream

Ok, so this isn't manufacturing foam. But technically, whipped cream is a foam in a scientific sense. Whipped cream, meringue, and mousse are all foams, because they are made by suspending air to form a gel or stabilizing agent. That means there's no air, but it's still yummy.

Fire Extinguishers

What should you do when a fire breaks out? Throw water on it, right? Not necessarily.

Sure, water puts out fires, but it doesn't do it the most efficient way. Water extinguishes the heat of a fire, halting it's growth and progress. But foam is a more scientific way to put out a fire: choking the fire by separating the oxygen from the heat. Foam fire extinguishers use a type of foam that looks a lot like shaving cream to blast into the fire and cut it off at its deadly oxygen source.

Surfboards

The Beach Boys sang "Everybody's gone surfin...surfin USA!"

You can go surfing on a foam board, in fact many of the best surfboards are made from foam cores molded with firm (but pliable) high-grade foam. It's then covered with fiberglass cloth and polyester resin so the owner can "hang ten."

A Heart

How would you feel if you had a foam ticker?

In 2015, researchers at Cornell University created a heart made of foam. The organ could "beat" just like a regular human heart.

Somehow I think I would have been less hurt if Stacey Bowles had broken my foam heart in high school instead of the real flesh-and-blood thing.

Football Helmets

There's been a lot of controversy about concussions in football lately and the topic is sure to continue to be important to the health of athletes and the future of the NFL.

According to Popular Science, a student at Brigham Young named Jake Merrell invented a "smart" football helmet that uses memory foam and sensors to transmit data wirelessly to a tablet with information on the force and acceleration of an impact on the field in real-time. Pretty slick, and helpful for keeping athletes safe.

Car Bumpers

We tend to think that "hard" things are tougher than soft things. Metal is a better material to protect us on the road than soft, spongy foam, right? Not exactly.

A mechanical engineering professor named Afsaneh Rabiei at the University of Tokyo has spent her career researching the properties of materials. She noticed that in nature the strongest materials are made up of soft, non-solid materials at the molecular level. In nature, "strong" is made from "flexible." Rabiei developed a "foam metal" and molded car bumpers out of the material. While cars have long had softer materials on their frame, in this case the bumper itself is made from foam. A car with a foam metal bumper will absorb the shock in an accident much better and help passengers stay safer.

Playing Cards

Why would you want foam playing cards rather than paper or plastic? Because they hold up longer to the wear-and-tear of human hands. (Or maybe monkey hands if you play gin rummy at the zoo).

The game company Zazzle makes dozens of playing card sets produced from foam.

"Bean Bag" Chairs

The industry still tends to call them "bean bag" chairs even if the best ones (Xorbee, hint hint) are not filled with beans. Instead of beans, which flatten over time and end up leaking onto your living room floor, foam-filled bean bags are packed with quality furniture-grade foam. Try sitting in one, and you'll realize the difference.   

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