History of the Aran Sweater

Aran Sweaters – A Symbol of Ireland

The beginnings of the Aran Jumper / sweater go all the way back to the a place on the west Coast of Ireland known as the Aran Islands, and the knitting style the islands became internationally known for are said to have been introduced as early as the 1600’s.

Most of the island’s dewellers were either fishermen or farmer whose lives were deeply connected. It was in this environment that the Aran sweater was born as something that both united and differentiated the inhabitants of the Aran Islands.

The History of the Aran Sweater. (Aran Jumper)

Aran sweaters, which are also often called cable knit sweaters and Aran Isle sweaters, have always been representations of the lives of their wearers as they tell of the lives and families of those who own them. There are many complex and very different combination’s of stitches. Each having it’s own meaning, and though they may look similar, each Aran sweater tells its own special story.

Much information can be interpreted to anyone who understands how to interpret the Aran Sweater design patterns. On the Aran Islands these patterns were protected with family pride, as if they were patented! On occasion the sweaters would help in telling of any deceased fishermen that washed up onshore after an accident at while out at sea.

Meanings of the Stitches

The unique and intricate stitches that go into the making of an Aran sweater make them extremely sought after and highly collectible. A usual Aran sweater will have approximately 100,000 stitches, and can take months to complete, But the careful care and amount of time it takes to make an Aran sweater does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Each stitch represents something unique and special:

The Cable Stitch

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The cable stitch is the most common Aran Sweater knitting pattern and was originally used to represent a fisherman’s ropes. The wearer is said to have success at work such as having a big catch at sea.

Aran Sweater Stitching – The Diamond Stitch

The diamond stitch reflects the small fields of the Aran islands. This was where Aran men would spend most of their days when not at sea. This Aran Sweater stitch is used in to represent good luck, success and wealth in the fields of the Aran Islands.

Aran Sweater Stitching – The Zig Zag Stitch

In this picture we see a the cable stitch (meaning as discussed above) down the center and zig zag patterns on either side of the cable stitching in the centre. The zig zag stitch represents something that many can related to – the ups and downs of marriage. Alternative is also depicts the twisting cliff paths that are on the islands.

Aran Sweater Stitching – The Honeycomb Stitch

The honeycomb stitch is for the hardworking among us and is said to represent hard working and the fruits of these rewards.

Aran Sweater Stitching – The Trellis Stitch

The trellis stitch had a distinct interlocking pattern. This style of stitching refers to the stone-walled fields of the Northwestern farming communities which are still visible to this day all over western Ireland.

Aran Sweater Patter – The Tree of Life Stitch

The Tree of Life stitch as it suggest refers to have a close knit family and represents the importance of the clan, clan unity, strong parents and healthy children. Overall, it’s design is in hopes of strong and long-lasting family lines.

The Main Attributes of the Aran Sweater

The attributes of the Aran sweater is what made it such a logical and practical item of clothing to wear for Aran Islands dewellers. The sweaters are made of 100% natural Irish wool that is extremely breathable which keep the body at an stable temperature. The sweater itself is water resistant to a degree which protects its wearer from rain and ocean water, which is why it became such a popular fashion item in the yachting community in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

The Aran Sweater can usually absorb up to 30% of it’s weight in water before it begins to feel wet. The most important attribute though, especially on the Aran Islands, was the fact that the wool would keep its wearer nice and warm during cold days/nights out at sea. The wool is a great insulator, which prevents the wearer from becoming too hot or too cold.

The Aran Sweater Nowadays.

With technology the number of factory machine-made Aran sweaters has increased greatly, and will probably continue to do so in the immediate future. The high demand for Aran sweaters makes it difficult for people to take the time needed to do it by hand, so the number of available hand-knit sweaters for sale is quite low, but there are still people and companies who do make hand-knit Aran sweaters. These hand-knit sweaters are very rare and valuable. Aran sweaters are still sought after for their quality, history, heritage, and durability.

How to wearn an Aran Sweater for Men

Buying an Aran sweater is not enough, you also have to be know to wear it too. The beginnings of the sweater reveal that the sweater was mainly designed for the working man, mostly fishermen and to a lesser extent farmers. With this in mind, it was not designed to be worn for formal occasions. While you may not want to wear it while you’re doing back breaking manual labor, you do want to keep it as casual as possible for the most part. Wear your Aran sweater with a pair of jeans is a great look, or if you’re going out to dinner wearing a white Aran sweater with a pair of beige khaki’s and a dress shirt underneath will be a great casual and classy look.

Summary – The Aran Sweater

Overall, the importance of the Aran sweater and its history cannot be questioned. It’s an extremely valuable article of clothing because of it’s comfort, history, comfort, tradition, flexibility and warmth. Owning an Aran sweater will add not just any sweater to your collection, but a sweater that is rich in Irish history and Irish tradition.



2 thoughts on “History of the Aran Sweater

  1. Pingback: 14. Learn To Knit | Just Nora.

  2. Pingback: Irish Fisherman Sweater providing fashion and tradition

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