History of the Aran Sweater

The Aran Sweater, a favorite among the knitting community, was first created for islanders and fishermen who lived on the small Aran Islands off the coast of Ireland. Here, the sweater was made at first as a need and then became an integral part of Irish culture and history. This iconic sweater lives on in popularity today, in many different patterns, textures, and places worldwide.

The Islands

The Aran Islands lay six miles off the coast of Galway Bay, west Ireland. Here, the lifestyle revolves around fishing, farming and tourism. The Islands are comprised of three parts. Inisheer is the smallest island, followed by Inishmaan, the middle-sized and Inishmore, the largest. Running water and electricity did not reach the Islands until the 70s, which meant that the hard Atlantic breeze had to be fought off with well-insulated homes and, yes, the Aran Sweater. 

The Rise of the Sweater

While the popularity of the Aran Sweater had already spread through Ireland, in 1934, a documentary called “The Man of Aran” was released in America and created a demand for Aran products throughout the country. Originally, knitting was a collaborative process for the wives and daughters of fishermen, and knitting one sweater would take around 40 to 50 hours to produce. However, as technology progressed, so did the volume of wanted sweaters, and the Aran Sweater shifted to primarily machine-made. Nevertheless, the patterns, designs and embossed decoration in every sweater still reflect the loves, lives and losses of the community it came from, despite the progression this sweater has had over time.

The Materials and Patterns

Traditionally, there was a bounty of sheep living on the Islands and most of the sweaters were made by hand. Now, Aran Sweaters are knit all over the world and with a variety of different patterns and materials. Each traditional design represents a different element of Irish history or culture. Below is a list of different styles from which each sweater can be made.

Tree of Life Sweater Vest:

This stitch pattern represents the tendrils of family, clans, or past generations. Most Aran Sweaters are made with 100% Merino Wool. Hedge Fibers Aran thread is a bouncy, super soft, and lovely thread perfect for the definition for cables and happens to be 100% Merino.

Big Diamond Sweater:

This sweater uses the Diamond Stitch, frequently matched with moss stitching, and represents the hope of future wealth. Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride Bulky is a classic blend of 85% wool and 15% mohair, a well-known staple in every knitter’s stash, and is a perfect match for this pattern.

Aran Style Cable Cardigan:

The Cable stitch represents the Fisherman’s ropes and hopes for the day’s catch. We suggest using a Lichen and Lace Worsted yarn here, as it is 100% Merino Wool and an easy knitting yarn with crisp definition to really bring out the design.

Whichever pattern you choose to knit next, there are no wrong selections when it comes to creating your very own Aran Sweater. So surround yourself in the history of Ireland every time you wear this lovely garment, and keep yourself warm too!

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