The origins of the Aran sweater trace back to the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland, and the hand-knitting the islands became known for are said to have been introduced as early as the 17th century.
The majority of the island’s inhabitants were either farmers or fisherman whose lives were deeply intertwined.
It was in this environment that the Aran sweater was born as something that both united and differentiated the inhabitants of the Aran Islands.
Each sweater told of “clans,” almost like a family crest, and these specific patterns were passed down from within each clan from generation to generation, becoming an extremely significant marker of Irish tradition and heritage.
The Aran Sweater’s History
Aran sweaters, which are also often times known as cable knit sweaters and Aran Isle sweaters, have always been symbols of the lives of their wearers as they are able to effectively tell of the lives and families of those who don them.
There are many combination’s of stitches and they each have their own meaning, and though they may look the same, each sweater tells its own story and is specifically unique.
A lot of information can be revealed to anyone who knows how to interpret the patterns. On the Aran Islands these patterns were guarded vigorously with pride, as if they were patented. Oftentimes the sweaters would assist in telling of any dead fishermen that washed up onshore after accident at sea.
Meanings of the Stitches
The intricate and unique stitches that go into an Aran sweater make them extremely popular and valuable. A given 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
The cable stitch, which is found in most Aran sweaters, was originally used to represent a fisherman’s ropes, and wearing one would better qualify you to have a fruitful day out at sea.
The Diamond Stitch
The diamond stitch represents and reflects the small fields on the islands (which were labored upon by the many farmers that inhabited there). This stitch is used in hopes of good luck, success and wealth in the fields of the Aran Islands.
The Zig Zag Stitch
In this picture we see a cable stitch down the center and zig zag patterns on each side of the cable center. The zig zag stitch represents the ups and downs of marriage as well as the twisting cliff paths that are on the islands.
The Honeycomb Stitch
The honeycomb stitch represents hard work and its sweet rewards.
The Trellis Stitch
The trellis stitch represents the stone-walled fields of the Northwestern farming communities.
The Tree of Life Stitch
The Tree of Life stitch 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 attributes of the Aran sweater made it a very practical and useful article of clothing to have on the Aran Islands. The sweaters are made of natural wool that is breathable which helps keep the body at an even temperature. The sweater itself is water repellent which protects its wearer from rain and ocean water.
Also, an Aran Sweater can typically absorb 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 warm during cold nights and days out at sea.
The wool that the sweater is made with is great for insulation, which prevents the wearer from becoming too hot or too cold.
The Aran Sweater Today
The number of machine made Aran sweaters has greatly increased over the year, and will probably continue to do so for some time.
The demand for sweaters makes it difficult for people to take the time needed to do it by hand, so the number of hand-knit sweaters 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. Even today, hundreds of years after Aran sweaters started to be made, they are still sought after for their quality, history, heritage, and durability.
Of course, just owning an Aran sweater is not enough – you have to be able to wear it too. So how should one go about wearing one? The origins of the sweater reveal that the sweater was designed for the working man – mainly fishermen or farmers.
With this in mind, it was not designed to be worn formally. While you may not want to wear it while you’re doing manual labor, you do want to keep it casual for the most part.
Wearing an Aran sweater with a pair of jeans on a crisp fall day is a great look, or if you’re going out to dinner wearing a white Aran sweater with a pair of khaki’s and a dress shirt underneath will be a great casual and classy look.
The Aran Sweater In Conclusion
Overall, the significance of the Aran sweater and its history can’t be denied. It’s an extremely valuable article of clothing because of it’s history, tradition, comfort, warmth and flexibility.
Owning an Aran sweater will add not just any sweater to your collection, but a sweater that is rich in history and tradition.