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History of Aran Sweaters | Irish Fishermen's Sweaters | Standun

The History of the Aran Sweater


aran islands irish sweater patterns


The Aran Sweater takes its name from the set of islands on the most westernly point of Ireland off the coast of Galway - The Aran Islands. The Aran Islands are very exposed to the harsh weather conditions of Connemara and are at the mercy of the relentless Atlantic ocean. The Aran Sweaters date back many generations. The Islanders were fishermen and farmers whose lives and livelihoods were deeply tangled. The Aran Sweater was born of this setting, passed down from generation to generation. Nowadays, the Aran Sweater is part of Irish heritage but also has become a fashionable item of clothing on the catwalks.

Stitches and Patterns ....

From its origins, the Aran sweater has been linked to families and their identities. The patterns and their numerous combinations of stitches that can be seen on the aran sweaters aren't by accident.These patterns or stitches represent aspects of the peoples lives in Connemara and the Aran Islands at that time. Farming and Fishing were the most important activities at the time and the people depended on these activities for their livelihood.

Common stitches such as the "cable" takes it's inspiration from the Fisherman's rope, the "Diamond" takes it's inspiration from the fishing nets and represents wealth and success. A number of stitches also take their inspiration from religion such as the trinity stitch.

          aran islands irish sweater patterns     
Sheep in Connemara used for yarn to make Aran Sweaters

The Perfect Garment...

The Aran Sweater was the most appropriate garmet for the islanders and the fishermen and farmers of Connemara to wear at the time. Due to sheeps wool containing an oil called "Lanolin" it was water repellant and resistant and great for the harsh weather conditions they faced. Up to a few years ago Aran Sweaters containing "Lanolin" were still purchased by local people at Standun. However, the sweaters were very heavy with oil and had a strong odour and therefore there was no longer a market for this traditional sweater. Nowadays the oil is extracted from the yarn before knitting the sweater.

Even without the natural oil in the Aran Sweater it is still water repellent, and rain resistant therefore keeping the wearer dry. It can absorb 30% of it's weight in water before the wearer feels wet.  The natural wool fibre makes the sweaters both warm and breathable.

A Unique Garment.....

An Aran Sweater that has been Handknit is a very special and unique garment. It takes between 3 weeks and 6 weeks of work to complete it. It also contains approximately 100,000 intricate stitches. The quality of a handknit sweater is superb and because of the tight stitches used, the patterns and stitches can be seen more clearly. The weight of a hand knit sweater is also very different to a machine knit sweater. A Hand Knit sweater is very heavy particularly when it is wet. Handknit sweaters generally cost over €100 each, due to the work and time involved in making them. At Standun we sell Handknit Sweaters at approximately €100 sometimes a little less. However in general prices are very high for Handknit Aran Sweaters.

 Traditional Aran Crew Neck Sweater
Handknit Aran Sweater Cardigan Lumber

Handknit V Machine Knit.....

Machines are now being used more and more to make Aran Sweaters and although it is sad that the craft is no longer as popular as it was, the introduction of sophisticated machines has allowed us to have a much wider variety of Aran Sweaters and Cardigans. The traditional Aran Sweater or Cardigan worn was either a plain crew neck jumper or a lumber which was a cardigan which buttoned from the neck and had two pockets and brown buttons. For men an Aran Cardigan had a deep v-neck and pockets with the same simple brown buttons. Nowadays there is a huge variety of Aran Knitwear available in a wide variety of colours and styles. Approximately 8-10 machine-knit sweaters can now be made in one day which is a long way from the 3-6 weeks it used to take to knit one!