One of the huge looms used to make an Aran sweater

One of the most popular, and well known exports in Ireland are knit sweaters called Aran sweaters, because of the area of Ireland where they began. The Aran Islands are three islands at the mouth of Galway Bay, off the western coast of Ireland. The people of the region make their living from farming and fishing, because of the cold windy weather they have in that area, they needed warm, protective clothing to keep out the harsh weather conditions. Original sheep’s wool sweaters were more water retardant because of the natural greases in the wool.

The Aran sweaters gained a lot of their popularity in the 1960′s, after John F. Kennedy was elected as president. Because he and his brothers were frequently photographed in Aran sweaters, many people sought to own and wear one.

Aran sweaters can either be hand-knit, or hand-loomed, and the differences are weight, detail and color. Hand-knit sweaters cost nearly twice as much as the hand-loomed ones. Original hand-knit sweaters contain natural oils which make them more water resistant, while loomed sweaters have to be stripped of most of the oil, making them less waterproof, heavy or warm. One of the most popular styles of Aran sweaters is the cardigan with leather buttons. Today, leather has been replaced with plastic because leather can’t endure dry cleaning.

Hand-knit sweaters contain more detail and unique patterns which the looms cannot recreate. Authentic Irish knit sweaters only come in a few colors which are untreated white wool from white sheep, and untreated heather gray, gray or brown wool from black sheep.

There is still a huge demand for Aran sweaters, but due to the greater economic gain from machine loomed sweaters, and the lack of skilled hand knitters, there are less hand knits available. Because of this, a hand knit sweater usually costs about two time more than a machine loomed sweater.

There is a myth that Irish fishermen used to be identified by the wool sweater they wore is, because each family in the Aran Islands had their own pattern. Instead, the patterns identify a “wish list” for successes in life.

Stitches and their significance:

Trinity or Blackberry – represents the Holy Trinity.
Honeycomb - a tribute to the bee, it was considered a lucky omen. If a fisherman saw a swarm of bees before setting out to sea, a good catch was assured!
Double Zig Zag – depicting the ups and downs of married life. Also represents forked lightning or cliff paths.
Cable and Rope – represents the fisherman’s ropes.
Ladder or Tree of Life – represents the poles and rungs of the ladder of life. Also symbolizes the pilgrims road to eternal happiness.
Moss Stitch or Carrageen Moss – represents wealth.
Diamond – represents wealth and success.
Basket – represents the fisherman’s basket, for abundant catches.
Trellis – represents the stony fields of Western Ireland and the nets of the fishermen.
Link – presents the eternal link to those who have left the island.

Two styles of Aran sweaters

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2 Responses to “Polly #2 Learned About Knitting Aran Sweaters”

  1. Aran sweaters are beautiful! I’m glad that Polly #2 had the opportunity to learn about them! Did you buy any blankets are sweaters while you were in Ireland?

  2. No, unfortunately I didn’t buy anything at all. I saw some beautiful sweaters but the prices were a little steep for me. One that I really liked was almost 400 U.S. dollars! I was actually looking for a particular shade of green to match a scarf I bought last year in Ireland. I forgot to bring the scarf along with me, and wasn’t quite sure if the colors would match the sweaters I looked at.