Hi Everyone. I hope I find you all well. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the recent international spotlight on the Aran sweater after its appearance in the movie “Knives Out”. It seems the world just can’t get enough of our most famous garment so this week I’m going back to where it all began to explore the history of the Aran sweater.
A Short History of the Aran Sweater
So this is the place and what a place! The Aran Islands are 3 islands in Galway Bay at Ireland’s most westerly point. The largest of the trio is Inishmore, followed by Inishmann and Inisheer. Traditionally, the islanders farmed the land and fished the wild Atlantic waters. Conditions were harsh and the Aran sweater was born out of necessity. A protective layer against the cold and rains of the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean.
What Is An Aran Sweater?
So I know what you’re thinking; a wool sweater to protect against the rain? How does that work? Well, the first Aran sweaters were made using unwashed báinín ( bain meaning white in Irish) – a yarn made from sheep’s wool. The yarn was untreated and retained its natural lanolin making it waterproof.
Each sweater features between four and six stitch patterns in vertical columns. One of these stitch patterns usually takes center stage in the main body of the sweater.
So the first Aran sweaters appeared in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This was due to an initiative by the Congested Districts Board. The Republic of Ireland was still under British rule at the time. The Congested Districts Board was established in 1891 by the First Earl of Balfour, the then Chief Secretary of Ireland.
The organization was set up to combat poverty and improve living conditions in the west of Ireland. Fishing communities were particularly poverty-stricken so the board brought people from the rest of the British Isles to Ireland to teach better fishing techniques. While doing this, they also imparted their craft of knitted fisherman sweaters.
Aran Sweater Stitches
So many myths and legends abound when it comes to the much loved Aran knitting stitches-this is Ireland after all! There is even a claim that Aran stitch patterns appear in the Book of Kells! The more likely explanation is that Aran knitters were inspired by ancient Celtic artwork.
When it comes to the history of Aran knitting, the story goes that the original Aran knitters developed their own stitch patterns which were closely guarded from clan to clan. Patterns were passed down the generations from memory. The stitches highlighted above symbolize various aspects of Aran islander life;
Aran Sweater Stitches – Meanings & Symbols
The symbol of the hard-working bee. Industry and efficiency were important values for the Islanders. Also believed to bring good fortune to the wearer.
Symbolic of the patchwork farming fields of the Aran Islands. Wishing health and success.
A representation of the fisherman’s ropes. A prayer for safety and good luck while fishing.
A symbol of the fisherman’s basket representing the hope of a plentiful catch.
The first Aran sweater patterns were published by Patons of England in the 1940s. Popularity was growing and when Grace Kelly appeared in Vogue wearing an Aran sweater in 1950, worldwide fame was inevitable. Many famous people have donned our favorite sweater including Marilyn Monroe, Steve Mc Queen, Elvis and Gwyneth Paltrow.
A Lasting Legacy
In 2017, an Aran sweater from the 1940s went on display as part of the “Is Fashion Modern” exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art along with 111 other pieces that have influenced fashion over the past 100 years.
These pieces include the Little Black Dress and Levi Jeans. Further proof of the status of the Aran sweater as a fashion classic and must-have wardrobe staple. Not bad for a piece of clothing that began life as a humble fisherman’s sweater on a remote trio of islands off Ireland’s Atlantic coast!
Get Yours Today!
So why not treat yourself to our classic Blasket Honeycomb Stitch Aran sweater today! The untreated wool is a thing of the past-ours comes in super soft, easy to wear merino wool! Choose from 5 gorgeous shades.
Thanks for reading!
Slán go fóill!