The elaborate design of the Aran Sweater was established on the Aran Islands, passed down from generation to generation and is truly a timeless beauty. It has become the ultimate symbol of Irish history and heritage. Each stitch carries its own unique meaning and because there are very few hand Aran Sweater stitchers left they have become extremely rare and valuable. From its origins, it has been linked to various clans and families of the islands and their identities. The combinations of stitches and patterns can tell us a lot of information about the people who made and wore them and how we interpret their lives. The patterns at the time, could also be used to identify fishermen washed up at sea and to identify bodies.
The jumpers were extremely practical and very suitable to the island’s weather conditions. They were water resistant to take on the harsh weather conditions of the Atlantic Ocean. They were breathable maintaining the ideal body temperature of the wearer and most importantly they were warm, for those long days and nights on the farm or at sea. Farming and fishing were the most important activities at the time. Due to sheeps wool containing an oil called “Lanolin” they were the ideal material.
The typical Aran Jumper, believe it or not, has 100,000 carefully constructed stitches. This continues to amaze tourists from all over the world, as a single jumper can take up to two months to complete. Due to new, quick methods of crafting approximately 8-10 machine-knit sweaters can now be made in one day. Many of the patterns reflect the clans of the families and Celtic Art. Comparisons have been drawn between the stitches and patterns found at Neolithic burial sites such as Newgrange in Co. Meath, which is well and truly a fascination.
Some common stitches include the Cable Stitch, which depicts the fisherman’s ropes representing good weather at sea. The Diamond Stitch, which reflects the small neat fields of the islands. The diamond stitches were sometimes filled with an Irish moss stitch which evokes the idea of seaweed, which was used to fertilise crops on the island, representing good harvest and success. The Zigzag stitch represents the twisting paths and cliffs of the islands. Hand knit sweaters generally cost over €100 each due to the long weeks involved in making them.
If traveling to the Aran Islands, make sure to check out the local gift shops which contain some of the rare hand-stitched Aran Jumpers of the island and help support the local community.