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The History of the Aran Jumper

Aran Islands Panorama

The Aran Sweater takes its name from the group of islands where the style originated many years ago. The Arans are a group of three islands, Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer, to be found in Galway Bay off the west coast of Ireland. Although the total population of these islands is just 1200 the small community produced a unique style of knitwear which is instantly recognisable and that worked its way into a staple of the fashion world.

The Material

The distinctive jumpers were originally hand knitted using untreated wool which contained lanolin. This natural attribute made the knitwear water resistant but quite rigid. The yarn used was an undyed sheep's wool called báinín and the Aran styles feature up to six cabled patterns which run vertically. The jumpers were and indeed still are highly textured with complex stitching forming designs which have great cultural and religious significance.

The Aran Jumper Patterns

Each element of the patterns has a specific meaning which relates to Celtic art and life on the Aran Islands. The exact details of many of the patterns have been handed down from generation to generation and were keenly guarded by the clans and villages who created them. They contain huge amounts of information which is a fascination to many who try to unravel the mysteries of the various designs.

stacked aran jumpers

The Stitches

The cable stitch represents the fisherman's ropes and expresses a wish for a successful and safe day at sea. Indeed it is thought by many that the jumpers were originally fashioned for fisherman because of their water resistant and insulating properties although their rigidity suggests that they may, in fact, have been inappropriate for such work. The jumpers may more likely have been produced by women of the villages to keep their families warm and to sell as crafts.

The diamond stitch in the pattern represents the fields on the islands and often has an Irish moss stitch inside it which represents the seaweed that was used to fertilise the land. The zig-zag stitch is indicative of the cliff paths on the islands and the tree of life stitch reflects the importance of the clan and expresses a wish for the long life of family members.

Today the majority of Aran jumpers that you see are produced by machine (although our Aran jumpers are all handmade; they even have the individual knitters name on the label!). Hand-knitted examples are still available and are highly treasured. They feature more complex designs which can only be produced by hand and you can purchase yours here at The Old Byre Showroom. Their timeless quality and interesting history has ensured their enduring popularity across the world.

At the Old Byre Showroom we are pleased to bring you a beautiful range of Aran knitwear for both men and women. We have stunning hand knitted jumpers and an affordable range of contemporary styles in a selection of attractive and traditional shades. The jumpers are wonderfully soft and chic and we are sure that you will be delighted with your chosen knitwear.

Aran Islands - Panorama by Luca Nebuloni (CC BY 2.0).

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