The Beauty and the History Behind Aran Knitting

The term Aran knitting gets its name from a small group of islands just west of Ireland, called the Aran Islands. These small bodies of land consist mostly of small villages, inhabited by those rugged enough to handle the sometimes harsh weather of the region. By the 1920's, Aran sweaters were beginning to appear on many of the young island boys, as well as a number of the fishermen who lived on the islands.

These sweaters were a perfect protection from the climate since they were constructed primarily for warmth and water resistance. Somewhere around 1935, the sweaters began to be sold, creating a source of income for the island women that were busy knitting them. Samples of this early Aran knitting can now be seen at the Dublin National Museum.

Rugged Construction to Weather the Rugged Climate

Aran knitting was originally done with wool called bainin. This yarn comes from sheep, whose thick, cream-colored coats were a protection from the harsh weather. The yarn would be left unwashed to allow some of the oils from the sheep to remain. This oil would create a water resistance in the fabric that was knitted from it, which made it an ideal material for fisherman and others in the cold, wet region.

The many stitches in the Aran knitting were also done in such a way to insulate the person wearing the sweater from the cold. There is a story that says that each village family would have their own unique Aran knitting pattern for their sweaters. This way, if a sailor drowned at sea during a fishing voyage, his body could be identified through the pattern of the sweater he was wearing. This has been proven to be a somewhat morbid but untrue myth.

Aran Knitting of Today

The modern Aran knitting is often no longer done by hand, but on a machine or a hand loom. The most popular color of today's Aran knitting is still the original cream hue that lends itself so well to the beautiful display of each individual stitch. The most popular material used is still thick, warm wool in most sweaters.

The Aran knitting has also carried over to blankets, hats, mittens and scarves. It is still a popular choice for many hand knitters who enjoy the challenge of the various stitches. There are even crochet patterns available that mimic many of the Aran knitting stitches, so that other needle workers can get in on the fun. There are few sweaters today that can match the beauty found in Aran knitting. The uniqueness of the stitches and the warmth of the material are simply hard to beat.