As the GANS rep for Feltmakers Ireland, I am often fortunate to attend really interesting talks on craft. One such was Vawn Corrigan’s presentation on the history of the Aran. However, her story’s links to my mother and aunt were what fascinated me most.
Coincidentally, my son’s visit today wearing a jumper knit by MY mam for HIS dad prompted this post.
The Aran Sweater is named after the set of islands off Irelands West coast. However this is not where it was first created.
The origin of the Aran sweater can be traced back to Guernsey, an island 400 miles South-East of the Aran Islands. Guernsey trade relied on fishing, and the clothing requirements of fisherman were quite demanding – durability, repairable, stain resistant, easy to move about in,and probably most important, warm and water proof.
The population of the Aran Islands was increasing in the early 1900s and they decided to explore ideas of how to improve their standard of living on the island. One idea was to invite Scottish fisherman to share information on their skills. They brought some Scottish ladies (probably their wives!!!) who showed the womenfolk how to knit sweaters for a living.
So the Irish ladies took the idea and made it their own and by 1935, the Irish version of the jumpers was in such demand that they came onto the Dublin markets!
By the 1950s, the USA market had opened (thanks in no small part to popularity of the traditional music group,the Clancy Brothers). The 1960s saw Marie my mother, and Josie, her sister, among the growing workforce of knitters throughout the country who were employed to meet the growing demand for jumpers and cardigans. (My mother was thrilled on a visit to Clerys to spot one of her jumpers with a quaint little tag stating: “This garment was hand knit by Marie in her little cottage in the west of Ireland.”)
Shay benefitted from the home industry when he received a jumper for his 30th birthday.
Something about Aran Stitches
The patterns on Aran sweaters are based on Irish Tradition each stitch represents a different meaning and symbolizes something of importance. Here are some of the more popular stitches.
Recent Aran History…
Generations after its creation, the Aran sweater is still going strong. The aran sweater made the list of iconic fashion pieces featured in an exhibition in Manhattans Museum of Modern Art. Chosen because of its impact on the world during the last century, it has remained popular in the entertainment industry and fashion world alike.
The National Museum of Ireland loaned one of its oldest sweaters for the exhibition, where it was placed beside other fashion elites such as the Birkin Bag, Wonderbra, a pair of Levis 501 jeans dating back to the 1940s, and an assortment of little black dresses.