15 Jul 2022
In over 100 years, Ireland’s intricately designed Aran sweater has gone from fishermen’s clothing to iconic fashion must-have.
Originating from the rugged Aran Islands on Ireland’s beautiful Wild Atlantic Way, Aran sweaters are now worn worldwide and have graced the backs of many celebrities including Steve McQueen, Marilyn Monroe, Taylor Swift and Chris Evans.
Originally made from unscoured wool which made them waterproof, the chunky Aran sweaters were worn by fishermen and farmers to keep them warm and dry as they went about their work.
Back in the day they were generally the cream colour of the sheep from which the wool came. Nowadays, the sweaters are made from a wool mix to make them soft, and can even include cashmeres, linens and baby alpaca yarns and are available in every colour imaginable.
The knitwear is famous for its intricate designs which some say reflect patterns in Celtic art that can be found on ancient stones and high crosses. In the early 1900s, when the sweaters were made uniquely on the Aran Islands, each family would have had their own patterns.
Several main patterns that are familiar to fans of the form are said to reflect the landscape and livelihoods of the Aran islanders. These include the cable stitch, signifying the fishermen’s ropes; the basket, a symbol of their fishing baskets; the honeycomb, representing hard work; moss, a reflection of the landscape; and the diamond, to signify the fields.
Aran Jumpers at An Púcán
While Aran sweaters can be machine knit, expert craftspeople like Frances Beatty still prefer to hand knit them and say the difference is obvious just by feeling the texture.
Frances runs a small shop called An Púcán (meaning little sailboat) in Kilmurvey on Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands, where she sells her handknit sweaters and cardigans to tourists who come from all around the world.
“I’m very proud to be keeping the tradition of the Aran sweater alive,” says Frances.
Aran sweaters became known worldwide in the 1950s and 60s when top designers featured them in their collections.
In 2017 the Aran sweater was included in an exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art as one of 111 items of clothing and accessories that have influenced fashion over the last 100 years.
And as recently as 2021, an Aran sweater was worn by the leading character in the movie House of Gucci.
Inishmore, Aran Islands
Fisherman wearing an Aran jumper
Close-up of an Aran jumper at An Púcán
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