The hand knit sweaters of Aran are world famous, made of heavy oiled wool and guaranteed to keep out wind and weather. The traditional costume of the Fisherman who, equipped with the sweater, homespun Bawneen Trousers and Jackets, braved the stormiest of seas in their currach’s. The knitters working for Erin will verify that it takes 40 hours of hand kitting to produce one garment!
It was said that if a fisherman were drowned at sea and washed ashore far from home he might be identified by the stitches or pattern of his Gansey or other Aran Knitwear garment.
Traditionally, an Aran jumper is made from undyed cream-coloured báinín (pronounced “bawneen”), a yarn made from sheep’s wool, sometimes “black-sheep” wool. They were originally made with unwashed wool that still contained natural sheep lanolin, making it to an extent water-repellent. Up to the 1970s, the island women spun their own yarn on spinning wheels.
The jumper usually features 4–6 texture patterns each of which is about 5–10 cm (2–4 in) in width, that move down the jumper in columns from top to bottom. Usually, the patterns are symmetrical to a centre axis extending down the centre of the front and back panel. The patterns also usually extend down the sleeves as well. This textured knitting on an Aran Sweater is also used to make socks, hats, vests, and even skirts.
Some stitch patterns have a traditional interpretation, often of religious significance.
Aran Knitwear Stitches and their Meaning
Trinity or Blackberry
Is supposed to represent the Holy Trinity. It is done by making three stitches from one and one from three across the panel – hence its name.
Depicting the ups and downs of married life (usually shown running from shoulder to hem of the garment) also represents forked lightning or cliff paths.
Purl or twist stitches worked to form the poles and rungs of the ladder of life, against a plain stitch background. It symbolizes the pilgrims road to eternal happiness.
Moss Stitch or Carrageen Moss
(Seaweed with medicinal properties – also used for making Blancmange)
It represents wealth to the Fisher folk. Also called poor man’s wealth.
The eternal link for those who left the island.
An intricate pattern of plain stitches worked to form a trellis effect over purl stitches, represent the stoney fields of the west, and the nets of the Fishermen.
This looks like its name and is made by twisting stitches forwards and backwards across the panel. It is a symbol of the hard-working bee. It was considered a lucky omen if a fisherman saw a swarm of bees before setting out to sea a good catch was assured
Cable and Rope
Are of all types, and represent the Fisherman’s ropes. The cable, an integral part of the fisherman’s daily life, is said to be a wish for safety and good luck when fishing.
Usually formed in Moss Stitch the diamond is a wish of success, wealth and treasure.
The basket stitch represents the fisherman’s basket, a hope for a plentiful catch.
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