Perhaps no piece of Irish clothing is as well-known or as coveted as the Geansaí Árann, referred to the world over as the Aran sweater or jumper. The classic intricately cabled and stitched knit sweater has been worn by fishermen for warmth and durability for centuries, and it’s a staple purchase of every visit to Ireland. The legend of the beautiful cabling and stitching as forming familial patterns is thought to have originated with tales of fishermen’s bodies being washed up on the beaches and being identified by their sweaters. The stitches have a rich symbolism and no two hand-knit Aran wool sweaters will have the same patterns.
Stiches and Meanings
When you ask what different stitches and motifs mean you can get as many different answers as there are people. Cables are the stitch most commonly associated with Aran sweaters, and their depiction is generally said to symbolize the fisherman’s ropes. Diamonds are used to represent the shape of the fishing net, and can commonly be found filled with Moss stitch which is a symbol of abundance – hence the reason for his presence inside the diamonds. The blackberry stitch is also called the Trinity stitch, and given religious significance as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The Ladder of Life and the Tree of Life symbolize the stages of life, and according to Irish Genealogy Toolkit, also children and long life.
A Future Heirloom
Authentic Aran sweaters are made to last a lifetime, and endure harsh conditions such as wind, wet, and cold. When getting ready to purchase an Aran sweater, it is important for the buyer to distinguish between a genuine hand-knit sweater, one that has been hand-loomed, or that has been machine knit. Dochara notes that hand-knit sweaters are considered the best quality, but they are also the most expensive. They are made from a heavier yarn, and stitches are used that are not commonly seen in either hand loomed or machine knit sweaters. Handloomed sweaters are of a lighter weight wool or wool blend and are similar to hand-knit sweaters in appearance, though the stitching is less intricate and unique.. The least expensive Aran sweaters are machine units; these will be thinner and flatter, without as much definition or intricacy in the pattern. When purchasing your sweater you will want to consider these things before you buy.