Oh, how I have wanted an Aran sweater. Not just any cable knit pullover, but a cozy oversized wool beauty. Not too soft, not too itchy, enough ease for comfort, not enough to look frumpy. I always imagined knitting myself one as a memory piece after my sister and I took a trip to Ireland. We have no such trip planned, and I am years behind on other memory pieces, so it’s fortunate that my mother-in-law took the trip for me and brought me back a cardigan. Knit in a blend of undyed wool with a loose gauge, this cardigan is everything that I have always wanted in an Aran sweater. I have truly worn it for part of almost every day since Christmas and plan to continue doing so until April.
There are enchanting stories about Aran sweaters and the provenance of their patterns. The stories say that these sweaters have been around for generations and generations. Families and clans have their own signature cable patterns. Aransweatermarket.com claims, “On the Aran islands, sweater patterns were zealously guarded, kept within the same clan throughout generations.” Alice Starmore unapologetically explains in her book Aran Sweaters that these stories are fictions and the sweaters are products of industrious folks capitalizing on a tourist market. I am inclined to believe Alice, as first of all, there is no way to keep a sweater pattern guarded, since knit stitches can be read and expert knitter can recreate cable patterns they like. Secondly, Aran sweaters with their larger gauge yarn and looser knit are comfortable and warm but not nearly as practical for fisherman, the supposed traditional wearers, as ganseys. I regularly catch this sweater on my ring, my bag, drawer knobs, etc. If I chose a practical sweater for a manual career like fishing the north Atlantic, it would not be an Aran sweater.
I don’t find Aran sweaters less special if they have been developed for the purpose of sale. I think their true story is just as interesting. And Aran sweaters now seem to be part of the islands as surely as if they were many generations old. Like the Icelanders and their Lopi and the Danes and their Maurus, the Isle of Aran knitters have developed a model that allows for maximum productivity without compromising quality. The knitter used a cable cast on and simple cables. My sweater body was knit flat and the vertical button band was knit right along with it. There is no additional finishing on the bad edge. If I had knit this myself, the button band would seem unpolished, but I don’t mind it at all on a sweater stitched by someone else. The sleeves and the generous collar are connected with by machine-sewn thread. I would never think to do this, but it seems to work well and was surely efficient. Perhaps it is a technique worth trying someday.