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The Aran (or Arran) jumper or sweater gets its name from the Aran Islands and was popular in the fishing settlements on the islands off the west coast of Ireland or from the Isle of Arran off the west coast of Scotland. Both of these places are located in the Atlantic Ocean. They are differentiated by the employment of intricate textured stitch patterns, numerous of which are mixed in the process of creating a single garment. This gives the finished product a unique look. The phrase “jumper” or “sweater” (or perhaps other possibilities such as “pullover” and “jersey”) is often used to refer to a kind of pullover or sweater, depending on the area of the United States where it is spoken. In the case of Ireland and Britain, the word “jumper” is the common term, whereas the phrase “sweater” is mostly seen in stores catering to tourists. To show even more respect and awareness of the local culture, the phrase “geansaidh” is used in Scottish Gaelic, while the word “geansa” is used in Irish Gaelic. Both of these words are pronounced “gahnzee.”
In the beginning, the jumpers were knitted using unscoured wool, which meant that the wool kept its natural oils or lanolin. This made the clothes water-resistant, and it also meant that the garments could be worn even when they were wet. The sweaters were often crocheted by the spouses of fishermen who worked on the island.
There are several stitch designs that have a traditional meaning, often one that has religious connotations. The honeycomb is a representation of the diligent labor done by the bee. It is stated that the cable, which is an essential component of the day-to-day life of the fisherman, is a desire for protection and success while fishing. A yearning for prosperity, money, and treasure might be represented by the diamond. The fisherman’s basket, which holds the fisherman’s hopes for a successful haul, is symbolized by the basket stitch.
Báinn, or “bawneen,” is a yarn created from sheep’s wool, commonly called “black-sheep” wool. Traditionally, an Aran jumper is knit from báinn in its natural cream color without any dying. In the beginning, they were constructed out of wool that had not been washed and hence still held on to the natural sheep lanolin that gave it a degree of resistance to moisture. Spinning their own yarn on spinning wheels was a common practice among island women up until the 1970s.
The sweater, known as a geansa in the area, often has four to six different texture patterns, each of which is around two to four inches in width and moves down the sweater in columns from the top to the bottom. In most cases, the designs are symmetrical to an axis that runs down the middle of both the front and back panel. In most cases, the designs run all the way down the sleeves as well. Knitted items such as socks, caps, vests, and even skirts may all be created with the same textured stitching.
There is still disagreement on the exact year when island natives began manufacturing the jumpers. Some people believe that the jumper is an old design that has been worn on the island for many decades or maybe centuries at this point. There is an image in the Book of Kells that looks to portray an old “Aran jumper.” Supporters of this idea often cite to this picture as evidence. In addition, several megaliths located all throughout Europe exhibit patterns that are very similar to those that are employed in knitting. These patterns, which are etched into the stone, date back several thousand years. On the other hand, it is much more plausible that the knitting stitches were fashioned after them rather than that they arose at the same time.
The majority of historians are in agreement that aran knitting is not an old craft, but rather was developed relatively recently, in the early 1900s, by a small group of enterprising island women with the intention of creating garments not only for their families to wear, but also which could be sold as a source of income. Aran knitting is a form of hand knitting that uses two strands of yarn to create a pattern.
After being provided by o Máille’s store in Galway, the first Aran knitting designs were published in the 1940s by Patons of England. o Máille’s business was located in Ireland. Máille’s was also responsible for the majority of the clothing that was used during the production of The Quiet Man in the year 1951. In the 1950s, the fashion publication Vogue published pieces on the item, and in the early 1950s, jumper exports from the west of Ireland to the United States had their start.
After P.A. o Socháin arranged for an instructor to go to the islands and teach the knitters how to make garments to standard international sizings, this led to the growth of the export trade during the 1950s and 1960s. This took place after P.A. o Socháin secured a grant from the IDA Ireland to pay for the instructor’s travel expenses. Knitting evolved became an essential element of the economy of the island, and throughout the 1960s, even with all of the available knitters recruited from the three islands, he struggled to meet orders from all over the globe.
The term “fisherman sweater” is frequently used to refer to an Aran jumper, which is an indication that this particular kind of jumper was originally worn by the renowned fishermen of the islands. It is stated that each fisherman (or his family) had a jumper with a distinctive pattern, so that in the event that he drowned and his corpse was recovered on the beach many days or weeks later, it would be possible to identify him. There is not a single shred of evidence to suggest that such a thing ever took place.
This misunderstanding most likely stems from J.M. Synge’s play “Riders to the Sea,” which was first performed in 1904. In the play, the corpse of a deceased fisherman is recognized by the hand-knitted stitches on one of his clothing. However, even in the play itself, there is no mention of any ornamental patterns or patterns like to Aran. The item being discussed is a simple stocking, which can be recognized by its stitch count thanks to the following quote: “it’s the second one of the third pair I knitted, and I put up three score stitches, and I lost four of them.”
There is substantial debate as to whether or not fisherman ever wore Aran jumpers in any significant numbers, and many people believe that the untreated yarn used in the original Aran jumpers would not have made them appropriate for this kind of activity. They were fairly thick and rigid, which would likely hinder a fisherman’s ability to move around in his environment. On the other hand, these garments were the only kind of durable clothing they had available to them so that they could weather the storms caused by the Atlantic Ocean. Photographs taken in the early part of the previous century show inhabitants of the island wearing them.
The widespread belief that Aran patterns have clan links, similar to tartan in Scotland, is a widespread misunderstanding that originates from the story described above. There is no evidence for any such relationship even among families who lived on the Islands, despite the fact that such a connection is occasionally utilized as a marketing strategy. A comparatively tiny number of family names have ever been discovered on the Aran Islands, and the vast majority of Irish families do not have a history of either wearing sweaters of any specific design or making sweaters using that pattern.
The vast majority of sweaters and other Aran garments were hand-knit in the past, but now days the vast majority of products sold in Ireland and internationally are either machine-knit or made on hand looms. In the past, the majority of jumpers and other Aran garments were knit by hand. There are just a very small number of persons who still knit jumpers by hand for business purposes.
Because many of the conventional stitches cannot be duplicated using this method, jumpers made on a machine often use finer wool and have simpler designs than those knit by hand. They are the alternative with the lowest possible cost. When done by hand, weaving may include more intricate threads, result in a greater number of stitches per inch, and be thicker overall. It is difficult to tell the difference between a hand knit sweater and the highest grade hand loomed sweater. Hand-knit sweaters often have a higher price premium since they are more expensive to produce, have more intricate stitch patterns, and last much longer. Additionally, hand-knit sweaters tend to be made more tightly. When held up to the light, it is easy to see the difference between the hand kits and those that were knit with a machine.