Monday, 17 March 2014

Out of Ireland

Aran patterns have an interesting if somewhat uncertain history. There's some debate as to when the Aran sweater as we now know it began to be knitted, with some historians arguing that it has existed for centuries and was standard wear for Irish fishermen. However, it's thought that Aran knitting is too stiff and thick to be practical for fishing and most historians believe that although similar Gansey sweaters had been a part of traditional knitting in the British Isles for hundreds of years, Aran knitting came into being as late as the early twentieth century when Irish women who wished to earn money by selling their work began knitting simplified Gansey patterns with thicker yarn in order to increase their productivity. The first commercial Aran patterns became available in 1940s, and in the 1950s Vogue magazine featured Aran sweaters and Ireland began to export handknitted Aran sweaters. Since then Aran sweaters have been standard wear in the Western world.

It's also thought that the stitches used in Aran knitting have meaning: the honeycomb symbolizes the supposedly industrious bee (though modern scientific study has revealed that bees spend most of their time flying aimlessly about); the cable, so common to fishing boats, represents the maker's hope that the wearer will be safe and lucky when fishing; the diamond stands for wishes of success and wealth; and the basket stitch symbolizes the fisherman's basket and the hope that it will be filled with a good catch.

In honour of St. Patrick's Day, I've put together this post of selected Aran knitting patterns. A Ravelry search for the term "Aran" produces more than 200 pages of results, and while I won't pretend to have looked at all those patterns, I did at look at enough pages to come up with seventeen patterns that I thought were interesting and attractive modern examples of the Aran style. And if Aran knitting isn't Irish enough for you, you can always check out my St. Patrick's Day post from 2013, where shamrocks abound.

The photo above is of the Cabernet Hat, designed by Monika Sirna. This pattern is sized to fit all heads from babyhood to adulthood and is available for $5.85(USD).

This is the Aran Sweater with Rounded Yoke, and it's a vintage Vogue Knitting pattern that dates from 1957. I've made this one twice myself (once for one of my nieces and then for a young cousin), and it was a pleasure to knit as well as being a very attractive, wearable, practical piece. This pattern is not available for download, but has been reprinted in four (out of print) Vogue Knitting publications, so you should be able to find one of those books at your local library, or purchase a secondhand copy online.

This is the Aran Pullover, by Kristin Nicholas, and the larger scale cables on a moss stitch background give it an updated feel. This pattern is available for download for $5.50(USD).

If you'd like an Aran knit that shows off your figure, this Aran off-shoulder pullover by Stitchlogue by Calista Yoo may be for you. I'd omit the crocheted flowers. This pattern is available for $7.00(USD).

Here's a comfy looking little shrug, the Aran Cabled Shrug in Kaya Wool, by Crystal Palace Yarns. This pattern is available for free.

This Tweedy Aran Cardigan by Norah Gaughan will serve you well for years. This pattern is available for download for $5.50(USD).

The sweater depicted on the right is the Urban Aran Pullover, by Patons. Knitter Jared Flood, whose version is on the right, adapted it into a cardigan. As he points out on his project page, the pattern was so perfectly suited to being a cardigan he couldn't believe it wasn't one already. This pattern is available for free.

The Alphabet Sweater, by Debbie Bliss, is a good way to introduce your baby to not only Aran knitting but also to the alphabet. This pattern is available in Special Knits: 22 Gorgeous Handknits for Babies and Toddlers, by Debbie Bliss.

The Düsseldorf Aran, by Fiona Ellis, has some interesting and eye-catching sleeve detailing. This pattern is available for download for $5.50(USD).

The Hooded Aran Coat, by Debbie Bliss, looks luxuriously warm and comfortable. The pattern appears in Debbie Bliss's Land Girl Pattern Book.

Cables and moss stitch go together like bread and butter. These are the Aran Isle Slippers, by Jennifer Lang. This pattern is available for C$5.50(CAD).

This is the I Heart Aran design, by Tanis Lavallee. It features not only hearts but the x's and o's that connote hugs and kisses, so that you can feel the love without being too twee about it. This pattern is available for $6.00(CAD).

The DNA Scarf, by June Oshiro, uses Aran cables to evoke the double helix. This pattern is available for free.

These are the Cross-Country Socks, by Ingrid Hiddessen. I love how the simple pattern used for the foot takes a turn for an intricate at the ankles. This pattern is available for free.

Of course, I had to wind up this post with something more specifically designed for today. This is the St. Patrick's Day beret, by Andrea Babb, and the pattern may be found in 50 Knitted Gifts for Year-Round Giving: Designs for Every Season and Occasion Featuring Universal Yarn Deluxe Worsted.

Coming up: Look for the review of Knitty's Spring & Summer 2014 issue on Wednesday.

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