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Wayne Independent - Honesdale, PA
  • Left to Write: The Aran sweater: A woven history

  • When you look at a sweater, what do you usually think of? Maybe, if it's a larger bulkier sweater you would imagine it is comfy. Or, if you are allergic to wool, you would probably think it is itchy beyond belief.
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  • When you look at a sweater, what do you usually think of? Maybe, if it's a larger bulkier sweater you would imagine it is comfy. Or, if you are allergic to wool, you would probably think it is itchy beyond belief.
    But, did you ever stop and really look at a cabled sweater? Beyond the fact that most of them are generally aesthetically pleasing and gorgeous. As is well known, I am a knitter who proudly dares to knit in public. I've gotten asked many times while I knit, especially cables, how or why I take the time to do it. Being that St. Patrick's Day is fast approaching, I will delve into an art that is distinctively Irish: The Aran Sweater.
    We all know them and love the look of them, those beautiful fisherman's sweaters. With thick cables, cabled braids or lattice cables, they are always show stoppers. This type of sweater, the Aran, is named after the Aran Islands located off the coast of Ireland. Traditionally, these sweaters are bulky and have prominent cables on the chest. They are also cream colored. The reason for the color choice wasn't for fashion, but because the un-dyed, minimally processed wool held on to the natural waterproofing qualities of lanolin. Being that the sweaters were made for fisherman or workers out in the elements, being waterproof was a necessity.
    All of the cables and braids that traditionally adorn an aran have a significant meaning behind them. A honeycomb pattern represents the hard working nature of a bee, while the cable itself wishes the fisherman good luck and safety at sea. Cables in the form of a diamond wish the fisherman success, wealth and treasure. The basket stitch is a symbol of the fisherman's basket and wishes him a plentiful catch.
    The sweaters also served as a way of identifying the body of a fisherman who died at sea and washed upon shore. Certain stitch combinations would represent the county, parish or even township the sailor hailed from. The initials of the sailor were also almost always knit into the bottom of the garment.
    So next time you see a cabled sweater, think about where that pattern came from. Those cables originally meant something more than a fashion statement.
    Leet is a reporter at The Wayne Independent.
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