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Irish Cable Knit Fisherman's Sweaters - A Choice That Never Goes Out of Style

Updated on July 4, 2014
Shoulder Buttons
Shoulder Buttons | Source

Defining the Fisherman's Sweater

Irish cable knit sweaters, Aran cardigans or fisherman's jumpers are similar pieces of clothing. These thick cable knit sweaters were developed to offer some sort of protection for fisherman when working outside in harsh weather.

The classic fisherman sweater is known by its unique cable knit on the chest. It is often a very thick and heavy duty sweater. The color of this classic sweater is generally off-white or cream but fisherman sweaters can be made of yarn of other colors. The sweater is knitted from wool which still contains lanolin. This type of lanolin infused wool is called unscoured wool. Wool that contains lanolin oils are resistant to wet weather this is why they are a popular garment for fisherman.

The cable knits of a traditional Irish sweater often represent different themes and offer luck and protection to the wearer.

  • cable knit - a common tool of the fisherman; his cable and so it is incorporated into the garment.
  • honeycomb - a symbol of the bee who happens to be a hardworker like the fisherman.
  • diamond - incorporated to bring on wealth and success
  • basket stitch - in hopes that he fisherman can fill his basket with a good catch.
  • blackberry stitch - symbol of nature
  • trinity - a religious symbolism
  • moss stitch - a symbol of growth and a filler in the diamond stitch

Aran Sweater
Aran Sweater | Source

Centuries Old Technique or Modern Invention

There is debate over whether or not the Aran sweater has been around for centuries or is a more modern invention designed to be a source of income for residents of the island. There is signifigant evidence that shows that the Aran sweater has been developed and copied from the Scottish fishing gansey. The Aran sweater is also knitted from wool that is very thick and this thickness restricts movement. The sweater may not be an ideal garment for a fisherman who needs to move freely about an unsteady boat.

The cable knit stitching has symbolism that can be found carved into many ancient relics of Ireland, however, it is thought that the knitting was modeled after these patterns rather than being created in conjunction with stonework. There is also debate that the stiches have no meaning and that the meanings were developed in order to make the sweaters more marketable to the masses.

The popularity of the Aran sweater gained movement when the knitting patterns were published in the 1940s. They took on even more of a fashionable statement when Vogue covered the sweaters in a feature published in the 1950s.

Aran sweaters are now commercially made. An authentic hand knitted sweater can still be obtained. These authentic cable knit sweaters include a certificate of authenticity.

Aran Sweater Market
Aran Sweater Market | Source

Despite the Debate...

Despite the debate, there is a story about Aran sweaters that make them unique in the minds of many. It is said that Irish women would knit their husband a sweater that was truly unique in pattern and creation for one special reason. If the husband was lost at sea and the body eventually came to shore, the unique knitting pattern and stitching of the sweater would help a fisherman's wife identify the body of her deceased husband.

Because of the supposed symbolism in the stitches and the story of why each sweater is unique, let us hope Aran sweaters stay in vogue and do not lose their appeal. The sweaters are a timely tradition with mass appeal and the story and symbolism only add to the allure.

Aran Island

Aran Island, Ireland:
Aran Islands, Ireland

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    • cabmgmnt profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Northfield, MA

      Thanks Thema,

      Yes, they are pricey but so worth it. I have owned mine since high school. They are a classic and will last a lifetime!

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      6 years ago from Germany and Philippines

      I love Aran sweaters. They are so warm and beautiful. They are expensive as they are handmade, but it´s worth it. Thanks for this informative hub. Have a lovely day!

    • cabmgmnt profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Northfield, MA

      Thanks again Carol7777!!!

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      6 years ago from Arizona

      I love cable knit sweaters and I enjoyed learning about Irish ones. Thanks for sharing this most interesting hub. Voting UP.


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