It’s a great question with several right answers. Aran sweaters are sweaters that were knit by hand on the remote western Irish Aran Islands for use by working fishermen more than 100 years ago. Today the term can refer to any sweater that uses the traditional cable, blackberry, honeycomb and diamond knit patterns found in these garments. They are also sometimes called fishermen’s sweaters or Irish knit sweaters.
Aran sweaters are knit by master knitters who have honed their skills over the course of a lifetime to achieve the rich detail, pattern variation, and tight stitching that is the Aran sweater trademark. Aran sweaters can be knit using a series of patterns to the knitter’s specifications, usually including a combination of honeycomb, cable, diamond, and blackberry stitches.
Authentic Aran sweaters are handmade in Ireland, following in the tradition of the very first hand knit Aran sweaters made by women on the Irish coast and western islands for fishermen to wear while working on the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean more than 100 years ago.
Aran sweaters are made in a variety of ways, though the best and most authentic ones are knit by hand, either with knitting needles or a single-person operated loom, which speeds up the process considerably. Some companies offering cheaper Aran sweaters use fully automated machine looms to achieve a similar look, though the patterns created by this system are shallower and less-defined than sweaters made by hand.
The best Aran sweaters are made by hand in Ireland by master knitters, usually older women who are able to produce one sweater every 4-6 weeks. As a result, these sweaters are the most expensive option, often selling for upwards of $300. The best Aran sweaters that use a hand machine looming, which combines hand finishes with modern technology for a more affordable option are made by Saol and Aran Woollen Mills, usually found for $80-$120.
Aran sweaters come from Ireland and get their name from the Aran Islands, off the country’s far west coast, where they were first made by hand to keep the men who made their living fishing the harsh Atlantic waters warm while at sea. The patterns are said to represent different aspects of island life while also offering practical additional bulk and insulation to the garment to protect from the elements.
Aran sweaters from Ireland are good quality garments that stand the test of time. Most often knit from lambswool or Merino wool, these sweaters are highly durable and easy to care for because of wool’s natural odor and dirt repelling properties.
Contemporary Aran sweaters are made of super soft Merino wool, or occasionally a Merino wool and acrylic blend, though they can be found at all price points in materials as far ranging as cotton to cashmere. Merino wool is traditional because it gives the best depth and texture to the finely detailed knitting patterns Aran sweaters are known for.
Real Aran sweaters knit from wool are incredibly warm. The intricate patterns and texture of the sweaters allows for additional thickness in the knit that traps body heat and keeps it close to your skin. Every time you take off your sweater, you’ll notice that it is warmer than when you put it on.
Traditional Aran sweaters historically have a loose fit so as to accommodate many layers underneath, but the vast majority of manufacturers operating today have adapted to contemporary size specifications and design, so you should feel comfortable ordering your usual size. Though it is always important to consider the specific size guide of the sweater you are buying.
Aran sweaters knit from 100% wool will shrink if not cared for properly and the wool used to knit them is not prewashed. A good rule of thumb is to always wash in cold water and lay flat to dry. Never assume that you can shrink an oversized sweater to fit; you should always order true to size.
If you’re asking whether or not Aran sweaters are itchy, you’re probably remembering the vintage thick raw wool sweaters of old. Today’s authentic Aran sweaters are knit from a variety of materials like Merino wool, acrylic, or even cashmere, which are just as thick and warm but won’t cause any uncomfortable itchiness on your skin.
Aran sweaters will stretch to accommodate a range of fits due to the natural properties of linked knitting, which always allows some give. However, you should never hang your sweater, wet or dry, as this will cause it to loose its shape and stretch over time due to the weight of the wool.
Option A. The very first Aran sweaters were highly waterproof, and had to be since they were worn by working fishermen in harsh Atlantic Ocean conditions! These sweaters were knit with unscoured wool, which retains the natural oil, called lanolin, found in the sheep’s wool that gave it waterproofing properties. Though today’s Aran sweaters no longer contain lanolin, having traded their work wear origins for softness and comfort, wool itself can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water without feeling wet at all, making modern Aran sweaters knit from 100% wool still quite water resistant.
Option B. Aran sweaters knit from 100% wool are highly water resistant due to the natural properties of wool itself, which can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water without feeling wet. The very first Aran sweaters were knit with unscoured wool, which allowed it to retain its natural oil, called lanolin, making them truly waterproof, though sacrificing the comfort of today’s super soft Merino wool Aran sweaters.
Aran sweaters are a basic of Irish design, and no trip to the Emerald Isle is complete without bringing home one or two. When it comes to choosing an Aran sweater the best way to do it is to browse our Aran Wool sweaters collection. All of our garments are made of 100% Super Soft Wool that will ensure luxurious comfort while looking just gorgeous. We brought together traditional Irish garments and modern designs as a turtleneck or zip sweaters to show off the diversity and beauty of Aran sweaters. For a stylish and easy everyday look, pair our delightful knitwear items with a pair of jeans or a classic skirt and you are ready to go.
Browse our collection of Aran knit sweaters and be sure to find the accessory that matches your personality and style. No matter the budget and design you're looking for our Aran sweaters will provide you luxurious softness, warmth, and elegance.