Alice concludes the mystery of the origins of Aran Sweaters

 

 

men_Aran

In my last post, Alice was off to study sweaters in the Dublin National Museum of Ireland.

In my recent reading she dissected 4 garments beginning with an early piece (donated in 1937) from Aran that had the structure of a Scottish Gansey. Her dissection was complex and through. Actually, I was awed by her knowledge of knitting structure.

From the first garment, she concluded that what began as circular knit garments without seams evolved into Aran Sweaters knit in pieces. This seems to have been done to allow a knitter to work with textured patterns without being a mathematical genius needed to work out some of the shaping points in the sweaters.

One remarkable conclusion made by Alice is that Aran women learned Gansey knitting skills from Scottish sources.

Also, Aran sweaters (often called f) were not made as a fisherman’s garment. Will talk more about this in my next post.

I want to talk more about Alice’s conclusions, but I’m off to visit the UK tonight and have a plane to catch! I’ll be silent post-wise for a couple of weeks. Sadly, I’m not visiting Aran, although it is on my bucket list!

 

Aran Knitting – Take 2!

StEdna_man

OK – I really have been reading the background on Aran Knitting. It’s really hard to put it into words, but here’s what I’ve learned about the history of Aran Knitting.

Aran sweaters were not seen until the last 40’s and 50’s. Many of the myths for this knitting style were generated by Heinz Edgar Kiewe (1906-1986). Kiewe organized production of Aran sweaters based on a photo that was published in a book by Mary Thomas (no relation to me). Many of the sweaters were knit in the Western Isles of Scotland as there were not enough knitters in Ireland. So much for the Irish knit theory!

Alice Starmore believes that before her book called The Celtic Collection (1992), “celtic” cabling had not been seen in knitting.

Another myth debunked – Aran Sweaters are not traditional Fisherman’s garments. See my photo of the guys in the last blog post.

Here are a few books who offered history of Aran. These books were almost the only available books in the 80’s and 90’s when I was an editor. We thought of them as historical Bibles:

Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys & Arans – Gladys Thompson (1955).
Important in development of Aran Knitting. By the way, Aran was not mentioned in the title until 1971 when published by US publisher.

The Complete Book of Traditional Aran Knitting – Shelagh Hollingworth (1982)

Traditional Knitting – Michael Pearson (1984)
Michael (who I met years ago) cast doubt on Kiewe’s theories.

A History of Handknitting – Richard Rutt (1987)
The English Mr. Rutt was also known as the knitting Bishop.
His theory is that the origins of Aran Knitting may have come from the US.

Irish Knitting – Rohanna Darlington (1991)
Rohanna also talks about the US Boston connection by an immigrant woman.

Basically what I could learn is that the fisherman gansey may have been the origin of what we know as the Irish knitting tradition.

In the next chapter, Alice travels to Dublin to the National Museum of Ireland and talks about 3 garments (photographed in the book) and gives her conclusions. That to come!

In the meantime, I’ve been swatting. Gauges for the Na Craga (woman) Washable_Ewe

and St Edna (man) sweaters.
StEdna_swatch

 

A lot of knitting and ambitious projects!

Aran History

men_Aran

I’ve hit a blogging wall. Maybe it was reading about the plight of the Aran people against big landowners that did it. These people did not have an easy life.

Maybe it was reading that what we know about the truly Aran Sweater is really a fantasy that someone dreamed up. There is no long-past historical Aran Sweater? Who knew?

I’m not sure what exactly. I’m trying to slog through the rest of the chapters on the history and the Aran people through the eyes of Alice Starmore.

Notice in this vintage picture of men from the Aran Isles that they are wearing sweaters that really seem more like designs I would call Guernsey Sweaters with cabled rope patterns in the upper front. Maybe they are the precursor to the Aran Sweaters done in natural (off-white) yarns. I’ll give you an update when I get to that far!

Revelations about Alice Starmore’s Aran Knitting Book

 

 

 

AranKnitting     oldAran

After reading the new intro for this book, I realized that I have have the original 1997 Aran Knitting book. That’s what comes from having way too many knitting/crochet books.

Alice’s comments in the new preface in the paragraph titled “The Forces of Obfuscation” were unsettling. Basically she believes that what people know as “Aran Knitting” is somewhat of a made-up, mystical history. Basically, she strongly  states that the word “Aran” has been mis-used as a type of cable patterning used mainly in sweaters that have nothing to do with the Aran Isles off of Ireland.  That’s kind of a short, cliff notes version of what she actually said.

I somehow made it into her book in a round-about way. When I was working for Knitter’s Magazine, we created a contest that ultimately turned into a booklet of squares made up of various patterns that we loosely called “Aran Knitting”. It was titled  The Great American Aran Afghan. While we had no intention of saying these patterns or squares were authentic, historical designs from a country not anywhere near America.  Somehow Alice thought they “purports to be a showcase of Aran patterning”. Wow! Who knew! One of the squares used motifs picked up from Alice’s book. The square was created to honor a sister who had died of breast cancer. I’m sure the square’s designer didn’t realize that it was not correct to take someone else’s patterns to create a square for a published booklet.

After reading the new preface, I had to ponder before going on. I’m sorry for my part in Alice’s distress. Next week I’ll read more about the historical background and share….

Aran_book The Great American Aran Knitting booklet.

 

Alice_intro  diamond

Alice’s Original Patterns from her book.

Square_new

 The square that used designs created by Alice Starmore.

Aran Knitting by Alice Starmore

PrincessMitts

AranKnitting

Na_Craga

Here’s the checklist –
1) Finished the Princess Mitts – check!
2) Reading At Knit’s End by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee – check! (not finished)
3) Found a new book – check!

In reading Stephanie’s book of essays, I realized that I need to do it in bits a few pages at a time. The witty Stephanie has to be absorbed in small snatches!

That being said, I found a book that hasn’t even made it to the shelf yet. Aran Knitting by Alice Starmore – New & Expanded Edition book was a Stitches East purchase in November. Ok, Ok so I’m not obsessive about organizing my books. That’s half of why I’m doing the blog to see if I can get any of the books out of my library.

Why Aran Knitting? Why Alice Starmore?

I love the history so I really want to read Alice’s take on the subject. I’ve heard a bit of her thoughts over the years, but a refresher couldn’t hurt.

I also love Aran patterns (to knit that is). I’ve already picked out my favorite. I’ve had it in my mind to knit my niece and her husband (of Irish heritage) plus kids Irish Knits. I could start with the Na Craga pullover for her. I know – call me crazy! A bit ambitious for sure. In this lifetime??