Irish Woollen Mills

Aran Sweater: Browsing Through Irish Woollen Mills

What trip to Ireland would be complete without browsing through an Irish Woollen Mills? At an Irish Woollen Mills, you find plenty of woolen products, a variety of knit styles and sometimes a load of over Irish products. With Celtic Tours, most of our Irish tours offer an optional shopping trip to an Irish Woollen Mills.

Aran Sweater

One of the most famous woolen products is the Aran sweater, which hails from the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. Sometimes known as a fisherman sweater, the Aran sweater is bulky with prominent cable patterns. The sweaters are distinguishable by their complex textured stitch patterns, several of which are combined in the creation of a single sweater. Some stitch patterns have a traditional interpretation, often of religious significance. The honeycomb is a symbol of a hard-working bee, while the cable is said to bring safety and good luck when fishing. The diamond is a wish of success, wealth and treasure while the basket stitch represents the fisherman’s basket, a hope for a plentiful catch. The zig zag stitch represents the ups and downs of marriage as well as the twisting cliff paths that are on the islands.

Traditionally, the sweaters were hand-knitted with un-dyed, un-scoured cream-colored wool. The wools retained their natural oils which made the sweaters water-resistant, waking them wearable even when wet making them ideal for a fisherman. Up until the 1970’s, the Aran island women spun their own yarn on spinning wheels and hand-knitted the sweaters.

Today, the majority of items for sale in Ireland and elsewhere are either machine knit or produced on a hand loom. There are very few hand-knit sweaters for sale on a commercial basis. Machine-knit sweaters tend to use finer wools and have less complex patterns, since many of the traditional stitches cannot be reproduced this way. Hand-looming allows for more complicated stitches, will have fewer stitches to the inch and be somewhat thicker. It is often hard to tell the best quality hand-loomed sweater from the hand knit. Hand-knit sweaters tend to be a tighter knit, more complex stitch patterns and also much more expensive. You can tell the difference between the machine knit and the hand knit by holding it up to the light.