Thursday 29 April 2010

Full Circle : Irish Traditional Crafts

Chapter 3 - Knitting

The origins of knitting are more or less lost in the mists of time but it is supposed that it was started by the Arabs more than two thousand years ago. In the middle ages knitting was an occupation carried out by men only and the craft was administered by Guilds - to become a master knitter a boy was required to undertake 6 years of apprenticeship.

Many countries specialised in a particular type of knitting and some have given their name to it - e.g. France/Belguim = lace knitting; UK = hoisery; Scotland = fair isle and Ireland = aran knitting.
Two reasons are given as to where the name came from for what is now known world wide as Aran knitting. First = it originated in the Aran islands off the west coast of Ireland: Second = after the Great Famine the Conjested Districts Boards were set up to give people employment. One board was set up in Ballina , County Mayo, by a Lady Arran who organised women to make hand knit jumpers and sweaters using the embossed stitches of the day.

The following are just a very small selection of the traditional stitches:

Moss Stitch - said to reflect some of the seaweeds found on the west coast of Ireland and to symbolize abundance.

Cables sybolize the fishermans rope for safety and luck at sea.

Marriage Lines - double zig zag lines symbolized the ups and downs of married life.

Diamond when linked with cable stitches are said to link success in livelihood with hopes of prosperity.

Honeycomb to signify focus on work like a bee is focused on gathering nectar.

Traditionally sweaters were made with undyed wool yarn called bainin spun directly from the local sheep. Often the wool still contained much of the natural lanolin which had waterproof qualities and ensured that those working outdoors would be warm when days were wet as they often are here in Ireland.

For further reading on this wonderful tradition see:
  • The Aran Sweater by Deirdre McQuillan.

One of our Crafty Ireland Team members is producing wonderful aran items for children This is one of her sweaters.

I did hope to have a little information for you this month on the tradition of crios weaving but it is taking me a bit longer to source some information on it and to try my hand at making one. Hopefully I will have one for you next month as well as an introduction to Irish crochet.
In the meantime if you have any comments please let me know. I am always glad to hear from you. On a personal note I have been taking some time out from my shop in the last few weeks to have a short holiday and to revamp my range. I hope to be back on line next week.
Cheers, until next time
aka Huggleknits


  1. Thanks for all the info on Aran knitting! I looove Aran stitches, and I also have fun in mixing them with other stitches.

    And a real traditional Aran sweater really does keep you dry - in those rare occasions of snow here in Belfast, a snowball fight is best undertaken wearing a traditional Aran sweater :)

  2. I love your articles Mo, a great insight into Irish traditional crafts! Definitely looking forward to the next one. :)

  3. Fabulous post. I love hearing about such a rich history of a craft, it makes it come alive. I'm strictly a knit one row, purl one row kind of knitter but am inspired to try something a little more intricate! One day ...

  4. A male only occupation once? who knew! Great article Mo, thanks so much for including our little cardigan :)

  5. I love these posts Mo! it reveals such a rich history of craftsmanship - well done ;)

  6. Completely loved this post. :)
    I knew basically nothing about knitting until reading this. Thank you, Mo.

    And I acquired one of Irishwoolens little sweaters recently and it's the cutest thing! Such talented folks on this team!

  7. I really like this post. It's so informative and I don't even knit!


  8. Thanks for all the comments. I am so enjoying researching this series. Next one is crochet so if anyone would like to be linked please let me know.

  9. i like it too! i am so bad at knitting, it's like an unknown art form to me, this was really interesting, i love symbolism! thanks for sharing!