Saturday, 27 July 2013

Talking about Arans, Again

At the Knitting & Crochet Guild Convention in Derby,  I gave a repeat of the talk I gave to the Huddersfield local group, as described here, but with added PowerPoint. The theme was how Aran sweaters first became known to hand knitters in the U.K., and became very popular  from the 1960s on.

I took three sweaters from the Guild collection as props for the talk, as well as a couple of things of my own. I've written about my own vintage Arans before:  one is the Susan Duckworth sweater that I knitted in 1974 and still wear, and the other is  the Aran bobble hat that my mother knitted for my sister in the late 1960s. 

The first Aran sweater that I took from the collection is a replica of one that was bought in Dublin in 1936 by Heinz Kiewe, and illustrated in Mary Thomas's Book of Knitting Patterns, published in 1943.  

Replica of the 1936 Aran sweater in Mary Thomas's Book of Knitting Patterns

I don't know of any other Aran sweater that was written about in this country before 1943, so the original would be a historic garment, if it still existed.  But it seems that it doesn't.   Mary Thomas gave instructions for the stitch patterns in her book, but no details of the overall construction.  In 1987, Richard Rutt devised a complete knitting pattern from the printed photograph in the book, and it was published in the Guild's magazine, Slipknot.  We have two sweaters knitted from his instructions in the Guild collection, and it was one of those that I took to Derby. 

The second sweater is one of the gems of the collection.  It is beautifully knitted, in a fine yarn - it appears to be 3-ply (light fingering).  

A 1950s Aran sweater in fine yarn

 I think that it dates from the 1950s - the neck is very close fitting, with buttons at one side, and that is typical of the 1950s.  The stitch patterns are not unusual, but all the details have been so carefully worked out - for instance, the welts and neckband have little cables in them, which merge neatly with the cables in the body and sleeves.  

Detail - welt and body stitch patterns
    
And my favourite detail is that the central horseshoe cable in each sleeve is continued as a narrow shoulder strap and then merges into one of the cables in the neckband.   It is all just perfect - in design and in execution.  It's wonderful.

Detail - neckband
The third sweater I took from the collection is not, strictly speaking, an Aran. It is the Wheatsheaf sweater, knitted from a free pattern in the Sunday Times Magazine in 1984.  It looks like an Aran at first glance, partly because it is knitted in the thick cream wool we associate with Arans, but actually it is quite different.  

Wheatsheaf Sweater

Although the Wheatsheaf sweater has cables and bobbles, the central panel is nothing like a typical Aran sweater - in fact, much of it is not even knitted, but embroidered.  The ears of wheat, for instance, are in blanket stitch - and in the Guild's example have been beautifully done to give a very 3-dimensional effect.  

Like the Susan Duckworth Aran, the Wheatsheaf sweater demonstrates that by the 1970s,  Arans had become so well-known and mainstream that just a few basic elements (thick wool in natural cream, cables, maybe bobbles)  would indicate "Aran", and designers could then deviate from the typical Aran sweater and produce something completely novel. 

And having done all the research for my talks, and closely examined the Aran sweaters I took to Derby, I'm beginning to feel that I want to knit another.   I've bought myself  Alice Starmore's  Aran Knitting (purely for research purposes)  and it is full of enticing patterns......  

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