Sunday, 16 March 2014

In Aran Style, 1959

On Friday I did my talk on "The Evolution of Aran Style" once again for the Leeds branch of the Knitting & Crochet Guild.   It's the 4th or 5th time I've given the talk, but it changes a bit each time, and I use a slightly different selection of Aran sweaters to illustrate it.  The new entry this time was a jumper that the cataloguers were recording a few weeks ago.  

The donor had included the pattern with the garment - otherwise we might not have felt confident in describing it as "Aran style".   The pattern was published in Woman's Weekly in 1959.  The headline is "In Aran style is this chunky patterned sweater", and the magazine goes on to say "These magnificent husky patterns, so like those from the Atlantic Isles of Aran, make up a Double Knitting jersey we think you will find irresistible."  It is hardly chunky or husky in modern terms, but the description suggests that Woman's Weekly readers were usually knitting with finer yarn at that time - they are assured that because it's Double Knitting, "the sweater will grow quickly on the needles."   In fact, the sweater we have in the collection was knitted in 4-ply, not DK - I think that the knitter followed the instructions for a larger size than she was aiming for, to compensate.  It is a very 1950s sweater, especially as styled in the magazine. 

I used to read Woman's Weekly back then at my Grandma's, and I was always fascinated by the suggested colour schemes for outfits.  It seemed like a glimpse of some profound and esoteric knowledge that the Woman's Weekly writers had mastered, and if only I tried hard enough I could acquire it too.   For this sweater, the magazine declares: "There are appropriate colours to choose" and then lists them: 

  • Leprechaun green jersey, beige cavalry twill skirt, cream silk scarf.
  • Unbleached natural jersey, peat brown skirt, emerald green scarf.
  • Atlantic blue jersey, dark navy skirt, pale lemon yellow scarf.
  • Gypsy red jersey, black and white check trews, pale grey scarf.
  • Gorse yellow jersey, green tartan skirt, dark green headband. 
Too bad if you'd like purple or pink.  

The largest size (40 in.) is intended for a man (who ideally should have an open-topped sports car to go with it) and the magazine advises: "Choose the stronger colours of granite grey, storm blue or unbleached natural if you are knitting for a man."

It's interesting that the possibility of knitting in unbleached wool is offered in both cases - only a few years later, Patons introduced Capstan yarn specifically for knitting Aran sweaters.  It was what we would now call Aran weight yarn, i.e. thicker than DK, and initially was only available unbleached.  After that, Aran sweaters knitted in Capstan or similar yarns, in "traditional" Aran patterns, became extremely popular in this country.  Perhaps the Woman's Weekly pattern shows the beginnings of a trend towards knitting Aran sweaters in unbleached wool. 


  1. This brings me back! My mother used knit Aran sweaters for us 'from her head' as she didn't follow patterns. She would look at a design and make it up herself. The neckline pictured here was a favourite. I am wondering - do you know what this neckline style is called?

    1. I'd call it a shawl collar - they were popular in the 50s. I'm amazed that your mother could knit Aran sweaters just from looking at a design - what a skill!


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