Irish National Treasure January 30 2019
Poor old January and February, lacking in any real fashion sense; stripped bare of all December’s glamour and replaced with wholesome, good intentions and pyjamas; only to be followed by March which is at best confused, desperate to deliver spring with its daffodils and longer days but not quite reaching the temperatures required for the spring trends. The first quarter of the year feels like the time that fashion forgot. Spring clothes fill the shop windows but the time to wear them seems a distant dream and the reality is how to battle the beast from the east in style or emerge from the gloom without looking like an orphan of the storm. Yet this can be a jumper’s finest hour - a chance to stand and deliver on functional fashion, to save our skins while standing out from the crowd. And where will this super sweater come from? - I hear you cry. From Ireland of course, specifically its western seaboard where decent knitwear is just part of the landscape.
Lets’ start with the sweater that takes its name from the set of Islands off the coast of Galway, Ireland’s westernmost point. For generations the Aran islanders, most of whom were fishermen, survived the harsh weather conditions and the merciless Atlantic in their trusty home knits, which we now know well as the Aran cable. The sweater would have been made from local fleece which contained enough lanolin oil to make it waterproof. No two Aran sweaters would have been the same; each had a unique combination of stitches according to what was important to each family. Some of the stitches are thought to have resembled Celtic symbols and to have had religious meanings whereas others were significant by reference to objects in their daily lives like fishing nets, ropes and baskets. Some stitching patterns raised aspirations of a plentiful catch; others merely wished its wearer well on the high seas. Each sweater told its own story and folklore related that a body washed up on the shore could be identified by the unique design of the sweater.
The Aran sweater was never made commercially for sale off the Islands until the mid 1950’s but it wasn’t long before it found its way into the pages of Vogue and the rest is fashion history. Today the Aran sweater is considered a style staple. It is likely to be made from Australian or New Zealand merinos which are softer and more comfortable to wear than local fleeces. It can be styled countless ways and would not look out of place on the catwalk or in the pages of a magazine on any given year.
The Aran cable isn’t Ireland’s only woollen national treasure. Travel north to the top left corner of the country and you’ll find yourself in Donegal, the county that the Lonely Planet calls “Ireland’s wild child”. It is home to magnificent mountains and a dramatic craggy coastline, not to mention wild woollens of exceptional quality. Donegal tweed is a yarn with distinctive multi-coloured flecks that once spun into knitwear reflect the landscape from the mountain heather to its Atlantic seas. Unlike the Aran, the Donegal sweater is not recognised for its pattern and stitches but for the richness and depth of colour it offers. Some finished yarns contain a blend of up to eight colours which means you see something different every time you look at them and everyone wears them differently. How on earth do they get all those colourful flecks into the yarn? It’s a skill for sure and one which like the patterns on the Aran cable is the result of traditional craft that has evolved through generations.
The ingenuity doesn’t end there, however, for it is the ability of the Irish knitwear designers to take a classic like the Aran sweater or the Donegal tweed jumper and re-invent it year on year; to weave traditional and timeless style with contemporary design and come up with something modern and desirable, continuing to provide us with super sweaters that protect us from the elements in style.
Real woollen garments will seem expensive when compared with other synthetic, mass-produced options that are available, but real wool comes with the promise of warmth, comfort and style for many years to come. This winter don’t leave your style high and dry at the mercy of the wind and weather. Functional fashion is possible. Cosy up in Ireland’s finestand you will enjoy a garment that is rich in craft and skill and that has been developed over generations.
We are proud to sell premium quality Irish knitwear brand, Fisherman out of Ireland at 2x2 in Ulverston