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History of the Irish Aran Sweater

Aran Island inhabitants were for the most part farmers and fishermen, working outdoors in the often times harsh Irish weather of wind and rain coming in from the Atlantic ocean. It was in this environment that the Irish Aran sweater was born.

Symbols of the Lives of Those Who Wore Them

Irish Aran Sweaters, often also referred to as cable knit sweaters, Aran-isle sweaters or fisherman’s sweaters carry the symbols of the lives of those who wear them and their families. Traditionally knitted by women for their husbands and children, each family had its own unique combination of stitches

At one time on the islands, these knitting patterns were guarded vigorously with pride, much like patents, by the families who designed them. Much could be learned about each wearer by interpreting the pattern of stitches on their sweaters. Sadly it was often the only way to identify fishermen killed at sea when they washed up onshore.

Special Meanings in Every Stitch

The beauty of the intricate, unique stitches that go into making Irish Aran sweaters is what makes them so popular and so widely valued. Thankfully the care and time that goes into knitting every Aran sweater does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. In fact, every Aran sweater is made from about 100,000 stitches and can take months to complete by hand. Many of the stitches used in the Aran Sweater are reflective of Celtic Art. Few know that each stitch has special meaning and symbolism too.

Qualities of the Aran Sweater

The unique qualities of the Aran sweater that made it a practical and useful article of clothing on the Aran islands, continue to be beneficial to the wearer to this day. Aran sweaters are water repellent protecting the wearer from rain and ocean waters. In fact, the Aran sweater can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water before it begins to feel wet.

The most important attribute, however, especially for Aran Island fishermen, is that it keeps the wearer warm during cold days and nights at sea. Made of natural wool that is breathable, Aran sweaters help to keep the body at an even temperature and provide natural insulation preventing the wearer from getting either too warm or too cold.

The Aran Sweater Today

The Aran Sweater remains an item of timeless beauty, synonymous with pride in Irish heritage

Driven by growing demand worldwide, many Aran sweaters are now knitted by machine, although these cannot compare in beauty and value to the traditionally hand-made Irish sweaters that continue to be supplied by artisan producers like Quills Woollen Market.

Hand-made Irish sweaters are both rare and valuable. Today, many hundreds of years after they were first knitted on the islands, they are much sought-after for their quality, history, heritage and durability.

How Best to Wear an Aran Sweater

Not just an investment piece for the wardrobe, Aran sweaters are made to be worn. Given their origins as clothing for working fishermen and farmers, they’re traditionally worn as casual attire.

Today, though, the Aran sweater is a fashion statement and is often worn therefore for more formal occasions too. An Aran sweater worn with jeans on a crisp Fall day is a great look, but the white Aran sweater looks equally well worn over a dress shirt with chinos for a smart, classy look for going out to dinner.

Why buy an Aran Sweater from Quills?

The significance of the Irish Aran Sweater cannot be denied. A symbol of Ireland and valuable also because of its heritage, tradition, comfort, warmth and beauty. An Aran sweater is to be worn with love and enjoyed for years.

The Quill family is steeped in those same Irish traditions with the added ethos of providing personal friendly service for customers both instore and online.

How the Aran Sweater became a Fashion Staple

In the 1950’s, a feature in Vogue Magazine sparked initial interest, which led to an increase in global demand for the now fashionable Aran sweater. From the 1950’s onwards, numerous iconic men and women have been pictured wearing the Aran Sweater.


Popular Irish folk group, The Clancy Brothers, started a trend in wearing Aran sweaters in the 1960’s. While touring in the US, during a particularly cold spell to hit New York, the brothers’ mom sent over Aran sweaters to keep her boys warm. A big hit for their music in the US and worldwide, the Clancy’s wore their new sweaters live on the Ed Sullivan Show and unwittingly gave the fisherman’s sweaters a huge boost in popularity! They went on to make the traditional Irish sweater their trademark and were famed for wearing it each time they performed.


Actors such as Steve McQueen, Marilyn Monroe, and Grace Kelly and artist Pablo Picasso were seen as notable early wearers, and the Aran sweater continues to attract much attention from celebrities today.

In more recent times, fashion icons and famous personalities seen rocking our beloved Irish Aran Sweater include Taylor Swift, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rob Patterson, Kate Bosworth, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lady Gaga, Chris Evans and Alexa Chung.

The Irish Aran sweater’s unique design and Irish heritage make it a mainstay in popular culture, ensuring it will never be forgotten.

Get In Touch

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