In my traditional aran knitwear classes, we create a traditional style Irish aran knit scarf from Irish wool. The scarf features aran stitches such as moss stitch, fisherman’s rope cable, and rockpool (also known as honeycomb off the Aran Islands). Many of the people who take my class have never knitted before in their life. It takes a huge amount of courage to try something new!
There are a few different versions on the history of aran knitwear regarding its origin, but the version that I believe most is due to the evidence in Ireland’s national photo achieves. Aran knitwear originates from the Aran Islands, a group of three Irish-speaking islands off the coast of Galway. The story in short is that aran knitwear was an evolution of the fisherman’s gansey that was introduced to the Aran Islands around the 1880s. The difference between the fisherman’s gansey and aran knitwear is that aran knitwear is designed based on the environment around the designer, an unmistakable Celtic design trait. Stitches such as moss stitch, fisherman’s rope cable, and rockpool took their shape from the environment on the islands. Over-time, more and more stitch patterns were created on and off the Aran Island to entail what is now know as the modern version of aran knitwear.
The aran jumper is traditionally made using Irish wool from Ireland’s only native sheep breed, the Galway. Galway breed’s wool can be purchased in multiple forms from Donegal Yarns as it is a specialty fibre from a rare breed. I only use Irish wool for my traditional aran knitwear classes in order to support the wool fibre industry in Ireland as it is on the brink of collapse. Ireland has traditionally been known for their wool and textiles exports; however when Ireland joined the EU, the Irish wool fibre industry collapsed. This was in-part because less expensive wools were able to be imported from other EU countries with no tariffs. Many manufacturers in Ireland then moved their wool purchases to the less expensive source to maximise profits, and many mills started to shut down as a result. Unfortunately, now Irish wool is severely undervalued. It costs the farmer €3 to sheer a sheep, and they will only receive €0.60 for the wool. Meaning for each sheep the farmer must sheer for the animal’s wellbeing, it costs a deficit of €2.40 to the farmer.
In working with Irish wool and sharing it through my traditional Irish aran knitwear classes, I hope that we can add value to the fibre. The Irish wool that does make it to being spun is a beautiful material to work with and exceptionally well suited for aran knitwear.
Ryan Daniel Koenig, originally from California and the grandchild of fibre artists, moved to Ireland for love. Ryan is a traditional aran knitwear designer and teacher, giving Aran knitwear classes in Dublin, Ireland via Airbnb experiences and Eventbrite. He strives to produce authentic aran knitwear designs and actively works towards sharing the heritage craft of aran knitting to keep it in practice in Ireland and throughout the world. His knitting patterns can be found via Ravelry.