Monday, September 30, 2013

The Evolution of the Irish Sweater

Irish sweaters combine a mixture of the traditional Aran sweater with the modern stitches and styling to make today's sweaters. Made from wool yarns, they are made to be stylish, durable and warm. Most sweaters incorporate complex and highly textured stitches.  Many are traditional Aran stitches and today variations of those stitches are also used.

Previously made from Irish wool and other fine imported wools, most of the wool is Merino, the finest wool.  It is a thick durable wool fiber harvested from the second or third sheering. When merino wool fibers a very fine and have a soft luxurious fee.  It possesses a natural elasticity allowing for greater stretch.  The fiber is very absorbent and allows the evaporation of moisture easily, preventing clamminess.  Merino wool reacts to body temperature changes.  It holds in body heat in the cold and releases body heat when you're hot.  Merino wool also drapes beautifully because it doesn't hold or create static electricity. 

Today's merino wool is not like yesterday's wool. It's easier to clean and maintain its original beauty.  It can be machine-washed.  It's stain resistant, with no wrinkles to iron out and it doesn't harbor odors. Merino wool protects against UV rays, it fire resistant, it comes from a renewable source and its biodegradable.  It has all the natural benefits we seek in our usable products today. 

These sweaters are machine knitted into pullover Irish sweaters and cardigans.  The pullovers feature crew necks or turtlenecks, while the cardigan styles include button front, zip front, single button and asymmetric styles.  V-neck, collared and hooded cardigans complement any wardrobe by providing a fashionable layer of warmth on colder days. Incorporating unique stitches, each style is generously made with ample room for ease of movement and lounging.

The luck of the Irish may have originated from the stitches on the Irish sweater, as many of the stitches actually symbolized wishes of good fortune. One of the stitches of the traditional Aran or Irish sweater is the cable stitch, which represents a wish for good luck and safety for the fishermen.  The honeycomb stitch has significance in that it represents bees hard at work.  The diamond stitch symbolizes a wish for wealth and success. Finally, the basket stitch focuses on the fisherman again signifying a wish for a bountiful catch.  These stitches can exist singularly or exist in combination on the same sweater on the front, back and sleeves of the garment.  The history of these stitches goes back as far as the Irish sweater itself. 

Originally, the Irish sweater was hand knit from scoured wool that still retained its lanolin.  The lanolin or natural oil made the wool sweater water-resistant, making it wearable even when wet.   Fishermen wore them in harsh wet conditions because they were made with loving hands and each stitch held a wish for success and good luck.  Today, someone you know personally may not make the sweater, but it is still made with care and attention to detail. The stitches may only be symbolic; still, it's lovely to see the stitches working so harmoniously together in such fine soft wool.  Anyone who purchases an Irish sweater will experience a beautiful, durable and easy to care for wool sweater that will probably be passed on for a minimum of two generations.
image via