Almost everywhere you read about Aran Knitting there are lists of stitches with the ‘traditional’ meanings attributed to them, sometime simple, sometimes very elaborate stories.
The truth is there aren’t really authentic meanings to any of the stitches, at least not ones that have any tradition or history behind them. Aran knitting is a relatively recent invention and the stitches were created for their decorative appearance by clever and skillful knitters because they looked nice, not to convey any meaning.
The Creation of the Meaningful Stitch Myth
The meanings that are generally attributed to Aran stitches have several origins:
- An article written in 1938 by a German man called Heinz Keiwe, who never visited Aran, never met anyone who knit a sweater and simply made up the meanings. His work however was widely accepted as truth by many people and the sellers of Aran knitwear were not about to contradict such marketing magic.
- The so-called meanings were embellished and added to by many later writers who found little literature on the knitting, were relieved to find Keiwe’s and freely expanded on his ‘meanings’ and added others – a fair few of them totally contradictory.
- The reason the myth have persisted so long and are so widely belived is down to marketing. Aran knitting was always a commercial enterprise and the attribution of meaning to stitches greatly increased interest in the sweaters. Those producing them realised that and played up to it in promotional literature. In a similar way they now play up the notion of there being clan patterns, specific to families, which is a complete fiction but it sells sweaters.
The best work on the history of Aran is a book by Alice Starmore, who picked though all this fog of made up stuff and got to the truth in her book, Aran Knitting.
Some Meanings Attributed to Aran Stitches
For those who are interested, these are the meanings most often associated with commonly found stitch patterns in Aran knitting.
The most commonly seen Aran stitch is the cable, of which there are many variations. These are said to symbolise fishermen’s ropes.
I am working with a Production company in Toronto, looking into the history of knitting.
I’d like to hear from as many people (academics, prolific knitters, anyone who has insight into Aran sweaters and the history)
please contact me asap.