Called an Aran jumper here (one of the many anglo words I can’t get used to – my US tongue still stubbornly says “sweater” for a long-sleeved, warm upper body garment. In my brain, a jumper is someone on the Golden Gate Bridge at 3am).
Growing up, my mother always furnished us proudly in Aran sweaters on cold winter days. Thing is, those buggers are SO warm that half the time we’d just end up all sweaty and uncomfortable. Here in Ireland it’s a different story – it’s actually cold enough to justify their use.
The Aran sweater is so named because it comes from the bleak Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. The sweaters were solely the apparel of Aran Islanders until the 1930s when a shop in Dublin bought some from Aran knitters and put them on display. Since that time they have become a huge seller and an icon of Ireland herself.
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Arriving in Dublin you’ll probably see loads of knitwear, but you’ll know the true Aran sweaters by their weight and their price tag. A real Aran sweater will probably run you a minimum of €40, but will probably be more than that. There are different patterns used and yes, they do have meanings but, from what I’ve heard, there are not family patterns of such distinctiveness that they can be compared to Scottish tartans. After all, there are only 3 Aran islands and I think their maximum population was 1300 people – not too much to work with there in terms of family lines.
Aran sweaters are naturally waterproof (just like sheep from whence they come), super duper warm and can last forever. Personally, I’m always afraid of spilling food on them, but I have seen some ketchup and dirt stains come right out – they seem naturally stain resistant. The important thing is to let the sweater retain its natural oils – don’t use detergents or tumble driers on your Aran sweater. I spilled tea on an old sweater that had been accidently laundered with detergent (don’t ask) and the stain remains to this day.